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Geek Speak

81 Posts authored by: Bronx

Okay, I'm sure you've read my thrashing concerning Windows 8 and the slight pep I had towards Windows 8.1. Now we have Windows 10. I'll keep this brief. (Probably not.)


The good:

  • Total download and installation time? About 2.5 hours. Once installed, nothing was lost or unfamiliar – unlike Windows 8. Classic Shell was promptly uninstalled – by me.
  • Installation and upgrading was near flawless. Kudos to the Dev team for that! (Only hiccup was a false message saying I was low on memory, which I'm sure an update will rectify posthaste since this is not the case.)
    mem.jpg
  • Compatibility was not an issue. Everything works thus far.
  • Start menu is back; however, at the last minute, Microsoft decided to hide/remove a needed Start menu tweaking tool which would enable the user to re-arrange the Start menu. (Removing options is bad. See my review of Windows 8.) To their credit, some advanced tweaks to the Start menu can be performed through a quick Google search and simple instructions. (Normal tweaks are obvious.)
  • Minimize, Maximize, and Close buttons are back. Also the snap-to feature has been enhanced – can do quadrants now.
  • Multiple virtual desktops. Good, I guess. Although if you're organized, one is sufficient.


The bad:

  • After using the available tweaks, the Start menu is still...not like I want it to be – better than it was in Windows 8 and closer to the Windows 7 experience, just not perfect.
  • A computerized narrator to “help” me after installation was quickly quashed. (Think Clippy from Word, circa 2003.)


Indifferent:

  • New, redesigned menus/options for the fingers abound, but some of the old looking stuff lingers (which I prefer). Some older menus are colorful and mouse-centric, while newer menus are flat, gray, and designed for finger tapping. Very Visual Studio 2012-esque. It also looks as though time was the enemy, meaning the Dev team did not have time to upgrade deeper menus/options because while some option windows look much different, other options still have the Windows 7 look and feel. Whatever. Consistency is a nice to have.
  • I would add the new version of IE to the Bad list, but I use Chrome. IE (or whatever the new name is) is still...intrusive – requiring too much input for functions that should be automated. Microsoft, focus on the OS...the rest of the world will take care of the apps. Sorry to be so blunt but, well, not really.

 

Edge:

Edge is the new version of IE. Personally, I have not used IE since IE 7. Edge, I'm sorry to say, is still IE. I like the minimalist approach, but the engine needs to go.

    The Good: Looks better and cleaner, offers browsing suggestions, provides the ability to share pages.

    The Bad: Still IE, meaning certain pages do not render properly, as they do in Chrome. (Chrome does not add "hidden" padding to Div tags, among others, where IE and Firefox do.)

    Conclusion: Try it. I still prefer Chrome. This is a personal choice akin to your favorite beer - both will get the job done, but what flavor do you prefer?

 

Talking to your computer:

Cortana. Good idea, but you're not ready. (No one is really.) Few people use Siri (iphone) or Google voice (Android). I do use the Amazon Echo, however. The difference? People are programmed to type with a computer. Being quiet while doing anything on a computer invokes a sense of privacy. Talking to a machine that is primarily used for typing and mousing is unnatural. The Echo is new and can only be used via speech. The transition is more natural, although odd at times. I know Microsoft feels a need to catch up – and that's fine. Just do it in the lab until you're ready; nay, better!

 

Summary:

Microsoft is trying to compete in the tablet market, and rightly so. I applaud capitalism; however, they are losing, and that's okay. I do have some firm opinions which may clear things up.


Microsoft, you are a computer company primarily focused on computer operating systems. Focus on that. If you want to enter the tablet market with a tablet OS, great! But know your audience. Your audience is overwhelmingly PC users who work, not tablet users who play.


If you insist on adding tablet features, keep them independent of the PC features – even on the same device. Meaning, do not add tiles (tablet features) to the Start menu (PC feature). If you must enter the tablet domain, you should have a simple tray icon to toggle between PC and tablet modes (work and play modes, respectively). That's it. Go from work to play mode in one click/tap. Bam! That would make all the difference and crush the competitors IMHO. (Although, I would rethink the tiles and replace them with something less intrusive and more customizable.)


Advice:

Continue improving Windows until we get to that Minority Report hologram computer. Make Windows more functional, more seamless, more integrated, easier to use, and with lots of cool options. (Options are HUGE.) Once you nail that, then add speech and speech recognition (when that technology is near flawless). BTW, we all kill the bloatware. Rely on yourself, not the ads of others please.


Bottom line:

Good and worth the price (free). I would pay the $119 asking price too if I were assured the Start menu could be tailored to my needs. Nice comeback. Beer's on me, but just the first.

How fast are you at troubleshooting?


Quick. If Storage Array X goes into a Warning state, what applications are affected? Oh great, now applications are going critical. Here come the phone calls. Where do these critical applications live?! You need answers now! Time’s up. Sorry, you lose. Thanks for playing.


Ho, ho. What’s this?


The Environment view you say? What’s that? Please explain.


Sure. But first, let’s imagine you work for a company called, SolarBronx. Here at SolarBronx, software is being developed at break-neck speed. We employ many people who work in various departments. Where do you fit in? You’re smart. You work in Engineering!

AppStack1 - Copy.png

Now let’s imagine you get sick and end up in the hospital for two weeks. Who will that affect at SolarBronx? Let’s have a look:

AppStack2 - Copy.png

As you can see, certain employees in various departments will be affected, one way or another. Some may need to pick up the slack in your absence. Let’s remove the clutter and just focus on who is affected.

AppStack3 - Copy.png

And there it is. Look at all the people your illness affected. This is unacceptable. SolarBronx determines you, the problem that’s costing the company time and money, must be removed. Sorry buddy, you’re fired. Hit the bricks! Now SolarBronx is running smoothly once again without you mucking up the works by costing the company a fortune after only three days on the job.

 

The Environment View

The Environment View is Orion’s way of telling the same story about your IT environment, only without the twisted humor. Take a look below at Orion’s interpretation:

e1.png

Here in this environment, Storage Array CX3-10c is in a Warning state. Clicking this Storage Array will show me everything that it’s related to and affecting in my environment, like so:

e2.png

Objects not affected or related to the object selected are shown as faded. To get a cleaner view of the related objects, click Spotlight to remove all unrelated objects. Voila!

e3.png

Pretty slick troubleshooting tool, wouldn't you agree? And it will be coming soon to a web console near you!


Here's the deal. I have a Windows 7 laptop. Updates are pending, they get installed, machine reboots, updates fail. Rinse, repeat daily. Every day I go through this and I'm LOSING MY MIND! The updates keep accumulating and nothing ever gets installed. I just get failure, after failure, after failure! @#$%^ Microsoft!

wu.png

Here's what I have done so far:

  • Reboot - nothin
  • System restore - nothin
  • Download each update individually - still fails
  • MS Fix It tool - didn't help
  • A/V off
  • Admin rights
  • Uninstall previous updates - still nothing
  • Clear all the logs and .dat files - nothing helped
  • No viruses or any other bad thingys. All clear.
    • Will attempt to uninstall the Windows Update Service - that might help, but I doubt it.
    • My last resort is the battery re-seating, which actually WORKED in the following scenario: Troubleshooting. (The Hard Way.)

 

Anyone have any other ideas other than a formatting? I'm losing it here. Coming close to "Naked Bronx in a clock tower" moment. Thanks.

When Windows 8 launched, I wrote this scathing review, "Microsoft, have you lost your mind again?"  It was a bloodbath for Microsoft that day. Two years later, I just finished installing/tweaking Windows 8.1 here at the office. (It wasn't my choice.)

 

Windows 8 vs. 8.1

You can read my full review of Windows 8 at the link provided above, and I stand by it. Now let's examine the tweaks Microsoft has made to v8.1:

  • Lo and behold, the Start button/menu is back! (Sorta). Back to the way things were. An improvement, I guess.
    start.png
  • Aero glass effect, which I liked, needed to be installed using a third-party app. Still got it though.
  • Another "improvement:" I can now launch into desktop mode on boot (something previous versions did naturally) bypassing those ugly and useless tiles.
  • Icon spacing. This tweak was available in Windows 7 and earlier through the UI. In 8.1 I had to implement a registry hack, as evidenced by my MRU list in the Start menu above.
  • I'm experiencing a lag when typing versus what I see on the screen from time to time. Annoying but this does not happen too often, although it is happening as I write this.
  • OS seems a little sluggish. Time, and benchmarks, will tell.
  • Compatibility: Surprisingly, everything seems to work fine. Good job!
  • I've also learned that you can mount and unmount ISOs through the OS. No third party app needed. Sweet.
  • The shell graphics are more appealing and informative as well, but I think this may take away from performance. I still need to tinker more just to make sure.

 

Overall, I cannot complain about Windows 8.1. Let's slow down though. I won't praise it either. I still prefer Windows 7 any day of the week and twice on Sunday. (Funny, it's like the VPs over at Microsoft actually read part one of this article and listened! Go figure.) There is still work to be done though. The "working" part of the OS needs to be refined more to perform more like Windows 7 IMHO. At least this is a step in the right direction.

 

Office 2013

Office 2013 was also part of my transition. Just want to say a few words while I'm here:

  • The display is very flat. No appearance of texture. Difficult to distinguish between the "draggable" top portion of the app and the rest of it. And all the apps look the same. Very bland. See the pics below for comparison:
    What my Outlook used to look like - Outlook 2007 (Note: This is a random pic from Google.)
    old.png
    My current version of Outlook 2013 - Flat, no 3-D texture or feel. Looks like paper.
    inbox.png
  • Another observation was that they changed the way VBA understands VB. In other words, I had to re-write some of my code and register some older ActiveX controls to get my apps and macros working again. Took some time but I got it done.

Again, nothing terribly bad here, but I think we could all do without those ribbons. The real estate they chew up is just too valuable.

 

The Verdict.

Overall, not bad, but don't rush to upgrade just yet.

 

My Motto

"If you're happy with your OS, you can keep your OS. If you like your version of Office, you can keep your version of Office, period. End of story." (Wait. Why are you kicking me off of my current OS and Office versions and forcing me to "upgrade"? I was happy and liked what I had. You said over and over that I can keep what I liked! Is this better for me, or better for you?) Hmmm...see what I did there?

VBA - A quick lesson

Posted by Bronx Mar 27, 2014

Okay, so by now you should know that I like tinkering...and showing you how I do it. See the following for two examples:

Today's lesson will be in VBA for Outlook. The challenge? Schedule a meeting/appointment on a public calendar for all to see while simultaneously sending a specific person a one day reminder to take care of the newly scheduled event. Simply put, control and manipulate both public and private calendars.

Time for the pictures! Here's what I came up with using the Outlook VBE, referencing the Calendar control:

art.png

Simple right? Fill in the fields, pick a day, then Submit. Here's the result of hitting that li'l Submit button:

My personal calendar gets a 24 hour reminder scheduled at the right time.
r2-private.pngr3-private.pngr1.png

Public calendar also gets updated so others can schedule around what is going on.

bcpub.png

Before I show you the code

If you do not know what VBA is or how to access it in Outlook, go figure that out first. The form (Article Scheduler) at the top of this page lives here in the Outlook VBE:

f1.png

You'll need to create the form with the control names I have in the code below. Also, to run this from your Outlook toolbar, create a new Module (I have two above). In the new module, enter these three lines of code:


Sub RunScheduler()

    Scheduler.Show

End Sub

 

Once complete, you can drag the macro button to your toolbar.

tps.png

This is not a tutorial. Rather, it is an example you can tailor to your own needs by examining the code and changing what you want to get the desired effect. A litlle VBA research on your part may be in order.

 

The Code (Put this in the code section for the Scheduler form):

 

    Dim ola As Outlook.AddressList

    Dim ole As Outlook.AddressEntry

    Dim WriteDate As Object 'Date

    Dim EmailAddy As String

 

    Private Sub Calendar1_Click()

        txtMsg.Text = ""

    End Sub

 

    Private Sub CheckBox1_Click()

        CheckBox1.Value = Not CheckBox1.Value

    End Sub

 

    Private Sub ComboBox1_Change()

        txtMsg.Text = ""

    End Sub

 

    Private Sub CommandButton1_Click()

        Dim myItem As Object

        Dim myRequiredAttendee, myOptionalAttendee, myResourceAttendee As Outlook.Recipient

 

        If ComboBox1.Text = "" Then MsgBox("Really? Step 1 is entering an author's name.")

        If CheckBox1.Value = True Then

            Dim objOutlook As Outlook.Application

            Dim objOutlookMsg As Outlook.MailItem

            Dim objOutlookRecip As Outlook.Recipient

            Dim objOutlookAttach As Outlook.Attachment

 

            EmailAddy = ComboBox1.Value

            WriteDate = Calendar1.Value & " 8:00 AM"

 

            myItem = Application.CreateItem(olAppointmentItem)

            With myItem

                ' Add the To recipient(s) to the message.

                myRequiredAttendee = .Recipients.Add(EmailAddy)

                myRequiredAttendee.Type = olTo

                ' Resolve each Recipient's name.

 

                For Each myRequiredAttendee In .Recipients

                    myRequiredAttendee.Resolve()

                Next

 

            End With

 

            myItem.MeetingStatus = olMeeting

            myItem.Subject = "Write an article for tomorrow, due at 8am."

 

            If txtTitle.Text <> "" Then

                myItem.Body = txtTitle.Text & " for " & txtForum.Text & "."

            Else

                myItem.Body = "Write an article for tomorrow, due at 8am."

            End If

 

            myItem.Location = "Your Desk."

            myItem.Start = WriteDate

            myItem.Duration = 90

            myItem.ReminderMinutesBeforeStart = 1440

            myItem.ReminderSet = True

 

            myRequiredAttendee = myItem.Recipients.Add(EmailAddy)

            myRequiredAttendee.Type = olRequired

            myItem.Send()

            ComboBox1.Value = ""

            txtMsg.Text = "Reminder sent to " & EmailAddy & "."

 

            Dim myNameSpace As Outlook.NameSpace

            Dim myFolder As Outlook.folder

            Dim myNewFolder As Outlook.AppointmentItem

 

            myNameSpace = Application.GetNamespace("MAPI")

            myFolder = myNameSpace.Folders.Item(3)

            SubFolder = myFolder.Folders("All Public Folders").Folders("Your Public Sub Calendar").Items.Add(olAppointmentItem)

 

            With SubFolder

                .Subject = EmailAddy

                .Start = WriteDate

                .Save()

            End With

 

        End If

 

    End Sub

 

    Private Sub UserForm_Initialize()

        Calendar1.Value = Now

 

        ola = Application.Session.AddressLists("Global Address List")

        For Each ole In ola.AddressEntries

            ComboBox1.AddItem(ole)

        Next

        ola = Nothing

        ole = Nothing

 

    End Sub


Ho ho, what's this?

Posted by Bronx Mar 13, 2014

Yup, the new SolarWinds help system has finally been launched, thank God. You can check out SAM's new system here. So, what does this mean for you? Not much really, but there are a few things I'd like to bring to your attention.

 

Remember when Help had every product? (See below.) The tech writers here called that, MegaHelp, and with good reason. It took hours just to build that monster. (I think the marketing folks back then concluded that if a user saw every product, they may want to buy something else.) That's like me looking for motorcycle instructions and stumbling across the "How to land a 747" page. Not so good. Now each product has its own separate Help system. See?

old.pngnew.png

 

Note the differences. A few books for each product rather than 50 books!

 

How did we make the transition?

The old fashioned way...we worked harder, and a li'l smarter. In addition to our regular workload, each tech writer was responsible for making sure every link in their product's UI was inserted into the new system, in addition to the cross-references within each document. Naturally, there's no tool for doing this and we were facing thousands of copy & paste operations, especially me! (SAM is rocking about 2,300 pages when all is said and done.)

 

Being a programmer, my first thought was to build a tool to automate this. The tool I built worked, for the most part. It extracted all the links and cross-references from our original documents and "pasted" them into the new ones. (When I say, "...for the most part," I mean there were some square peg/round hole moments that we all had to sort out.) The end result though was a much faster conversion with hands and fingers saved from not copying & pasting 20,000 times.

 

Is it perfect?

I think we did our best to make the transition as easy as possible for you, the user. That said, it is possible that there may be broken links and/or delays. If there are, I apologize in advance. It took several months to convert our entire help system to a new platform. Working the conversion while adding new content simultaneously pushed all of the tech writers to the edge. If you spot a problem, please post it here and we'll fix the issue as soon as possible. If you don't experience any problems, great! That's our goal. We are after all, Technical Writers - The Unsung Heroes.

 

What's in it for you?

First off, many fewer books to sift through. Excellent improvement IMHO. Next, we have a more robust search engine that will only search within your product's docs.

ps2.png

The New Books.

You would be surprised how much info is included just in SAM's AppInsight for Exchange section. Why not show you? Okay.

AIE.png

KB Articles

Another tip: Search our KB system. We have a great deal of articles already in place for AppInsight for Exchange. And look, I've already done the search for you!

SolarWinds Knowledge Base :: Search :: SolarWinds Knowledge Base :: AppInsight for Exchange

 

As you can see, there's a ton of information on everything AppInsight for Exchange. Why? Well Kate from SAM Tech Support, um, well, er, uh, her kung fu is stronger than my kung fu. What Kate wants, Kate gets. (She quite literally is a black belt in kung fu and I have the picture of her black eye to prove it.) I do whatever I can to make her life easier, so before you go calling support, take a peek at the brandy new help files. (Plus the darned thing just looks cooler.)

 

In the End.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all of the tech writers here at SolarWinds. We were under a great deal of stress creating new content while making this transition work. I know some even took it on the chin. Hope you thwackers take advantage of our hard work. My much needed vacation starts next week.

 

Goodnight Doc Torok, wherever you are!

Toys: Digital vs. Analog

Posted by Bronx Feb 24, 2014

The Old Days

I remember my father's new watch when I was a kid. It was a newfangled gold digital watch, not unlike the Pulsar pictured below.

LED.JPG

(Yes, I'm that old.) I thought this was the coolest thing ever! Every five minutes I'd ask him the time just to see it work. Fast forward forty years and I'm out of toys, sorta.

 

Why? First, let me preface my little story by informing you that I just spent my first winter here in the Utah office (which is located directly across the street from the NSA. (Booooooooo)). Winter in Utah (to my chagrin) is a rather lonely place. It seems the residents like to hibernate a bit. Having few friends here, my social mingling will have to wait until the spring. No biggie. As a geek I think it's safe to assume that most geeks are not social butterflies. That said, let's run down the list of my toys.

 

The New Days. My Toys, Winter, and Boredom.

  • Flat screen TV:  Really don't watch much TV even though I have a thousand channels. (I'm not a TV guy, but...) The Walking Dead is about it since Breaking Bad ended. I watch the news, but that gets me angry and just leads me to drink.
  • DVR: Now I can get angry on my time.
  • Chromecast: Great Gadget.
  • Computer: I was once so bored and lonely that I actually programmed an artificially intelligent friend that conversed with me.
  • Robot Vacuum. Closest thing I have to a pet.
  • Xbox: Bought the thing the moment GTA 4 came out. After hooking it up and playing for a bit, I looked at the time and was shocked to learn it was two in the morning - and on a week night! I had been playing non-stop for seven hours! The next morning I brought the system back to the store for a full refund, surmising that the paltry excuse I had for a social life would vanish lest this monstrosity were not vanquished posthaste.
  • Tablet: Nice li'l in between gadget for doing simple tasks.
  • Cell phone: Small tablet. (I'd call it a phone but no one I call ever uses it to talk (except mom)).

 

My latest toy is my new watch. It does all kinds of neat things like set itself to the atomic clock daily, tells me the date and day of the week, and a host of other nifty tricks, including telling me the time. Check it out here (and no, I did not pay that crazy price).

watch.png

Everything Old is New

I remember when my phone was analog and my watch was digital. Now that equation has been inverted. I loved video games as a kid and now I avoid them. Also loved TV as a kid, now, not so much. So with all these cool electronic toys to play with, what did I do over the cold and lonely weekend? I washed my car and read a book. Not on my tablet, a real, hard covered, honest to goodness book.

 

The Moral

Like my mother always said, "Go out an play with your friends." (or was it, "...play in traffic"?) Anyway, the point is, interact with people more and toys less - I think.

A while back I wrote this article on SOAP. Why? Well, it was to prime you for the new SOAP monitor SAM has now been outfitted with. (See, if you read my articles it's quite possible I may slip in a new feature without actually announcing it, or admitting it.)

 

Yeah, there's been a lot of talk about the new AppInsight for Exchange application. That's all well and good, but the new SOAP monitor has a little flash of its own. Take a peek:

soap.png

From the SAM Admin Guide (sorta):

Loading WSDL Files: The SOAP monitor within SAM currently supports the WSDL schema, which must be exposed on a URL. Once the WSDL file is successfully loaded, the file will be parsed automagically and the fields will populate. Once the WSDL file has been successfully loaded, you can specify values for the available arguments. There are two types of arguments, simple, and complex... 

 

In other words, load a file and SAM will parse it for you, or you can enter your own XML if you're comfortable doing that. (Why do all these tech manuals sound so dull and dry? Oh, wait.)

Phone Security and Privacy

Posted by Bronx Jan 28, 2014

Who cares about privacy?

The classic argument, "If you're not doing anything wrong then you have nothing to worry about," has a tiny, yet important flaw. The word, wrong. Who defines what is wrong and what is not? For instance, if I were to text a crude joke to one of my friends in my contact list (as I often do) the recipient and I would most likely laugh and think the joke was...at least acceptable (if not actually funny). If someone (say an NSA official) intercepts and reads this text, then that's where the laughter will most certainly cease. It's at this point where things can get a little...wonky. Imagine, a simple joke intercepted, taken out of context, and then investigated by the Feds because you mentioned a government official by name! The possible, although unlikely, nightmarish scenarios are limitless. Your phone has everything dear to you including text messages, emails, bank information, locations, friends, pictures, videos, and on and on and on. Who cares about privacy? Well, in a word, me. And I'm sure you do as well. Really, how would you react to someone standing over your shoulder reading what you're writing; or worse, you come back to your desk and see a co-worker going through your phone's photo gallery? This is happening to everyone on the planet all the time without the "benefit" of actually seeing and identifying the spy. We know this because of, "He who should not be named." (No, not Voldemort. Think neve.)

 

The government apparently has no care whatsoever for your privacy, but thankfully, the private sector does. Yes, the time has come to go on the offense and stop playing defense with something that is yours...your privacy. (This mantra, IMHO, is something that should be touted in all aspects of the human experience. Anyway, I digress.) Enter Blackphone!

 

Blackphone

Blackphone is a private start-up company doing one thing: Building an Android-type phone that is 100% secure.

 

From their site:

"Blackphone is the world's first smartphone which prioritizes the user's privacy and control, without any hooks to carriers or vendors. It comes preinstalled with all the tools you need to move throughout the world, conduct business, and stay in touch, while shielding you from prying eyes. It's the trustworthy precaution any connected worker should take, whether you're talking to your family or exchanging notes on your latest merger & acquisition."

 

I'll buy one as soon as I can, I promise you.

 

In the meantime...

I like my privacy. I have written multiple articles on privacy that help keep your life, well, yours. Take a gander here:

There are plenty of apps (some are subscription based) that you can install for securing your phone:


Imagine a world with no bathroom or bedroom doors, with transparent walls, and with everyone knowing every thought in your head! Yikes! Remember, you're doing nothing wrong...until someone more powerful than you says you are. This is when the fun begins.


If you have any good security/privacy tips, please share them with the world in the comments section below.


P.S. You might wanna uninstall Google Maps and Angry Birds. Why? Check this out.


P.P.S. For the record, I do not have a (real) Facebook or Twitter account. I have various real and disposable email accounts, none of which reveal my true identity. At home, I have VPNs galore with A/V and anti-spyware software o'plenty. Not to mention everything I mentioned in the E-privacy articles. Even my co-workers call me Bronx. (My real name is Joe...or is it?)

I just had a brief discussion with a dev co-worker and we discussed this very topic. We also provided some examples showing that no matter what policies are in place, security is only as good as the people who are responsible for enforcing it. At some point, you just have to trust your people. That said, let's move on to example numero uno.

 

Example #1

My co-worker used to work for the Department of Defense as a contractor (no, not him). Passwords were given to him in a vault and he was made to memorize them (as opposed to simply writing them on paper) all the while being watched by a government official whose job it was to ensure that no written record of the passwords existed. On the surface, my friend complied. He remembered the passwords alright...just long enough to write them down though (when no one was looking, of course).

 

The same employee at the same job was also to be watched by a government official as he worked to make sure data was not "misused." Believe it or not, even government officials are human. At some point they too take breaks, go to lunch, become friendly, and even gain your trust. Simply put, the opportunity will arise to compromise security because people are human.

 

Example #2

For years I worked at the SolarWinds headquarters in Austin, TX. Part of my daily routine was to download a podcast via Bittorrent over the wifi connection straight to my phone. This past August, I moved to the Salt Lake City office and quickly realized they plugged the torrent hole in the firewall here. How would I get my show onto my phone? Oh, the perils of security! Puh-lease. All I did was RDP into my laptop, download my show there, then put it in my Dropbox. Presto! Five minutes later I was enjoying the show.

 

The Moral

Like I said earlier, "...security is only as good as the people who are responsible for enforcing it. At some point, you just have to trust your people." If you don't trust those around you, you may have bigger issues that need addressing. That's just my 2¢.

 

Do you have an example?

If you do, tell me about it in the comment section below. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to find some black tape to put over my webcam.

The Situation

Over the Christmas holiday I found myself with some extra time and decided to get my backups on my external hard drives in order. About halfway through, Windows decided not to recognize my hard drives anymore. Look familiar?
usb.png

Clicking the message did nothing to assist me.

 

The Wrong Solution

My first instinct was to plug the drives into my other laptop to verify the hardware was still in working order and of course, they worked just fine. At this point I've verified it's not the hardware causing my burgeoning headache. What next? Drivers! Of course, that's it! Perhaps the drivers somehow became corrupt. Piece of cake! Just grab them off the manufacturer's site and I should be back in business.

 

I installed the drivers and pointed Windows to the proper folder and guess what I found? Nothing. Huh? That's odd. I installed the drivers again and this time I watched the folder and files being created from the MSI installation program, only the folder and files were never created, despite the fact that the installer said I was good to go. (I know what you're thinking, did you check the li'l box that says, "Show hidden files and folders" as well as the other li'l box that says, "Show protected operating system files"?  C'mon, that's a rookie mistake for lesser men.)

 

I've had MSI problems in the past so I verified that another MSI installer worked on the same rig. It did, so MSI installers in general are not the problem. I concluded that the devs over at this particular company were complete idiots by providing the end user with a program that installs sailboat fuel.

 

Hour three of my adventure

Trolled Google and learned what I could. Nothing new here.

 

Hour four of my adventure

Get the drivers from a third party program that searches for and installs needed drivers. Sure that will work! The drivers downloaded and updated and sure enough, nothing changed! I still could not get my drives to work.

 

Hour five of my adventure

All the articles and forums online were telling me things I already knew and tried, including tweaking every possible setting in the Control Panel and System Manager. Nothing. One blog even had me tweak some registry settings. Still nothing! Reboot after reboot and I had no external drives. My USB wireless mouse however, never failed during this ordeal. It had to be the drivers!

 

I was getting desperate. The next step, gulp...Microsoft.com. I found myself here:
ms.jpg

This had to work! I mean, they BUILT the damned thing and the Fix It tool they prepared was designed specifically for this problem. Need I tell you what happened? You guessed it, nothing. The tool found errors it could not fix - didn't tell me what they were though. It just told me my hardware was corrupt. (Another wrong assumption.)

 

Hour six of my adventure

I was stupefied. Six hours of reading, reboots, downloads, tools, settings and registry edits, and nothing. What to do? Then my eye caught an obscure article (not unlike this one). The only reason I read it was because the instructions given were different from the hundreds of others that I had read which all gave the same five solutions that didn't work. I had nothing to lose and at some point, even the ridiculous seems viable.

 

Before the big reveal, let's review:

  • With 30+ years of programming and computer experience, I was stumped
  • Microsoft could not fix it
  • Manufacturer could not fix it
  • Updated drivers did not fix it
  • Registry and other settings adjustments did not fix it
  • Reboots did not fix it
  • All but one solution in all of Google, failed

 

The Ridiculous solution

Turn the computer off, physically remove the laptop battery and power cord from the computer. Let sit for five minutes. Resume as normal. YES, THAT REALLY WORKED!!


The Moral of the story?

If you can find one, please add it to the comments below.

Faster is Better.

Posted by Bronx Nov 20, 2013

For someone who doesn't like endorsing products, here I go again!

 

This past weekend I was up at some ungodly hour and noticed my laptop was in what appeared to be BIOS mode. After squinting for a few seconds, I read that Windows decided it was time to do a sector check on my hard drive. Well, we all know what this means. Yup, my hard drive was failing. I went back to bed and didn't panic because like every other responsible person in the world (chuckle) I HAVE MULTIPLE BACKUPS OF EVERYTHING!! <--- Good tip.

 

After the morning coffee, I drove down to ye old brick and mortar store to get a new hard drive. (I did not want to wait until Black Friday because...well, read that story and you'll know why.) Anyway, I poked around the store for a moment and noticed the prices of Solid State Drives (SSD) were fairly cheap. Eureka! (For those of you non-geek types, an SSD is basically a flash drive disguised as a hard drive.) Within the hour I had my laptop apart and the new SSD in place.

 

Fast is not the word.

Once I had the SSD installed, my laptop was blazing. A typical reboot with a traditional hard drive took between four and five minutes. With the SSD, a reboot took no longer than 25 seconds! All my applications were much more responsive too. Just double-click and BOOM, they're open! No more moving parts. Simple electricity does all the work at a speed ten times faster. I don't know how I ever lived without it. By the way, the drive does come with cloning software; however, you will need to buy a SATA to USB cable separately for about $40.

ssd.jpg

Other Benefits

Ha, as though you need more than a 25 second boot time and zippier response times for your applications. Well, there are a few other minor benefits:

  • Already mentioned the super fast response times to everything
  • SSD is physically lighter than a traditional hard drive
  • A lack of moving parts mitigates the risk of Read/Write errors
  • A lack of moving parts increases laptop battery life 30 minutes, on average.

 

I wonder how SAM would respond to living on an SSD? After all, SSD's were originally designed for servers.

Great Gadget

Posted by Bronx Nov 7, 2013

I normally don't endorse products (I don't get paid to either way), but Google Chromecast is something I highly recommend. I bought it the moment I discovered it, and so did Pop. It can be set up in ten minutes (2 hours if you're my Pop).

 

What is it?

Good question! It is a WIFI dongle that connects to your TV so you can broadcast videos and web material directly to a TV from your computer, tablet, or phone, with the touch of a button. Imagine you're just watching a video of GTA5 on your phone and BOOM, now it's on your TV. It's just that easy.

cc.jpg

What does this mean?

For me it meant I could watch my NY Jets lose on the big screen, rather than from a much smaller laptop screen. I can also view any website or video within Google Chrome on my TV! Just think about all those websites aching to be thrown onto the big screen. Xanadu! If you're a SysAdmin, you can instantly take your SAM, single-pane-of-glass-view, from your tablet and toss it on the big screen at work for all to enjoy. Possibilities abound! And for 35 bucks, how could you go wrong?

 

both.jpg

$634,000,000 if you're the US government - and the darned thing doesn't even work! (I assure you, there is nothing more I'd like to do than rant about the government and healthcare insurance. Sadly, this is not the forum. However, I will vent by discussing the technical and financial angles of the "Obamacare" website debacle.)

 

The Price Tag

I've built many websites (that worked, mind you) over the years and the cost ranged in price from $0 to $0. Granted, my websites were not as complex as the Obamacare one, but $634,000,000? Really??

 

$634,000,000 can buy you the following items:

  • 27 Boeing 747 airplanes
  • 21,000 BMW cars
  • 634,000 really good computers
  • 4,226 houses fully paid for
  • 12,680 full time employees for one year @ $50,000/yr
  • 176,000 health insurance premiums paid for a family of four for an entire year
  • 1 broken website

Why Did it Cost so much?

Most geeks have one thing in common: The desire to overcome obstacles. Take Napster and The Pirate Bay, for example. They were created as a way to overcome the cost of media. Geeks are usually poor in the early stages of their lives. Creating technology that overcomes personal expenses is beneficial for said geek because, a) the cost of what he's looking for goes down when he invents/finds a way, and b) his education and creativity skyrocket by putting forth the effort to achieve his goal. Legal issues aside, geeks usually look for ways to be free from cost and restrictions. With this knowledge and desire, the geek can then convert that into a profit by building efficient and creative technology. Vis-à-vis, a website that works.

 

The government, on the other hand, has no such motivation to be efficient. With endless tax dollars pouring in and nary a profit to be seen, why would cost be an issue? Who worries about cost when the money being spent is not their own?

 

The Technology Used

For all you uber-geeks, you can view the code of the homepage here. (Looks fine to me...not!) It's being reported that the website was designed to handle 50,000 users. I would think, if the government were logical and optimistic, that they would want everyone in the country to sign up. The website should have had the ability to handle 300 million people. (They could have started with at least 10 million IMHO.) My rinky-dink site that cost me $0 can handle 50,000!

 

What Did We Learn?

  • Cost <> Quality
  • Necessity is the mother of invention. Really. Check out all the cool new features we added to SAM - and it cost us slightly less than $634 million.
  • SolarWinds is a company full of geeks that do have a profit motive. We worry about cost and pass the savings on to you
  • We are geeks and find ways to overcome obstacles every day, which transforms into a better product for you at a cheaper price
  • I'm sure I can build a better website at half the price. I wouldn't mind having 2,000 homes and a few thousand cars. Who's with me?

Finally, SAM 6.0 has been realized and released! The improvements and additions are spectacular. Unlike Microsoft and their Windows 8 debacle, we listen to the people who use our software. This is the very reason we have thwack.com. All of the new features in this release came from the users in one form or another, including a lesser known one highlighting the differences between each version of the Administrator's Guide. A sole voice emailed me requesting this little improvement and explained to me why it was important to him. My thought process was simple, "Done." Now every SAM user can benefit from this simple little improvement requested by one user. And here it is:

changes.png

Granted, this won't garner the praise that actual features will, but it is indicative of something larger. We listen and we care. One voice was heard. Was it yours? In fact, I continue to ask for more input from you. Take this article for example. In the article I asked users to demonstrate how they do things. This wasn't for my amusement. I wanted the responses I got to become a collection of "How To" topics so I could add them to a new section of the Administrator's Guide, or even better, create a separate book on the subject. This How To book would demonstrate examples, rather than me telling you how to do something. Here you would be able to "see" something that works, rather than be told. The difference is important because seeing a working version of something allows you to take away what you need from it. Being told how to do something is certainly more restrictive.

 

And while I'm here, let me ask you for How To videos! Yup, I want to start adding videos to the Help system so you can see how things are done. I think a How To section and a How To video section would help users immensely. What do you think? Share your videos and How To operations in the comment section below, or feel free to DM me and we can talk about more ambitious ideas you may have offline.

 

BTW, enjoy SAM 6.0MG.

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