June 2023


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Archive for the 'Geekery' Category

New computational assistant

Posted in Geekery on May 18th, 2014

So the last time the Boss got me a new work laptop, they let me buy the old one cheap and I took it home and set it up in the living room for general use. For the last few months, however, it has been getting slower and slower. 2 weeks ago, I cloned the hard drive over to a good spare, but that hasn’t helped things any. Obviously, it’s just a dying machine.

So, on to a replacement. I’ve sold enough HP gear over the last few years to build up a decent nest-egg in reward points, so I converted them into a gift card and went shopping. Since all I really needed the machine n the living room for was basic web activity, I figured I’d save some and went with a Chromebook 14.

Overall impression? Aside from some odd choices in the interface design, it does what it says on the tin. It’s hard to remember that you can’t do certain things, but otherwise it handily does what it’s told.

As for those design choices, the first one that really grabs you is the keyboard keys – they’re larger than standard, which means I keep finding myself hitting the paces between the keys and not typing anything. Which is doubly weird for me, since I don’t touch-type, but even with staring at the keyboard, I’m not doing as well as normal.

Second is the choice of keys. They left out the standard PgUp/Dn Home/End keys, and instead of making the Function keys dual-purpose like many modern keyboards, these ones have been fully converted to the computer’s special functions. The lack of a Delete key is singularly confusing.

The most confusing bit by far, however, was the really poorly-worded instructions for a right-click: the paperwork clearly says “Double-Tap for Right-click”; what they actually meant was “Click with two fingers to Right-click”. Real helpful there, guys.

Still, so far, so good. Seems like just the thing if all you need is web access and light productivity.

No servers in Network Browser

Posted in Geekery, Work on February 2nd, 2014

So there you are, you’ve just updated the last of your servers to Server 2008, 2008R2 or even 2012, and you’ve gotten all of your client PCs up to at least Windows 7. Feels pretty good, eh?

Unfortunately, your users are hounding you because their tried-and-true Network Browser doesn’t show any of the servers. They can see all of the other PCs on-net, but the servers just don’t show up. You can of course type in the hostname manually, but what user is ever going to remember how to do that? Why does this simple thing fail?

Well, it turns out that there is a specific service that tells other systems what shared resources are available on a particular system – and for some completely unfathomable, dumb-as-fuq reason, Microsoft doesn’t enable this service by default on servers. The service in question is Function Discovery Resource Publication (FDResPub), and all you need to do is set this service to auto and start it – and within seconds you can refresh that Network Browser window and see results.

The mind, it boggles.

Here’s the even dumber thing about this: Windows 7 and server 2008 share a whole ton of code, right? Well, Win7 includes this service – and it is set to automatic by default! 

Now, I can understand not necessarily wanting this enabled on all servers – there’s no need to show the servers that don’t have shares on them, like the SQL server.   If this was some option that would pop up sometime during the server configuration stages, like a check box offering to “Advertise this server in Network Browser” (the list of options in the File Services Role would seem an ideal spot), this would make sense – but nope.

I’m guessing the planning for this move went something like this: “well, on PCs, we have to set things up by default for the Dumbest Common Denominator, which is going to be the workgroup user – you know, the shlubs that can barely check their email and have no idea how a computer actually works, so they would never be able to make a PC advertise to the Browser. We’ll enable file sharing by default and set the FDResPub service to auto. But on servers, we’ll leave it off, because surely a server admin will be smart enough to figure out a service we never talk about anywhere by digging up a single reference in an obscure forum post. Yeah, that sounds about right!”

Gee. Thanks, guys.

Program crashes with “Can’t get local AppData folder”

Posted in Geekery on September 26th, 2012

Another quick notes post.

If you have a prgram fail to run with this error, it’s probably a bad entry in the registry. Good news is, it’s easy to find and fix.

STANDARD WARNING: Editing the registry can blow things up permanently if you don’t know what you’re doing. Make backups first, then backup your backups. Redundancy is good.

Open Regedit and search ‘Computer’ for “user Shell Folders” or just go here:

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\User Shell Folders

And also “shell folders” here (which is just a few entries North…):

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Shell Folders

Search through all the values. If you find one that shouldn’t exist (like say, it points to a drive letter you don’t use) correct the value in both locations and try the program again.

I’ve run into this problem before and had it change back on me, so keep these instructions handy.

Outlook’s Message Recall feature is useless

Posted in Geekery on August 30th, 2012

Really, reeeaaally useless.

So, you’ve screwed the pooch and accidentally sent that email “Reply to ALL” instead of just your one chum, and your snarkiness is going to get you canned. “Wait!” you exclaim, “I’ll use Message Recall!!” You clickety-clickey over to Sent Items, locate the offending career-ender, right-click and choose “Recall message”. Nothing to it, Bob’s yer uncle, day saved, wot?

Not so much.

You see, the stars, moons and planets have to be just exactly aligned for this to work. If the end user is fast on the draw and reads it before you recall, it won’t work. (Duh, the damage is done at that point anyway.) If they have a rule that automatically moves your emails out of the inbox, it fails. If they check their email through OWA, it fails. If they get it on their mobile phone/tablet/whatever, you’re probably toast. (The butter’s on the counter over there, would you mind?)

Even if it actually does manage to work, do you know what it really does? It deletes the email.

“Sweet!!” you say, “That’s just what I wanted!”

Except, of course, that deleted emails go to the Deleted items folder. Unread. Subject line in bold, just waiting for the CEO to glance over and see that “Deleted Items (1)” on the left and think “Hmm, what’s this then?”

Yep. That’s him, yelling your name down the hallway right now. Might as well start packing your desk.

Can I have your stapler?

Business tip: don’t let the CFO be the IT contact

Posted in Geekery on April 25th, 2012

Working as an outsourced IT guy, I’ve seen many different approaches to the idea of the ‘IT Liaison’ position – that poor sap who gets tasked with keeping track of all the little things that are wrong with the computers and coordinating with the IT guy(s). Here are some tips for choosing the right Liaison:

  • Whoever you pick should have at least a vague idea of the terminology used. If they think “turning on the computer” involves the button on the monitor alone, they are not qualified. They should also not be afraid to learn something new.
  • Don’t let the beancounters do it. Especially the CFO. Beancounters are concerned only with the bottom line, and for the most part they don’t comprehend that what they consider “getting the most for their dollar” equates to pissing us right the hell off.

    Look, I know you don’t want to pay too much for parts and such, but if I give you a quote, the price on it will probably include a little something to cover the time and expense of researching the product and actually writing up the quote in a presentable format. DO NOT expect me to match the lowest price you can find on the Internet, because that price is based on them selling 1000 units a day. We sell 1 unit a day at best, so I’m not going to give you crate-based pricing. If you refuse to pay more than the lowest Internet price for anything, I will let you do your own damn research in the future and you can buy it yourself. Let me know when it gets there.

  • The Liaison should not be obsessive-compulsive. If you hound us and peer over our shoulders, it takes us longer to get anything done. If you continually pester us with emails regarding a particular subject, we will start adding the time we spend dealing with your emails into our fees. The idea of human multi-tasking is actually bogus: humans can only truly focus on one thing; doing more than one thing means we have to split that focus, and pay less attention to each of those things. So, if you’re distracting me from my work, you won’t like the results. Do not demand updates while the job is in process, wait until we have a minutes to breathe and we’ll tell you what we’re doing.
  • Make it someone who has some influence, or make someone with influence speak with us on a regular basis. Me telling the receptionist that you need new servers doesn’t do any good if nobody listens to her, and me saying you’ve needed new servers for months when the shit hits the fan just sounds like an excuse.

HP ML350/370 G6 Expansion Drive Cage Installation problem

Posted in Geekery, Work on November 5th, 2011

So, you’ve just bought the expansion drive cage (8 more SFF drives! W00t!) and you’ve got the SAS RAID controller Expansion Card as well. Great! Only one problem – HP forgot to include a crucial bit of information regarding how you wire the damn thing in.

Step 1: remove the existing SAS cables from the existing drive cage and motherboard. Discard these short cables.

Step 2: Take the shorter pair of cables from the expansion card kit, and route them from the SAS ports on the motherboard to ports 8 and 9 on the card. Then proceed with running the remaining cables from the two drive cages to ports 2-5 of the card.

The instructions that came with my kit left these two steps out, and I wasted about an hour trying to figure out what I did wrong (Whaddya mean there’s no new drives in the ACU?). Finally found an article with pictures in the HP site, but they could have saved me the trouble by just printing the above two lines in the kit.

How’d the rest of it go? Rather smashing, actually. That server now has 60GB (!!) of RAM and another 900GB of RAID5 storage.

Internet Explorer 9 – Microsoft STILL doesn’t get it.

Posted in Geekery on March 14th, 2011

Here is a phone pic of my computer 3 minutes into the process of installing Internet Explorer 9:

Why a phone pic? Because it had to completely shut down everything else, including:

  • Antivirus
  • Firefox
  • Media Monkey
  • All the widgets
  • Logitech software
  • and Windows Explorer.

So why it took 6 whole minutes when it wasn’t fighting anything else for my processors or 6GB of RAM, I have no effing idea…

So no, it didn’t actually require a reboot, but it did completely take over my computer for 6 solid minutes while it downloaded and installed the new package. So yay, no reboot, but WTF?!? Why are you STILL making the browser such an integral part of the operating system?

Chrome, Firefox and Opera all run quite happily without being so integrated. What the hell do you do that needs to be so wrapped up in the whole system other than allow a canny hacker access to core OS functionality through one of the inevitable security holes you provide with each release? Hmm?

Okay, enough of that, time to run it through some tests. So, load up my main work website, go to the toughest and slowest page it has and… huh. Right. IE9! Does so much more!! Look at all the pretty HTML5 it can do!!!

But apparently it doesn’t do Ajax, which means we can’t use it at work, which means it is utterly useless. Go Team Go.

So, right here is where I plug ChromePlus, a mashup that comes pre-loaded with IE-Tab right in the download. All the speed and security of Chrome AND the ability to run IE-required pages.

In conclusion, IE9 looks to be just what I expected it to be: several good ideas completely screwed by a company that refuses to pull it’s head out of it’s ass.

Legacy Email Relay in SBS 2008 with Exchange 2007

Posted in Geekery, Work on February 5th, 2011

As can be expected, Microsoft made a lot of changes in the SBS 2008 / Exchange 2007 combination, and while it has been out for several years now, I have yet to find any articles or HOWTO’s that specifically address the problems of getting ancient, legacy code to reliably send email alerts with the new systems.

With Exchange 2003, it was simple and mostly just built-in, all you had to do was add the IP address of things like your scanners and other fairly dumb systems (or even advanced ones, like Backup Exec and APC Powerchute) to allow them to relay email alerts through Exchange.

Well, in Exchange 2007, they made things a little more difficult and force you to create new Receive Connectors with specific restrictions to allow these systems. It has been well documented before, so I’ll just include a link: http://msexchangeteam.com/archive/2006/12/28/432013.aspx

I will point out one thing, however: my experience (and a blog posting I cannot find again today) says that to make this actually work, the remote network range for this connector must be, and not limited to the single machine or short range of IP addresses. I tested this extensively, and always came up with the same result: narrow IP range = no workee. This means that you must create rules on your firewall to strictly limit incoming SMTP traffic to make sure you don’t set up an open relay on the Internet. You should already be doing this anyhow, considering how cheap Postini spam filtering is.

There’s also one other small problem: SBS 2008 only allows you a single NIC, and therefore a single IP address for the server, which means that you’ll have to assign this new relay connector to a non-standard port (like 26) to make it work. (The trick of adding a second alternative IP address to the NIC will not work – it disappears after a reboot.) Here’s a series of pics with my setup:

Now to use this, you’ll obviously have to configure your legacy systems to point to the specific port as well as the IP address. Usually, this is done by tacking a :26 (or whatever port you chose) on the end of the IP address or server name. (192.168.x.x:26 or servername.domainname.local:26).

Sometimes, however, those legacy systems will be so entirely stupid that you can’t point them at a non-standard port. This is where stuff gets damned annoying.

If you are lucky enough to have another server on the network, you can install SMTP on that server, and tell it to use Exchange (at the special port you made) as a Smart Host, and then you can point your legacy systems at this SMTP server and allow it to do the relaying for you. For example, my client has another Server 2008 machine handy, so I added the SMTP Feature and created a new SMTP Virtual Server called Relay 1 and set it to allow anonymous connections.

Instead of 15 pictures, I’m going to give you a hundred words of settings description:

General Tab:
Select your IP address, nothing unusual here.

Access Tab:
-Authentication button – select Anonymous access only.
-Connection Control button – select “All except the list below”
-Relay Restrictions button – Select “Only the list below” and give it your network range. This one should accept the restriction of single entries, unlike the Exchange 2007 connector. I also checked the box for “Allow all computers which authenticate…” just for grins.

Messages Tab:
-Set your favorite limits here, as well as the location of the Badmail directory.

Delivery Tab
-Set more limits and timeouts here. I usually expire messages at 2 hours.

LDAP Routing and Security tabs:
-Probably no changes needed here.

Lastly, go into the Services management area and set SMTP to Automatic Start.

Hopefully, I’ve just saved at least one other person from having to figure all this out the hard way. May the Force be with you.

How to fail the Hyper-V exam 70-652

Posted in Geekery on June 30th, 2010

Step 1: Purchase / acquire the Microsoft E-Learning courses #6320 – #6324. Study them carefully, expecting them to contain all of the information required to pass the exam. They are, after all, provided by Microsoft for this very reason.

Step 2: Schedule and take the exam. Answer the questions. Miss the questions they ask regarding installing Hyper-V onto a Server 2008 Core installation, because the bloody study guide never mentions how to do this.

That’s right – the entire “Installation” section a complete failure because I had never seen these commands, which they asked about three times:

To view the list of software updates and check if any are missing, at the command prompt, type:

wmic qfe list

If you do not see “kbid=950050”, download the Hyper-V updates and then type the following command at a command prompt:

wusa.exe Windows6.0-KB950050-x64.msu /quiet

There are three update packages. After you install the updates, you must restart the server. The Update for Windows Server 2008 x64 Edition (KB 950050) and Language Pack for Hyper-V (KB951636) must be installed on the parent partition of the Server Core installation.

Hyper-V role

To install the Hyper-V role, at a command prompt, type:

start /w ocsetup Microsoft-Hyper-V

To manage Hyper-V on a Server Core installation, use the Hyper-V management tools to manage the server remotely. These tools are available for Windows Server 2008 and Windows Vista Service Pack 1.

*NOTE* – the above is for early releases of Server 2008. The R2 version has everything included, so all you need is the final ocsetup command.

Well, it wasn’t a total waste of a test. I was the first guy in the office to take the test, so I got to warn the others to study further afield and the next guy passed it.

I don’t know why I didn’t expect this, considering they asked me about Exchange clustering in a SBS exam.

Retro Gaming and security

Posted in Geekery on May 11th, 2010

As a good many of you should already know, MekTek.net has been given the go-ahead to release Mechwarrior4: Mercenaries as a free game (!!) to go with the enhancements that they have cooked up over the years. All of this is in preparation for the upcoming reboot of the Mechwarrior franchise, which looks to be very awesome indeed.

This is great news, because I’ve missed playing Mechwarrior, but haven’t wanted to go through all the trouble to re-install the damn thing. It’s a 2-hour process, once you take into account the multiple patches for the original game, adding in the supplements that I’ve bought over the years, all of their patches, and then the MekTek stuff, which is just too cool to pass up. I honestly wasn’t sure it would even install onto a 64-bit Windows7 box, so I was reluctant to use the two hours I could maybe scrape together for playing a game trying to install it.

Luckily, though, MekTek has put together an installer that works and manages to shoehorn the whole thing together without much fuss and bother… unless you happen to be running Norton 360 antivirus.

Once again, Symantec proves how thoroughly they suck. While it only takes moments for someone to submit a false positive, and maybe another hour before Norton distributes an updated signature file that deletes the effing executable to the game, it will take them probably 2 weeks to clean things up and ‘certify’ the files in question.

Gee, Symantec. Thanks.

Luckily for us, Da Roomie and I have avoided Symantec products for years now, and had no problem at all getting it installed on just about every computer in the house. We are thoroughly prepared for LAN gaming possibilities, as this is old enough it will even run on our laptops without dragging the video settings down.

Tonight, we took some Assault-class ‘Mechs for a run around a couple of maps, and Greyduck has found his favorite weapon at long last: a Large Continuous-Beam Laser. Two of those paired with Gauss rifles, and he’s giggling like mad. Especially when we both manage to lock an Annihilator into our sights and knock it over with 2 Gauss hits and one round of my railgun all at once.

Good times :)