Setting Windows 7 Login Background Screen

I picked this info up from “The Winhelpline Blog” and am documenting it here so that I’ll be able to find it the next time I want to change this. The following subset of directions is lifted unabashadly by me for my own edification. If you want the whole story go to the Winhelpline link. I also used the reference below to “Rafael’s” site to determine the correct size for my image.

For my purposes I used the Windows 7 policy editor technique and it worked just fine.

I also took a favored picture and downsized it to 1900 x 1200 pixels and reduced the resolution so that the final JPEG file size would be less than 256 KBytes. In Photoshop Elements 8 that meant going for a quality of “3”. My original picture was 3872 x 2592 at weighed in at a hefty 2.74 MegaBytes. So rather than the standard background I now sport a picture of my lovely wife in front of one of the ruins of tulum.

Use the following Group Policy setting in Windows 7

1. Start the Group Policy Editor (gpedit.msc)

2. Go to the following branch:

Computer Configuration | Administrative Templates | System | Logon

3. Set the following option to Enabled

Always use custom logon background

4. Close the Group Policy Editor.

Step II – Include the Wallpaper Image (JPG)

Next step is to place the background wallpaper (JPEG file) in the following folder:


Note that the info folder doesn’t exist by default. You need to create the info and backgrounds folders manually.

Place the background image file (name it as backgroundDefault.jpg) into the above folder.

As for the file naming info and maximum supported file size, check out Rafael’s post Windows 7 to officially support logon UI background customization. Be sure to check out Rafael’s blog for more information and screenshots!

Hey! I won! contest

The day after my birthday I was listening to one of my podcasts when I heard my name mentioned as one of the winners of their most recent contest. It turns out I won Cameradojo’s third prize of a Lensbaby Composer! This is a very well regarded lens in photographic circles, it lets you do some pretty cool things in-camera. Most notably being able to have a spot (apparently ANY spot) in your image crisply focused while keeping the rest of the image in a pleasing blur.

I knew immediately that this was something well beyond my abilities to take advantage of. So I shot a quick note to the guy who runs the Cameradojo podcast (Kerry Garrison) to see if the fellow who won the fifth prize, a Think Tank Backpack (just click the “Backpacks” image), would be willing to make a like-for-like swap. I presume Think Tank Photo would be offering their least expensive offering so I figured I was trading a $270 cool lens for a $140 utilitarian backpack, something I would have much more use in my situation. Maybe a bad deal by some folks’ reckoning but it’s more important to me to have stuff I’ll use than to have stuff ’cause it’s valuable.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but Kerry did go that extra mile and contacted the other winner on my behalf and, no surprising, he agreed to the swap.

So now I’m waiting for the new backpack to arrive! I’m looking forward to having something made to protect my camera instead of my current system of using a normal backpack and padding things rather haphazardly with various cloths.

My Current Podcasts

I thought I’d take a moment and note the podcasts that I’m currently enjoying.

There are a LOT of excellent podcasts and there are also a LOT of terrible ones. iTunes’ ratings help somewhat but, just like movie critics, you need to know the reviewer’s biases before you can really trust that their reviews are relevant to you.

If you know me, then maybe you know some of my biases and can figure out based on that if you’d enjoy any of these.

These are listed in order of preference from my favorites to the ones I like enough to listen to if I have the time. Yes, there are 39 of them, no I don’t get to listen to them all all the time. But I like having the option to listen to what I want, when I want.

Part of the reason some shows are more highly rated than others is that they are brief. I have more opportunity to listen to short shows (5-20 minutes) than the longer ones (1-2 hrs) so they get listened to more often.
Some of the podcasts are video podcasts and it again comes down to time available. I can easily listen to a podcast while driving, but a video podcast pretty much demands your full attention and so the opportunities to view them are much more limited.
Also, some of the shows are actually recordings of University courses or are infrequently produced, this will push them down in my frequency of listening and give them a lower rating. Keep in mind that I really like EVERY podcast below otherwise I just wouldn’t bother downloading it.

Just drag any of these to your iTunes podcast window and it will be added so you can check them out.

The Skeptic’s guide to the Universe – This is my favorite podcast of all. They publish regularly on Saturdays. They just published their 200th podcast and I’ve heard every single one of them. A group of intelligent folks discussing current issues with a critical (and often comical) eye. This is what you wish all folks were like when they get together to talk about things.

Slashdot Review – SDR News – Another podcast that I never miss. Published 5 times a week. A short 10 – 15 minutes podcast that’s great for keeping up to date on the latest news in the tech world.

60-Second Science – Roughly 60 second highlight from the world of science from Scientific American.

60-Second Psych – Roughly 60 second highlight from the world of psychology from Scientific American.

Astronomy Cast – A MUST LISTEN if you are at all interested in Astronomy. Start by listening to the back episodes. While they do cover some current topics much of the show is discussing various aspects of astronomy that will be valid for a long time to come. They’ve walked through the planets of the solar system (one per show), black holes, dark matter, interstellar distance, the shape of the universe and on and on. Fascinating stuff. Fraser Cain acts as the everyman asking questions of Pamela Gay, a physics professor with a great talent for clearly explaining the mysteries of the universe.

Are we Alone? – Science Radio for Thinking Species – Put out by SETI this podcast deals with plenty of topics beyond those to do with the SETI mission. Both the hosts, Molly Bentley (rowrrr!) and Seth Shostak offer intelligent discussion and well prepared and entertaining interviews. This is another show that I really look forward to.

Skeptoid: Critical Analysis of Pop Phenomena – Fairly short (usually under about 15 minutes) summaries of a particular topic. You know how you hear something and think “I wonder if that’s true?”. Well Brian Dunning get’s off his butt and does the research to provide a relevant and useful summary of the topic at hand. Often enough to satisfy your curiosity on a topic but a great launching point if it’s a topic that you have an interest in.

Quirks and Quarks Complete Show from CBC Radio – This is a generally science show, very polished and features interviews with folks on relevant topical science issues and discoveries. The host has a great skill for putting the interviewees at ease and fleshing out the relevant details of the topic at hand.

The Finer Points – Aviation Podcast – if you’ve ever thought of becoming a pilot or already are, you’ll enjoy this podcast. Start at the first one and work your way forward. Each is a 3-5 minute lesson that covers everything from aerodynamic theory to cockpit resource management to taking advantage of ATC resources. Good information and great reminders.

American Freethought – Very well reasoned podcast on topics from an Atheist perspective. Both the hosts are thoughtful in their commentary. If you are of a religious bent you probably won’t appreciate their candor concerning yours or anybody else’s beliefs. But if you can think rationally, you’ll appreciate their perspective. I think they are pretty fair in their assessments and largely non-inflammatory in their expression.

Clark Howard’s Call of the Week – A single call from the Clark Howard show that is thought to be of particular interest. I find it is useful for me about half the time.

Clark Howard’s Rip-Off Alerts
– This just helps me stay on top of the latest scams. As a fairly regular Clark Howard listener I often listen to about 2/3 of this podcast before moving on as much of his advice is common sense that I’ve heard him express before.

Science @ NASA feature Stories Podcast – Great 5 minute or so topical podcast that is essentially Dr. Tony Phillips reading his print article. Great for anybody who is interested in what NASA is up to.

The Clark Howard Show – I enjoy Clark Howard but after listening for a while you begin to get a good sense of what he’s going to say. But for particular topics I’m interested in his viewpoint. So I don’t automatically download all of his shows (2 hours a day… way more than I can hope to listen to). And I “get” (a button in iTunes) only the shows that I think will be novel for me based on the downloaded descriptions. It’s also just the right length for me to listen to while using the rowing machine. I don’t like wearing earbuds when I row and Clark’s voice carries nicely over the sound of the machine.

The Economist – In case you haven’t realized it, there is a world beyond America’s borders. The Economist offers great news and editorial insights from a perspective unlike that which is available from American media sources. Also, listening to the UK perspective on American issues is very eye opening. They’ve broken their podcast down into individual one article podcasts rather than a single podcast to cover the entire week. This is free and more than enough for me, but they offer paid subscriptions for WAY more articles if you’re interested.

Freethought Radio – from the “Freedom FROM Religion Foundation” (ffrf) this is a podcast of the radio broadcast that is hosted by the co-founder of the FFRF and her husband, a former preacher-turned-atheist. They are not ANTI religion but rather they are for both separation of church and state and for critical/rational thinking. This would be a good perspective for religious folks to consider. If you are OK with the government sanctioning religion, would you be so OK if it weren’t *your* particular sect that was the “winner”?

Skepticality – Science and Revolutionary Ideas – this is a pleasant podcast put out periodically and generally focuses on a single issue or interview. Swoopy and Derek are well regarded in the skeptical community and this podcast justifies that regard.

The Skeptic’s Guide 5X5 – This is targeted at folks who are interested in understanding skepticism from a logical perspective. You could take this podcast into a classroom and use it as a great launching point for discussion. Basically you have 5 skeptics talking for 5 minutes on a topic such as “logical fallacies” or “ad hominem attacks”.

IT Conversations – I actually am a paid subscriber. This is their free feed. There is a WIDE variety of stuff covered. My favorites are their keynote presentations from various conferences as well as Dr. Moira Gunn’s “Tech Nation” show. The original mission of IT Conversation was to capture pretty much ALL tech seminars and presentations in America if not in the world. After all, after the presentation is done it often just disappears, it is great to be able to participate in these presentations that I could never afford (either in time or in money) to attend.

Scientific American Podcast – About 20 – 30 minutes, Steve Mirsky often has relevant insights and interesting guests.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Video and Audio Podcasts These are very short videos highlighting current activity at NASA including the Cassini mission and the Mars rovers. This lets you keep up on stuff that is usually ignored by mainstream media because it isn’t “NASCAR”.

The Amazing Show starring James Randi – Although production of this show has fallen off a lot lately, this show has James Randi discussing his life experiences. Relevant for anybody in the skeptical community.

The Finer Points – Aviation Videos – Like the audio podcast, the finer points videos are brief videos covering specific topics in aviation. Very useful when visual aids are required to help get a point across. I find these complement the audio podcasts very nicely.

Cato Daily Podcast – Cato is a think tank and offers perspective on current political and economic issues.

Spill Movie Reviews – definitely an adult podcast, these guys live and breath movies. If you are curious about whether you a movie is worth investing your time in, this podcast can help greatly. They offer some much longer shows as well (LEOG – League of Extremely Ordinary Gentlemen, Cold Ones) which, while entertaining, are just too long for me to fit into my schedule. If I had more time or less interests I would probably listen to those too. As it is I just delete those.

Slacker Astronomy podcast – This USED to be a great podcast. It had 3 folks including Dr. Pamela Gay (from the Astronomy Cast podcast above) and was put out fairly regularly. But when Pamela left the show the production became somewhat inconsistent. I recommend listening to the earlier podcasts for great Astronomy information. For the current ones, I listen to any that have Dr. Doug Welch. He has a great sense of humor and is a font of knowledge and a real treat to listen to.

AOPA Never Again – I think this is now defunct but it is an audio version of AOPA’s “Never Again” column where pilots write in to tell about bone-headed or unfortunate situations they’ve encountered in hopes of helping other pilots avoid making the same mistakes or recognizing bad situations. Getting the existing podcasts is well worthwhile.

Camera Dojo: Digital Photography Enthusiasts – more targeted toward folks who do photography for a living, these podcasts are nonetheless useful for picking up nuggets for those of us who snap only occasionally. Kerry is the glue that keeps things together while David is somewhat more flamboyant…

TEDTalks (Video) – These are brilliant. Simply brilliant. There are so many that I doubt I’ll ever see them all and keeping up is not possible for me. But these almost always impress me. These are brilliant people who are given 18 minutes to speak about a topic that impassions them. There are some short comic or musical ones too and those are always worthwhile too.

The Silicon Valley Astronomy Lectures Podcasts – These are infrequent and about 90 minutes long. An expert on some topic astronomical will fascinate you. I usually listen until somebody puts their kid up to the mike in the Q&A portion.

David Allen Company Podcast – Also infrequent, usually a 5 minute pep session on a particular aspect of David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” methodology. I enjoy the refresher.

EFF Line Noise Podcast – Too infrequent, the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s podcast will keep you up to date on their trying to keep overly intrusive government or overly controlling corporation activities and the EFF’s efforts to keep them in check.

Humanist Network News – Would be nice if this was produced more frequently. A pleasant podcast presenting information and issues from a humanist perspective.

Mr. Deity (video) – A laugh and a half. Picture “Woody Allen” meets god. I understand these podcasts are presented in biblical forums to stimulate discussion.

This I listen to immediately after I watch the show:
Battlestar Galactica Podcast – Now defunct as the series is over, these are meant to be listened to as the episode plays. I find that distracting so I listen to them a day or so after having watched the episode. The executive producer’s insights very much enhance my appreciation of the series as he explains what he was trying to accomplish and why things are presented in the manner that you are seeing. This same kind of interaction was what made me a fan of Babylon 5. Understanding what is behind the show adds a tremendous dimension to the experience.

These I listen to periodically. The entire session is available but I don’t want to listen to it all in one go. I typically listen to one every couple of weeks or so.
Rhetoric 10: Introduction to Practical Reasoning and Critical Thinking – Obviously a little chemical entertainment is involved in this lecturer’s make-up but that does not detract from the very interesting approach to a world view that Rhetoric offers.

Virgil’s Aeneid – Audio – I enjoy classical literature and don’t spend enough time on it. Classes such as this, that can be enjoyed during my commute are absolutely wonderful.

English 117s: Shakespeare – Spring 2008 Audio – A bit choppy due to the missing copyrighted works and the student questions that are not captured by the microphone but overall worth the effort.

History of the International System – If you enjoyed James Burke’s “Connections” series you’ll probably appreciate this lecture series explaining how we all end up getting along economically and politically.

That’s it (for now). The great thing about podcasts is that you can go back and listen to old ones where it’s relevant and you can skip forward as you see fit or if something is not of interest. Also, you pick up your show just where you left off. I haven’t listened to my radio in… I don’t know how long. The only reason I turned it on before was to make sure it was still working. The control of time-shifting my listening to my schedule is too powerful to allow me to go back to “the old way”…

The perfect photo software – (hint: I haven’t found it yet)

In trying to transfer my pictures from my camera to my computer and then, for some images, to flickr there are several challenges.

First, I want my pictures to remain organized in some fashion so that I can work with them at the file/folder level and still easily figure out what pictures belong where.

For example, all my photographs are in a folder called “Photo Album”. Under this there are folders representing each year (2001, 2002, etc.) and under these are the actual image folders with dates. I want my pictures consolidated somewhat so I actually use the date the pictures were downloaded (or the date of the last picture taken) to group them together (i.e. 20080615 – Marc’s Birthday Party). This has worked very well for me for the past decade.

Second, I access my pictures using several different kinds of software, some more sophisticated than others, and I want the images to be in the correct orientation in all of them. Pictures taken in a portrait mode need to show up as portrait and those taken landscape need to show up as landscape.
In the earlier digital days, before I had a camera that recorded this information in the EXIF orientation tag, it was all manual and I rotated the pictures after I downloaded them manually using IRFANVIEW, Picasa or, more recently, Windows Life Photo Gallery.
Now that I’ve acquired a Nikon D60 that writes out the EXIF orientation tag, I find that some software honors the tag and some doesn’t. Windows Live Photo Gallery for some idiotic reason doesn’t. Screen-Paver, easily my most used application if you consider how many hours a day and how many pictures I view with it, also doesn’t recognize EXIF orientation tags. So the images end up sideways in the forum where I, and others, are most likely to be viewing them.

Third, I tag my pictures. Sometimes I tag with situations, but mostly with the names of people found within them. I have found this invaluable over the years and can quickly find pictures of people that I have across my collection in seconds.

So I’m trying to pick my way through the software available to accomplish the above. Ideally I’d like to use ONE piece of software and use it for everything but each application has great strengths and great flaws. As of this writing I *don’t* have a simple solution but I wanted to lay out the issues and see if any ideas jump out. If anybody happens to read this and gets some ideas for themselves, that’s a bonus. Heck, if anybody can jump in and offer some solutions or software that would address some of the issues, that would be an even better bonus!

Here is what I have available to me at the moment and why:


This is the default image viewing software on any PC that I use.


  • Freeware
  • Very robust, ability to view pretty much any picture format,
  • Walks through directories of images easily,
  • Can do basic manipulations,
  • Can do batch manipulations.


  • Can’t do batch rotations based on EXIF Orientation data,
  • Keyword updates (EXIF and IPTC) are awkward, must drill down through menus to get to these,
  • EXIF information appears to be incomplete – can’t see descriptive keywords at all.

Windows Live Photo Gallery:

This is my primary organization / labeling / bulk viewing tool on my main PCs


  • Freeware,
  • Superior tag manipulation ability (tags are intelligently suggested and can easily be updated on the right hand side of the screen, no drill down required),
  • Integrated flickr upload tool (after installing the flickr tool),
  • Excellent red-eye correction. The best I’ve come across so far,
  • Will optionally auto-rotate images on import (permanently rotates them).


  • Does not honor EXIF orientation on existing images – so portrait images remain in landscape orientation if they were imported by another application,
  • Does not initiate update of IPTC keywords (but will maintain them if they already exist),
  • Updating description info (used as caption in flickr) is cumbersome and only accessible via image properties dialog. Uses “Title” attribute for this purpose so that your flickr “title” is actually the image filename and the Windows Live Photo Gallery “title” becomes the description (caption) in flickr.


I use this software to easily add Title and Caption information to pictures that I want to upload to flickr. The advantage of adding this information via iTAG rather than on flickr or using the flickr Uploader tool is that the information remains a permanent part of the images files for future reference.
I started using it primarily for its ability to initiate/maintain use of IPTC keyword tags where Windows Live Photo Gallery was falling down.


  • Freeware,
  • Easy to manipulate Title and Description information (that will be used by flickr). You can easily and quickly see what is set for each image on the left hand side,
  • Recognizes existing EXIF keyword tags and will save both EXIF and IPTC Keyword tags.


  • A little rough around the edges – frequently need to restart to review another folder,
  • “Tag Bucket” consists only of those tags available from the currently shown images – making consistency in spelling, capitalization, pluralization and just naming somewhat challenging,
  • Completely dynamic, rebuilds thumbnails and any other ordinarily “catalog” information each time you access a folder which can be a little slow,
  • Need to explicitly save any changes you make – so making a change and then using an image in another application won’t have the expected updates. Unusual for tags (which update immediately in any other app I’ve used).

flickr Uploader:

I like being able to review all the images and, if necessary, assign them to different sets and assign different levels of access BEFORE initiating my upload.


  • Freeware,
  • Can create new sets, multiple ones if necessary, as part of a larger upload,
  • Can clearly see titles, descriptions, tags and permissions before upload.


  • Doesn’t recognize EXIF keyword tags.


I used this for quite a while before shifting to Windows Live Photo Gallery. I have not used the most recent version (have not used since October 2007)


  • Freeware,
  • Google product (I’m a big Google fan),
  • Easy to use, relatively fast,
  • Redeye correction was the reason I started using Picasa in the first place. It’s very good but the Windows Live Photo Gallery redeye correction is better IMHO.


  • Keywords were somewhat cumbersome to maintain – separate dialog required,
  • Not integrated with flickr.

Screen Paver:

I have been using this as my screensaver for YEARS. Not so much because I believe that my screens will burn in – the new technologies are not so prone to this – but because I absolutely love having my image collection displaying all the time. My main computer is in my kitchen so having my photo album displaying while we have guests over is a great source of conversation. But I love seeing images from old trips or adventures popping up throughout the day when I’m walking past my computer to get a glass of water.
I’ve been using Screen Paver since my Win95 days and have yet to find anything that can rival it in robustness and utility.
The Google Photos screensaver just doesn’t work how I want (can’t select all my folders, can’t pause or go forward or backward through images at will).
The Windows Live Photo Gallery screensaver simply doesn’t work on my machine (can only select a single folder, screen goes black and nothing ever shows up on it).
I’ve tried others through the years and they always crash or are too limited.


  • Very inexpensive ($13),
  • Always works,
  • Can select multiple folders,
  • Option to automatically pull in contents of all sub folders,
  • Can optionally play music (I never use this function),
  • Can disable all those annoying transition effects,
  • Can pause, jump back or move forward through images,
  • I have over 10,000 images in the folders that Screen Paver goes through and it has no problem with this,
  • You can configure it to display path and filename on the screen (which I do) so I can quickly find interesting items that show up on the screen,
  • Multi-Monitor support (as of 4.4b images are sized correctly on both).


  • Does not recognize EXIF Orientation flag,
  • While it supports multi-monitors, same image is shown on both.

Adobe Photoshop Elements 6:

This is a new product for me. I’ve only had it for a week so far and I have to say I find it very confusing.
My experience with Photoshop years ago (needed it for a small project) was similar. I think I’m going to find the editor useful but the organizer appears to be nearly unusable.


  • Aggressive and robust photo collection – No hesitation trying to grab images from your camera,
  • Healing tool(s) and the very, very few tools I’ve figured out so far are staggeringly good,
  • Ability to rename photos on import has some potential.


  • VERY steep learning curve for all aspects of this product
  • Automated redeye reduction is terrible, leaves black eyes on most of the images touched,
  • Ordinary redeye reduction does not hold a candle to Picasa and Windows Live Photo Gallery’s,
  • Tries to get photos from EVERYTHING that connects to it (even wants to grab them off my iPod while I’m syncing with iTunes). I can see that there are profiles associated with this behavior but, as with anything else I’ve tried with Photoshop Elements, it’s going to require 45 minutes of research to figure out how to set this up,
  • Adding keyword tags is pretty obtuse, there may be simpler ways to do it than I’ve tried but so far it’s much more manual than it needs to be,
  • Renaming of photos on import from camera has option to name them with dates and then a counter. But stupidly counter doesn’t reset for each date so you can have 20080605_0001, 20080605_0002, 20080609_0003 etc. (where the 0003 should logically be 0001). Again, maybe something I’m missing but I *did* spend a little time on this as my base organization is important to me and I wasn’t able to make this work to my satisfaction.
  • I still haven’t figured out how to refresh the current view. If I delete images at the OS level or with another application, Photoshop Elements still shows it (’cause it’s in its catalog) but lets you know it can’t find the physical file. If the file is gone, please stop showing the picture to me.

Nikon Transfer (sorry no link that I can find to this software):

This came with my Nikon and allows me to import my photos and, optionally, add some information to them.


  • Free (with the purchase of the camera presumably)


  • Does not save IPTC info
  • Does not rotate images on import (con for me, anyway)

So, in looking at the above, it looks like my strategy is going to be:

  • Import photos from camera using Windows Live Photo Gallery so that the images will be properly rotated and saved in the correct orientation so ALL other software can take advantage of this.
  • Use Windows Live Photo Gallery to preview all images to discard bad or blurry images off hand
  • Use iTag to “Touch” all images with a dummy Keyword tag – maybe I’ll just put a “Taken by Marc Bourassa” tag or something generic on all images just to initiate IPTC Keyword tags.
  • Use iTag to compose any Title and Description information
  • For quick, one-off uploads to flickr I’ll use the integrated publishing tool in Windows Live Photo Gallery.
  • For more extensive uploads I’ll go with the flickr Uploader.
  • Simple image editing will be done with Windows Live Photo Gallery.
  • More extensive editing will be done with Photoshop Elements. I’m looking forward to using this product but Adobe REALLY needs to steal some folks away from Apple so they can learn about interface design…
  • Most viewing at home will continue to be done using Screen Paver as it keeps my old memories alive.
  • For quickly viewing new images downloaded from email or that I come across in folders, Irfanview is the way to go.

New Nikon D60 has arrived

New Nikon D60 Camera, Lenses and Flash UnitI’m pretty psyched. I’d done a fair bit of research and I think this Nikon D60 (Wikipedia link) will let me do the kind of photography that I want to do. It’s been a long time since I’ve worked with a camera that allows you to play with pretty much any aspect of the picture taking process.

This camera’s got a lens-based vibration reduction system that claims that you can gain 3 stops of aperture reduction if desired. I also picked up a great little flash unit (Nikon SB-400) that will let me do some work with bounced flashes to further minimize redeye and other head-on flash issues.

I also opted for the 55 – 200 mm lens in addition to the included 18 – 55 mm one.

I found Ken Rockwell’s site to be pretty useful for my research. So much so that I used one of his links in my purchase. Hopefully it worked, I really couldn’t tell from the URL whether or not he would be credited with the purchase. But his site offers pragmatic first hand advice on various kinds of cameras. Of course, he’d say I didn’t really listen to his advice as he was pushing to stick with the D40 and spend the difference in cost on lenses or other equipment, but when I purchase equipment, I like to get the best that I can afford with the hope that it will remain current and relevant for as long as possible.