Monday, October 24, 2011

Dell Vostro 3400

One of the guys at the office travels a lot and the Dell Vostro 3400 that he was using is a bit of a brick so we upgraded him to a nice light Toshiba Portege 800 series laptop.  When I reclaimed the Vostro, I thought that it would be prudent to reinstall it with a clean installation of Windows 7 since he had been having some issues.  Simple right?  I thought so.

First I ran some exhaustive diagnostics to try to rule out any hardware issues, and it passed, Then I had dell send me original media since he didn't provide it to me.  Dell OEM windows 7 and a drivers disc.

- Windows 7 x64 installation, no problem
- Load drivers disc... nice feature that scans the hardware and tells you what you have.  recognized everything, um, except that video and the wlan card.  Must be a mistake... so I try all the video drivers, but not of them work and I am stuck at some default resolution.  Try all the wlan drivers, none of them work.  Frustrating.

Go to the Dell website and research the laptop.  Hmm, wifi card is listed as 802.11 n network.  That doesn't help.  No guidance on the video either.  Mind you, what I write in 2 sentences took hours and hours and 2 full reinstalls of the Windows as I was sure that something MUST have gotten corrupted.

Finally I have the bright idea to ask someone else with the Vostro 3400 to look in the device manager and tell me what video card and what wlan adapter he has.

Nvideo GoForce 310M.  Hmm, that driver isn't even on the disc, but it is on the website.  Actually there are two, on labelled as switchable and one as discrete.  I have no idea what that means.  I'll just try one.

DW1501 Wireless-N wlan Half-Mini Card.  Also not on the disc but it is on the website.

Download to a USB drive from another system, install and voila, video and WLan are working properly.

Amazing.  How can Dell send out a driver disc that does not recognize the hardware in the system of have the right drivers on it?

How can searching Google not turn up ANYONE who has had this issue and figured it out.

I bet that the 32bit version of Windows 7 would have found the right drivers, though looking at 'all' drivers on the disc, I may be wrong as I do not actually see these present.

What a colossal waste of time.  At least it is working now.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Replace or Refurbish

There is a side of me that is very green, no not the Greene side, the other side, and doesn't like throwing away things.  I prefer to fix it if it's broken, or sell it or give it away if I don't need it.  One person's trash is often another man's treasure.  I have had great luck using the website Freecycle ( to give away things that I don't need, can't really sell, but I was sure had a happy home waiting somewhere.  I have even given away broken things that I 'knew' could be fixed by someone with a little patience.

Recently I have been going through my stuff and fixing things that are broken.

Shoes.   My daily wear shoes are Mephisto's.  They have a factory refurbishing program where you send the shoes in and for a fee, depending on what you need, just soles. rebuild the shoe including stitching, etc, they will send them back in almost new condition.  The shoes were $300+ each I think and I must have purchased them 7 or 8 years ago.  I think that this is the 3rd time that I am sending them in to be resoled (I live in NYC and walk a lot), and for one pair, completely rebuilt.  It's cheaper than new shoes, it is avoids landfill, and I get to keep wearing shoes that I like.

Headphones.  I have a pair of Sony MDR-V700 headphones that I think that I have had for 7 or 8 years now.  They are pretty good, DJ style phones and I use them daily at work.  I think that they cost about $179.  The ear cushions and the headband, which are rubberized have started flaking little pieces of rubber just through age,  Guess what?  For $9.95 each, I was able to get new ear cups from Sony.  I also ordered a headband, which was $39... still a pretty good total cost for fully refurbishing the headphones.  One catch though with the headband... soldering required. I can handle it.... but it was not expected.  It would have been nice if the rubber part of the headband could just be replaced without having to remove and add wires that are soldered on.

Jacket and Pants.  About a year ago I decided to take a North Face shell that I had into the North Face Store in SOHO and show them some areas where it had worn badly and point out that it was no longer waterproof. The jacket was maybe 8 years old.  North Face has a lifetime warranty.  They took my jacket and a few weeks later sent me a new one at no charge.  It was not identical, but after 8 years of wear, I am not complaining.  I also gave them a pair of snowboarding pant that had a big tear on the butt from me sitting on a sharp rock in Jackson one winter.  Repaired good as new for $75.  Pants cost $300.  Not Bad.

Sunglasses. As I said in my other post, I love my Maui Jim's, and will keep repairing them until they refuse to fix them again.

Hmm, I wonder what else I can fix.

iCloud for families

I watched through Facebook as my friends and acquaintances struggled through their iOS5 upgrades the day that it came out and I told myself that they were all crazy and that upgrading to iOS5 in the first few days was a mistake.  Let someone else figure out all the issues.  I upgraded my iPad that night, of course.  The upgrade went very smoothly, but required some of patience.  It does a backup, upgrade, restore, then re-installs all the apps and media as a separate step and is not very clear that it is still processing so your may think that it is hung when it is not and stop the process early.  All in all though it went fine.  Now I will qualify that the iPad was only 2 weeks old so I really didn't care if I screwed it up, so it was a safe upgrade. I managed to wait 5 days to do my iPhone. 

The most confusing part of the upgrade is the addition of iCloud for wireless syncing and backups.  If you only own a single device and have a single iTunes account then the process is pretty simple, but really, who only own a single device and has a single account these days?  In my case I have an iPhone 4 and iPad 2, and 2 of my kids each own an iPhone 3GS, and we have another iPad 1 for the family and 2 iPod touches (though these are 1st generation devices and can't use the cloud).  I have 2 iTunes accounts, one for myself and one for my wife.  I usually use mine to sync all the devices.

I would like this setup such that that the devices that I use can share documents and bookmarks and photo's and such, but do not share with the kids accounts.  The kids phones should only sync with themselves, as should the iPad 1.  All of our devices will use the same iTunes account so that we can share apps.  I think that covers everything.

I have all my devices set to NOT automatically install music, apps or books since not everyone would want to install everything that everyone else purchases (ok, I admit it, I purchase the explicit versions of songs and don't want the kids to have them automatically).  Instead, apps can be downloaded selectively on each device by using the 'Purchased' tab on the App store.  Note that apple has quietly (at least I had not heard) added a 'Purchased' tab to the iTunes store as well, so you can download purchased music and video to up to 10 devices linked to the iTunes account.  Gone are the days of purchasing, downloading, syncing, and they syncing to every device you want it on... maybe.  In theory, with the ability to reinstall media and such from the various 'Purchased' tabs, you don't really need to sync to your local computer anymore, except that it may be easier to add or restore a bunch of apps and music by syncing than it is by downloading.

So far I have only setup my iPad and my iPhone for syncing and it appears to be working properly.  The first backup takes some time, subsequent backups are differential and go pretty fast.  They should run automatically at night when you are plugged in and locked, or you can run them manually.

One cool note, I read on my phone a lot using iBooks and have always had a bit of Kindle envy in that I wanted be able to open my books on any device and be on the same page, which kindle does automatically for books purchased from the kindle store (not from personal content though which was a show stopper for me) and iCloud appears to accomplish this between my iPhone and iPad (though I cannot seem to determine the auto sync interval).  And this is one place that I think that I will still need to sync since most of my books are purchased outside of iBooks, converted to iPub, then loaded into iBooks through the Sync process.  I am not sure how I can get not iBooks content into iBooks without syncing.  I guess I'll tackle that soon.

So, the family iCloud setup summary according to Justin is:

- Separate iCloud account for each user with each user's devices syncing to their account.
- Single iTunes account for the Family so that apps and music can be shared.
- Backup to the cloud (who really remembers to backup their devices, right Leslie)
 (note: I use exchange for my contacts, calendar and reminders so I am not backing these up to the cloud).
- Do not automatically download purchased content, get it manually.
I see that I have the ability to have multiple iCloud accounts on a device.  It may be possible to consolidate the backups all onto one account, but allow the bookmarks and document syncing and such all take place on a separate account for the kids so that we do not mix things, though I think that I would prefer to not have my iCloud account anywhere on their phones so that they cannot inadvertently access my content.  I'll have to play around with this a little to see what makes the most sense.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Time Warner Business Internet

When it 50Mbs not 50Mbs?  When you subscribe through Time Warner.

We subscribe to Time Warner's 50/5 service, which should give us download speeds of 50Mbs and upload speeds of 5Mbs, or something close I would think.  We consistently see download speeds in the 3Mbs to 15Mbs range, which is completely unacceptable.  A call to Time Warner provided us with the URL which is a speed test hosted on the on the NYC backbone (I am sure that they have them for other cities as well).  Interestingly, running the speed test shows pretty consistent results in the 40Mbs to 50Mbs range when run at the same time (well not really the exact SAME time) as tests against other speed test providers that are returning significantly lower numbers.

Some people see these results and think that Time Warner is gaming the system to make themselves look better by cheating on their speed test (there is a YouTube video that "proves" exactly this).  I don't think that this is the issue.  I think that it is more likely that the Time Warner network has bottlenecks at it's peering points with other networks.  What does this mean?  Well, if you are connected to Time Warner and are trying to reach someone that is connected to Level 3 (another provider), somewhere there has to exist a connection between Time Warner and Level 3 (and it's all these connections that make up the Internet).  That connection is called a peering point.  Sometimes two networks are directly connected, sometimes data has to route through a few networks to get to the desired network.  Typically the better peering a network has (direct connections to other networks), the better the service and the more expensive the service because peering is expensive.

If the Time Warner speed test is performing well, but another speed test is not, chances are that there are congestion issues somewhere between the Time Warner network and the network hosting the other speed test that are causing the poor performance.  Knowing this does not solve the problem, but it does provide the information that YOUR internet connection is fine and that it is really just a function of the Time Warner network and short of them upgrading their peering, or your waiting for less busy times of day, the only real solution is to change providers.  Unfortunately, that is not always an option.

Oct 17, 2011 UPDATE: I upgraded my iPhone from iOS 4.x to iOS 5.0 and the Credential did not change.  So now it is a complete mystery how the Credential ID on my phone and the Credential ID that Network Solutions had were different.

Cisco AP541

You would think that a product from Cisco would basically work, but the AP541N is proving this to be a bad assumption.  We have a pretty simple small network:

- 16 laptops.
- 2 printers, one of which is using a WET610N bridge to connect it's Ethernet, the other with built in WIFI.
- 20 Cisco SPA525G VIOP telephones.
- 2 Polycom VOIP speakerphones connected to the network via WET 610N bridges.
- a bunch of smartphones and ipads

No servers, no network devices other than the printers.  Really vanilla.We have 3 SSIDs configured on the AP541N, one for our IP phones, one for our computers and one for guests.  All are using WPA2 authentication.  Since this is a Dual Band WAP, but not a Dual Radio WAP, we have to choose between 2.4GHZ or 5GHZ and since some of our devices only support 2.4, we are set tp 2.4 with a fixes frequency (to see if auto was causing the problem).

We keep running into a problem in which the laptops lose the ability to connect to the printers and the only way to restore the connections is to reboot the AP541N (pull the plug).  Sometimes the laptops lose the network entirely and not just the printers and the SSIDs even vanish from the available networks  Possibly two different issues.  A little research showed that they are a pretty common issues.  The notes on the firmware describe a problem in which a feature called station isolation turns itself on, even though it is disabled.  This feature prevents communication between wifi devices.  The firmware notes indicate that this issue is fixed though.  Guess not.  Cisco support is not much help.  No resolutions or solutions are posted anywhere except to find a replacement product from another vendor.  Great.

So, for the time being, we continue to reboot the device once or twice a way whenever we lose connectivity to the printers, which seems to be the solution that everyone has implemented according to posts going back as far as 2010.

p.s. We are running the AP541N-K9-2.0(0) firmware.

Maui Jim Sunglasses

Let me just say how much I love Maui Jim sunglasses.  I discovered them years ago when I started wearing their Kapalua frameless glasses.  They weight nothing and have amazing optics and look good too.  I wore them and wore them and wore them and eventually broke them and broke them and broke them.  That is when I discovered their awesome repair policy.  For $60 I could replace the lenses and for $60 I could replace the ear pieces and frames.  So for $120 (+ $10 shipping) I could have a new pair of glasses which would have cost me $259 in the store. Glasses break, its a fact of life.  I have probably sent them in for repair 4 or 5 times in as many years.

I've since moved on to another Maui Jim model with a nylon frame and they have the same repair policy with different pricing.  Very fair.  Thus far I have had the ear piece snap off twice, and have sent them back and have had then returned to me repaired without charge (+ $10 shipping).

Did I mention that I love Maui Jim. Their glasses not only look good but their customer service is top notch and that has made me a customer for life :-)

Network Solutions Password Plus

I've been doing Internet related work since 1993.  Once of the advantages of being involved with the Internet for so early on is that I was able to secure my own name as my domain name; (I also had, which I never should have let go.  Oh well).  I have had lots of offers to buy it over the years., but nothing close to enough to be worth giving up the convenience of owning my name.

A few years ago (while I was out of the country of course), someone decided that if I was not going to sell it, they were going to take it, and I experienced my first domain hijacking.  This is when someone gets control of your registrar account and transfers your domain name to a different registrar over which you have no control.  The typical strategy, so I am told, is to transfer it repeatedly, because after the first hop, it is very hard to prove ownership and get it back, since you don't own either side of the transaction.  (note that registrars voluntarily enforce a 60 (or 90) day account freeze after a transfer to try to slow down transfer through multiple registrars.)

In my case, someone contacted network solutions claiming to be me and to have forgotten their password and not have access to their email address any longer.  Then faxed them a forged passport and utility bill as proof of Identity.  Changed the email address to a hotmail account that 'looked' like it could be my address. [Ok, I just have to interject at this point... Network Solutions had my phone number on file, I am not sure why they didn't just call me to see if this was legit.  Major break down in process].  Then they transferred the domain from Network Solutions to GoDaddy and to keep me from noticing the transfer they replicated all my DNS information at GoDaddy so that everything would keep working properly, so short of trying to log in to my Network Solutions Account (and honestly, how often does that happen) I should never have noticed and 90 days later, gone.

I got lucky.  They screwed up the GoDaddy DNS information and forgot to configure the URL for my webmail, so of course I noticed that webmail was not working pretty quickly and figured out what had happened.  After many calls to Godaddy and Network Solutions, and 3 months of back and forth, I finally got my domain back.  Yes, it really took 3 months.  Fortunately all the settings were present and I could live without webmail, so I was not dead in the water.  Network solutions even tried to tell me that the transfer was in fact authorized because they had faxes to prove it and I had to prove that they were forgeries.  Ack!!

So to try to minimize that chance that this would happen again, they offered to put an IP address restriction on my account, so that one could only log in from a certain IP address.  I am not sure how this would stop someone from hijacking my account, but it does secure the access to the account to some extent.  It is also very inconvenient, and I ultimately had to remove it because I needed access from different locations.

Then Network Solutions introduced Password Plus, which uses a Verisign token to generate a security key that changes every 30 seconds and can be obtained from an App installed on a smartphone (if you don't want to purchase and carry a FOB).  This seemed like a much better solution than the IP restriction until today... when suddenly I could not log in because it would not accept my security key.  I tried resetting the key through the app and it did not solve the problem.

I called Network Solutions who told me that the key was issued by Verisign and that I needed to call them.  I called Verisign who told me that any upgrades or changes to my smartphone could cause "Credential ID' to change, which would cause the App to no longer issue valid security codes for my account.  Really?  What kind of changes?  An iOS point upgrade?  An iOS version upgrade?  A device change?  These devices are updated all the time. The rep didn't seem to know, but told me to uninstall and reinstall the App and then call Network Solutions and have them Deactivate the old Credential ID and add the new one.  Again, Really?  Why would I need to uninstall and reinstall?  I already have a new Credential ID.  Oy.

So I called network solutions back. The first rep told me to call Verisign, then told me that Network Solutions no longer supports Password Plus, then told me that any Password Plus issues were on the Verisign side, then finally transferred me to someone else.  I asked the someone else if they knew what Password Plus because if not, they would not be able to help me, and they proceeded to look it up then start reading me what Password Plus is.  Oh boy.  Eventually, after much research into what Password Plus was, she finally told me that I needed to call Verisign, and I finally insisted that she transfer me to someone who has heard of Password Plus or a supervisor.  I got the supervisor who said "Hey, what this Deactivate Token button?"  Click.  Now I could login without a security key, go back into manage Password Plus, and add my new Security ID, which btw I have documented so that I can check it after I upgrade to iOS 5 to see if it actually changes again.

Wow, and to think that having the Token in an app on my iPhone was supposed to make my life easier.  That took 3 hours to resolve, and I'm pretty good at this stuff.


I've been considering for some time that it might be interesting to chronicle some of the things that I discover, experience and resolve in my day to day personal and professional life so that others can maybe save themselves some time and trouble figuring out the same thing.  I am not going to be writing on any one subject, just random things that I come across that I think are worth putting to words.  Maybe my experiences will prove useful to someone else, maybe it will just provide me with a forum to vent about how wonderful or frustrating I find the many things that I deal with on a day to day basis.  Only time will tell.