Welcome to Testing Grounds. This website will help you discover new ways of looking at the ordinary things around you. Whether it is a dusty old computer you have in the corner, or a coke machine down the street, Testing Grounds will show you how to do things you didn't think were possible. Enjoy!

What to look forward to:

Coming up on Testing Grounds, I'll show you how to do the following:

How to Install/Reinstall Windows Vista to Improve Performance

How to Backup DVD's: Defeat Any DVD Protection Including Sony and Disney

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Free Programs to Replace Those Expensive Proprietary Ones

Let me start by explaining what an open source program is. It is a program that anyone can edit, anyone can use, and anyone can obtain for absolutely free. The main example is Linux, the free open source operating system. There are many types of Linux, from personal OS's on PC's to web servers, Linux can do anything. But its not the only open source thing out there, and I'll show you some of the most useful applications out there.

There are also Freeware programs made by companies or people who decide to do the world an awesome favor and create a free program that rocks. These people can range from individuals coding for hours, to multi-billion dollar corporations. I personally don't care, I love free stuff.

Let's start off with the open source options:

  1. GIMP

GIMP is an open source image editing program. While some call it a Photoshop replacement, I think it has some work ahead of it before that claim can be accurate. Still, it is an awesome image editor with many features, and is worth a download.

2. OpenOffice.org


Who wants to pay $300 for an Office suite? Not many people. Open Office has most if not all of the features of Microsoft Office - for free.

3. Blender

Blender is an open source 3D creation suite. Create 3D characters, models, animations, pretty much anything and everything you want - for free. Gotta love GNU Public Licenses.

4. Nvu (N- View)

Nvu is a WYSIWYG web site development program. Being one of the only open-source solutions to Microsoft's FrontPage or Adobe/Macromedia's Dreamweaver, it is good at what it does.

While there are many many more open source programs available, these are the ones I find most useful. If anyone would like me to add some more, leave a comment.

Ok, now for the freeware programs.

1. Pidgin

Pidgin (formerly called Gaim) is a multi-platform instant messaging client that can interface with many different messaging services. I like to use this instead of AIM sometimes, simply for the reason that I view AOL as evil. Who doesn't? And the fact that it interfaces with Yahoo chat, IRC, and about 7 other services makes it one of the best instant messaging programs out there.

2. Mozilla Firefox

You can't talk about free programs without mentioning Firefox. One of the best web browsing utilities available, which means if you're viewing this page in Internet Explorer - do yourself a favor and get Firefox. You will enjoy faster browsing, more security, and the knowledge that you're not helping Bill Gates take over the world. You can get it from one of the buttons on the side of this page.

3. Opera

Opera is another wonderful web browsing utility. It has a built in P2P utility, beautiful security, great interface, and over-all it makes web surfing fun. If there were a browser to rival Firefox, it would be Opera.

4. SciTE

SciTE is a text/code editing software that supports 31 languages. It has syntax highlighting, which makes it a thousand times better than notepad. Better still, it can be places on your thumbdrive for portable coding wherever you go. It is the only code editor I ever use.

5. Google Pack

A while back Google came out with a suite of programs that helps a lot in daily computing. Its called the Google Pack. It includes image editing software, security software, voice communication software, screensavers, Google Earth, PDF reader, and video players. It is one of the most useful software packs ever created. You can download it from one of the buttons to the right of this page.

Those are all the programs I find useful (and free) that I use on a daily or weekly basis. I hope you find them as useful as I do, leave me some feedback if you think I should add some more.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Use Google Maps to See Where Your Website Traffic Comes From

My friend, the admin from leetupload.com recently showed me a way to track your websites' international traffic using Google Maps. The website is called statisfy.net, and once you do a quick registration, you can see your traffic around the globe! Here is an example for the traffic Testing Grounds gets:


See if you can find yourself on it. Here is a thumbnail for the screenshot:

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Erase Data on Your Hard Drive

Many people have heard about how to format a hard drive. Some mistakenly believe that just because you can't view your data, that means its not there anymore. Formatting C:/ does nothing but delete the references to your data, the data is still there for people to find if they are looking for it. There are many programs that can detect this data and recover it - for both good and bad purposes. I know of a few live Linux installs that can do this, see my earlier about live Linux CD's for those those.

I would like to mention that there is no sure-fire way of deleting data from magnetic media. If you overwrite it, delete it, or wipe it, there will always be a way to recover the original data. However, there is a bright side to that flaw, just because you can recover it, doesn't mean it will be cost productive for a thief or other interested party to do so. The following tip will help reduce the likelihood of data recovery, but once again there is no sure fire way of protecting your magnetic data - short of igniting a pound of thermite over your hard drive and melting it.

If you are selling your computer you either want to wipe the hard drive completely, or destroy it and make the buyer get their own. Personally, I like taking the hard drive out and making a clock out of it. But for those who need to sell the hard drive too, here is a free (I'm all about some free) program that has 4 built in flavors of wiping your hard drive - or just individual files. It's called Eraser, and its homepage is here:


Eraser uses 4 main algorithms that overwrite the data you tell it to. It will overwrite 1, 5, 7, or 35 times. The 1st option uses only random data to overwrite the data, the second and third options use a Department of Defense algorithm, and the last one uses the Gutmann method. It is one of the best methods out there to reduce the likelihood of data recovery.

With Eraser you can create automated erasure events, erase the free space on your hard drive, and choose a custom method for erasing. Meaning that you can customize the number of times Eraser overwrites data. It can be set anywhere from 1 to something around 999,999 times. Needless to say, It would take a long time for your hard drive to complete that many cycles, but if you had something you absolutely had to make sure that nobody ever saw, you might need to pick that option.

What I like most about Eraser is the addition of an "Erase" option when you left click on files and folders in Windows. I never "delete" anything anymore, I erase it.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Free Virus Scanning Program

If you surf the internet regularly, open the occasional spam email, or noticed your computer acting funny lately, and you don't have a virus killing program, chances are you have a virus. If you think the only way to protect yourself from viruses is to pay a monthly fee to Norton or McAfee, I'm here to show you a better way.

There are a bunch of services out there that offer "free" virus scanning. If you go to a website like Veloz or StopSign, they'll scan your computer and tell you that you have a virus, then they will try to charge you a fee to buy software that will eliminate it. I do not like these people. I have scanned my computer after testing with them, and what they downloaded onto my computer was listed as spyware/malware - which is ironic.

Without further delay, I'll show you my best pick to hunt down and kill the software which those sick people so lovingly give you to make your life hard. Its AVG anti-virus, and can be found here:


It is developed by GriSoft, and is completely free. They have other editions that offer more protection and support, but for run-of-the-mill computer users, AVG free is all you will ever need. No monthly payments to Norton or McAfee. Don't you just love saving money?

I would like to share a personal account about how much this program helped me. A friend of mine called me up one day and said his computer was acting up. I asked if he had any virus programs, he said he had Norton, but it hasn't been updated in about 4 years. In my head I'm secretly thinking "OH MY GOD", and this will suck. After I miraculously got AVG to install on his crippled machine and started to scan its contents, it found no fewer than 700 infected files after only a half hour. It kept scanning and scanning and scanning until finally i left it alone, went home, and returned the next day. It had found a few thousand infected files, processes, registry values, and countless other nasty objects. I then removed these and his computer actually worked fine for the first time in about a year.

Viruses are not the only programs that can harm your coputer. Spyware and Adware can also cripple your beloved machines. A free solution to this comes in the form of Spybot: Search and Destroy, and Ad-Aware. Both can be found here:



If you have a crippled PC, these three programs will give it a fighting chance to live. Enjoy.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Oil Filled PC

You may have heard the various exploits of PC modders out there who decide to get a clear acrylic case and turn their computers into oil filled silent machines of death and destruction. The problem with most of them is that they are filled with vegetable oil, or some other heavily organic oil that will spoil after a month or two and needs to be replaced. There is an easier alternative: Mineral Oil. It doesn't spoil, it doesn't smell, and it is absolutely crystal clear and has the appearance of water. Which begs the question, why not put a computer in an aquarium filled with mineral oil?

Well that's what my friend, the admin of leetupload.com, and I did. We got our inspiration from http://www.pugetsystems.com/submerged.php and made a few changes of our own.

This project is so unnatural, it defies logic. Drop an expensive piece of electronics INTO A VAT OF CLEAR LIQUID?!?!? WHATS WRONG WITH YOU MAN?!?

Nothing, mineral oil is an insulator. This means it has no effect on electronic equipment. Gotta love chemistry and physics.

If you are going to attempt this project on your own, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. If you have all of the hardware necessary (a computer), it will cost you about $30 to get a 5 gallon aquarium from somewhere like K-Mart or Wal-Mart.
  2. Finding 5 gallons of mineral oil is INSANELY HARD. It is considered a strong laxative, and can be used on horses. Some farm equipment dealers might have gallon jugs for about $11 apiece, or you can do what we had to do, and buy 37 individual pints and buy out two Wal-Marts and a K-Mart worth of mineral oil:

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That's a LOT of laxative. The total was just a tick over $60 for that, Which brings the total cost of the project to about $90 - $100

Ok, now to get started on putting the computer into the aquarium. I used a sheet of plexiglass to hold the motherboard in place, so that way when it is filled with mineral oil, the mobo will appear to be floating.

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I scored onto the plexiglass where the screw holes on the motherboard are, and drilled where it was scored, so that way I could screw the motherboard onto the plexiglass. If you are doing this project, DO NOT try to screw the motherboard onto the plexi without drilling it first! It will crack!

Check out how the power supply will fit at the bottom:

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Then see how the plexi/mobo combo fit into the aquarium with the power supply:

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Now your probably wondering how we kept the plexi upright? Do you see that piece of duct-tape holding a clear cube up towards the top of the mobo? I super glued 4 pieces of plexiglass together, glued that onto the plexi/mobo, and am getting ready to glue that to the side of the aquarium.

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We got lucky and the aquarium came with a suitable top to seal everything up in nicely. It even had a place where we could have the exit to the cables, but it was in the wrong spot. So I fixed that with a dremel and a carbide bit:

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Here is what it looks like from the top:

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We made absolutely sure the glue is dry before we continued. There was a gap of about 3 days before we began the next phase of the project. After you connect all of the cables, fans, and other junk, its time to put the oil in. We decided to just go for it rather than test it out, and everything turned out fine. The following pictures are of us filling it with mineral oil, and it still working.

Before oil:

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Monitor with dry computer, with bag underneath to prevent spillage from harming the floor.

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It boots before the oil:

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Trust me, use a funnel

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Linux boot screen:

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From the back:

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The hard drive needs to be outside of the oil. There is a membrane pressure switch that will shutdown the hard drive if it is submerged in anything.

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Had to hot glue the wires and everything on the top. This was to seal it in case of accidental bumping, and help prevents what little evaporation will happen over the years:

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After we emptied the bottles:

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And just in case you don't believe us, here is some video proof. Pay special attention to how smoothly the fans operate in the oil, and the ripples they make in it:

Here is the leetupload.com tutorial on how to do the project.

Please Digg this story at: http://digg.com/mods/Oil_Cooled_PC_5_Gallons_of_Silent_Death

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Why you need to re-install Windows XP, and how to do it

Does your computer seem a bit sluggish compared to when you bought it a few years ago? Are the memories of quick startup and shutdown time becoming mere fancies of the past? Well this guide will show you how to take that aging computer of yours and make it rise from the pits of Windows XP hell. It shows 99% of the screens you will see in installation, it is my belief that pictures are always worth at least 1,000 words, so I have about a book written in this post.

Why You Should do This:
Every Windows system to date has shown its age after a year or two. Windows XP is no exception. Every time you shutdown and restart your computer, it wears down the operating system. Nobody knows why or how, but eventually after so many restarts, XP will become unstable and will need an overhaul. You might be getting strange errors randomly, random freezes, load screens, hardware installs, software installs, communist propaganda messages, fascist propaganda messages, rabid dogs, hailstorms, locust plagues, and last but not least, the dreaded BSOD - the Blue Screen Of Death! While it is not guaranteed that re-installing Windows XP will get rid of all of these problems, it may help them to a great extent.

So, the first thing you need to do is back up all of your stuff! IT rule number 1, always keep backups of your stuff. Keep backups of your backups, and backups of those backups. You can never ever ever EVER have too many backups. If you have a DVD burner, that's awesome, if you have an external hard drive, even better. So lets get started shall we?

You will need to gather the following items:
  1. Windows XP CD that came with your computer, or that you used to install on your PC
  2. The XP serial number that came with your computer/CD
  3. All of the CD's that have your hardware drivers on them
  4. All the CD's that have your printer drivers or other peripherals
  5. All the CD's that have your programs on them
  6. about 1.5 - 2 hours depending on hardware configuration
Now, pop the XP install CD into your computers CD/DVD ROM drive. Then restart it, and when the BIOS screen pops up (It will have your computer/motherboard manufacturers name, mine says DELL) look around for an option like "Press F12 for boot options". That is what my computer says, you may need to hit F1, F2, Del, or any number of other keys. when you reach that stage, something like this will pop up:

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Navigate to your CD/DVD drive and press enter. A black and white screen should come up that says "Press Any Key to Continue." - you know what to do.

The next screen will take a few minutes. This is the install CD installing drivers to let it do its job. After it does all of that, this screen will pop up:

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Press Enter, then a massive list of things you have to agree to appears, press F8 after you either read these things, or laugh in the direction of Redmond Washington for their idiocy.

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The next screen to pop up will ask you a few options and show you your current Windows XP install. Because you want a clean install, press the esc key.

(Note: I hate repairing windows. It's not worth it, just go through and start from scratch.)

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The next lovely screen shows you the list of partitions on your hard drive. Delete the one with the old Windows XP install on it, do that by pressing D.

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Then another screen will come up yelling at you saying it is a "System Partition" ignore it and press Enter to confirm your deletion of the selected partition.

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Then another screen will come up where you need to press L to confirm. Gotta love the redundancy.

Now it goes back the the partition screen, and it labels it as unpartitioned space. Press Enter

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Now you have two options at this next screen:

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If you are in a hurry, go with the obvious (quick) option. But if you want a real thorough job, stick with the second one highlighted in the above picture.

Setup will format the partition:

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Then when it's done formatting, it begins copying some files:

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Then a restart screen will come up:

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If you left your computer for a while and you notice it restarts randomly out of the corner of your eye, it was probably the step above that did it, don't freak out.

When it restarts, it will load the first hint of a normal XP experience:

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And now it will install yet more stuff.
(By this time you may want to consider switching to Mac OS X - just a thought)

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(OOOoooOOO! An Exciting New Look!)

Then the next series of prompts appears, they are self explanatory:

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NOT! Now is the absolute worst part about owning a PC. The Drivers. Drivers are evil, they are meant to suck the very soul from your body.

After your done with the device drivers, install all the programs you like to have.

After that, hook yourself up to the Internet and download ALL of the Windows XP Updates. This is not an option, if you don't, your security level will be outrageously bad and you will be loaded down with viruses before you know it. Find a way to download them all, even if you have dial-up.