Shareware: APrintDirect version available

An update to the popular shareware application APrintDirect is now available for download. APrintDirect is a feature rich 32-bit utility that allows you to easily print or save a customizable listing of the files contained in any folder (directory) on your computer. A number of enhancements and internal adjustments have been included in this latest release (see the history section of the help file). Notable enhancements include:

The addition of a parameter option was intended to allow for APrintDirect to be used as a SendTo option from Windows® Explorer (for information on setting up a SendTo shortcut visit My Send To).
APrintDirect now makes it easier to ensure that you’re using the current version through a Check Version option from the Help Menu.
A sortable file Owner column has been added to the list of available output columns.
Total file, size and folder count option has been added back to the listing.

Existing users should take advantage of the latest APrintDirect enhancements by upgrading to the latest version. If you have not yet tried APrintDirect download it today and try a fully functional version free for 30 days.

As always if you have any questions, comments or suggestions about APrintDirect please let me know. User feedback is vital to the continued development of quality software.

Conditional Format

Spreadsheets are a great tool for analyzing, manipulating and 'testing' data. Over the years there have been significant advances in spreadsheets that allow for a lot more functionality. Based upon my interactions, I feel comfortable in saying that most people are unaware of and/or greatly underutilize many of the functions and features found in most popular spreadsheet applications.

I often find myself importing thousands of records from databases into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet for some random ‘quick and dirty’ analysis or output. Once in Excel the possibilities are almost limitless when it comes to the representation of this data, whether it’s via pivot table, charts or just a plain old on the fly filtered list.

When viewing thousands of records it is more often palatable and easier on the eyes with some sort of visual record cues. For example, let’s say we’re looking at a list of customer invoice records, which are sorted by customer. Ata quick glance, by default, all the rows generally look the same. Without intense scrutiny the data sort of, blends all together. What about some sort of visual separation by customer? Excel does have Grouping and AutoFormat, however sometimes the grouping can be overkill. All those '+' and '-' can become overwhelming. Don’t get me wrong grouping is great for adding fast subtotals. The AutoFormat is nice for shading; however it shades on alternating records. What if you wanted to shade groups of records? One answer.. Conditional Formatting.

Conditional Formatting allows you to specify cell properties based upon certain value or formula information. After playing with it a bit, one can see that it is really quite useful. For my scenario:

  1. Sort your list
  2. Insert what I call tend to call a 'Helper Column'. This column is typically hidden, and used to indicate when there is a change in a specific value, i.e. Customer. I prefer to put this column as the first or last column in the data set. For this example we will use column A.

  3. Type the following formula in the first data row. We’ll start on row 2 because row 1 is our 'header': '=MOD(OFFSET($A2,-1,0)+ OR($B2OFFSET($B2,-1,0),0),2)'. Basically what this formula is saying is alternate 1 or 0 in this cell A2, based upon B2 being different than B1. (The $ before a cell RC value indicates that value is constant (will not change) when it is copied to another cell.)

  4. Copy (or use Fill Down; Ctrl + D) the formula down the entire length of the data set. There are a number of shortcuts that make this easier (Mental note: discuss some quick keyboard navigation another time).

  5. Select the entire data set including the 'Helper Column', making sure you have the upper rightmost column active, A2 in this example.

  6. Select Conditional Formatting… from the Format menu item.

  7. Change condition 1 to ‘Formula is’ and enter ‘=$A2=1’. We’re only going to apply the format if the cell value is 1. The 'Helper Column' should be alternating 0 and 1 on a change in Customer.

  8. Click the Format button

  9. Select the Pattern Tab

  10. Choose which color to fill the cell with when the condition is met

  11. Click Ok to close the Format dialog

  12. Click Ok to close the Conditional Format dialog.

Your spreadsheet should now be shaded by Customer.
This is just a simple sample of using the Conditional Formatting feature of Micrsoft Excel. There are a number of other properties that can be set based upon value or calculated formula that greatly enhances the representation of a data set in Excel.

My Own Virtual World

I actually intended on writing a small paragraph on Microsoft Excel’s conditional formatting that hopefully I’ll get to at some other time. The reason for the shift is due to today being one of the more exciting days I’ve had in a while. I’m not sure how many others can appreciate why, but here goes:: I received the much anticipated copy of Microsoft Virtual PC 2004.

I tried explaining my outwardly expressive excitement to a relative and their direct response, ‘You’re a nerd!’ I am not certain how I should have taken that, but being a bit defensive; I went ahead and denied it profusely. Should I have a bit of resentment towards that comment?

Immediately following my repudiation, I continue along like I was a kid in a candy store. For those that aren’t fully aware of what this program does, it basically, allows you to run many virtual machines simultaneously on one desktop. Not only are these acting as separate machines, but they’re in there own (separate) space and have their own (separate) operating systems and applications installed. Note: It doesn’t come with anything other than the Virtual PC software so you’ll need to make sure you have your own legitimate copies of the operating systems that you intend to install. This would also hold true for any of the applications you install on the Virtual PC as well. I’d read the licensing carefully. I am a firm believer that an author’s license agreement should be honored.

Another thing [with this software] that caused my great excitement is that each Virtual PC is contained within one individual file on the host machine. Tell me that this isn’t sweet. Just think of all the potential things this could mean. You can easily backup the file and have ‘virtually’ a complete system backup. Each file is virtually its own machine, so you could set up the host bare bones and use one of the virtual machines as your main system. In the event of a host failure you could quickly get the Virtual Machine running of a different host. Provided you have the proper backup of course. This results in a quasi-disaster recovery plan. This also allows for a nice avenue to go in and test some tweaks and setting changes here and there and then simply replace a file to get you back to square one. There is an undo disk option that I haven’t played with that claims allow for reverting back to a previous state.

The added bonus is application testing with different operating systems. The testing of applications at various levels of patching and service packs on these systems before rollout is simplified 10,000 fold. Did I mention each Virtual Machine is in one file? Think of how quickly you can replace a tragically altered Virtual Machine. Gone are the days of separate machine(s) for pre-deployment testing. A robust production machine can quickly test a wide range of scenarios with far less space and equipment minimizing down time.

Each machine is customizable to the extent of memory and system resources. From my experience thus far it has access to most all of the host system’s hardware resources. You can even specify which NIC a Virtual Machine will use (if you have more than one or if at all).

If it is any indication of my level of excitement is that I dug into the treasure archive and set up a Virtual Machine with my old MS-DOS 6.22 disks. I haven’t touched a floppy in years, but figured it’d be a nice ‘to have around’ setup. I even found some DOS 6.0 and Windows 3.1 disks. Those will get setup as well. Why install them? Who knows, but they all will reside in their own files. The file sizes don’t seem to be bulky at all, in fact it seems to be the opposite it is not a 1:1 relationship. I did also go through the motions wiith Windows 98SE, Windows XP Home and Windows 2000 Pro Virtual Machine and they all initially seem to work well.

Next up at bat is Fedora with Open Office…… a nice slow transition……

What’s the count anyway?

There are so many documents and pieces of information that someone deals with on a given day. I actually did stop to think about it, and I was amazed at the amount of information that I pass through on daily basis. Fortunately, >95% of my interactions consist of electronic information.
For some strange statistical reason, I recently wanted to know the number of characters that were contained within a set of text files. These files were basic text documents, that could be viewed with any text-editor. I guess, that was the easy part. Getting the count, well, I couldn’t picture anything better than spending an afternoon with Siruis cranked and a print out of the document and ‘ticking off’ each character.
As mentioned before, I am a huge fan of working efficient (smart) rather than hard. In most cases it is not how you get there; rather getting there that is important. I have had experience working with text editors at different levels and figured that it wouldn’t be too difficult to come up with a basic text-editor to do all the work for me.
This journey’s result -- CharCount. CharCount is a fully functional (basic) text-editor that displays character and word count information. Simply enter or open text and CharCount will display the total number of characters (consonants, vowels and other) along with a sort-able list of words and the frequency of their appearance. CharCount will also display line numbers for reference. I have added this application to the freeware section of the site. Feel free to download it and give it a whirl. If there is anything that you think it needs please feel from to let me know.
This whole concept has also set me down the road thinking of revamping the ‘old’ ANoteWrite. That application hadn’t been touched in a while and I think it could use an overhaul. We’ll see where that leads, if anywhere......

Access Control: ACL and ACE???

There are numerous folders, files and resources within the operation system. Some you had created and others are created and maintained by the operating system or installed applications. Also, in most corporate environments there typically is a shared (network) location for the storage of corporate files and resources. In either case the sensitivity level of the contents of these files varies. Some files may contain benign information that if anyone accessed or modified wouldn't result in sleep loss or pose any harmful side effects. Other files may be considered safe if accessed by anyone, but catastrophic if anyone but a select few modify its contents. There are also those files that contain information that should only be accessible by certain groups or individuals. After all, we can’t forget those lovely users that will browse through every single file to see what piece of gossip they can get their hands on or what they can change. With a countless number of imaginable scenarios one would hope there was some way to control resource access. Fortunately there is, the Access Control List or ACL.

The Access Control List is a list of security protections that are applied to system resources (files and folders do fall into resources). Each ACL [there are two types: Discretionary (DACL) and System (SACL)] has a list of Access Control Entries (ACE) that define access for Trustees. When it comes to users and groups, the DACL has access entries that basically define whether or not a Trustee has allow (ACCESS_ALLOWED_ACE) or deny (ACCESS_DENIED_ACE) access to the resource. The process of defining all of these goes far deeper than I am going to go.

What about getting information from an established ACLs? Basically determining who has defined access to what. Is there better resource management besides actually reviewing and verifying ACLs for resources? The first thing that is necessary is to obtain the resource's DACL. GetNamedSecurityInfo and GetSecurityDescriptorDacl will get you there. Once the DACL is obtained the next step is to loop through and process each ACE (AceCount tells you how many there are). The ACE_HEADER of an entry determines which AceType (allow or deny) the entry is. Within in each ACE there is a Mask that specifies the level of access (Read, Write, Modify, Execute, etc...) for the entry. Effective and Explicit rights are defined. This is all pretty straight forward and simple once you grasp hold of the concept.

When it comes to systems I am definitely the inquisitive type. Often I find myself in a position where I need or want to audit a file or folder's effective ACL information. I never really found a quick way to do this. I usually resort to selecting a file or folder, then viewing the Security tab of the Properties and scrolling through each Trustee listed. A quick look at this process and I don't think that it can get any more tedious or time consuming. Fortunately, there was a cold and rainy day available for me to think about this and review ACL security and structure. The result: A tool that significantly eases the process. BPACLer is a utility that lists the entries a file or folder’s access control list. The OWNER information is also listed on the ACE display. Try it out and if there is anything that you think would be a nice addition or change to the utility please let me know.

This information in this posting is not intended to guide in or fully explain security at any level. It is merely intended as a superficial exposure to Windows Access Control. Dig deep enough and you'll find a number of in-depth how-to resource security and design materials.

Reading Stuff

Information in this document subject to change without notice.
All Software source code published is for demonstration and knowledge sharing purposes only. The Code is supplied "as is" without warranty as to result, performance or merchantability. Use at your own risk.
The opinions expressed herein are the opinions of the author and do not reflect those of any other entity.