Friday, March 30, 2012

iCAL and Exchange

We have one user, me, for whom our Mac users cannot seem to access the calender from iCal.  This was driving me crazy for a while, but the problem was really really stupidly simple.  I had my work day set from 6a to 8a rather than from 6a to 8p, so most of the day was 'unavailable' because it was outside of my work day and iCal, unlike Outlook on the Mac, doesn't show anything that is scheduled during unavailable time so it appeared that my calendar was just not visible.  Dumb Dumb Dumb.

The details:

Exchange Server hosted with Intermedia
PC users on windows 7/Outlook 2010
Mac users on Lion/Outlook 2011 and iCAL

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Apple MacBook Pro and WIFI Issues

We have a number of users on the local network, most of whom are on MacBook Pro laptops, who have been having an issue in which their WIFI drops periodically and must be manually reselected after which a few minutes later, it drops again.  It happened intermittently, and more in certain parts of the office than others.  I did some research and found lots of postings of people having issues with their MacBook Pro laptops and lots of 'possible' solutions to the issue, not of which really helped.  Ideas like resetting the NVRAM and creating new 'Locations' with only one SSID.   Nothing helped in our case so I started to do my own research.

Our WIFI Setup is as follows:
Cisco 981w router with integrated Dual Band, Dual Radio WAP
2 SSIDs, each broadcasting on both 2.4GHZ and 5GHZ
Most clients authenticating with WPS2/Personal/AES

I made some interesting observations.  First, the MacBooks seemed to all be connecting to 2.4 GHZ, even though it is really congested and the 5GHZ band is wide open.  The client itself is pretty dumb and has no way that I could find to tell it which frequency to favor.  It automagically figures it out based on signal strength.  Interestingly, the places in the office with the biggest issues are where the signal is the weakest.  There is also not a way to tell it to use a, b, g, or n, it's pretty much all or nothing.

So the first thing I did, which is sort of the only thing I did, was to change the WAP in the router so that the 2nd SSID was only broadcasting on 5GHZ which forced users who connected to that SSID to use 5GHZ.  This would prevent the MacBook from trying to jump between them if it thought that it had a stronger signal bands (with the same SSID) if it thought that it had a better signal.  Problem solved.  Damn that was easy.

Next step is to change my 2 SSID (guest, and corp) to 4 SSIDs (guest2, guest5, corp2, corp5).  I suspect that with some additional troubleshooting I could figure out why specifically was causing problems when the same SSID is on 2.4GHZ and 5GHZ, but this solves my problem in this environment and I have other things to do.  Hope this helps.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

MacBook Pro and MacBook Air restore

I have been configuring a lot of MacBook Pro and MacBook Air laptops for people in the office so I finally decided to make my life easier by creating an image of a baseline install from which I could image the new machines and save myself a lot of time and effort.

So the concept is simple:

- Go through the setup process
- Create a generic account like 'administrator'
- Install any system updates
- Install baseline software (Office, Firefox, Dropbox, Printer/Scanner Drivers, etc)
- Attach a USB drive
- Reboot into the Lion Install Partition
- Go into Disc Utility
- 'Restore' the system partition to a partition on the USB drive

Now any time I need to re-install a laptop I can boot into Disk Utility and 'restore' from the USB partition to the laptop.

Now the question is whether I can take a 'restore' from a MacBook Pro and use it to install a MacBook Air.  And the verdict is... Yes.  This seems to work.  Oddly though the restore 'failed' at the end, but verifying the partition showed that it was clean, so I booted into it and everything appears to work properly.

I have not tried restoring to a MacBook Pro yet, so I do not know if the error is specific to the Air.  I'll update the post when I know.

Monday, March 19, 2012

iCloud restore and missing Backups

I recently upgraded am iPhone 3GS to iOS 5.1.  A week later, the phone started acting badly.  I succeeded in backing it up, then tried to reapply the firmware, and it would not update, leaving me with an effectively dead phone.  I took it to apple and ultimately I very unhappily ended up paying $160 for a refurbished phone which came with iOS 5.0.  When I went to restore the phone from iCloud it reported that there were no available backups.  Huh?  I know that there are backups.  On a hunch I setup the phone as a new phone, updated it to 5.1, then erased it, and tried to setup and restore from iCloud again and this time is saw all the backups.

Interesting lesson.  iOS 5.0 cannot see iOS 5.1 backups.

Starwood SPG Flights

I am a huge Starwood fan.  I love the hotels and I love the rewards. For the most part I have been really happy with the hotels that I could book using Starwood Points and with the Transfer rates to the various airlines.

However... I just had a really stupid and annoying experience trying to book a flight through SPG Flights.  I wanted to fly Jet Blue, which is not an airline to which Starwood points can be transferred.  However SPG flights does allow you to book Jet Blue flights, so I went through the SPG Flights reservations system, found my flight, and clicked "sign-in and continue" and I was given a Brower error page.  Not a response from the web server, but from the browser itself that there was an error with the flight.  Very annoying.  I tried again, I tried a different browser, always the same error.  The URL is clearly going to Starwood, to a login URL, passing a token, and passing a URL back at SPG Flights to which the user should be redirected after logging in.  The problem is that it didn't work. The URL is broken.

Annoying but not the end of the world.  I called the toll free number to book the flight, but they are not open after hours or on sundays (it was Sunday night).  Damn.  Tried again in the morning.  The flight was now 5000 points more expensive.  That is really annoying.  Called the number and was told that they cannot book flights by phone, it has to be handled through the website.  Wow.  Tried modifying the redirect URL and finally removed the 'S' from HTTPS, and suddenly I got the login page and was able to confirm the flight.

Asked the representative to credit me 5000 points since their broken website prevented me from booking the night before and was given a run around about how they can't credit me because it wasn't their problem, they hire a third party.  Wow again.  Tried the supervisor.  Same story. No point.

So Starwood uses a third party to provide the SPG Flights service, the third party provides terrible service and created a website that is effectively unusable unless you hack the URL to which they are trying to redirect you, they know that there is an issue, and they don't really care how it is inconveniencing their clients.  That is a HUGE minus sign on what has historically been pretty good service.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Last year we built out a network and decided that we would try going entirely wireless in the office.  WIFI for all the computers and WIFI for the phones using VOIP over WIFI.  We have the phones running over a Towerstream 10MB wireless circuit and our office running over a Time Warner Cable 50/5 circuit.

The short of it was that the Cisco 525G2 phones, which have built in WIFI, just sucked.  Call quality was terrible and after many months people just stopped using them entirely and would do everything on their cell phones.  I thought for a while that it was the Towerstream circuit as I saw some dropped packets and inconsistent latency, and had them out a bunch of times to resolve the issues, but the problem persisted, so then I turned to troubleshooting the WIFI.

In troubleshooting the problem I discovered a few things.  When I scanned the WIFI channels using inSSIDer and found that there were no less than 25 2.4GHZ signals on all channels being picked up in my office (have to love dense urban areas).  5GHZ however was barely in use.  Unfortunately the Cisco 525G2 phones only support 2.4GHZ so I was unable to see if WIFI was the issue or if interference was the issue.

I installed Ethernet to a bunch of the phones and they worked great.  IN the process of installing ethernet, I freed up a WIFI bridge that supports 2.4GHZ and 5GHZ, so as an experiment I put the bridge on 5GHZ and hooked it up to the Ethernet port on one of the phones, and the call quality improved dramatically.

The takeaway is that VOIP over WIFI seems to be VERY susceptible to interference.  2.4GHZ was unusable for us, but 5GHZ seems to work on initial testing, but in our case it is far less congested so I can't say for sure whether it is a 2.4GHZ/5GHZ issue or a congestion issue.  Wired however is by far the best so if considering VOIP, try to wire it, if you can't wire it, check your congestion with a tool such as inSSIDer and make sure that you have open channels (and not that this can change without notice if someone changes a setting on their WIFI).  If you need to use 5GHZ, use a bridge, possible with a switch if you need to connect multiple phones.