Archive for the ‘Computer and Network’ Category



   Posted by: John

After a couple years of threatening, I have finally done it. I have upgraded the server and blog platform. The old 32 bit Web Server 2008 is done. That server was in place starting in about 2008 and has performed well. It made it 7 years without any major issues. It started off on a crummy old PC, was moved to a old Dl360 G2 server, and finally converted into a VMWare system in 2011.  As much as I dislike Vista, the server component was stable and ran without problems all that time.

Now, I have it running on a 2012R2 platform. In the process, WordPress was updated from version 2.9 to version 4.3. This was not a very easy project. I had issues getting WordPress installed and working on the new server. I finally found a site that had good setup information that resolved issues in IIS.  I had to update WordPress on the old server before I could move it. But, it’s up and running now. 4 CPU cores and 4 GB RAM have seemed to work wonders on it. It is responsive and works beautifully.

Now I don’t have any excuses…I should be putting lots of stuff on here!


New item in the man cave

   Posted by: John

I decided I needed to make a change to my man cave.  Football season is upon us, and I want to watch football.  Last year I monopolized the TV downstairs, which was fine, but that’s pretty selfish of me.  So, I decided to exchange the two 19″ widescreen monitors I have on my PC with a nice new 39″ HDTV.  I got one that is 1080p so the picture will be nice.  It is not much wider than the two monitors it replaces, but it considerably taller, and the picture is awesome.  Hooked it up to one of the video cards by an HDMI cable and I am good to go!  There are enough inputs to connect whatever I want to it too.

And yes, the doggie in the background picture is Lily.

Dwarfing the others


Come on football!



   Posted by: John

Well, not quite, but I managed to get rid of a bunch of old stuff today.  9 old computers (minus the hard drives…have to either wipe or destroy them), `13 old laptops, a bunch of old misc stuff and 2 CRT monitors.  There’s a place in Meridian that recycles computer stuff for free, so took them there.  Trunk, back seat and front seat were full.  Also took a stack of dead sealed lead-acid batteries to Interstate Battery for recycling.  I didn’t know the large car-sized ones were worth a few bucks.  Came away will $11 for them.  That was a very pleasant surprise!


New Toy

   Posted by: John

Well, it was inevitable.  When I built my PC over 3 years ago, I got an Intel i7-920, new MSI mainboard, lots of RAM, case…but I was out of money and had to install used hard drives.  The board is RAID capable so I put four 160 GB drives into a RAID-5 array.

But lately it seems like the PC has been slow, and last week the controller reported a dead drive.  I was able to clone the entire thing over to a single drive, but decided that it was time to do something different.  One of the clients I go to on a regular basis has some i7 machines with SSD drives in them.  Solid state, no moving parts, all electronic.  Newegg had an awesome sale on an Intel 330 SSD, 120GB for $90.  So I got one. 

Intel SSD

There is no way I am going to be able to put the 250 GB of stuff I had on the old array on this device, so I decided to start with a fresh install.  I just put the operating system and a few applications on the SSD.  I have a regular hard drive as a second device with the documents, pictures, videos, etc going to it.  Additional programs are installed on the regular hard drive.  So, as it sits right now, I have used about 65 GB of the 120 on the SSD.   And let me tell you…this thing is fast.

It takes about 90 seconds to boot up now instead of 4 minutes.  Once the OS is going, just about everything is instant, or very close to it.  Even Roxio, which used to take 20-30 seconds to get going is ready in about 5 seconds…and it is installed on the hard drive, not the SSD. 

So far I am very impressed.  Eventually, I am going to put a couple of 1TB drives in a RAID-1 (mirror) for the D drive, as the drive I am using now is over 4 years old.  That should give me ample space and good protection from failure.  It is very nice to have this hot rod PC act like a hot rod again!


New Toy

   Posted by: John

I have been getting concerned about my old storage hard drives for some time.  They are about 5 years old and that is about as old as you really want to go with drives, particularly storage units.  The four 250’s only give 700 GB total space.  I have had a 2 TB external unit (2 drives, RAID 1) for some time, but it has been starting to go goofy.  Turns out the fan in it had quit and the drives had been running very hot.  The circuitboard was looking rather toasty as well, although the drives themselves seem to be fine. 

Wanting to be pro-active, I decided the time was right to get new drives.  Newegg had a sale on Western Digital 2 TB drives, so I decided to get 3 of them.  That would be 4 TB after setting up the RAID-5 array.  I was going to get a good internal RAID card, one that was about $250.  But, I came across one of Newegg’s Shell-Shocker deals.  What I ended up with was a 4 place exteral RAID storage device that can be connected by USB 3.0 or eSata.  And, it came with a 2 TB drive as well!  So, four 2 TB drives in RAID-5, making 6 TB total storage!  That’s about 150% more than I had previously.

Anyway, here’s the device.  It’s actually pretty slick.

External RAID unit

Of course, Win XP does not deal with partitions over 2 TB, so it has three partitions of equal size. I have been able to segment each partition roughly according to content.  One for software, one for media and pictures, and one for whatever is left over.  Fast, quiet, and no longer computer specific.  What’s not to like!


Awesome Profile Tool!

   Posted by: John

One of the banes of networked computers and servers is the profile changes that occur when a user is migrated from a workgroup to a domain, or one domain to another domain.  The operating system creates a new profile each time and the user’s desktop, files, pictures, etc. are not transferred.  This has to be done manually.  Of course, this causes all kinds of problems if the user has things scattered all over the place as so many users tend to do.

One of the office techs knew about a tool that keeps the selected profile and does the back end domain change for you.  It is called User Profile Wizard, made by a company called ForensiT.  It runs as a standalone tool, so no need to install and then remove.

It can be downloaded here.

A couple of things to note:

  1. The system MUST be able to find the server via DNS.  If you need add a DNS site or force a DNS resolution, you must do it before running this tool.
  2. Some software does not survive unscathed.  There is a list at the bottom of this page with known software issues and links to how to fix them.
  3. Stored passwords do not get transferred.
  4. If the user has an exchange account, it is recommended that it be backed up as a PST file prior to running this tool.  Don’t forget the contacts, calendar, etc.  Make a note of the location of any Outlook archives in case they need to be reconnected later.  Also make a note of any additional accounts that Outlook may be using. 

When you start User Profile Wizard, go past the startup screen.

Getting Started

This screen is where you pick the domain and the default user.  There are a few things to note here.

  1. The dropdown box will show domains the system can see.  This will include the local PC (such as John-PC) as well as domains.  If the domain you are joining is not listed, type the name of the domain in the box.
  2. If you are joining a domain or changing from one domain to another, the “Join Domain” box MUST BE CHECKED.  It will not join a domain in the example below (in this case because the PC is already on a domain).  Click the box until the check mark appears.
  3. If you are dis-joining a domain, uncheck the box.  But note that the system will NOT BE REMOVED from the domain.  In this case you would select the local PC in the domain box and the profile you wish to transfer.  You will need to disjoin the domain after running this tool, reboot, then login as the user you specified.
  4.  Type the account name that will be the default login.  For domain joins, the user will need to be already created in Active Directory. 

Select Domain and User

In this step, you are selecting the profile you are wanting to transfer.  Note that in this case there are two accounts listed.  As this PC is already a domain member, it shows a domain profile already in place.  It also shows a local profile from when the PC was originally set up.  There could be a number of profiles listed here.  Depending on how the PC is configured you may need to check the user profile directory on the hard drive before select the correct profile.

Select the Profile

Click Next and you are on the way!  The program will ask for an administrator account with rights to join or disjoin the domain.  It may take several minutes depending on how fast the PC is and how much stuff you have on it. 

Some more notes.

  1. As noted above, stored passwords do not get saved.  Any passwords the user had stored in various web pages, forms, etc will not transfer.  The user will need to re-enter them.
  2. If the user had an Exchange account, you will probably need to rebuild the Outlook profile and reconnect to the Exchange server.  Reconnect any archives. 
  3. If the user has changed domains and Exchange servers, but wanted to keep the existing mailbox, you will need to connect to the new Exchange server then import the mailbox from the backup.

Programs with known issues.

Dropbox.  Click here for instructions on how to correct it.


Geek Stuff

   Posted by: John

Well, the new server is up and running, and it was not that difficult to do once I decided to just get it done.

There were a couple of major problems to overcome.

1) The existing 2011SBS server was on a crummy platform.  I built a new platform for it to run on with lots of horsepower.  My initial thought was to migrate from the old to the new but the process just would not work right.  (I had originally done a migration from the old 2003SBS to 2011SBS and that worked OK.)  Since there are only a few users I finally decided to start fresh.  The only thing I was concerned about saving was the email/exchange stuff, and that was resolved with by making a backup in Outlook before turning off the old server, then copying that back to the mailbox after joining the new server.  Starting fresh also prevented any existing problems from migrating to the new server (and there were a few from the migration from the old 2003SBS I think).

2) Because I decided to start from scratch and because the SBS server is the domain controller (DC), I would have a new DC.  That meant the computers joined to the existing DC would have to be disjoined then joined to the new DC.  Even though the new DC would keep the original domain name, because it is a different server it would be seen as a new organization.  The original profile on the client computers would be different.  That meant I would have to transfer all the files, settings, favorites, etc. between profiles.  You never really get things back to where they were before a profile change.  This was resolved by a handy and free tool that one of the office techs shared, called ProfWiz, short for Profile Wizard.  Once the new DC was in place I just ran that tool on the member computers, told them to join the new domain and pointed to the old profile.  A few minutes and a reboot later it was done.  It even kept the same background and desktop shortcuts.  I managed to copy over all of the desktops, storage server and web server in less than 2 hours.

There were a few minor hiccups.  I had registry error for Dropbox but a little research gave the answer on how to fix that.  Because I set myself up as the network administrator I had no permissions issues on the storage server.  For other family members I had to remove the  old permissions data (when the old DC was turned off the descriptions became invalid) and add them from the new server’s user list.  That took a whole 20 minutes.

I managed to get all of this done last Friday evening.  There have been other things to do, like tinker with the SharePoint stuff (there are still a couple of issues with SharePoint), get the VPN set up properly, etc.  But overall it has been a good project.

Oh yeah, I finally went through the process of getting a real SSL certificate.  Once that was installed I no longer get the invalid certificate warning and Remote Desktop sessions work properly from the Remote Web Workplace login.  Very slick!  I also added the Spamhaus subscription to the exchange server and so far that has blocked the virus-laden email from coming in.



   Posted by: John

Today, I got to move a client from the 2nd floor of their building to the 5th floor.  This included moving the PCs in their office, but also their server which was in a IT closet.  Nice closet, double doors, good lighting and the cabling is very neat. 

So, we got the PCs upstairs, I shut down and removed the server the the 2nd floor closet, and was sitting in the 5th floor closet along with the gal who runs (owns) the building…and here comes a lady from the law office next to the client’s new office.  “We’re down.  And here you just happen to be working in the closet.  What did you do to us?”  We hadn’t even started in the closet yet, but we traced the lines down to her switch, power is on, and there are blinking lights. 

So she calls her IT guy, he can’t get on to the system.  I end up talking to him on the phone, and finally go back and look at their server rack.  No power.  Well, one system is running on a battery backup unit and there is no power to the thing period.  I asked about a breaker panel, but nobody knows where it is.  They are calling the building electrician.

I go back to work on my client’s project.  After the server is in and powered up, here comes the other person’s IT guy…a fellow I used to work with at a different IT firm.  It was good to see him, I have wondered what happened to the guy.  Anyway, the problem turned out to be the electrician’s fault.  The way the building was wired, the “dedicated” circuit to the law firm’s servers went through my client’s “new” office, and the electrician said the circuit (which had a connection point in the floor) didn’t do anything and could be disconnected…which the person doing the floor panels did.  Oops!  The circuit was not labeled either, so there was no way to double check it.  To get to the panel to fix it, we had to move a very heavy cabinet that had just been placed there.  Oh well.  Connected the ends together and the servers powered right up!

Yeah, I am just twisted enough to find the whole episode a litte funny (after it was all fixed).


How’s Your Luck?

   Posted by: John

Late Friday afternoon I got a call to go to a client.  Computer has a BSOD (Blue Screen of Death).  I go and look at it, and the hard drive is mostly dead, like Westley in the movie “The Princess Bride”.  Mostly dead.  Machine won’t boot, laptop won’t find it.  And the gal tells me that she has been a bad girl and has not backed things up to the server. 

I don’t have time to work on it there, so I take it home with me.  I pulled the drive from her PC and drop it into the dock on my techie PC.  I can’t pull up the file structure but Acronis can see the drive (hence the mostly dead).  So I get a spare drive, hook it up and start doing a copy from the mostly dead one.  Took 22 hours to copy.  That’s the sure sign of a bad drive, taking that long to get a copy.

Saturday afternoon (before it finished the copy) I went to my local parts place and got a new hard drive for it.  After it finished copying, I could see the file structure on the interim drive.  Good deal.  Copied it to the new drive.  The only reason I used it was because I didn’t have a new one and I wanted to get it going.

Sunday morning I put the new drive in the PC and it booted up, but it got stuck at the login.  I did a repair install and was able to get into the user’s account.  It is now downloading all the updates and installing them.  There will be a few things to check and fix when it is delivered on Tuesday, but that is better than a full rebuild.

The point of this little story is this:  BACKUP BACKUP BACKUP!  She is really very lucky…must have paid her leprechaun bill this month.  Once a drive has crashed, all bets are off.  The server is there to store data and it is configured to not lose data.  If you don’t have a server, get an external hard drive to backup to, burn CDs, use Carbonite, but do something!  Otherwise you might be out of luck if your drive is all dead.


Adventures in Serverland

   Posted by: John

I have wanted to retire the old 2003 SBS server for some time.  It guzzles power and has had some rather goofy problems the past few months that I have not been able to work out of it.  For example, it would not install windows updates properly.  Then it would get hung up on a reboot.  I think one or two of the hard drives are starting to fail because it gets very sluggish and freezes for several minutes at a time.  Plus, it’s a 9 year old platform that just can’t be updated.  I can’t run a 64 bit OS on it and 3 GB of RAM is all that I have been able to successfully have in it.

I finally decided to try a migration to 2011 SBS.  Having never done a migration like this before I don’t mind saying that I was plenty nervous.  The documentation was very good though, and the process took a few evenings.  Not having a ton of users and other stuff on it helped.  The longest single process was transferring the exchange store, and that was relatively painless.  I still have to decommission the old server, but I have a couple weeks to do that.  There are still some things to do with it.

So far, so good!


New printer/scanner…I like it!

   Posted by: John

The old HP C6180 finally decided to die.  I used it for nearly 4 years.  Of course, it was given to me with some problems…would not print black ink.  It was one that had the ink tanks instead of the cartridges with the built in print heads.  I discovered that the tube going from the tank to the print head was plugged up.  It to0k hours to fix, but I did it and the think worked pretty good for quite some time.  Best feature was the auto sheet feeding scanner.  I ran a lot of pages through that.

But, the ink system finally failed and it would not power on any more.  Time to replace it.

Since I really like having the sheet feeding scanner, I decided I wanted another one, but one that would do both sides.  And print both sides.  So I ended up buying an Epson WorkForce 840.  This guy.

Epson WorkForce 840

Nice print quality, ink cartridges are a little expensive, but they hold a lot of ink.  Since most of what gets printed gets chucked in the bucket, I have it set on the fast print which uses considerably less ink than the normal print.  It has 2 paper trays.  I have the bottom one filled with plain paper and the top one has 4×6 photo paper.

This morning I am finally trying the auto feed scanner.  Keeping in mind that I am scanning 30+ year old handwritten pages, I have only had one paper jam, and that was a cinch to fix.  Scanned about 150 sheets, both sides, in an hour.  Not bad at all!

Here’s the best part.  Epson’s retail price on this unit is $300.  Staples had it on sale for $170, but if you took in a dead printer to recycle they knocked off another $50.  So I took in the dead HP and got this one for $120.  And it came with the extra large ink cartridges, which to replace them all is about $90.  Not a bad bargain at all!



   Posted by: John

Combination of half a potato farm and a lint factory.

Click for the full display of disgusting

It’s amazing this thing still works.  The heatsink is totally plugged up, the power supply intake is entirely clogged, and as for the rest of it, well, gross!!!

If you are going to have a computer, clean it out once in a while.  Regular maintenace will help it run better and last longer!