She’s Gotta have IT

I venture from the lair to meet up with the opposite sex from time to time. I had a date recently that turned from a romantic encounter to awkward tech support. Our evening started at an exotic and unique restaurant that just opened in my home town called Applebees. I had the riblets and Jenny had a couple of veggie wraps. I was killed by chocolate and she had a Weight Watchers dessert that only cost 4 points on her daily allowance. I have known her for a while and was attempting to make this transition into dating. I was going strong. We shared our dreams and passions. She wanted to be a lifeguard. I wanted to level up my RPG character. She has a cat. I have my mom. It was a bona-fide match as she uncomfortably laughed at some of my puns. The awkwardness reached a crescendo when we talked about our favorite books. I like William Gibson. She likes road signs. After dinner we had drinks at a local establishment where we discussed philosophy, economics, and the “flight” of humankind as she put it.

To my surprise, she asked me back to her place for a drink. I am sure I had something on my schedule, but I went anyway.

She opened a bottle of wine, put on the new Mariah Carey, and she sat beside me on her couch. We got closer as our conversation got deeper and the alcohol took its desired affect.

“I want to ask you something,” Jenny said.

I said, “(nothing).”

“My wireless router is dropping my connection from time to time…would you take a look?”

If this situation was in a movie, the song “Touch My Body” would have come to a screeching stop.

I fixed her router – I fixed it all night long. Well, I did fix her router even though this is where I didn’t want the night to end, but I made her WEP key easy to guess. It wouldn’t take Tommy Tutone to be able to figure out Jenny’s password. There probably won’t be a next time, but if she needs help with something she is going to have to submit a trouble ticket like everyone else.

Network Printer Issues with Windows Vista

So you bought that new laptop with Windows Vista, set it up, got on the Internet, downloaded some updates, checked YouTube for the latest video of someone miming a boy band song, and bumped your ex-girlfriend from your Top 8. Now you want to print something across your home network through a shared printer. That printer happens to be shared on a Windows XP machine. You never had a problem before, but this new laptop keeps sending you an error message: Windows cannot connect to the printer. Access is denied.

If you are like me, you begin troubleshooting to figure out what is going on and start by downing a caffeinated beverage. You check UAC, permissions, reinstall the printer, and finally REBOOT. None of your tactics worked.

After research and struggling with the same problem, here is what I have come up with. Give thanks to Melonhead on TechNet for inspiring my streamlined solution to this printer problem that will become an issue for many users. I recreated the scenario and 60% of the time the following solution works every time.

  • Install the Windows Vista printer driver on the new Windows Vista computer
  • Open Control Panel and double-click on Printers
  • Remove all of your previous attempts at adding the printer
  • Click on Add a printer and Choose to Add a local printer
  • Select Create a new port and Type of port: Local Port
  • Enter a port name (the port name is in the format of
    “{computer name}{printer name}”)

  • Verify installation by viewing the port settings in the printer properties window

UberNote for an Ubermensch

“Web 2.0” is a bona fide buzzword. What happened to versions 1.1 through 1.9? What does 2.0 mean exactly? To me, Web 2.0 defines the separation of static web pages to truly dynamic and useful web applications. There will be other versions, but this is the first clear step in my mind.

Examples of Web 2.0 applications are Google Mail, Basecamp Project Manager, and UberNote – Note Management.

I recently became aware of UberNote by reading through articles at The Tech Brief. The UberNote application (almost wanted to call it software because you forget that this is a web application since it so useful and easy to use) allows for quick note taking, advanced editing, and intuitive tagging.

I am note taker. I always have a notebook in my pocket, so I never miss a fleeting idea – maybe one about how toothbrushes with a blue strip fade prematurely while using whitening toothpaste – wouldn’t want to lose that gem. There are times that I email thoughts to myself, leave voice mails on my Skype (which are the only voicemails I get), write on the back of a placemat at a diner – you get the idea. After getting invited to use the UberNote site, I have been putting my thoughts online and have found this a way to keep track of my little thought nuggets that will return literally tens of dollars someday in the future.

I recommend trying UberNote, joining their forums, and helping them shape their initial product offering. Check it out soon, so you don’t miss Web 2.0 and before the Web moves to 3.0 and maybe even Web 3.0 beta.

I Fixed the Furnance

I have been off of the road this week and have noticed that the leaves are turning here in Western Pennsylvania. The temperature has been dropping and got pretty cold overnight, so I tried out the furnace. As I switched the thermostat from cool to heat, I heard a click, some gas released, the normal procedure that I remember from last winter, but this time the sequence ended with a loud rattling sound and no heat.

The neighbor came over and we got daring and took off the front panel of the furnace. There was a definite source of the rattling and humming, but I have never looked at a furnace without the cover. I felt led to loosen some screws and found a status light that was blinking. On the back of the cover plate, there was a chart of the status light indications. Of course solid green was good, but this light was blinking twice and repeating after a pause. The chart indicated that a valve was stuck open. I grabbed some more tools and removed more screws from a pipe getting closer to the source of the humming sound, and found a blower fan stuck. We cleared some debris, put some tubing back, all of the remaining screws, and the furnace kicked on. The house was getting warmer and more importantly there were no explosions, not that I was worried, but I did leave my neighbor and stood behind a wall when I flipped the power switch.

I have fixed all kinds of computer problems and do some pretty advanced troubleshooting on electronic devices, but I got the biggest sense of satisfaction fixing my furnace and feeling the heat coming out of the vents. There’s just something about fixing mechanical things, using tools, and having a pile of leftover parts at the end. I walked around all week hoping that something else would break.

New Computer

I finally ordered a new computer. In the PC clone line of computers, my first computer was a 286 with MS-DOS. It was not a productivity machine, but I did play a stock market game and Duke Nukem quite a bit. I have upgraded a few times since then and my desktop now is a P4/1GB/Vista/Ubuntu modded several times starting in 2002. It served me well as I made a living off the system by writing software and technical books. And yes, Doom was played heavily to mom’s chagrin. Vista was not a good upgrade for this aging system. Even in its most optimized state, the lag in video playback, game response, and DHTML processing made it a pain to use for day to day entertainment purposes. AGP video cards and Vista don’t mix, so it’s time to look at SATA, more RAM, and PCI Express/SLI video.

On a tip from Darth Kevin, Shadowlord’s nemesis in the real-world, I purchased a custom SLI machine from CyberPower. I was able to build a system that will fit my needs (gaming, AJAX development, updating online dating profiles, using Google, watching the Matrix, etc.) and fall into my budget of $2000.

The first system I configured was absurd – 2TB of storage, 4GB of RAM, dual SLI video cards, Quad processor, and floppy drive. I have trimmed off some excess and now looking at a solid configuration. When I settle into the machine, I will let you know how it stacks up.

Case and Power Supply

Apevia X-Juniper Jr. (S Type Metallic Gray)
Apevia ATX-LCD650W Quartz

Motherboard and Processor

Asus P5N-E nForce 650i SLI
Intel Quad Core 2.4GHz/64bit/8MB

Internal Drive

500GB SATA-II

Sound and Video

3D Wave On-board Sound Card
GeForce 8800GTS (XFX Extreme Edition) 320MB/16X PCI Express Video Card

External Drives

LITE-ON LH-20A1H – 20X, Double Layer, DVD burner and player
12in1 Flash Media R/W
Floppy Drive

OS

Vista Ultimate

Connectivity

10/100/1000 On-board LAN Card

Peripheral

Logitech G15 Keyboard
Logitech MX Revolution Mouse
Dual Samsung SyncMaster 204B 20" Monitors

Windows Vista Optimization

A few months ago I upgraded an older PC with Microsoft’s newest Operating System (OS) called Windows Vista (Home Premimum Edition). My older PC has 256MB of dedicated video memory, 1GB of RAM, and a 2.4GHz Intel Processor. Vista ran very sluggish and gets unresponsive with a few browsers tabs open and couple of programs running, so I became frustrated. There is something good found in everything, so I was dedicated to make this OS purr. The irony was that I was also contributing sections to a new Windows Vista Technician’s User Guide. The design applications to write my sections of the manual ran so slow on Vista, I had to figure it out. The following information applies to Windows Vista Home Premium, Business, and Ultimate editions.

Here are some ideas and tricks that I used to optimize Windows Vista:

  • Minimizing and Maximizing Windows
    Once you start using Vista, you will notice there is animation sequence that happens as you minimize and maximize a window or vice versa. It makes the transition look smooth but takes up 100% of your processor to accomplish the task. The animation has to process, allocate memory, execute it, and then the window reacts. This sluggish response to just moving between windows becomes annoying with just a few windows open. Stopping this animation will be the biggest noticeable change you can make.

    Follow these steps to stop the animation:

    1. Select the Start Button, enter “SystemPropertiesPerformance” into
      the Start Search Box, and press Enter
    2. On the Visual Effects tab, uncheck Animate Windows When Minimizing/Maximizing
    3. Select OK to apply the settings

  • Window Transparency
    The windows in Vista are transparent around the top edges to accomplish a 3D experience as you notice whats behind the window. The effect works and looks great although it takes up RAM and processing power to update the transparency effect as things change.

    Follow these steps to turn off window transparency:

    1. Right-click on the Desktop and select Personalize
    2. Select Windows Color And Appearance
    3. Uncheck Enable Transparency
    4. Select OK to apply the settings

  • Windows Vista Services
    There are services that run in the background that process data, user actions, and protect the stability of the PC. Some of these are just not needed. On a new install almost all of them are installed and running. You can safely stop some services that will free up system resources. Follow the procedures at your own risk and only disable services that you actually don’t need.

    Here are few services that you can safely disable:

    1. Windows Defender
    2. Tablet PC Input Service
    3. Telephony (if you are not using your dial-up modem)
    4. Parental Controls
    5. WLAN AutoConfig (if you are not using wireless)
    6. Routing and Remote Access

Follow these steps to disable a service:

    1. Select the Start Button, enter “Services” into the Start Search Box, and press Enter
    2. Right-click on a Service to disable and select Properties
    3. Under Startup Type, select Disabled
    4. Select OK to apply the settings

Passive Packet Capturing

User A to User B packet data traffic can be monitored through a HUB by User C using a “receive‑only” Ethernet cable.

On the HUB end of the cable, there is a loop between TX and RX to activate the HUB port. Any traffic through the HUB will now include this port in the broadcasts.

User C taps onto the loop by its receive pins.

Once the connections are made to the HUB, User C will receive all packets that flow through the HUB, but User C will not transmit any packets towards the HUB (no DHCP requests and no ARP requests).

The NIC on User C is in promiscuous mode capturing all incoming packets only.

Using a receive-only Ethernet cable in this configuration allows for the ability to passively capture packets, while not actively being a part of the network.

Network administrators can actively test for devices in promiscuous mode, monitor for DHCP and ARP requests, and review MAC tables to determine the presence of a packet analysis tool.