Tuesday, October 20, 2009

No good could come of this...

Job posting on a technical mailing list I'm subscribed to...
WANTED: Spare-time, moonlighting Systems Administrator with a Remote Access capability, to operate a Win XP mail server on a commission bases.
Really, using Windows XP as a mail server? Smells like SPAM...or worse.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Microsoft Security Essentials vs. The Other Free AV Guys

I’ve tried AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition, avast! Home Edition, and now Microsoft Security Essentials in order to avoid paying high prices to McAfee and Norton for products that have caused more problems than they solved for myself, my friends, and family.

I’ve only been running Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) for a few days now, but just reading the fine print I can see a clear advantage for this product: MSE’s license agreement allows for use in your home-based small business, while AVG and avast! have strict non-commercial and personal use only clauses. (See Website Copy and End User License Agreement sections below.) I can think of a handful of friends and family members who would be able to use MSE but not the other guys due to the personal use/non-commercial clauses.

Additionally, MSE doesn’t require you to fill out a form to register the product, it only performs a Windows Genuine Advantage check. Not having to deal with red-tape is always nice.

Lastly, there is no up-sell from MSE. My Grandmother became rather frustrated when AVG kept displaying ads trying to sell her the latest version of the AVG paid edition when AVG 7.5 was retired earlier this year. If I had the choice then, I would have switched her from AVG to MSE.

Website Copy

avast! Home Edition:

avast! Home Edition is free of charge for non-commercial and home use only. Both of these conditions should be met!


AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition may only be used on one computer for personal use.

Microsoft Security Essentials:

Your PC must run genuine Windows to install Microsoft Security Essentials.

End User License Agreements

avast! Home Edition:

avast! Home Edition: You may install the Software in a single location on a hard disk or other storage device of all computers located in your HOME, which are used for NONCOMMERCIAL usage only.


AVG Technologies, subject to the terms and conditions of this Agreement, hereby grants to you a non-exclusive and non-transferable license during the Term to use the Software
(i) solely in executable or object code form, on a single computer, and
(ii) solely for your personal use and not for purchase, sale or delivery of any product or service to a third party or other commercial or business purpose, if not explicitly stated in the terms of using the Software otherwise.

Microsoft security Essentials:

Microsoft Security Essentials: You may install and use any number of copies of the software on your devices in your household for use by people who reside there or for use in your home-based small business.

Update for Microsoft Security Essentials (Added 12/6/2010):
Microsoft updated the license agreement for Security Essentials to expand it to small businesses with up to 10 PCs.

1. Home Use. If you are a home user, then you may install and use any number of copies of the software on your personal devices for use by people who reside in your household. As a home user, you may not use the software in any commercial, non-profit, or revenue generating business activities.
2. Small Business. If you operate a small business, then you may install and use the software on up to ten (10) devices in your business.

Monday, June 29, 2009

To the rescue!

Moving MS SQL Server databases from one server to another tonight. Nothing like working into the late hours to screw up.

Removed old DB server from domain. Joined new one. Realized I forgot to get some data off the old server. Old server is removed from domain so only local administrator password will let me log in.

And for some reason, the documented local admin password does not match. Usually I remember to check this before doing something drastic like removing a server from the domain. Heck usually I change the local admin password and create a second account with admin rights just in case. But not tonight. Tonight I'm tired and I'm rushing things. So now I'm locked out of the server...


I was worried that my faithful tool for resolving this issue, the freeware Offline NT Password & Registry Editor wouldn't be able to save my butt this time. The server is Windows 2003 x64. Up until now I've only used the Offline NT Password & Registry Editor on 32 bit platforms. Also the server had a hardware RAID, who knows if the the boot CD would have the needed drivers.

Deep calming breath. Give it a try.

It's booting...it's detected the RAID card!

Yes it's found the Windows drives!

Yes yes yes it's reading in the SAM!

Offline NT Password & Registry Editor does indeed work on Windows 2003 64 bit!

Yes, I did a happy dance in the server room.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

30 Things to do with a Windows Mobile Device

I have a Windows Mobile Phone. I’m not exactly a fan. I really tried to find useful things to do with this device beyond the obvious check email, SMS, etc., but I can only use my device so long before I’m overcome with an urge to throw it across the room or drop it in the toilet and flush. I put the positive stuff I’ve run across in bold text, as for the rest, Windows Mobile fans can write it off as filler or the ramblings of an idiot. Everyone else can get a feel of what the Windows Mobile experience is like without having to experience it for yourself.

  1. Multitask with several apps.
  2. Miss a phone call when the device is sluggish to respond due to all that multitasking.
  3. Send MMS messages on AT&T.
  4. Skip it across the lake.
  5. Get directions, traffic, movie show times, gas prices, and more with the Live Search app.
  6. Throw it under a bus.
  7. Take notes with Evernote.
  8. Cover in concrete.
  9. Turn it into a Wi-Fi router
  10. Drop it from a plane.
  11. Manage your Netflix Queue
  12. Play catch.
  13. Do everything any other smart phone can do on Facebook.
  14. Curse when ActiveSync stops syncing with Exchange.
  15. Get some free Ringtones, Wallpapers, and Themes
  16. Be confused by the difference between Pocket PC and Smartphone editions.
  17. Share Live Video From Your Windows Mobile Phone
  18. Try to find compelling free apps at handango.com
  19. Reboot it.
  20. Feed a goat.
  21. Entomb in Yucca Mountain
  22. Steady a wobbly table
  23. Go swimming
  24. Litter
  25. Fuel a campfire
  26. Target Practice at the firing range.
  27. Play hockey
  28. Spend hours searching for decent apps
  29. Be totally baffled on when to use the touch screen, 5-way, and stylus.
  30. Loose your stylus.
  31. Curse when ActiveSync stops syncing with Exchange…again.
  32. Reboot it…again.
At this point you may be thinking that I really hate this device. I don't, not really. I just wouldn't mind at all if it was accidentally smashed into tiny bits, and I enjoy thinking of ways to destroy it. The device provides just enough frustration to dream about destroying it, but not enough to inspire following through with it.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

How much is the data on YOUR computer’s hard drive worth?

This is for my friends and family in hopes that you read it and take action before you have the “Oh crap my computer won’t boot now what?” scenario. I’ve worked in Information Technology for 10 years now. Trust me, if you use a computer, some day you will find yourself in this scenario.

Your data is valuable

What is on your computer’s hard drive?

  • Important (and not so important) documents.
  • Bank Statements or bank information.
  • Tax Returns created by tax preparation software.
  • Your school work for your high school, college, post-grad degree.
  • Everything you’ve purchased from iTunes, Amazon MP3, or other services.
  • Digital pictures of your friends, families, pets, and whatever else you’ve pointed your camera at.

You may be able to recreate those documents, but some of that data cannot be replaced if it’s lost. If you want to download the music from the iTunes Store again, you’ll have to pay full price for each song/album. The same is true for Amazon’s MP3 store. (iTunes: Why do I need to back up my music library?, Amazon MP3: Can I download another copy of my MP3 files after the initial purchase?) Your pictures are a snapshot in time. We don’t have time machines that will allow you to go back in time and take another picture to replace the ones you lost.

Do you consider your time to be valuable? If you can honestly answer no, please write out a full argument justifying your position. I’m sure that it would be worthwhile reading. For the rest of us who will answer “yes, my time is valuable” consider that creating those files stored on your computer took time. We haven’t attached a dollar value to it, but already that data has some value.

In the case of digital data that you have purchased, assigning a value is obvious enough. A song purchased from the iTunes store costs $0.69, $0.99, or $1.29. The latest version of Turbo Tax costs around $60 to buy and download. The school work for your college degree could be valued in the time it took to create the documents as well as the money that you are paying for for education. Even if you’re a K-12 student your education isn’t free. Taxpayers are funding the public schools, and some day you’ll be a taxpayer too. 

So how much is that data worth?

It seems like a hard question to answer, and would involve multiple spreadsheets, extensive time tracking, job costing, and any multitude of processes that could be applied to determine the value of your data. At first glance, it seems like a task that could take hours, days, or even longer to answer.

Let me make it much simpler. The minimum worth of the data stored on a single hard drive is $600-$2,500. That is what I was quoted when I looked into a well known service to recover data off of a failed hard drive. Fortunately for me, the failed hard drive had nothing that couldn’t be replaced, and most of it was backed up. Keep in mind, this pricing was from 2007. At work, we’ve paid the same well known service $1,500 to recover a single file that was accidently deleted.

Back it up!

Instead of depending on a service who may or may not be able to recover data that was accidently deleted or was stored on a damaged drive, back your data up! If you have only a single copy of your data your data is at risk, but proper data backup goes beyond having a second copy of your data.

For starters, get yourself an external hard drive to connect to your computer(s) that is exclusively dedicated to backups. My current favorite drive is the LaCie Rugged Hard Drive ($96.96 – $128.99 on Amazon.com). The drive is bus powered so you simply connect it to your computer’s USB or FireWire port. No power supply required. The drive works great with both Windows and Mac OS.

Backing up to an external hard drive is a good first step. To really protect yourself, you need to have an off site backup as well. If your house was broken into the thief would take your computer and your external hard drive. Keeping your backup hard drive in your safe may solve the problem of the thief (you do have your safe bolted to the floor so the thief can’t steal your safe right?) but what about fire?

Paper documents stored in a fire safe are more resilient to heat than our digital media. Your safe may only have a half-hour to two hour rating for fire protection, and even if the fire is extinguished before you meet your safe’s UL rating your data is still at risk.

You need an offsite backup.

One option would be to have two external hard drives. One that you have at home and another that you store offsite. The LaCie drive I linked to above is small enough that you could easily fit it into a smaller safe deposit box at your bank. It fits perfectly in my $40 per year box.  Having two external drives requires some diligence on your part as you have to remember to change your drives on a rotation.

In any backup strategy, the human element is the most common failure. An alternative to this type of offsite/onsite rotation that requires human intervention is to use a service that will backup your data to a company’s servers on the internet. This option shouldn’t be used by anyone on dial-up or who is using a Version, Sprint, T-Mobile, etc. cell phone or data card as their primary internet connection. Dial-Up is too slow, and the cell phone companies usually have a 5 GB limit on data transfer.

If you have DSL or cable internet service, services such as Carbonite, JungleDisk, and BackJack provide excellent offsite backups. To be on the safe side, store a hard (paper) copy of your offsite backup’s authentication information (username, password, encryption keys, etc.) in that $40 a year safe deposit box at your bank.

I’m using JungleDisk myself and it’s working well for me. I’ve heard good things about the other services but I haven’t used them myself. JungleDisk uses Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service) or Rackspace Cloud Files to store data. Carbonite and BackJack provide their own storage service. 

OK I’m convinced, now what?

Now it’s time to get your backups working. I would never finish this post if I wrote out instructions. Here are a few resources to get you started:

Leaving you with a song…

I don't remember where I found this little adaptation of "If You're Happy and You Know It," but I never forgot it after reading or hearing it for the first time.

Sung to the tune of "If You're Happy and You Know It:"

If you can't afford to loose it back it up!
If you can't afford to loose it back it up!
If you can't afford to loose it
then there's no way to excuse it.
If you can't afford to loose it back it up!

Silly maybe, but also true.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A little heavy on the JavaScript?

Seriously...JavaScript coming from 8 different domains? Does that seem excessive or highly prone to breakage to anyone else?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Windows Vista – Day 1

I finally took the plunge and upgraded my work laptop to Windows Vista. I opted for Windows Vista Business 64-bit when I ordered this laptop, tried it, and promptly downgraded to Windows XP 32-bit. Now 8 months and some change later, I’m back to Vista 64. Day one was mostly install and patch patch patch, but I was able to be productive. Wrote a pair of scripts to help with some things.

First one checks to see if my network home directory is available, and if so it launches SyncToy to sync my network home with my local files. I set it javascript:void(0)up as a scheduled task that runs at log on and then runs every hour. That's working well so far. Much better than Offline Files did in Windows XP. More SyncToy stuff in a forthcoming post...

The other script uses the same logic to check to see if my laptop is at work or if I’m out of the office. If it detects that I’m in the office it will launch Office Communicator. If I’m out of the office Office Communicator doesn’t start. This is handy as Office Communicator can’t do anything if if can’t reach the internal Live Communications Server. Before the script I was always closing Office Communicator when I wasn’t using the VPN. It’s much less annoying now. Download PersonalLogonScript.vbs

The other challenge so far is that a few applications are not 100% happy under 64-bit Windows. Specifically, Exchange 2003 admin tools and our helpdesk software. The helpdesk software mostly works, but has the occasional odd quirk. To work around the quirks I have Windows XP setup in a virtual machine. I’ll have the Exchange admin tools running under the VM soon, but getting the WinXP VM going was another install and patch fest.
Hopefully tomorrow goes well...

Monday, March 30, 2009

The usefulness of my Windows Mobile Phone just went up by orders of magnitude…

Work provides me with a Windows Mobile phone. For the most part, I don’t find it overly useful. It syncs my Exchange Email, Contacts, Calendars, and Tasks except when ActiveSync decides to stop syncing for inexplicable reasons. It has the worst calculator I’ve ever seen on a phone. Website browsing is a horrendous experience. Adding useful applications is a costly exercise in futility. In alerts me endless to calendar reminders I’ve already dismissed in Outlook. The only useful things I’ve found for it our the Live Search application and SMS messaging, and SMS messaging is only useful because it has a full thumb keyboard and the cost for the data plan isn’t coming out of my pocket.

While listening to Windows Weekly Episode 100 Paul Thurrott (of SuperSite for Windows) fame mentioned a Windows Mobile application named WMWifiRouter that will turn your Windows Mobile device into a Wi-Fi router that uses your cellular data plan on your laptop or other Wi-Fi device without the need to pay extra to your provider to add the tethering option to your phone and data plan.

Sounds good. I’ve used PdaNet to do this in the past, but PdaNet requires software to be installed on the client side, and PdaNet requires a physical USB connection. No Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connectivity between your computer and phone, and since it requires software on the client, PdaNet is Windows only.

WMWifiRouter allows connectivity via Wi-Fi, USB, and Bluetooth. In Wi-Fi mode, WMWifiRouter sets up an Ad-Hoc network.A slight downside for me as corporate Group Policy has Ad-Hoc mode disabled on wireless network connections. I tried with my iPod Touch and it worked no problem. That alone opens a whole new world of possibilities with the iPod Touch. I also tested it on a Mac Mini (stil in Wi-Fi Ad-Hoc mode) and it worked great.

Still trying to figure out if I can overwrite the lockout on Ad-Hoc networking on my Windows computer to test that...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

MacHeist Bundle 3

The headline is: Discover some amazing new software. Unleash new potential from your Mac. Support independent Mac developers. And make the world a better place.

For only $39 you up the 13 pieces of software that would normally sell for $626.75 to $975.70 if purchased individually, and 25% of your purchase goes to charity. Currently you get 10 pieces of software. The remaining 3 products are unlocked for others when MacHeist has met their charitable giving goals. For example, all customers will get BoinxTV when MacHeist has raised $400,000 is raised for charity.

I haven't played World of Goo yet, but I've heard enough good things that I'm willing to hand over my money.

The MacHeist webpage explains it all better than I can, so check it out.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Combining RSS feeds with Yahoo Pipes

Problem: I have multiple blogs, each with their own RSS feeds. Facebook only allows a single RSS feed to be imported into your Facebook profile. I wanted to get all of my personal RSS feeds to display on Facebook.

Solution: I probally could have written something in PHP and run it on my own webserver to make it work, or found an OSS package to do it. I asked for some feedback from an IRC geek hangout and was pointed to Yahoo Pipes.

Yahoo Pipes looked simple enough, so I gave it a shot and found it to be incredibly intuitive. Add a source to get the RSS feeds, add a sort operator to sort the RSS feeds by date just to be sure they appeared in the correct order, and then output. Volia, the EverythingAndyZib RSS Feed.

Now I just need to blog on a more regular basis.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Apple Computers in the Enterprise Environment: Almost There Part 3

Being the proactive kind of administrator, I created a great VB script that goes through my OUs and marks computer that haven't updated their password as disabled, and modifies the description of of the computer to show why it was disabled (Disabled after 90 days of inactivity.) The goal was to cleanup stale computer accounts, and it worked spledlidly.

Fast forward about a year, it's time to run the script again. This time around we've joined about 25 OS X 10.4 clients to Active Directory. The script disabled every, single, 10.4 computer object. Picture me pulling my hair out. Somewhere in the back of my mind I remember something:

Tiger (10.4) doesn't update it's computer password in AD, but Apple fixed this in Leopard (10.5).

Yeah I knew it, but slipped my mind completely. Argh. Eenable the accounts in ADUC and removed the scripts comments and all is fine.

Possible work around using Samba's net use command to update the password periodically. Need to try it on a test computer one of these days. Or just upgrade all the clients to Leopard, but that costs money.