Stupid Windows Tricks – Taskbar Labels

I actually stumbled across this setting recently, and it reminded me of a Windows “throwback”.  It seems to simple, but I forgot that things actually used to be like this.

Somewhere along the way, probably with Windows 7, Microsoft started to try to utilize the taskbar space more efficiently.  With that, you saw the use of combined taskbar icons, meaning that if you had three separate documents opened in Word, you’d see a single Word icon in the taskbar, but see that there were icons/instances “combined” underneath it and also the text label for the icon was hidden or collapsed.  This saves screen real estate, but can make it harder to know what is open at a glance.

Continue reading

Using the Disk Cleanup Tool to free up precious space

It’s amazing the amount of stuff on a hard drive that can be overlooked, until you run out of space.  The Disk Cleanup tool that is built into Windows can help keep your machine extra tidy, but can also be a powerful tool when you’re in a space crunch.

Think of the Disk Cleanup tool’s basic functionality as a “squeegee”.  But it has a mode that deals with system level files and more important stuff; think of that as the “power washer”.

In “power washer” mode, I was able to free up almost an additional 29GB of disk space.  A lot of this was due in part to the recent upgrade to Windows 10 that was performed on this machine.  And there’s more to be saved too.  More on that later.

I’ll walk you through the basics of how to use the Disk Cleanup tool.  It’s pretty powerful, so if you’re worried that you might inadvertently clean up something that you shouldn’t have, make sure you backup your data first.

Continue reading

Upgrading a Dell Venue 8 Pro to Windows 10

If you’re unable to get the automatic upgrade for Windows 10 to work with your Dell Venue 8 Pro, try using the Microsoft media creation tool to get there.  Depending on how much free space you have, an SD card may be required for the download to be stored.  The media creation tool will prompt you if you’re short on space for this operation.

For my upgrade, I opted to have the media creation tool and Windows 10 setup wipe everything so I could start fresh.  Since all of my important files, pictures, etc. are sync’d online, I wasn’t concerned about the loss of any local content.  This is probably not the case for most people, so back up your files before you start.  Note that although this was written with the Dell Venue 8 Pro in mind, this process works on an activated Windows 8.1 setup as well.  The key is it must be an activated instance of the operating system, or the tool will prompt you for the appropriate product key.

Continue reading

Life with Azure: the realization


As part of being a technologist in real life, I’ve always felt that one of the important things that I did was that I brought my work home with me, and actually enjoyed it.  What I mean by that is, the long days that I spent with Windows Server, Exchange, and other things in the Microsoft ecosystem, always followed me home in the evenings and on the weekends.  I seemed to have enjoyed the work enough where I really wanted to use my extra time to play with it at home too, which helped me to really build my skills.  I’ve done this for the last 20 years.

My home network didn’t need to be overly complex, but it was.  Learning these things in my off-work time made me more efficient in my “real” job.  An issue I would encounter at work would follow me to the home lab.

Continue reading

Useful Excel Functions: YEARFRAC

I was looking for a way to compare the total years between two dates in decimal format.  My brain immediately goes to the process of how I would do that calculation if I am were writing it in a programming language, but Excel VBA and Excel formulas are a different beast.

In Excel, do you use DATEDIF, “sum’ing” with TODAY() or NOW(), or something else?

Excel has lots of little functions that do simple date operations (and lots of other stuff too).  In my searches, I came across something called YEARFRAC.

It’s very simple to use, and takes three parameters: a start date, end date, and an optional setting for controlling the number of calendar days you’re working with for the locale and calendar you’re using (I used Option 1).

Quite simply, you supply those three parameters and Excel will return a number in the form of a decimal that is the sum of the years between the two dates.  Slick!

Here’s what it looks like in Excel:



This would be handy for calculating service anniversaries, ages, or anything else where you need to know the difference between two dates.

You can find the syntax and usage reference for YEARFRAC here.

What to do when SkyDrive takes a faceplant

I have a number of machines that synchronize with SkyDrive.  Last week, things went sideways and one of my machines was reporting errors and quit synchronizing.  After the next reboot (which naturally fixes most issues), the SkyDrive application would initialize, trying to start processing the changes, and then do a faceplant in the form of a crash and generating an event in the event log like this:


This looks and sounds bad.  I wasn’t sure how to resolve it, but it’s actually pretty simple.  There is a catalog or index of everything that is synched and it is stored on each machine in a hidden location.  You need to delete that file and restart SkyDrive.

After doing some searching, I found a thread on the Microsoft Help forums.  It’s as simple as deleting %localappdata%\Microsoft\SkyDrive\settings\3e2972b1aa909a0c.dat.  After you delete that, restart the SkyDrive client and you should be back in business.

A few quick pointers on Windows 8 System Recovery

If you’ve used the “Create System Image” functionality available in Windows 7, you’ll be surprised to see that its missing in Windows 8.

Well, it’s not actually missing, but the functionality is hidden in the Control Panel and is now called “Windows 7 File Recovery”.


Once you locate it in the Control Panel, the options to “Create a system image” and “Create a system repair disc” on still in the left pane of the window.

An important note … From what I have experienced, you cannot use a “Windows 7 Repair Disc” to load and recover a Windows 8 system image, so if you create a system image of your Windows 8 desktop, be sure to also create a system repair disc when it prompts you to after the system image capture.

Issues Installing Windows Phone IsoStoreSpy on Windows 8

Windows Phone IsoStoreSpy is a great utility for interrogating the Windows Phone Iso Store when developing applications.  It usually if you want to check to see if files are being created correctly, and identifying what is in a file on the phone’s local store.  IsoStoreSpy can pier into both the emulator and physical device.  It also provides some other functionality like being able to create ringtones, but I haven’t used that.

I had a brand new install of Windows 8 with Visual Studio 2012, and not a lot of old components installed.  This was a fresh install, so the most recent versions of most things were already installed.  When I tried to install IsoStoreSpy with the ClickOnce installation, it error’d out indicating that version 3.5 of System.Data.SqlCE needed to be installed in the GAC.  For some reason it wasn’t, although I would’ve assumed that Visual Studio would’ve had that in there (I believe VS actually installs 4.0).

In order to even install the application, you need this component installed.  I did a little search and found that you can install SQL Compact Edition 3.5 SP1 with a standard MSI for both x86 and x64 versions.  You can download those here.

Once I installed that, I was then able to get the ClickOnce installation going and completing successfully.

AT&T Rocking 4G LTE in the Twin Cities

Looks like today is the day when AT&T flips the switch on full-time LTE for the Twin Cities.  I noticed back in September that the State Fairgrounds was lit up and providing some nice download speeds.  Also the U of M campus and a few other northern suburbs have been enjoying that functionality as AT&T was going through testing.

I can’t find an official release on AT&T’s website, but a few media outlets are reporting this too.

Star Tribune

Pioneer Press