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American Express Export to OFX for Microsoft Money/MS Office Accounting

Tips: Windows-world It is 2015, and tax season is here, so I was wanting to download transactions from various financial institutions such as credit card companies into my accounting software. I still use the now-defunct Microsoft Office Accounting software, which requires import to be of in OFX format. That is the same format that Microsoft Money (which has also been axed by MS) uses. The card companies I use mostly still allow the export of transaction data into OFX, but when I logged into American Express today, I did not readily see such an option.

Last year I remember that I was able to import American Express transactions by downloading into Quicken/Quickbooks format of QFX, and then renaming the file extension to OFX. This time, however, I see that there is a new option called Sync with Quickbooks, and when I went to the Download Transactions option, it only showed 3 options:
  • Adobe PDF
  • MS Excel
  • CSV
Thursday, January 8, 2015 @ 08:24:27 PM CST (197 reads) [Read the entire article]

HP 15-f004wm Laptop Replace Hard Drive with SSD Upgrade Guide

Hardware News

There was a special deal during Black Friday on the HP 15 budget laptop on, specifically the model HP 15-f004wm, so I jumped on it as we were looking for an extra, budget notebook computer. The specs were kind of basic, but it was overall a terrific deal considering the $160 price without coupon. It is powered by a dual-core Intel Celeron N2830 CPU which sips only a measly 7.5 watts maximum, 4GB of RAM (nice since many budget laptops recently sport only 2GB), and a 500GB hard drive. The screen is 15.6" though the resolution is only 1366x768. It certainly is not an IPS display since the viewing angle is quite poor. It came with a DVD optical drive which is a nice bonus. The OS is Windows 8.1 with Bing.

When I bought this notebook, I had every intention of swapping out the built-in 500GB mechanical hard drive with a spare 120GB Samsung SSD I had laying around. I figured that since it was using a regular laptop hard drive, the 2.5" SSD should go in no problem, and I was right. The problem, however, was that it was very difficult to get to the built-in HDD to do the replacement.

There was an easily-accessible panel directly underneath the machine. You remove it by loosening the 2 screws, the slide the panel upwards and then you can pull it off. Unfortunately, the door only allowed quick access to swap out memory or the Mini PCI Wifi-Card. You can seen from the tear-down photo that the memory is a single PC3L-12800S SO-DIMM module. Note that the Realtek Wi-fi Module only has 1 antenna connected (single stream)- it is no wonder the wireless speed of this PC is not very fast.

Sunday, January 4, 2015 @ 01:33:26 AM CST (292 reads) [Read the entire article]

Lost Fitbit Syncs Through Another Person, Leads to Recovery

Hardware News

A little more than a week ago, on a Saturday, I lost my Fitbit One fitness tracker device. I have had it for well a year, and used it quite religiously, so it was a real disappointment. My family and myself had gone out to play tennis, went to a restaurant (5:30 PM), and then to shop at Target (6:30 PM). It was at Target when my wife asked how many steps I had thus that I discovered that I didn't have the Fitbit any longer. I simply assumed that it was left at home, but upon returning at night at about 7:45PM, could not find it anywhere.

One of the best ways to locate a lost Fitbit is to use its iOS app itself. So that evening I carried my iPad Mini all over the house and garage to try to locate it, but to no avail. Looking at the steps history, it showed that it last synced at around 3:20 PM, the time when we left home for tennis, which mostly likely meant I brought it with me. It showed that I had about 11K steps at that point. After a few days I had pretty much given up hope, but on Friday I decided to check the app to see if it somehow synced, and to my surprise it did- 2 days ago on Wednesday. My Saturday steps counts count had been updated from 11K to 16K!

I then logged into to see the time-based step history, and noticed that the final steps were registered at between 5:15 and 5:30 PM. There were ZERO steps registered on Tuesday or Wednesday when it synced. My first reaction was that the Fitbit is in the house somewhere! But, more analytical reasoning determined it wasn't so. If I had carried it back into the house unknowingly, it would have registered steps, but the the lack of any steps showed that it was dropped somewhere after around 5:30 PM that night.
Sunday, November 30, 2014 @ 01:29:21 AM CST (548 reads) [Read the entire article]

Guide to Getting PHP 5 to work with IIS with Custom Identity

PHP Tips and Code Examples

When you want PHP running in Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS) to be able to read/write files on a Windows network share, you could run into a myriad of errors and problems. Hopefully this article will help you get everything working smoothly.

Here what we want is to have IIS run as a Domain user who has the proper access to the network share.

  1. After you have installed PHP (in ISAPI mode), go to the IIS Manager, Application Pools, right-click on DefaultAppPool (or the name of your application pool), and select Properties.
  2. Go to the Identity tab and type in the User name and Password for the Domain user. Don't forget to prefix the username with the Domain. For instance (and for our example's sake): MY_DOMAINmy-user Click OK and you will be asked to confirm the password again.
Saturday, November 29, 2014 @ 10:15:48 PM CST (434 reads) [Read the entire article]

Adding the DBF dBase (or Any Custom) Extension in Linux (Red Hat, CentOS, or Fedora)

PHP Tips and Code Examples The previous article explained how to convert and import data from DBF files into MySQL. It is actually simple enough to enable the dBase extension for PHP for Windows by just by uncommenting out a line in php.ini, but if you are using Red Hat/CenOS/Fedora, this is not as simple.

There is no RPM file that you can simply install to enable the dBase extension, so you have to recompile and build the PHP Linux RPM. Here are the steps to do this (note that this can work with other extensions that you can't find the rpm for):

  1. download the source rpm for PHP, usually it'll have the word "src" in the file name

  2. install it - e.g. "rpm -Uvh php_src.rpm"

  3. edit the php.spec file, usually located at /usr/src/redhat/SPECS/php.spec, and add "--enable-dbase"
Saturday, November 29, 2014 @ 02:58:36 PM CST (369 reads) [Read the entire article]

Import/Convert DBF files to MySQL Using PHP

PHP Tips and Code Examples
If you have been presented with the task of having to import a DBase/DBF - here is a two step way to approach the problem. First the MySql table structure needs to be created, and then the DBF is then read and inserted into the table. Step 1 involves the conversion the output from the "disp stru" command in FoxPro into a MySQL create table statement. Consider a example DBF file called "addresses.dbf"- and the "DISP STRU" of the file looks like this:
1 HNAME1 Character 30
2 ADDRESS Character 30
3 EXTRA Character 30
4 CITY Character 28
5 STATE Character 2
6 ZIP Character 10
The convert function would transform that to this, which is useful to create a matching MySQL table:
HNAME1 char (30)
ADDRESS char (30)
EXTRA char (30)
CITY char (28)
STATE char (2)
ZIP char (10)
Here is the script after the break.
Tuesday, November 25, 2014 @ 09:53:07 PM CST (558 reads) [Read the entire article]

Windows Maximum Connections Limit Solution Using PHP

PHP Tips and Code Examples

If you are using Windows 8, 7, or XP Pro as a file server and often run into problems where users can't connect to because the 20 or 10 maximum simultaneous connections have been reached (or even fewer connections for the Home versions of the OS) - here is a quick and simple solution via PHP. The script basically uses the command "net session", parses the output and looks for idle connections and disconnects them- in this case if they've been idle for a second or don't have any open files. Combine this with some sort of cron program for Windows, and it works quite well.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014 @ 05:33:35 PM CST (385 reads) [Read the entire article]

Cron for Windows Using PHP

PHP Tips and Code Examples You can easily create your own PHP cron-like script for Windows to emulate the functionality of Linux. The basic gist of it is you create a database table (or you can simply create a text file) that will hold the information about the application to execute- i.e. command, switch, executed flag column, date, & duration. I propose a 2 script solution: cron.php & cron_exec.php.

Cron.php would basically just call cron_exec.php every designated X seconds (or minutes, e.g.):

<?php //Runs cron_exec.php every XX seconds; put in Windows startup folder 

$dir = "c:\\php"; 
$cmd = "c:\\php\\php -q " . $dir . "" . 'cron_exec.php'; 
$interval = 10; 
do { $output = shell_exec($cmd); 
    $cur_time_str = date("F d, Y t h:i A"); 
    echo "$cur_time_str: $output\n\n"; 
} while (TRUE) ;

function write_log() { 
    global $dir, $output, $cur_time_str; 
    $log_file = $dir . "logscron" . date("Ymd") . '.log'; 
    $fp = fopen($log_file, 'a'); fwrite($fp, $cur_time_str . "\n" . $output . "\n");

And here is the code for cron_exec.php:
Tuesday, November 25, 2014 @ 02:30:07 PM CST (401 reads) [Read the entire article]

Printing from PHP directly to a PCL printer (Linux)

PHP Tips and Code Examples

Let's say that you've built a web application with neat HTML tables & forms, and you want your users to be able to click on a button and send the page directly to a PCL printer from your app. Or you want the web application to automatically print the html form to a PCL printer. Here is how to do it with PHP:

  1. Output the html to a temporary file, e.g.

    fopen($tmp_file, "w+") or die ("Print error: Can't write file $tmp_file.");

  2. convert the html file into a postscript file using the Perl command line utility "html2ps" (download html2ps) - e.g.:

    exec("html2ps /tmp/form.html > /tmp/"); Of course you would need to have Perl installed

  3. convert the postscript file to PC using ghostscript, e.g.:

    exec("gs -sDEVICE=laserjet -sPAPERSIZE=letter -sOutputFile=/tmp/form.pcl -dNOPAUSE -q /tmp/ -c quit");

    In this case you are converting the file into form.pcl

  4. Next, simply use lpr -P$name_of_your_print_queue to print the file - for instance, using the printer name of "my_laserjet":

    exec("lpr -Pmy_laserjet /tmp/form.pcl");

Now this is all assuming that you have already setup the print queue. If any problem arises, try to use the lpr command to print to the printer directly first. When you are all done, close the temporary file:

Tuesday, November 25, 2014 @ 01:09:37 PM CST (531 reads) [Read the entire article]

Asus ZenBook UX31A Should be Recalled Due to ADATA SSD Defect

Hardware News

I bought my Asus ZenBook UX31A a little more than a year ago. Recently the sleek ultrabook started to act up on me- I would get the blue screen of death and intermittent freezing. The signs were indicative of the non-user-upgradable, non-replaceable 128GB ADATA Sandforce-based XM11 SSD. I tried to use the windows command (the OS is Windows 7) SFC /scannow, but it would never complete further 41% before failing.

Windows is still usable, but whenever I try to Right Click to create a new file, the computer would freeze. Same thing happens if I tried to search for a program from the Start Menu. Using a Windows 7 installation DVD to run SFC repair would end up not working either. I have also noticed that some of the media files I had stored on the SSD have become corrupted as well.

Googling around, it seems that plenty of people who bought a UX31 from Asus, and has the unfortunate luck of having the ADATA XM11 (instead of a slower Sandisk SSD) have this problem. So you'd think that a product recall should be in place. I mean, an Ultrabook that cost nearly $1000 brand new should NOT become unusable, prone to data loss, after only a little more than a year, and personally it was not a PC that I used daily. Unfortunately, this has not happened- Asus has not recalled the laptop and it does not appear that it has any plan to. But hey maybe Asus recognizes this problem, and would offer to repair the issue for free. Worth a try, I thought, so I submitted an RMA Request at After *12* days, they finally got back to me, and this was their reply:

You are receiving this email to hereby acknowledge your online RMA request. This is also a confirmation that based on your date of purchase (if provided) and/or serial number, your ASUS product is no longer within the standard ASUS manufacture warranty period. Please be advised that warranty terms vary depending on what type of ASUS product you have.

If you would like to have your product serviced, an Out of Warranty RMA has been issued; however we want to inform you that the following fees which include Part (s), Labor, Shipping, and Sales Tax if applicable (California and Canada residents) will be applied. Below is an estimated quote for the repair based on your description of the problem. Please keep in mind that this is only an estimate; the repair technician will provide the actual cost of repair once it has been inspected. Your RMA instructions will be sent in a separate email.

Quote (Estimate Only): Estimate: $136 for repair of UX Series (UX 21 / UX31, etc) - HDD

Wow- selling a defective product and then wanting to make money from the repair of it. Well forget you Asus. Guess what brand I will avoid in the future? I strongly urge that anyone affected by this issue to complain to them, and also to write to the proper agencies to get more awareness of this problem.

BTW I tried to see if ADATA had a firmware that would fix this problem for the XM11. After all, Sandforce had released an update that was supposed to address this defect. So I went to, and downloaded their Firmware Field Updater program. I ran it on the UX31A, and was elated to see that it recognized the drive. The firmware version listed was 5.0.1, the one that had the notorious TRIM problem.

My hopes, however, were quickly dashed as there were no ".vic" file that matched the first 5 digits of the serial number. There needed to be a file that began with 23003, but as you can see below, none was available. You kind of have to wonder why there wasn't any update or the XM11, as it seems that most the other A-DATA Sandforce SSDs have firmware revisions to fix the issue. Again, shame on Asus and ADATA.

Options for Owners Who Are Out of Warranty (Like Me)

So are we screwed? Not quite. Of course it would be nice for Asus to recall the notebook, but failing out, there are some options.

  1. Replace the SSD with a compatible one. The UX31A uses a proprietary SATA connection and not the standard mSATA/m.2 format. There are some eBay sellers offering replacement SSD's, but unfortunately they cost more than $200 at last check. So if you want to go this route, it might be better to bite the bullet and get it done through Asus.
Wednesday, November 19, 2014 @ 04:25:03 PM CST (590 reads) [Read the entire article]

Edit Read-Only PDFs for Free

Tips: Windows-world I wanted to edit a PDF file which was an order form that came via email. I didn't, however, want to bother with printing out the form, then scanning and then emailing it back. I don't have Adobe Acrobat Pro, so I looked around for a free solution. Besides, digitally filling out the PDF looked more professional and legible. I saw some free online-only, "cloud" based solutions where you can upload the PDF and then edit it over the web, but this particular order form needed my credit card number and other personal info, so I didn't feel like doing it this way, despite the services claiming complete security. Who knows if the form would be stored/cached on the remote server, etc. So I found an Open Source free program called, appropriately, PDF Edit, which works for Windows 8.1. I went ahead and downloaded the newest version, which had the file name of pdfedit-20140526_1531.msi. The install went without a hitch, though it didn't create a new program group nor place any icon under the Start Menu. So I manually located it and launched the program from Explorer. Interestingly the title of the Window showed TIAEditor v1.28 instead of PDFEdit, but no big deal.

The file open dialog box was pretty rudimentary, and scanning folders with many files took much longer than it should have, but I was able to browse and open the order form PDF I wanted to fill out.
Wednesday, August 20, 2014 @ 02:31:51 PM CDT (940 reads) [Read the entire article]

Fix & Troubleshoot Windows Explorer Crashing

Tips: Windows-world After rebooting my Windows 8.1 PC today, I tried to access my files through the "This PC" icon on the desktop, which basically loads Windows Explorer and shows an all-drives view. But every time I do so, the desktop would do a "flash" effect (all desktop icons disappearing for a moment, then returning) and no Explorer window appeared. I tried under Task Manager to End Task, then Run "Explorer.exe" again, but to no avail.

It was time to check the Event Viewer logs. I checked under "Windows Log", then System, but didn't see anything. Under Application logs, I did find the error I was looking for:

Faulting application name: explorer.exe, version: 6.3.9600.17039, time stamp: 0x53156588
Faulting module name: DropboxExt64.22.dll, version:, time stamp: 0x522fb12c
Exception code: 0xc000041d
Fault offset: 0x0000000000008e77
Faulting process id: 0x1414
Faulting application start time: 0x01cf5b292abee54a
Faulting application path: C:\Windowsexplorer.exe
Faulting module path: C:\Users\David\AppData\Roaming\DropboxbinDropboxExt64.22.dll
Report Id: caca4ba1-c71c-11e3-be94-bc5ff44776ee
Faulting package full name:
Faulting package-relative application ID:

So the culprit was Dropbox. I went ahead and downloaded the latest Dropbox installer, ran it, but to no avail. I then proceeded to uninstall it, and even that did not work in terms of fixing the problem. Apparently this DropboxExt64.22.dll is still loaded as an extension, so restarting the PC will likely complete the removal process, including that DLL module. After re-booting, explorer came back and worked without a hitch. Hopefully this bug will be fixed by Dropbox in the near future so I can add it again to my computer.

For you, however, the program causing the crash is likely entirely different. So the proper steps I recommend in fixing this problem is:

  1. Try restarting the explorer.exe process or Windows entirely first

  2. If the issue persists, go to Control Panel, Administrative Tools, and select Event Viewer
  3. Open up "Windows Logs", then Application, and look for events that has red circle with a white exclamation mark in the middle
  4. Single-click on it, and if the first line shows "explorer.exe", you on on the right track
  5. The line underneath it should tell you the name of the DLL that caused explorer to crash

  6. Once you identified the software associated with the error, go ahead and see if an update is available for it. Otherwise, you will need to uninstall it.

  7. Restart Windows and the the crash should be a thing of the past. If it still happens, however, repeat steps 2 through 6.

Problems like this can be pretty frustrating, especially if you are pressed for time. But with the proper information (in this case looking in the extremely useful Event Viewer), you can troubleshoot, identify and then resolve.
Friday, April 18, 2014 @ 01:08:26 PM CDT (1875 reads) [Read the entire article]

Script to Auto Unmount/Remove Mapped Network Drives in Windows 8.1

Tips: Windows-world I use a backup software (Synology Data Replicator) on my Windows 8.1 PC that creates a pair of mapped network drives when it begins backing up to my network attached storage (NAS). Unfortunately those mounted drives persist after the NAS shuts down, and when I save files in various different programs using "Save As", there would be lot of "hang time", even up to half a minute, before I can actually save the file. The reason is because Windows is somehow querying those networked mappings and the operation was timing out. I confirmed this because once I right-clicked on the drives and selected "disconnect", the problem goes away.

So I wanted a solution that would, at specific time of the day, automatically remove all network mappings. That would involve a simple script/batch file, and then having it run using the built-in Windows Scheduled Tasks feature.

The command prompt command to disconnect all networked drives is simple enough:

net use * /delete

But the problem was that it would prompt "Do you want to continue this operation? (Y/N) [N]:". See the screen shot below.

Apparently, however, you can add a /Y to by pass that prompt, pre-indicating a "Yes" to the NET USE command.
Friday, February 14, 2014 @ 02:39:28 PM CST (1974 reads) [Read the entire article]

Solution to Windows XP Slow Boot/Black Screen After Logging In

Tips: Windows-world I have a Windows XP running in a virtual machine via VMWare Player. It used to boot up quite quickly, but for the last couple of months it could get dog-gone slow. Getting to the initial user log-in screen was quick, but after entering the password, it would be literally 5 minutes later before desktop would load. During this time, it would just show a black screen. If I run Task Manager, it shows that System Idle Process as at 99% or 98% most of the time. So it didn't seem to be anything holding it up, though there were a few curious svchost.exe entries running.

I finally got tired of the problem, and wanted to further investigate. I tried running explorer.exe and nothing happened. I killed some tasks, and it seemed to make it worse as an hourglass icon would appear, and then nothing would load, even after the usual 5 minutes, requiring a hard re-boot.

So I looked in the Event Viewer (under Administrator Tools in Control Panel), then went to System to view the OS-related entries. I noticed that after an entry for "Service Control Manager" with the description of "The Terminal Services service entered the running state", there was a two minute lag before the next entry. That one had the description of "The Fast User Switching Compatibility service was successfully sent a start control."

Figuring that I found the culprit, I went to Services (again under Admin Tools), and set the service Fast User Switching to Disabled from Manual in the properties for Startup Type. I then did a restart, and this time it only took 6 seconds or so after entering the password to get to the desktop.

What a difference that made. LOL- I find it ironic that a service with the word "Fast" in it was responsible for terribly slowing down the boot up speed of the OS. I imagine that disabling this service may affect the speed of switching users under XP, but it doesn't apply to me and I think it is the same case for most users out there still using Windows XP for compatibility purposes as well.
Tuesday, January 14, 2014 @ 06:12:16 PM CST (1707 reads) [Read the entire article]

Windows Defender MsMpEng.exe High CPU Access Denied Fix

Tips: Windows-world I was working on my Windows 8.1 PC, doing nothing unusual, but noticed the CPU fan is on full blast and loud. I launched Task Manager and noticed that the CPU usage is at 56%, which is really high considering I'm using a quad core i7 CPU with hyper threading on (for a total of 8 virtual cores). It's pretty much taking up 100% of one of the cores. It turned out that the culprit was MsMpEng.exe, which is the Windows 8 built-in Windows Defender Service anti-virus software (running as Antimalware Service Executable) by Microsoft.

I thought- okay it's probably doing some scan so I'll wait a bit. After over 30 minutes, I had enough. So I right-clicked on the process, then picked End Task, but was greeted with the message:

Unable to terminate process. The operation could not be completed. Access is denied.

Monday, November 18, 2013 @ 01:30:10 AM CST (3914 reads) [Read the entire article]

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