How to Create the Ultimate USB Key Ring to Solve Any Computer Problem

Here is a super-useful list of programs to help recover friend’s computers

Go to to view it. The snippet here is for archival purposes… just in case!




Google Chrome Portable: Because you don’t want to use someone else’s browser, do you? The link above is a modified version of Chrome that launches from any folder, updated with the latest stable release from Google.

Revo Uninstaller: This tool is a fast method for uninstalling applications, like the bloatware that tends to cling around on new machines. It has a few useful extras, like a “Hunter Mode” that can uninstall programs just by pointing at their window—great for that crapware you aren’t sure the name of. Best of all, it can also clean up those annoying leftover directories in places like the main programs folder and the startup menu.

Avira Rescue Systema self-booting drive tool that can clean viruses, malware, and other nasty stuff off of other operating systems. This one will require its own USB drive on your key ring. Make sure to update it periodically with the official freeware tool—instructions for creating your own USB rescue drive are at the link.

CrystalDiskInfo: A tool for checking the health and longevity of hard drives. Handy if you think the storage on a PC is failing.

Speccy: An easy way to quickly see all the technical specifications of a computer, including non-obvious stuff like the number of RAM DIMMs installed and the number of expansion slots used.

Process Explorer: A tool that helps you identify running processes. Handy for identifying running malware and other bad stuff.

AdwCleanerA tool that seeks out and destroys adware—those annoying toolbars and pop-up menus that tend to install themselves when unknowing users download free programs that are bundled with all kinds of mildly malicious advertising. The program is a self-contained executable you can launch from a USB drive.

Peerblock: A tool for creating a quick firewall, selectively blocking incoming and outgoing traffic.

MBRtool: This isn’t a standalone app, but a bootable tool that requires its own flash drive. Once you create it, you can pop the drive into any PC and boot from it to repair the master boot record, one of the most common causes of an OS boot failure.

HWMonitor: An easy way to inspect all kinds of esoteric hardware and settings that aren’t normally visible in Windows, like all of the temperature and fan sensors on the motherboard. Especially handy if you’re tuning a “Gaming” or performance PC.

Wireless Network Watcher: This program can show you all of the devices connected to your local network, including their IP addresses and MAC addresses. Very useful if something is giving you network issues, or you suspect someone’s on the network when they shouldn’t be.

WinDirStat: a disk analyzer and cleaner. Good for quickly finding big and unneeded files to free up space if your friend’s hard drive is getting full. If you prefer a more graphical layout, SpaceSniffer is a good alternative (or addition).

NirSoft password recovery tools: this collection of programs is designed to recover usernames and passwords if no easy recovery option is available, like resetting via email. The various tools work on web browsers, wireless networks, Windows Protected Networks, and even remote desktop tools.

Hiren’s Boot CD: an all-in-one package that includes a ton of tools for repairing and optimizing computers, all squeezed into a self-booting CD file. Don’t let the title fool you, you can run it from a dedicated USB drive as well. (Note: this actually contains a number of the tools we’ve included in this guide, plus a lot more—but having your own versions of the tools on a non-bootable drive makes things a little easier, so we included them in this list anyway.)

ProduKey: another Nirsoft tool. This one helps you find Windows and other registration keys, in case you’re unable to verify someone’s legitimate copy, even from other PCs on the local network. It’s a portable, all-in one application, but using its advanced functions requires a bit of command line use.

ShellExView: for cleaning all of that crap off the Windows right-click menu after you’ve gotten rid of the programs your friends shouldn’t have downloaded.

BlueScreenView: this very useful tool will show you the results and minidump files behind the machines latest blue screen (of death) crashes. Much better than reaching for your phone camera in the five seconds the screen is up.

The Official Windows Recovery Drive: Lastly, don’t forget that you can also create a USB recovery drive from within Windows—and if you frequently find yourself repairing someone’s PC, it might be a good idea to do that once you’ve fixed their problem and gotten the computer into a working state. This will require its own flash drive.

RIP Joe Frank

Rest in Peace Joe Frank. He died January 15th, 2018 at age 79. I first heard Joe Frank’s haunting, hallucinatory radio plays in the late 1980’s, listening in my car late at night. I sat in my car on many a cold Boston winter night listening to his stories. I heard a program of his just a few months ago too. The shows were and are a revelation of amazing visual-auditory imagining. The stories and voices spin through my mind in the most pleasurable spirals, like a Whirling Dervish on the path to God. He is remembered with great fondness!

His art is his legacy and is still accessible (in the sense of availability as well as intellectually) at his website, and on public radio stations around the country in the small hours of the the night.

Do You Have A Blog?

Do you have a website or blog I should know about? The number of personal bloggers I know has fallen to… well I can literally count them on Count Rugen’s hand (the 6 fingered man from The Princess Bride). The Facebook and subsumed them.

If you’ve got a personal blog, even if you only update it occasionally, please tell me about it! Comment or email!


Here’s my 6. And truth be told, this is a stretch because all but JWZ’s blog is updated quarterly at best.

  1. JD
  2. Morlock Publishing
  3. JWZ
  4. Sheet Metal Alchemist
  5. WotW

Free Car Insurance Money

I just called my insurance company (Amica) and updated the mileage we drive on the cars. Since we drive fewer miles nowadays, we saved $200/year. :-)

Was: 10,000/year and 6,000/year. Now 6,000/year and 5,200/year. (apparently, insurance costs about $0.04/mile)


Megan and I were woken up with a start at 2:41 this morning by an earthquake! It lasted just a few seconds and we fell right back to sleep. It didn’t even wake Abigail. The USGS says it was 4.7 centered in Berkeley!

In context, things are pretty ok here. Just today my friend Nick in the northeast sent me pix of a scene right outside his window, a big chemical spill, nearly 3 feet of dihydrogen monoxide solid precipitate blanketing his neighborhood! Thankfully they are all safe for now!

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to the world from Megan, Abigail and Lee! And thanks to Zeke for the photos of us at Thanksgiving and Christmas!