Create a Bootable USB Windows XP Installer (Good-bye CDs and DVDs!)

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Note: I have also used the WinToFlash tool to successfully make a bootable USB Windows 7 installer, both 32bit and 64bit versions.

kingstonflashdrivewinzpMy sister asked me to fix her Compaq Windows XP laptop. I found that the Windows XP Home installation on it was in a weird state. On bootup, it would always show an error saying “One of the files containing the system’s Registry data had to be recovered by use of a log or alternate copy”. And every time I launched Internet Explorer 8, I would get this error, “A program on your computer has corrupted your default search provider setting for Internet Explorer” and the search provider configuration dialog would appear; however, any change I made to the search provider selection was not saved.

I tried to fix both issues above and failed miserably. There were many suggestions on the Internet but none of them worked for me (except re-install Windows). To fix the Windows startup issue, I tried to do a clean boot (setting msconfig to not load any services on startup) but the error stilled occured. I tried to replace the “ntuser.dat” (user registry file) but that made no difference. I even un-installed and re-installed the Windows XP Service Pack 3. No success.

At the same time, I tried to fix the IE 8 error. I un-installed and then re-installed IE 8; the error still appeared. I deleted the IE “SearchScopes” entries in the registry; that didn’t work. I even copied whole IE 8 registry sections from a working machine over to the malfunctioning one. No dice.

I finally came to the conclusion that I had to do a clean Windows XP installation. The problem was the DVD drive on the laptop was broken. So that left me with one option, boot and install from a USB flash drive. I remember looking into bootable USB several years ago and giving up on it because it looked to be too difficult. Thankfully, time has drastically simplified the process of creating a bootable USB flash drive.

The tool I found that made everything painless is called WinToFlash. Just download, unzip, and run the “WinToFlash.exe”; there is no installer setup. Creating a bootable USB Windows installation drive is very simple: you put a bootable Windows CD/DVD (can be Windows XP or even Windows 7) in an optical drive, stick a USB flash drive into a USB port (should be 600MB or larger for Windows XP), run WinToFlash (just use the default Wizard) and select the drive letters assigned to the bootable CD/DVD (or select ISO image file) and the USB flash drive. WinToFlash will copy the Windows CD/DVD content to the flash drive and make the flash drive bootable.

Note: The latest version of WinToFlash is capable of opening up a bootable Windows ISO image directly. However, you can still mount the ISO image instead, and reference it by drive letter in WinToFlash. To do the ISO mount, I recommend either of these two free programs, Slysoft Virtual CloneDrive or WinCDEmu.

I had to go into the laptop’s BIOS (press F10 for Compaq laptops) to change the boot order to put the “USB Hard Drive” before the “Notebook Hard Drive”. I then rebooted and the laptop booted off of the USB flash drive. The boot menu was a bit cryptic though.

Option 2, “2nd, GUI mode setup, continue setup + 1st start of Windows”, was selected by default so I selected that. The Windows XP logo appeared and the laptop booted off of the internal hard drive, instead of running the Windows XP installer. I rebooted and this time, selected option 1, “1st, text mode setup (Boot from flash again after finished)”. This time, the Windows XP installer was launched. The rest of the installation was the same as when installing from CD/DVD.

Doing a fresh installation of Windows XP did finally “fix” the weird registry and IE 8 errors. Of course, this was like repairing a car with a malfunctioning engine by removing it and sticking in a new engine. The term “repair” or “fix” doesn’t seem to apply in this scenario.

Flash Forward to the Future

The bootable USB flash drive reminded me of when bootable CDs first came out and replaced the multiple floppies Windows installation. Like floppies, the CDs and DVDs will soon disappear; case in point, the new ultrabooks don’t come with built-in optical drives. With the decreasing price of solid state hard drives (which use flash technology), the current mechanical hard drives’ days are numbered.

Take me as an example. Almost two years ago, instead of buying an external 500GB hard drive for backup purpose, I purchased two 32GB USB flash drives for about the same price. The smaller physical size more than compensated for the reduced capacity. And the smaller capacity flash drives forced me to truly identify which of my digital data was important enough to save.

Next, I will look into creating a live Windows XP operating system on a bootable USB flash drive. It will come in handy to repair broken Windows installations or just to quickly retrieve data from an internal hard drive. If the USB flash drive is big enough, I could even make and keep ghost images of internal hard drives on the USB drive. That would be really useful.

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Quick Guide for the Kindle 4 Wifi (with Special Offers)

Mobile Devices No Comments

I finally broke down (after years of defending “real” books) and recently got a Kindle 4 Wifi. It is very convenient (I can adjust the font size and carry a lot of books on trips) and I wondered why it took me so long to get one. To help you on your journey to getting one, below are some tips on using the Kindle for those who don’t want to slog through the whole manual.

KindleOnToiletTurn Your Kindle On

The power button for the Kindle is located on the bottom to the right of mini-USB charger port. Press it once to turn the Kindle on or off. A green light will come on for a brief period of time and then turn off to acknowledge the power button press. If you don’t turn the Kindle off, it will turn itself off (go to sleep) after a period of inactivity (several minutes).

Buttons and Buttons

The Kindle comes with four buttons and what I call a square thumb joystick at the bottom. The four buttons from left to right are Back (to go back to previous screen), Keyboard (to show/hide the virtual keyboard), Menu (to show the page-sensitive menu), and Home (to go to the main screen). The thumb joystick allows you to highlight things (like keys on the virtual keyboard) by going up, down, right, and left and can then be clicked on to make a selection.

I try to minimize my use of the virtual keyboard. Imagine inputting a 26 character wireless password using the thumb joystick and you can understand why.

Charge Your Kindle

The Kindle comes with a USB cable (it’s included in the box) which you can use to charge with. When you turn on the Kindle, if you look at the top right of the screen, you will see the battery status bar. Your Kindle shouldn’t need to be charged for a month or more with moderate reading (make sure you disable Wifi if you don’t need it).

Quick analogy on volts and amps: Think of electricity as water going through an opened half-pipe powering a water wheel. Volt is equivalent to the height of the water and amp is how fast the water flows. If you have a half-pipe of a certain size, the water level (volt) can only go so high before it overflows (bad for electronics). The speed of the water (amp) can vary within reason; it needs to go fast enough to move the water wheel but if it goes really, really fast, it could destroy the wheel, or back up and overflow the pipe (both bad for electronics). The point of this very rough analogy is that to power electronics, volts need to be a specific value while amps needs to be minimal value or greater. (FYI, Watts are just power ratings and is basically volts times amps; for example, 10 Watts = 5 Volts x 2 amps.)

The Kindle requires 5 volts and 0.5 amps or more to charge. This is what a computer’s USB port will usually output so you can just plug the Kindle’s USB cable into a computer’s USB port. (Note: Some older computers’ USB ports might not output this much power. You’ll know because electronics won’t charge.) Some newer computer’s USB port outputs 5 volts and 2 amps for power-hungry devices like Apple iPad; the Kindle will charge fine from these more powerful USB ports, pulling only as much amps as it needs.

The above means that you can charge the Kindle using the Kindle 4 wall charger (5 volts and 0.85 amp), iPad wall charger (5 volts and 2 amps), iphone/ipod touch wall charger (5 volts and 1 amp), Kindle Fire wall adapter (5 volts and 1.8 amps), and other USB wall chargers that meet the Kindle’s power requirements (5 volts and 0.5 amps or better).

When plugged in, the battery bar at the top of the Kindle screen will show a lightning bolt in the middle. When charging, an orange LED light will turn on at the bottom of the Kindle next to the power button. When the charge is 100% complete, the orange LED light will turn off and a green LED light will turn on. You can unplug at the point.

What are Special Offers?

I got the Kindle with special offers. Special offers is Amazon’s ad-supported platform. You see ads on the Kindle, Amazon gets revenue from advertisers, and thus, Amazon can sell you the Kindle at a discounted price ($30 off).

The ads are very unobtrusive. After a while, I stopped noticing them. The ads will only appear on the “screen saver” screen (when the Kindle is turned off or goes to sleep) and at the bottom of the book listing page (or home page). When reading a book, no ads are displayed; this is a good thing because most of the time, I am reading a book.

Disable Wifi to Save Battery Life

Wifi uses a lot of power so disable it when you don’t need it (not purchasing and/or downloading a book from Amazon). This is especially true if you have a Special Offers Kindle because it will wake periodically and use the Wifi to download new ads. (This explains why the battery may go down significantly even if you don’t use your Kindle for a while.)

When you first get your Kindle, if you hit the Menu button off the home screen, you will see the second option is either “Turn On Your Wireless” or “Turn Off Your Wireless”. Unfortunately, this option disappears once the Special Offers Kindle is updated and registered with your account. (I’ve also seen the option disappear on a non-Special Offers Kindle).

If you don’t see the above “Turn On/Off Your Wireless” menu option, you can use the Airplane Mode to disable Wifi. When you turn on Airplane Mode, the wireless is disabled; and vice versa. To toggle the Airplane mode, click on the Home button, click on the Menu button, select Settings, look for “Airplane Mode” at the top, and select the “turn on/off” option.

When Airplane Mode is on, the Wifi icon (five vertical bars of increasing height) will disappear from the top-right of the screen (to left of battery indicator) and you will see a new airplane icon (looks like a crooked plus sign) appear in its place.

Register Your Kindle

Register your Kindle with to buy books and to allow others to email books directly to your Kindle. To register the Kindle, turn Wifi on, go to home, menu, Settings, and click “register” to the right of the Registration setting. Use the virtual keyboard to input your username and password.

Getting Books on Your Kindle

There are several ways to get books onto your Kindle. Here are a few:

  • Buy a book from the Kindle store using your Kindle or from a browser.
  • Copy a book to the Kindle over the USB connection.
  • Email a book directly to the Kindle.

If you buy a book using a browser, the book will appear in the “Archived Items” folder on your Kindle (if wifi is enabled). If you select to open an “Archived Items” book on your Kindle, it will automatically be downloaded.

To copy a book to the Kindle over USB, do the following:

  1. Attach the Kindle to your computer using the USB cable. The Kindle screen will display a message titled “USB Drive Mode” with instructions that should you wish to read while the Kindle is plugged in, just eject the Kindle without disconnecting the USB cable.
  2. On the computer, you will see a new drive named “Kindle” appear. Under that drive is a directory called “documents”.
  3. If you copy books (with Kindle-compatible formats like AZW, Mobi, PRC or PDF) to the “documents” directory, they will show on the Kindle when you disconnect the USB cable (or eject the Kindle).

Note: On my Windows 7 64bit desktop, the eject did not work to allow me to read with the Kindle connected by USB cable. However, it did work on my Windows 7 64bit laptop.

If you want to allow a friend to email a book to your Kindle, log into your account using a browser and do the following:

  1. On your account settings page, select “Manage Your Kindle” in the left “Digital Content” section near the bottom.
  2. Select “Personal Document Settings” under the left “Your Kindle Account” section.
  3. Your Kindle will be listed with an email address ending in “”.
    • This is your Kindle’s email address. If you don’t like the email address, you can modify it using the Edit link to the right. (If you have more than one Kindle, you will get a unique email address generated per Kindle.)
  4. If you want Amazon to store a copy of all books emailed to your Kindle, enable the “Personal Document Archiving” option.
  5. You will need to add your friend’s email address to the “Approved Personal Document E-mail List”. Make sure to use the email address from which he will send the book to you.
  6. Once you do the above, your friend can email a book to the Kindle’s email address.
    • I suggest using the Mobi book format (.mobi file extension). This will reduce the transmission time because the system won’t have to convert and reformat the book.
    • To convert any book format to Mobi, I recommend using a free application called Calibre.
  7. If Wifi is enabled, the Kindle will automatically download the book (within seconds or minutes). The time varies depending upon how busy the system is and whether the book format needs to be converted.
    • Warning: If you use 3G Whispernet to download an emailed book, Amazon will charge you $0.15 per megabyte. Wifi is free.

Increase the Reading Font Size

I found the default reading font size was a little too small for me. Increasing it to the next larger font size was perfect for me. You can change the font size by doing the following:

  1. Hit the Home button.
  2. Click on a book to read it.
  3. Hit the Menu button and select “Change Font Size”.
  4. You can adjust the font size, typeface, letter spacing, word spacing, and line spacing. I just adjusted font size and left the rest alone.

Categories to Organize Your Library

If you have a lot of books on the Kindle (I have 40+ books), it can be a hassle to scroll through the list of books. Instead, use categories to organize your books into collections (categories are like folders). To begin using categories, highlight a book and instead of clicking to read it, hit the thumb joystick to go right. You will see useful options like “Add to Collection…” and “Remove from Device”. Click on “Add to Collection…” and select an existing collection or create a new collection.

Off the Topic: Email Books to an iPad

If you ever need to get a book onto an iPad (or iphone/ipod touch), here’s how to email it:

  1. Make sure that the iBooks application is installed on the iPad.
  2. I recommend using the ePub (.epub file extension) format for books that are sent to iPads.
  3. Email the book (as an attachment) to the iPad user’s email account.
  4. On the iPad, go to the Mail application, open the email, and click to open the attachment.
  5. The iPad will offer you the option to “Open in iBooks”.
  6. Accept it and the book attachment will be downloaded into iBooks for reading.

The tips above should work for other models like the Kindle Touch and Kindle Fire.

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Repeat a Jailbreak and Unlock on iPhone 3G iOS 4.2.1 (Death to Error 1015!)

Mobile Devices 7 Comments

I wanted to give my iPhone 3G, which I had previously jailbroken and unlocked, to a friend. So naturally, I went into Settings, General, Reset, and selected “Erase All Content and Settings”. Bad mistake. After reboot, the iPhone was stuck in recovery mode.

Worse mistake. I then plugged the iPhone into my Macbook Pro and did an iOS 4.2.1 restore using iTunes. I was thinking that I would just redo the jailbreak. Unfortunately, the iTunes restore failed with an error 1015. I found that I still had the custom PwnageTool iOS 4.2.1 ipsw firmware image I had used previously. I re-attempted the restore, this time holding the Option key while clicking on Restore so I could browse for and select my custom ipsw image file. This time, I got an error 1016.

After hours of googling, experiments (where I got other errors like 1600), and reading my own posts on the subject (I had forgotten everything), I found the answer. It turns out that the previous jailbreak I used was an tethered jailbreak; meaning that if I rebooted the iPhone, I would have to connect it to the computer and do something. In this scenario, that something would probably be to run a tool like TinyUmbrella to kick the iPhone out of recovery mode.

FYI: Per some instructions I found on the web, I did the restore again, left iTunes displaying the error 1015 dialog, ran TinyUmbrella to get the iPhone to “exit recovery” mode, and waited for the iPhone to reboot. Unfortunately, this method did not work and the iPhone promptly booted back into recovery mode. (TinyUmbrella also offered a “fix recovery” function which I tried; whatever it did, it didn’t fix my issue.)

The iTunes restore error was caused by the updated 06.15.00 baseband version (I had updated the baseband to get the unlocking tool, UltraSn0w, to work). iTunes did not recognize this baseband version and thus, threw a 1015 error. (I have no idea what the 1016 error is about though.)

The correct solution was to run RedSn0w to put the iPhone into a special “pwned” DFU mode which would accept custom ipsw firmware images and then to do the iTunes restore. This Youtube video, How to: Fix ERROR 1015 iPhone 3G STUCK ITUNES-STEP BY STEP!, contains the instructions. Basically run any version of RedSn0w 0.9.6 (I used the 0.9.6b5 version I had from my last jailbreak) and in the options screen, select only the “Just enter pwned DFU mode right now”. RedSn0w will walk you through putting the iPhone into that special DFU mode.

Hint: To get into DFU mode, leave the iPhone connected to the computer by USB cable. Turn the iPhone off first. If you can’t get to the shutdown slider, you can force an iPhone to turn off by holding both the power and home buttons until the screen goes dark (about 3-5 seconds). DFU mode is entered by holding the power button for 3 seconds, both power and home buttons for 10 seconds, and the home button for 15 seconds. If you have trouble getting into DFU mode and end up in recovery mode, use TinyUmbrella to exit recovery mode and try again.

Once RedSn0w is done, RedSn0w will tell you to quit it and run iTunes to do the restore. Rather than using my previous custom iOS 4.2.1 ipsw firmware image, I decided to create a new one using PwnageTool 4.2. PwnageTool 4.2 is an updated version which can do an untethered jailbreak. With an untethered jailbreak, when the iPhone is rebooted, it should just start up like normal, instead of entering recovery mode.

To create the new ipsw firmware image, I managed to download PwnageTool 4.2 from one of the working mirror links (specifically the 4th one) hosted on this page, PwnageTool 4.2 For Mac: iOS 4.2.1 Untethered Jailbreak For iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch & Apple TV 2G Released; Fixes iBooks Problem.

I then followed the excellent instructions from How To Jailbreak & Unlock iPhone 4, 3GS & 3G On iOS 4.2.1 Using PwnageTool 4.2. I only followed the steps up to 10. I did not do steps 11 and after because they are replaced with the RedSn0w “pwned” DFU mode steps above and iTunes restore steps below.

After putting the iPhone into “pwned” DFU mode and quitting redSnOw, I started iTunes and it recognized the iPhone 3G in recovery mode. I then held down the Option key while clicking on Restore to browse for the new PwnageTool 4.2 custom iOS 4.2.1 image that I had created above.

This time, the restore proceeded to completion, without the dreaded error 1015. It took almost 10 minutes before my iPhone 3G booted up and showed me the normal home screen. I then ran Cydia, updated it, searched for and installed ultraSn0w to do the unlock. I popped in the T-Mobile SIM card and checked that the phone calling and texting were working.

Hopefully if you encounter the above, you won’t have to do so much research to resolve the issue.