Saturday, June 4, 2016

How to: Easily fix Windows 10 bugged explorer.exe

I like Windows 10.  For the most part it's a great OS.

However something about it bugs me to no end: explorer.exe

exporer.exe is what runs your task bar.

Mine is set to auto-hide.  Usually, it works.  Sometimes, it gets stuck and it refuses to hide and it's just taking up space on the screen.

The fix is to kill explorer.exe and restart it.

Another thing that it sometimes does, is when it is hiding, it STAYS hidden.  I think it crashed or something, because it never shows itself, the Windows key stops being functional, etc.

Again the fix is to kill explorer.exe and restart it.

I've been doing this manually for a while now, but I'm a developer so it pisses me off to do things manually.

I finally decided to learn PowerShell enough to do this simple task, and wow, I actually really like PowerShell.  Insert expletive here.  Good job Microsoft.

To make your life easier, here is the simple one-liner I made that will kill explorer.exe.  I saved this to a file named "reset.ps1" on my desktop, so now when explorer freaks out, I just right-click this and choose "Run with PowerShell" and voila!  Problem solved.

# Kill the explorer.exe process.
# Windows will automatically restart it. 
Stop-Process (Get-Process explorer).id

Screen-shot of my desktop, just choose "Run with PowerShell" and explorer.exe will be fixed!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

New Toy Arrived! 2016 Razer Blade

My new laptop arrived, the 2016 Razer Blade.  It was on back-order for a while but it's finally here!

And yes, that's my bed, and yes, it is covered with Stuff(tm).

My wife is REALLY excited to live with a mad scientist, as I'm sure you can understand.  Especially now that I'm in the middle of a hardware project - experimenting with GPU servers - and yet we live in this tiny apartment where there is not any room...

But there is a bed!  It makes a great work space if you ask me.

This is the current work-in-progress.

6 GPUs in a single server.  What a thing of beauty.  Well, it will be when I'm done with it anyway.  For now it's messy and it keeps freezing up, but it's getting there!

Friday, May 6, 2016

HowTo: Install and Set up a fresh Windows 10

I've done this a few times now, and I'm currently trying to help make it easier for developers I work with to move back to Windows from the increasingly irrelevant Mac platform.

All OS politics aside, hopefully this helps you install Windows 10 and set it up to be a nice interface for doing technical work.  The target audience is Mac and Unix users.

Over the past few years I have written up some other posts, and I'll link to them here and update them as needed based on my most recent experience.

1) Install Windows 10

Before you do anything, you need to install Windows 10 as a fresh install.  I'll let How to Geek tell you how to do that, their instructions worked perfectly for me.

How to do a Clean Install of Windows 10, the Easy Way

1.A) Update Graphics Drivers

The very first thing you should do after installing Windows 10 is update your graphics drivers.

I use nVidia cards, and Windows does install some basic drivers that support it, but they are not updated and they are missing many features from the official nVidia drivers.  (I'm a gamer, I do game things, I need official drivers).

1.B) Fix your username and home directory

[EDIT] There is actually an option to "skip this" when it asks for your Windows Live login on a fresh install.  If you click that, you can type the name of the local account you want there.  If you missed it, follow the steps below to fix your username to something you want.

One of the more annoying things about Windows 10 installs is that it is so user friendly.

It's so user friendly, that they do not give you the option to set up what username you want on the system, or what home directory you want to use.

For normal people this doesn't matter, but for tech people, especially people who need their name to be consistent across a network that includes Mac and/or Unix machines, this will not do.

For example Windows decided that my username was "rossd" and my home directory was going to be "C:\Users\rossd" -- but I am known as "ross" on every computer I own, and I expect to be known as "ross" on Windows 10 as well.

Here is a great post about how to fix this problem.

Read the reply from youssoufsawadogo on August 10, 2015.  He goes into detail about how to fix this.

After that one, you also need to read youssoufsawadogo's second reply on August 13, 2015 which include the final steps to complete the fix.


  • Switch to a local account
    • This lets you choose your new username (I chose "ross")
  • Edit registry to change your home directory path (I chose "C:\Users\ross")
  • Reboot
  • Manually rename/move your old home directory folder to the new place where you want it to be (I moved the unwanted "C:\Users\rossd" to the new "C:\Users\ross")
  • Reboot
  • Switch back to your Microsoft Live account
And the end of this ordeal:

My username = ross
My home dir = C:\Users\ross

1.C) Set your computer's hostname

WikiHow has a nice post:

How to Change Your Computer's Name (Host Name) on a Windows PC

1.D) Install Anti-Virus software

Install whatever anti-virus software you or your organization prefers.  We're about to download stuff from the Intervirusnettrojanwebs!

1.E) Install your motherboard manufacturer's drivers

To find out what kind of motherboard you have:
  • Install CPU-Z
  • Run it
    • On the "Mainboard" tab, note your Motherboard Manufacturer and Model
  • Search the Internet for drivers specific to your system
  • Only install drivers from sources you trust, and get only the latest versions of them
For example, mine is an ASUS Rampage IV Black Edition, and a quick search leads me to the ASUS drivers page for this specific model of motherboard.

You will likely have a different motherboard, perhaps even a different manufacturer.  Make sure you install the right drivers for your hardware.

2) Install Basic Applications

Now that Windows is up, your user account is set up exactly how you want it and your video card is pumping out your sweet 4K or better resolution, you are ready to do stuff.


2.A) Install Chrome

Install Chrome, then make sure you sign into it to sync all of your previous settings, bookmarks, etc.

Especially if you are coming from Mac, we don't use Safari on this side of the tracks.  It, like all other Apple software, totally sucks unless you're on a Mac.

2.B) Install Sublime Text 3

I'm not sure why Microsoft refuses to make a text editor that isn't crap.

But that's OK, we have Sublime Text 3.  Currently it's my favorite, and it works on Windows text files, Mac text files, Unix text files.  If you have a text file, this will edit it.

Make sure you Add to Explorer Context Menu when you install, it gives you a cool right-click "Edit with Sublime Text" option on all of your files, which will save you a lot of time if you like to edit files.

2.C) Install Dropbox

If you aren't using Dropbox, I'm not sure what century you are living in.

iCloud only works if you're on a Mac (surprise!).

Google Drive actually works pretty well no matter where you are, unless you're on an iShit device that makes it work poorly and which most Apple apps refuse to integrate with.

So Dropbox is the best option for cloud storage IMO, it has the widest range of support on all platforms from what I have seen.  (My info could be outdated, but I still use it anyway).

2.D) Install mSecure password manager

mSecure is a must-have app.  But not the piece of shit they have in the Windows store.  Make sure you get the desktop version I linked.

If you know all of your passwords, then they are not secure enough.  Even worse, if you don't have very many passwords, then all it takes is for 1 site you visit to get hacked and you are completely screwed.

I have memberships to 100s of forums, web sites, etc.  I use a completely unique, completely random password for each one.

As it is impossible to remember all of those, I use a password manager that keeps an encrypted database in the cloud (on Dropbox) which is easily shared across all of my devices.

This is optional, but I think it is foolish at this point in time to not use a good encrypted password manager, IMO you are just asking for trouble.

There are other good password managers, but mSecure works for all of my devices:  Win 10 desktop/laptop, Mac laptop, Android phone/tablet, iPhone, iPad.  When I started using it a few years ago, it was the best app that supported every device.

2.E)  Install Skype

Skype is broken quite a lot (come on guys!) but it's still very useful if you actually need to talk to people.

Since Facetime only works on Mac (typical stupid Apple) and Google Hangouts is virtually impossible to actually use (please guys, UI shouldn't be an afterthought), Skype it is.

2.F) Install 7-Zip

7-Zip is the best Windows zip program I have found, and many people are starting to use *.7z files instead of zip files.

I recommend that you install this to a custom location, because it is helpful (and required by some applications) to have 7zip.exe in your path.

I installed it to C:\tools\7zip

I also recommend allowing it to install the Explorer shell extension.  This means you will get a nice right-click menu option allowing you quick access to some 7-zip features without having to actually open the app up.

2.F.A) Add 7-Zip to your System Environment PATH

  • Windows key
  • Type "system env" and select the "Edit the system environment variables" option
  • Click the "Environment Variables..." button
    • In the System variables box, click the "Path" variable, then click the "Edit..." button
      • Click the "New" button
        • Enter C:\tools\7zip as the new path
        • Click OK
      • Click OK to close Environment Variables
    • Click OK to close System Properties

3) Set up Unix-live Dev Workstation

Now that you aren't feeling so naked, it's time to install some work tools.

Refer to my previous post:

How to install and configure SourceTree on Windows 10

SourceTree is an amazing tool to help you manage Git repositories.

If you are still running git by hand, you are insane.  Either that, or you haven't taken the time to try out SourceTree.

Since I code on both Windows and Unix, I need some special settings that make sure that git doesen't corrupt my files and start adding \r characters all over the place.

Seriously Windows, why do you still use the \r character?  It boggles the mind.

1) Install to C:\tools\SourceTree

You can choose any directory you want but I like shorter paths that don't have spaces in them for easier MinGW/MSYS compatibility.

1.A) Connect your Github account

During the installation process there is an option to connect your Github account, which you probably want to do.

1.B) DO NOT configure automatic line ending handling.

Make sure you UNCHECK "Configure automatic line ending handling by default (recommended)."

They should reword that as "automatically butcher all whitespace in your Mac/Linux source files" which is a much more accurate description of that that option does.

2) Configure SourceTree

Now start up SourceTree and let's configure it the way we want.

I've noted the main settings that I like to change, but you should look at all of the options and see if there is anything else you want to change while we're at it.

Tools -> Options -> General

  • Set up your Default user information
  • Make sure SSH Client is set as "PuTTY / Plink"
  • Set Misc / Project folder to your preference
    • Mine is "C:\Users\ross\git" which is the same as ~/git in MinGW/MSYS

Tools -> Options -> Git

  • Global Ignore List
    • Change this to be the gitignore_global.txt in your home directory
      • Example mine is "C:\Users\ross\.gitignore_global"
    • This way it will use the same file as your command-line git in MinGW/MSYS uses


Make SURE you disable Anti-Virus in your source directories!

I added an exception in my Norton AV so it will NOT scan "C:\Users\ross\git" which is where I keep my source.

You should add an exception for every one of your source directories.

If you forget to do this, then every time you switch branches in git, your machine will grind to a halt.

Your AV sees that 1000s of files have changed, and it scans them all!  It literally makes branching and merging a nightmare.

So just disable AV in your source directories and save yourself some headache.


15-May-16 - Fixed path to .gitignore_global such that it matches the msys file.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

PhpStorm settings

I like to use the following custom PhpStorm settings:

Global IDE Settings

  • Appearance & Behavior
    • System Settings
      - DONT reopen last project on startup
      - DONT confirm application exit
      - Open project in new window
  • Editor
    • Colors & Fonts
      • Font: Consolas 22pt (I have a 4K high DPI monitor)
    • Code Style
      Line separator: Unix
      Right margin (columns): 80
    • File Encodings
      Project Encoding: UTF-8
  • Languages & Frameworks
    • PHP
      PHP Executable: C:\dev\php\php.exe
      • Composer
        Path to composer.phar: C:\dev\bin\composer.phar

Per-Project Settings

For every project, it's also necessary to set up PHPUnit.

Note that I configure PHPUnit as a composer dependency, so each project has its own local copy and version of PHPUnit.

This removes the requirement that PHPUnit be installed on the system externally, but it also means that we have to configure PhpStorm when we first open the project.  That is the lesser of 2 evils IMO so that's what I'm doing.

Project Settings

  • Languages & Frameworks
    • PHP
      • PHPUnit
        Use custom autoloader
        Path to script: (current_dir)/vendor/autoload.php
        Default config file: (current_dir)/phpunit.xml.dist
        Default bootstrap file: (current_dir)/test/bootstrap.php

 Run > Edit Configurations

  • Defaults
    • PHPUnit
      • Test scope: Defined in the configuration file
      • Use alternative configuration file: (current_dir)/phpunit.xml.dist
      • Custom working directory: (current_dir)/test

HowTo: Set up Win 10 as a Unix-like Dev Workstation

I recently installed a brand new Win 10 preview and set up my Unix-like dev environment on it.

This post basically ties together some of the other posts I've made in the past.  I'll keep this updated as I add steps when I install stuff again in the future.

When you're done with this, you'll have a MinTTY window (like xterm) that looks and acts cool.  Here is mine:

Setup Procedure:

  1. Install MinGW-W64+MSYS
  2. Reboot (May or may not be needed; I couldn't get MsysGit to install without rebooting, but I have Win 10 Preview which is probably buggy).
  3. Install PuTTY/Pageant on Win 10
    1. Configure MinGW-W64+MSYS to use PuTTY Plink/Pageant
  4. Install MsysGit for source control
  5. Install SourceTree
  6. DISABLE anti-virus from running in your source code directories, otherwise when you change branches, it's slower than molasses as your AV is scanning every one of your 1000s of "changed" files every time you switch.
    1. My AV has a way to add directory exceptions, if yours doesn't, you should upgrade
  7. Set up home directory dotfiles
    1. See this Github repo which contains my files.  I recommend you copy these to your homedir and then make whatever changes you want.

Make Git play nicely with Unix/Mac

We MUST ensure that Git does NOT try to auto-convert line endings.

Auto-fuck-up-line-endings has all kinds of horrible side effects, and it is totally unnecessary as long as you use modern text editors that don't care what the line endings of a file are.  (JetBrains has awesome IDEs, pay for a good one and call it a day).

In a MinTTY window run these commands:

git config --global core.autocrlf false
git config --global core.ignorecase false

The second command, core.ignorecase = false, means that if we rename a file from "foo" to "FOO", we will commit that name change to Git.  Usually Windows ignores that since its file system is case-insensitive, but that is the exception rather than the rule, as far as OSes go.

PHP Development Setup

  1. Install PHP
    1. Install PHP YAML extension
  2. Install PhpStorm
    1. I installed it to D:\Apps\PhpStorm
    2. Customize PhpStorm default settings

Python Development Setup

  1. Install Python 2.7.x
    1. Install to C:\dev\python
    2. MANUALLY add to SYSTEM path, if the Installer didn't do it:
      1. C:\dev\python
      2. C:\dev\python\Scripts
    3. Install PyYAML
    4. Install Jinja2
    5. Install setuptools
  2. [optional] Install PyCharm GUI
    1. I installed it to D:\Apps\PyCharm

Google Cloud Setup

  1. Install Google Cloud SDK via Windows Installer
    1. Install to C:\dev\gcloud
    2. Start the SDK shell
      1. Run: gcloud auth login


12-May-2016 - Install PuTTY before msysGit

10-May-2016 - Updated Python install instructions.

06-May-2016 - Added post specific to SourceTree.  Added pertinent homedir dotfiles to a public Github repo so you can copy them.

Install PuTTY\Pageant on Win 10

Install PuTTY/Pageant on Win 10

[Optional] Copy existing .ssh directory from Mac or Unix.

If you already have an .ssh directory from Mac or Unix (or another Windows machine), then copy it to your home directory now, if you haven't already.

You should include your SSH keys, configs, etc.

It's a pain getting Windows to name a directory ".ssh" with a leading dot, but if you have installed MinTTY already then you can just open a MinTTY terminal and rename it to ".ssh" which is required before we move forward.

Install PuTTY

Download the PuTTY installer from the official (if strangely 1995 looking) site

Install it into C:\tools\PuTTY

Set up Pageant to run at Startup

Open Windows Explorer and navigate to
%appdata%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Startup

Create a new Shortcut:

  • Target: "C:\tools\PuTTY\pageant.exe" id_rsa.ppk second.ppk third.ppk
  • Start In: "%HOMEPATH%\.ssh"


  • You can pre-load as many keys as you want.
    • In the example above, id_rsa.ppk is the primary key, and it also loads 2 more keys: second.ppk and third.ppk.
    • Remove second.ppk and third.ppk from the Target line, and replace them with whatever other keys you want loaded (if any).

Make sure it works by executing the shortcut.  You should see Pageant start, and it should prompt you to enter the password for you SSH key.


06.May.16 - Changed the install location to C:\tools which is more reasonable to use in the path if so desired.