Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

A little detective work can go a long way!

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

So, today I was continuing to try and resolve an issue with upgrading 3 client computers to a new version of Application Xtender. The old version, 5.25 has to be removed before 5.40 can be installed. No big deal right? I mean it asks you in the installer to remove the old version, which had worked fine on all the clients to this point.

The last 3 clients, that I needed to install this update on however, did not cooperate with me very well. When I got to the screen that wanted me to remove 5.25, instead of saying ApplicationXtender 525 in the selection box, I got something likethe following.. ª^óÉöª

Yikes! I’m not sure I’ve heard of that program! How do you pronounce that anyway? The error that followed was a Windows Installer Error that I’ve seen a few times before.   I tried using the Windows Installer Cleanup tool, but that didn’t help. I then tried reinstalling the old version, then removing it through Add/Remove Programs, this again was no help when attempting to run the 5.40 install.

I actually caught a lucky break on the 3rd computer though. Instead of showing symbols, it showed me an ID that I could find in the Registry. {FEF9530E-47C7-4E15-B423-6281B13F5FFC}. Please note, this is not the actual ID that I had seen.  Anyway, I tracked this key down to the HKEY Local Machine\Software\Microsoft\Windows\Current Version\Uninstall. The only thing under this key was the following information.

“RegOwner”=”Owner Name”
“RegCompany”=”Company Name”
“ProductID”=”1”

I made a quick export of the key, then I deleted it. After that the Install ran perfectly. I went to the other 2 computers, not know which series of characters to look for in the Registry, I went with the only ones that had just the 3 strings in it like above and deleted that key (While making a backup first of course). This worked on all 3 clients!

Hard Drive Recovery Trick

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

So, there you are, listening to hard drive grind away, when all the sudden you are presented with the Blue Screen of Death and your OS will not come back up. You have a bad hard drive. It happens, and usually you are left with only one option. Scrap the Hard Drive!

Take note that I said “grind away” above. This usually isn’t a good thing, and it means that something with the drive head is going wrong. Usually, from my experience, the standard measures used to extract data from a drive with this problem don’t work. You’re welcome to try though.

The standard measures I’m talking about involve utilities, like ones that can be found on Recovery Console. Fixboot, Fixmbr and chkdsk. Other utilities that are great for drives not experiencing physical failure are included on The Ultimate Boot CD. You will see me referencing this awesome set of utilities in many of my posts.

Ok, the standard measures didn’t work for this problem. So what happens when you have something on the failed drive that you need. What? Didn’t backup? Ooops! Well, there are services that can sometimes extract information from drives that experience failure. There is one small catch though, they cost money!
Want a possible solution that is more cost effective? Here’s what to do!

First of all, I want to mention that if your computer is covered under a warranty this will probably void it. So, if you want to maintain your warranty, then I don’t suggest you try this.

The first step in this process is to remove your failed hard drive from the computer. Place the hard drive in a zip lock bag and place it in your freezer over night! Sometimes this procedure can buy you a couple hours to extract your valuable data off of the drive. This is not a 100% guaranteed fix, but I have been successful with about half of the drives I have done this with.

I always hook the failed drive up as a slave, this is in case the OS is damaged. You don’t want to spend your limited time on trying to do a repair install of Windows. Hook the drive up, get your data and get out. I’ve managed to keep a drive going for over an hour using this method. One thing you could do is use a Drive to Drive Copy Utility, sometimes you won’t have enough time though.

One other trick I’ve done, when I didn’t have time to wait for the freezer, was to use canned air. I don’t recommend that you try this, but I made sure that I was in a well ventilated area, held the can upside down and continuously sprayed down the hard drive.
Canned Air describes the cooling effect I am talking about, in case you want to know more.

71-680: Windows 7 Beta exam

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

 Do NOT take this exam for granted!

I just got back from the testing center…. I have to be honest, I think there is a good chance I failed this one. It was tough! I think coming off fresh from the Vista exam, allowed me to make the mistake of underestimating this exam.

I have 2 major regrets about this exam. The first is not having a 2008 Domain Environment with Windows & clients to play with. The other thing I regret, is really my own fault, but I should have spent a lot more time with the new features.

I watched all the videos posted in the resource link here, but I got lazy when it came to reading for this exam. I think that again, I misjudged how hard this exam was going to be.

The exam objectives are listed on here. That is a great place to start. I can tell you right now that I should have focused more on the following:

DISM
DirectAccess
BitLocker To Go
BranchCache

I knew enough about these feature to be dangerous. LOL. Watching the Video presentations on these technologies alone, in most cases only lead me to a 50/50 shot of answering the question… In the other cases, I drew a blank.

I felt comfortable with 60% of the test
I narrowed down between 2 options on about 15% of the test
The rest of the test… I honestly and regrettably didn’t know.

If I end up passing this one, it will be 60% know how and the rest… Dumb Luck.

Good luck to everyone taking this exam!

**Update**

I never did post back on this, since I’m in an updating mood today I figured that I would address this. I did not pass this Beta, but I did end up picking up the Sybex book for the Windows 7 exam and studied for a good month and passed the live exam. The new features in Windows 7 (Especially in the corporate environment) are actually pretty amazing and worthwhile.

I also took a couple of Beta exams for the Windows 7 desktop support and enterprise administrator. I passed both of those Beta exams.

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Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

This was the error that I receiving during some data conversion in Access today. The version of Access that I was using was 2003, the project, an in-house call accounting system that I developed a couple years ago.  The conflict that needed to be resolved is some what complicated, but I’ll try to explain briefly.

When we switched providers for our phone system, it changed the output of the file that I capture from the PBX. All the fields from March 2008 onward no longer looked quite right. This obviously caused my reporting tools and everything to be off. So, I reformated the Linked Table Specs, but I ddn’t go back to convert the January thru March data.

You see, all the data still existed, it was just formated a little differently. Seeing as how we don’t need to run phone reports very often, it just became an “out of sight out of mind” deal.

Ok, enough babble about my project, let’s get to the problem in the title! I decided to create a few update queries, using the date field I was able to create the criteria as <“03/01” to single out just the problem records! Awesome! So all of the update queries worked beautifully except 1!

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Passed the 70-620 exam

Friday, April 24th, 2009

This exam was Configuring Windows Vista Client… Compared to all the other Microsoft exams that I’ve taken, this one was pretty easy.  I have to admit that I didn’t score as well as I would have hoped, but I still had a score in the 800’s. The section that really got me was the “Configuring Applications included with Windows Vista”.

Basically, that section dealt with technologies such as Parental Controls, Windows Meeting Space, Windows card Space and other newer or updated Vista programs that I just have never had to set up in a real world work environment. Overall, I think that this exam was far easier than the XP client exam.

The resources I used for this exam included the 70-620 study guide from Sybex and my Windows Vista Home Basic setup at home. I think the Sybex book was pretty good, I would have liked to have read the Microsoft Press book also, I have a feeling that it might have been a little more in-depth on the sections I was weaker on. I don’t know that for sure though.

Malware Prevention and Removal

Monday, April 20th, 2009

Malware is a term that describes any malicious software. Examples of malware include viruses, spyware and rootkits. Often times this software can cripple a computer system or even render it useless to most users. So how do you combat this?

Most people unfortunately pay for services and software to remove or even attempt to prevent Malware. The fact is there are a lot of programs out there that are free. I do understand that some people are hesitant to use free software, or to try and fix things on their own. While I use the practices in this article on a daily basis, please keep in mind that there are always risks involved with computers. Everything I outline here, you do at your own risk.

Let’s start with preventing Malware. The first line of defense is, knowing what to avoid.
The first rule, do not download attachments from an email sent to you by someone you don’t know! It’s a simple rule, but not practiced by the uninformed users. The next rule is to watch your searches. When you use a search engine, sometimes there will be sites near the top of the search engine that do not match your search criteria. You must carefully examine the URL before clicking the search link. Unfortunately it’s not always easy to spot a URL that will lead to trouble, if it looks suspicious, don’t click it. To go along with the other 2 rules, the next rule I’m going to suggest might be the most difficult to accept. Be cautious when downloading software! I do it all the time, but I research the software a head of time, choose a trusted download site and watch the install process. I’m not saying to not install any software, just exercise some caution when doing so. The last rule I’m going to suggest is very important. Make sure you keep your system up to date with the latest security patches, hotfixes and service packs.

Now I want to continue the prevention topic by introducing some protection methods. Let’s start with software. One of the first things you should have on your computer is an antivirus program. The problem is that many people pay for such a thing, personally, I have always used free solutions, the one I’ve used for the past couple years is AntiVir. The antivirus, when kept up to date, adds a layer of protection by hopefully catching a virus before it can do any harm. The next piece of software I would recommend having is called a firewall. If you have Windows XP SP2 or higher then you already have a built-in firewall. For those who do not have Windows XP2 or higher, then I recommend checking out http://techsupportalert.com/dr/. The last thing I’m going to suggest in this section is Spyware protection. There are several free spyware protection programs that will run in the background, I will supply a list later in the article, one I’m going to suggest right is called Spyware Blaster.

Ok! So, let’s say you have a mild malware infection. This means something has broken through your protective measures. While, it is certainly true that you can never guarantee a 100% removal, I wouldn’t resort to formatting your PC on every case. Some people feel safer this way, if that’s the case then stop reading here. The first thing to do is to turn off System Restore, some malware can protect itself in your restore points, since your scanners will be unable to remove the malware form there. Now comes the time to run a whole arsenal of Antivirus and spyware removal tools.

Here is a decent list of tools that will help you out.
Super Anti-Spyware
Spybot
Ad-Aware
A Squared
McAfee STINGER
Symantec Removal Tools
Rootkit Revealer
Gizmo’s The Best-ever Freeware Utilities List

Sometimes you will have a specific infection that will require special attention, in which case, you may have to do some searching on the internet or asking around on forums. As I run across specific infections, I will write about them here. You can also sign up for my web forum and post questions, I will do my best to answer them for you.

The last subject I’m going to talk about regarding Malware Removal is classified as difficult removal. By difficult, I mean that your system is so bad that I won’t even boot to your desktop! What do you do then?

Luckily, there are a couple really awesome tools you can use! The following tools will be great for the mild infections as well. In fact I recommend them as the main offence. These tools are Ultimate Boot CD and Ultimate Boot CD for Windows. The second one is slower but has the familiar Windows GUI and tools that people are more familiar with and it has more tools geared towards Malware removal. The reason why both tools are great is because you are not really in your Windows environment. This means, there are no locked files to slow you down.

The one thing I have to caution you about with regards to the boot CDs is that you may have to create a new one every so often to keep the program definition files up to date.

Website and ad filtering

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

Let me first start out by saying that if you are looking for a good freeware Web filter for parental controls then I highly suggest checking out Best free Parental Filters. However, if you are looking to do some simple webpage and ad blocking yourself, then read on.

 

If you are running Windows 2000 and higher, navigate to your windows directory. From there go to System32\Drivers\ETC. This is the location of a file called hosts. The hosts file can be opened using Notepad.

 

So, what is the Hosts file anyway? The hosts file is first file by default that your computer looks to for name resolution. Name resolution is what tells us that Xtremediy.net belongs to a certain IP address. For example, lets say Xtremediy.net has an address of 192.168.153.229. Name resolution basically translates the 192.168.153.229 to Xtremediy.net so that we don’t have to remember that number to type into the web address.

 

I’m not going any further in depth with name resolution at this time. Lets focus on the Hosts file now. The hosts file can do name resolution for you as stated above. You can put in some of your favorite sites, and allow them to come up slightly faster because they don’t have to query internet resolution servers. Of course if the website ever has a change in IP address, you won’t be able to access it.

 

So what does a host file entry look like? Well, lets go back to my example of the Xtremediy.net IP address. If I put that address into the hosts file, then it wouldn’t have to query the internet DNS servers to find Xtremediy.net. Please note, that the IP address used in these examples is not the actual address to Xtremediy.net.

Below is the entry example:

192.168.153.229     xtremediy.net

 

That’s it! Enter the web address, press spacebar or tab, enter in the website name then press enter. On the next line you can continue with another address if you want.

 

So how can I use this to block websites and ads? The answer is already stated above. If the incorrect IP is entered for a site you will not get to that site. You will be directed to a different site. That information is more for a practical joke I suppose. So what about just blocking sites and ads? Well, you do this by using the IP address of 127.0.0.1, also known as the loopback address. This address points right back to your computer, so any sites you have pointing to the loopback won’t go anywhere.

 

The downside to the hosts file blocking method is that it does not allow wildcards.

 For example:

If I want to block my child from going to www.myspace.com I would enter the following into my hosts file.

127.0.0.1     www.myspace.com

 

If my child went to profile.myspace.com then they could bypass the filter.

 

If you intend to block sites from your children, I really suggest checking out the link at the beginning of the article. For more information about the hosts file, check out http://www.mvps.org/winhelp2002/hosts.htm.

File Optimization

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

Fragmentation occurs every time you create new files, install programs and delete files and programs from your system.  When your files are fragmented, it takes your system longer to find all the data for the associated program or file being requested. This is because pieces of the requested file(s) are scattered all over the hard drive instead of being group together in succession.

To combat fragmentation you use a Defragmentation program. The Windows OS comes with a defrag program, but I honestly prefer the http://auslogics.com/en/software/disk-defrag/download. You can also check out http://www.techsupportalert.com/dr/best-free-disk-de-fragmenter.htm  for alternative defrag solutions.  No matter which solution you go with, you will come out ahead. I recommend defragmenting your system at least once per month, I actually run mine once per week. The added benefit to defragmenting your drive on a regular basis is that you will increase the overall life of your drive as it will not have to work as hard to find requested data.

Now, let’s talk about temporary files! I have seen people with temporary folders exceeding 1GB of data! Their machine was beyond slow at that point. Here’s the deal, Windows does not clean Temporary files for you automatically by default. So, files accumulate there over time if not removed. These files include parts of auto saves, program setups and other files.  A simple way to check what you have in your temp folder is by clicking your start button, click Run, type in %temp% and hit enter.

You could just select everything in there and hit delete, but there are downsides to this. For one, some files are in use and will cancel out your delete command once that file is hit. Another possible downside is that older versions of Internet Explorer kept system folder in the temp directory. The last possible downside is potential for program to exist there that you don’t want deleted. There are 2 ways that the last one happens. Either you placed files there on purpose for storage, or a setup program that leaves files there and does not finish the install until you restart the PC. If you delete the files before your PC restarts and the installer still needs those files, then the installer will deliver an error and be unable to finish.

What I have done for personal use, and many computers in the work place is create a batch file that I place in startup to delete temp files. The only downside to this, is trying to remember to disable this item in startup when installing certain programs.  The bonus to this method though, is that you can catch a lot of files before they go into use with the system. An example of a batch file is as follows.

DEL %temp%\*.* /F /S /Q

To create the batch file open notepad, paste in the above line of code then select save as, change save type from text to all files then save your file as deletetemp.bat. To place this in your startup right click on the start button, select open, select programs, select startup and paste the deletetemp.bat file in that location.

The last item I’m going to talk about is the Page file. The Page File is also referred to as Virtual Memory. That is because it is a space on your Hard Drive that acts as available Memory (RAM) in tight situations. Basically, when you don’t have enough RAM, you are going to be using the Page File as a substitute. The problem with this is that hard drive access is a lot slower than RAM access. So when your machine has to use Virtual Memory, than it is running slower.  The absolute best solution is to install more RAM in your system, but it’s not always a solution.

A 32 bit OS like Windows 9x through Vista 32 bit editions (which most people run) can only address up to around 3.5Gb of memory. So if you are your maximum memory already it’s not a solution, of course with that much memory today, you shouldn’t have many problems, unless you run some very power hungry applications.  For most users, let’s just focus on what you can do for free. The one free thing you can do with the page file is to set it manually. The recommended maximum size of the page file should be 2.5x the amount of RAM you have in your system. With a brand new system, I always make the minimum and maximum size the same to avoid fragmentation in the page file.

One solution that may cost you money involves the use of a second hard drive. If you already have a second drive lying around then costs avoided! Simply setting your page file up on a separate drive from the drive running your OS will increase performance.  I have to warn you of a downside to setting your page file up on a separate drive, if the second drive crashes; you run the risk of your machine not starting up. If you 3 hard drives in addition to your OS drive then you could set up a RAID 5, but most people don’t have that option.

Before I end this segment, I should mention that using File Cleaners will help you out as well. I have used CCleaner with good results. You can find CCleaner and other file cleaners on http://www.techsupportalert.com/dr/best-free-file-cleaner.htm.

Can you beat my Brute in a Fight?

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

MyBrute is kind of a fun 5 minute time killing flash game. Check out the following links and see if you can beat any of my Brutes.

zenithian.mybrute.com

megadeth4168.mybrute.com

dragon4168.mybrute.com

homeslicejr.mybrute.com

Ironically, my goofy character, Homeslicejr, is probably my strongest.

CCNA

Monday, March 9th, 2009

Well, I’m finally a CCNA! It only took 9 years! Seriously, I took a 4 semester Cisco Networking Academy back in high school but didn’t pursue it much after that. See, I took the CCNA exam 9 years ago and just barely missed passing. The problem is, I didn’t pay enough attention in high school, so I didn’t get all that I needed to out of that great oppurtunity.

Right after high school, I started working for a local government IT department, this job has grown into what is now my career. I love the job and I have learned so much more on the job than I ever did in any classroom. My job, doesn’t really require me to pass any certifications but, about 3 years ago, I started really getting into self study mode.  I ended up learning so many valuable things from my self study that I didn’t know from on-the job experience. The MCSE studying especially, help me.

After all these years though, I had never thought about attempting Cisco again… I didn’t have much I had to do with any Cisco devices at work, so it never really played that much of a role in my job anyway. Well, last year, I finally decided that I wanted to take another crack at it. This time, I wouldn’t be relying on a classrom environment, but rather self-study. I soon found that I really enjoyed studying for Cisco exams… They are a lot more hands on then MS exams and they are not as dry (yet).

Last October, I finished the ICND1, but I unfortunately fizzled out… A small break turning into a couple months! I finally picked up the books, and fired up the Cisco equipment again, the first week of February! Today, I passed the ICND2, making me a CCNA. I passed with a fairly high score and felt a confidence going in, that I never felt 9 years ago. I knew, the I knew the material. I spent hours upon hours doing and redoing labs.

I think now, I might lay low on IT certs for a while and finally go back to college, maybe I’ll do the project+ first though… Not sure yet.

If anyone is interested in what I used for study material, Here is a list.

Sybex CCNA book! IMO a very good book!

CCIE lab guide(McGraw Hill) by Stephen Hutnik and Michael Satterlee
-borrowed from my father-in-law! Very awesome lab book, starts from that easiest lab setups and works it’s way up.

Ciscokits.com Lab book
-It has a few typos and a couple small errors, but overall it was very helpful to have.

Packet Tracer 5.1
I used this tool a lot when I wasn’t near any real equipment. Very hand sim to have.

Lab:
3 x 2600 series routers
1 1710 router
1 2950 switch
1 3550xl switch