Monday, August 31, 2009

Dell Inspiron 1545 with Vista x64 Spontaneously Reboots

I'm not sure which I dislike more, Microsoft, or Dell.  The two together are an unholy union that literally keep me up at night.  Todays headache comes courtesy of them both.  The Inspiron laptop would reboot every 20-30 mintes for no good reason, and it didn't matter if it was idle, in a screensaver, or busy with an update.  After rounding up all the usual suspects (all drivers updated, 3rd party software removed, updated the BIOS, removed the antivirus, installed all OS updates, ran Dell's hardware diagnostics) I decided to call Dell. 

After a half-hour of Hell because I didn't know that the customer had acquired the laptops at Best Buy (one of Dell's support reps suggested I could only get help from the reseller) a support rep took pity on me and suggested I do a system restore to two weeks prior.  I tried that, with no dice.  She then suggested that the issue is due to some incompatible updates from Microsoft.  That's right, the updates that are supposed to make our computers safer and more stable were crashing this one out.  The support rep further suggested that I turn off automatic updates.  Fat chance, I told her, then I politely asked if she knew which updates in particular were causing the mischief.  After a relatively brief hold, she gladly informed me that the issue was caused by the following updates and suggested that if I remove them my computer would operate trouble-free.
  • KB973839
  • KB970653
  • KB972036
  • KB973874
I've removed the required updates, rebooted, ran MS Update, hid the offending updates, and have operated the computer for the past hour without incident.  I think she may have given me the correct answer - she did great, but Dell is still not on my list of recommended vendors.

Friday, August 28, 2009

IPCop Firewall 2.0 - Coming Soon to a Network Perimeter Near You!

IPCop 2.0 will be here soon - I just downloaded and installeda beta version of IPCop 2.0 - IPCop 1.9.7 on a Virtual Box on my Macbook Pro. I don't know why, but they're playing it pretty close to the vest. There is virtually no mention of 2.0 on the web site unless you click on the Road Map link - which lays out 2.0's intended features. From the looks of 1.9, it's coming along rather nicely. I'll review the highlights and show you some screenshots.

/edit 11-Apr-2011
It seems a heroic few have soldiered on and are slowly moving toward what will be IPCop Version 2.0.  Despite the fact that there hasn't been a new stable version in quite some time, the IPCop version 2.0 is still under development - a new test version 1.9.19 has been released - you can find the test versions at  Looking at their timeline it would seem that documentation is half finished, and many features are at 80% and 90%.  It seems that traffic shaping has not begun implementation, don't even think about using a dial-up modem (my Granddad still uses one - no kidding!)

If you've never heard of IPCop I'll give you a quick rundown: it's a Linux distro that you load into a crappy old PC - they've tested it on a 486 with 64MB of RAM, and it worked at a reasonable speed! You replace your network firewall with this baby and you gain all the power and flexibility of a Microsoft ISA Server (without the hassles and expense) or a Cisco PIX Firewall (again, without the hassles and expense!). Believe me, this thing is easy and fun. For install instructions and tutorial (version 1.4.x at this time, but easily applied to 1.9.x, or even 2.0 once it arrives) check out this Instructables Article.

I spent some time looking for documentation prior to installing the Beta, and found nothing but complaints about install problems or enigmatic questions wondering when 2.0 will be available. Wonder no more: the Beta is available now, you can test it out to your hearts content. In fact, I encourage it - the more people that download the software and try it out, the more feedback will be given to the developers, and the odds are that a few people who install it will know a thing or two about development and make some serious contributions.

Why haven't I contributed? I have! I'm spreading the word! The developers get a golf-clap: by downloading the software you show interest, and no one wants to develop software that no one is interested i. I'd contribute more if I knew how to code and script - I know code and script, but I'm a total script-kiddy: I understand the fundamentals and can manipulate the system once it's made. It's like knowing how to drive, fine-tune, and even fix an automobile, but ask me to fabricate a new piece or improve on the existing engineering and I'll have to pass. I'm confined to standing on the shoulders of giants.

IPCop v2.0 is a development of v1.4, but incorporates some significant improvements.

    • Linux kernel 2.6.27
    • New hardware support, including Cobalt, sparc and PPC platforms.
    • New installer, which allows you to install to flash or hard drives, and to select interface cards and assign them to particular networks.
    • Access to all web interface pages is now password protected.
    • The port for https secure connections has been changed to 8443.
    • Redirection from ports 81 and 445 will not work.
    • A New Look User Interface, which includes:

    • A new Scheduler Page, on the System Menu, where you can program various events.
    • More pages on the Status Menu including new pages for System Info, Traffic Accounting, and IPTables, as well as an overhauled page for Connections.  The entire Firewall Menu has been overhauled, and the Pinholes and Port Forwarding are now controlled by Firewall Rules. (This feature set rocks - the port forwarding worked great in 1.4.x, but the "pinholes" made no sense to me.)
    • An updated Proxy Page, now with advanced control features. (The "Advanced Control Features" are Marco Sonderman's AdvProxy addon for IPCop 1.4.x rolled into the new distro so you no longer have to install it separately. Thanks, Marco!)
    • There's a simplified DHCP Server Page. And underneath, dnsmasq has replaced dhcpd as the DHCP server.
    • The Time Server Page has also been simplified, as IPCop now uses ntpd fully.
    • OpenVPN has been added to IPCop, as an alternative to IPsec. (Whither Zerina? I'm guessing Zerina was rolled into this distro, too. Bravo! At the time of writing the Zerina site was down, here is the Google Cached Page Link)
      On the flipside, snort Intrusion Detection System has been dropped from IPCop v2.0, to become an Addon. (I didn't use this - the Sourcefire rules update was an onerous burden, there were too many false positives, and it's strictly reactive - great forensic evidence after the crime is committed but hardly a way to prevent the crime in the first place!)
      All in all, I'd say that these are milestone improvements - the install time is drastically reduced by rolling two of my favorite addons into the distro, multiple interfaces with separate IP's may be set up in each zone (2 Red's, one on the Fiber Line, one on the DSL backup?) making this a much more flexible system. I'm glad I stocked up on extra Ethernet adapters!

      Oh, and a word to the wise: This is a BETA, don't use it for a production system, use it for testing and development. The manual is certainly less than complete, and I'm certain that many features are half-baked, so you'll experience some headaches if you stake you business on 1.9.x.

      Sunday, August 16, 2009

      Small Business Server 2003 Service Pack 2 Stupidity

      I kept getting the error "Setup could not verify the integrity of the file Update.inf. Make sure the Cryptographic service is running on this computer," when I tried to apply SBS 2003 SP2. I stopped and started the cryptographic service. I read every Microsoft KB and followed every step. I ran DJ-Lizard's Dial-a-Fix - an excellent tool for repairing a variety of windows problems by automating the deletion of some pesky files as well as unregistering and reregistering some pesky DLL's - and still had no luck.

      Reading Experts Exchange (well worth the subscription price) another individual had the same problem, ran through the same troubleshooting steps, and had no success until he realized that he hadn't applied SBS 2003 SP1. I checked my server, and sure enough, I hadn't applied SP1. The Stupid Server service packs aren't cumulative? Windows deskop OS SP's are, so I naturally assumed that server service packs would be, too.

      Saturday, August 15, 2009

      Let's Waste Some More Time!

      A lot has changed since my last post about wasting time (not this one, that one!) - users decided that downloading and installing a dedicated application to run Internet television is NOT on their to-do list. Web-based video sites have instead opted to follow a format most similar to YouTube. I like the application-based model because it didn't feel like YouTube, which lets you browse videos much as you would browse Ebay.

      Admittedly the new online television sites don't look exactly like YouTube, but I dislike browsing video content inside of a browser window. The full-screen Babelgum and Joost clients had their own personalities which were expressed through various eye candy like slick menu effects, and Joost's fade-to-a-dot like an old-school TV was just awesome - it reinforced the fact that it was TV.

      Now that I've got my pitiful whining out of the way, lets look at our FREE online television viewing options:

      For the sake of completeness I've included the 800 pound gorilla. You know it, you love it. There's nothing that can't be found here - from the inane to the insane. It works in every browser on every platform (OK, that's a bit of a stretch, there's some geek reading this in
      Lynx running under Linux on his Atari 2600 who can't). It features low-quality and high-quality modes, fullscreen viewing, and if you have a slow connection you can pause it and let it queue up some more data for a better viewing experience. It's owned by Google. What more can I say? Go watch something stupid.

      The not-quite 800 pound Gorilla but having 800 pound gorilla backing (Fox, WB, and Comedy Central to name just a few) has many, perhaps too many, TV episodes online for your viewing pleasure. And it's legal - unlike Youtube, which is regularly asked to pull copyrighted content by the content's owners. The content owners have given their precious shows over to Hulu (when they haven't Hulu gladly links to a content-providers site on which you may watch your show), which places a single 20 or 30 second ad at the points where television viewers would endure a few minutes. Even with less ads, they're making a fortune because the advertisers are willing to pay for ads that they know will be seen - it's pinpoint accuracy advertising, unlike the shotgun of over-the-air TV.

      Hulu has classics like AirWolf and V, and fresh content like The Daily Show (a day late). An added bonus: Movies. They're not terribly recent, and the content is changed up regularly, so if you missed The Fifth Element when it was on Hulu a few months ago you're out of luck.

      OK, on to the geeky stuff: you will need a fat Internet connection to enjoy Hulu thoroughly - the video is usually very high quality. Many hotel networks don't fit the bill. Neither does dial-up. Users with a slow connection can pause the show and let it queue up - it has a handy queue meter when you pause it - for smoother viewing.

      I thoroughly enjoyed their stand-alone client's visual effects. Kudos to Joost for managing to bring some of that visual style to their site. It seems that the corporate television overlords have seen fit to keep their eggs in different baskets (I won't name names, but one rhymes with Schmomedy Schmentral). Ads are placed at the beginning of the show and at appropriate places throughout the show, much like Hulu. There is a lot of classic cartoon content - like GI Joe, He-Man, and Transformers - great stuff, I rushed home after school for these! Newer content from Nickelodeon can also be found here. Also, I'm delighted with the PBS channel, educating and entertaining at the same time!

      I'm not thrilled with the layout and navigation of their site - it's clunky, wasting lots of space and hiding the impressive depth and breadth of available content. The video quality is excellent, it queues when you pause it, and you'll enjoy it more with a good fast Internet connection.

      The European answer to Hulu and Joost, Bebelgum has an excellent easily customized interface that invites you to search deeper. And deep is what you get here - independent films and Britain's BBC as well as a plethora of documentary films. My favorite documentary? Red Files.

      The site is supported by video ads that play at the beginning of the video. Then, during the video, to my irritation, static ad content slides out in a translucent bar, which is closed by clicking the X in the top-right corner. Video quality is excellent. I like this site due to the sheer uniqueness of the content, all of which is professionally generated.

      This one is pretty iffy. It's a web site that pairs with an application (spyware risk, anyone?) that streams live TV and radio stations from mostly non-American sources - like the BBC and Al-Jazeera. Remember how I was delighted with the video services that required a player to view the content? Well these guys got it wrong. The clunky player only plays the video or audio half the time due to the fact that users may add content that then becomes unavailable even though LiveStation shows it as available. I think that what they're doing with their client is aggregating the streaming content from a "partner" entity's web site. I'd save the effort and just go to the web site of the entity you want to watch - you'll likely not suffer as much disappointment. Quality is wildly variable. The player app is available for almost every OS and platform, from Windows and Linux to Mac (Intel and PPC!).

      Miro is a horse of a different color. First up you have to download and install it. It is RSS for video. You tell it which "channels" you like, and whenever you run the app it checks those feeds for fresh content, which it will then download for your offline viewing pleasure (the bar doesn't have Wifi? Pshaw, I'm still entertained!). That's right, it saves the movie files right to your hard drive, from which you can copy them into your favorite mobile device and watch them on the go, or you can just watch them in Miro. Miro is NOT for those seeking instant gratification as it must download the entire video before it plays it. Miro seems to be the only video app that plays HD content, so if you hook your computer to your TV and play the videos your in for a real treat. My favorite channels include NASAcast and Monty Python.

      This one has potential, but in its current form it's too hit and miss, too low quality, and too difficult to navigate to be used by most people. Unless you're an expatriate from Asia, Europe, or the Middle East who's missing the TV from home, you will likely be disappointed by this service. It's similar to LiveStation (see above) in that it attempts to aggregate several sites' streaming content into one searchable, useable place. It won't work unless you download their proprietary plugin (I wonder if its' loaded with spyware?), and the video quality is poor. However, I'm going to periodically check back on this one because I can see the potential - the web site has a visual appeal a la Joost.

      Wednesday, August 12, 2009

      Firefox: No Longer King of the Browser Hill?

      After nearly seven years of telling Windows users to "Get Firefox!" I've finally stopped - Internet Explorer 8 is faster, just as secure, and has an excellent feature set. I'm not just whistling Dixie here - I deal with hundreds of Windows computers across 5 states. I see users of Firefox with spyware and extra browser bars just as often as I see IE users with those sorts of junkware. IE 8 adheres more closely to web standards and displays web pages the way the author intended. Firefox does - usually. Have you ever connected to Outlook Web Access with Firefox? It sucks. I won't explain why, I'll just wait while you try it.

      OK, next up, IE 8 is just plain faster than Firefox 3.5. Take a Pentium 3 with 256MB of RAM and Windows XP, install IE 8 and Firefox 3.5 (go on, I'll wait, this will take a while . . .) then surf the web. IE 8 is faster, and it is most noticeable on older computers.
      Also, Google Chrome is cool too. It's fast, displays web pages well, but it works the same as Firefox if you hit Outlook Web Access. On the up side it's new enough that it's a tiny target for malware.

      OK, now for my Mac followers: Quit with the Firefox and try Safari. The latest updates have made it super fast, and its interface reminds me of a cross between Firefox and Google Chrome. The Top Sites feature is great eye candy, check the picture at the right.
      Best of all, Flash (Shockwave) games work better in Safari. A good example is the Star Wars Clone Wars game my son plays on Cartoon Network. It loads much, much faster on Safari, then actually works. Lets see Firefox do that!

      Saturday, August 08, 2009

      E-Mailed Virus Warnings

      I never thought I would have to make this blog post, but events over the past couple of weeks have forced my hand.


      True virus warnings will not come from the guy that sends you silly emails. They won't even come from your accountant. They will come from the news - yes, that's right, watching the TV news or listening to the news on the radio you will hear stories of impending computer virus doom. Nimda, Melissa, and Conficker all made the 10 O'Clock news. They were worth worrying about.

      E-mailed missives of impending doom often come from someone we trust, contain bogusness similar to "I checked with the executives at Symantec and they confirmed that this is for real," and "it will 'burn' your hard drive, making it unreadable and destroying all of your data," and are complete and utter wastes of time.

      There are some idiots out there who create things like this then laugh at the chaos it creates. Please don't be their patsy! Don't kid yourself, forwarding these things is almost as bad as spreading a real virus in that they waste time and resources. Resources that have been spent assuring people that this warning is a hoax and that we do not need to prepare for this disastrous worm or virus or whatever. My phone rang for two days. My inbox filled up. My patience wore thin.

      Your computer guy has better things to do than assure you that this is a hoax.

      Tuesday, August 04, 2009

      Windows XP/Server NTBackup Script

      If technical content gives you a headache SKIP THIS POST. I make a lot of assumptions about the technical savvy and familiarity of the user with the command line and DOS batch files.
      I've played this one pretty close to the vest, but it's time for the world to behold the glory that is . . . My Windows NTBackup Script. This baby will back up your registry, your Exchange data, Sharepoint, user documents, and, provided you use the proper net stop commands, your databases can all be backed up. Familiarity with your database server also helps - often there is a command to dump the data from the database into a separate set of files that can be backed up while the database is still running.

      This script is for backup to an external hard drive - in this case the i:\ drive. It's specific to many of my health care servers, but is easily modified to work almost anywhere - just delete the references to SharePoint, MySql, ProgressiveSQL, etc.

      You will need to create the following directories on your external hard drive:


      You will also need to create %windir%\backups\data\sysstate.bks and%windir%\backups\data\userdata.bks by opening up NTBackup, making the selections for your system state and user data, and saving them into the necessary files name and placed appropriately.

      Lastly you will need to install Blat in your c:\windows\system32.

      REM @echo off

      REM ***Set Variables***
      Set DateCode=%date:~-4%%date:~4,2%%date:~7,2%.%time:~0,2%%time:~3,2%%time:~6,2%
      set sharepointbackuplocation=d:\sharepoint\backup
      set blat=c:\windows\system32\blat.exe
      set yoursite=http://server
      set emailsub=SharePointBackupReport
      set templog=d:\backupscripts\spbackup.txt
      set sharepointfile=Backup.bak

      echo System Backup Script v1.1 by J Hoeft >> %templog%

      REM ***Lock Sharepoint as readonly, create backup, unlock***
      echo Backing up Sharepoin" >> %templog%
      "C:\Program Files\Common Files\Microsoft Shared\Web Server Extensions\12\BIN\Stsadm.exe" -o setsitelock -url %yoursite% -lock readonly
      "C:\Program Files\Common Files\Microsoft Shared\Web Server Extensions\12\BIN\Stsadm.exe" -o backup -overwrite -url %yoursite% -backupmethod full -filename %sharepointbackuplocation%\%sharepointfile% >>%templog%
      "C:\Program Files\Common Files\Microsoft Shared\Web Server Extensions\12\BIN\Stsadm.exe" -o setsitelock -url %yoursite% -lock none
      dir %sharepointbackuplocation% >> %templog%

      REM ***shutdown Progressive SQL for ECS backup***
      echo Stopping Progress SQL >> %templog%
      \\server\keane\dlc\bin\pccmd.exe proservice stop >>%templog%

      REM ***delete previous ECS backup***
      del /q d:\AmericanData\EcsBackUp\dbar
      del /q d:\AmericanData\EcsBackUp\dbarforms
      del /q d:\AmericanData\EcsBackUp\dbdoc
      del /q d:\AmericanData\EcsBackUp\dbhistory
      del /q d:\AmericanData\EcsBackUp\dbmds
      del /q d:\AmericanData\EcsBackUp\dbparadox
      del /q d:\AmericanData\EcsBackUp\dbpicklist
      del /q d:\AmericanData\EcsBackUp\dbreport
      del /q d:\AmericanData\EcsBackUp\mysql

      REM ***create new backup files***
      cd \
      cd AmericanData
      cd mysql
      cd bin
      mysqladmin flush-tables
      mysqladmin flush-tables

      copy d:\AmericanData\mysql\data\dbar d:\AmericanData\EcsBackUp\dbar
      copy d:\AmericanData\mysql\data\dbarforms d:\AmericanData\EcsBackUp\dbarforms
      copy d:\AmericanData\mysql\data\dbdoc d:\AmericanData\EcsBackUp\dbdoc
      copy d:\AmericanData\mysql\data\dbhistory d:\AmericanData\EcsBackUp\dbhistory
      copy d:\AmericanData\mysql\data\dbmds d:\AmericanData\EcsBackUp\dbmds
      copy d:\AmericanData\mysql\data\dbparadox d:\AmericanData\EcsBackUp\dbparadox
      copy d:\AmericanData\mysql\data\dbpicklist d:\AmericanData\EcsBackUp\dbpicklist
      copy d:\AmericanData\mysql\data\dbreport d:\AmericanData\EcsBackUp\dbreport
      copy d:\AmericanData\mysql\data\mysql d:\AmericanData\EcsBackUp\mysql

      REM ***Start Progressive SQL***
      echo Starting Progress SQL >> %templog%
      \\server\keane\dlc\bin\pccmd.exe proservice start >>%templog%

      REM ***Do System State Backup***
      ntbackup backup "@%windir%\backups\data\sysstate.bks" /j "System State Backup" /f "i:\backups\SysState-%datecode%.bkf" /d "System State" /v:yes /r:no /l:s /m normal /rs:no /hc:off

      REM ***Do User Data Backup***
      ntbackup backup "@%windir%\backups\data\userdata.bks" /j "User Data" /f "i:\backups\UserData-%datecode%.bkf" /d "Full - User Data" /v:yes /r:no /l:s /m normal /rs:no /hc:off

      REM ***Cleanup backup files weekly***
      If /i "%date:~0,3%" == "Sun" (
      Echo Weekly backup file considation performed.>>%templog%
      move i:\backups-longterm\*.* i:\backups-delete
      move i:\backups-shortterm\*.* i:\backups-longterm
      move i:\backups\*.* i:\backups-shortterm
      del /q i:\backups-delete\*.*

      REM *Email backup results*
      dir i:\backups >>%templog%
      %blat% "%templog%" -t %to% -s "%emailsub%" -i %who% -f "%reply%" -q -server "%relayserver%"

      REM ***Delete Temp Log***
      del /q %templog%

      I found out how to print the NTBackup Log!  (From, thanks, guys!)

      Create a .bat file called PrtBakLog.bat that contains the following:

      @echo off
      if {%1}=={} @echo Syntax PrintDevice (\\Server\Printer)
      set device=%1
      set prt=N
      for /f "Tokens=*" %%i in ('dir /o-d /b "%userprofile%\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Windows NT\NTBackup\data\backup*.log"') do call :print %%i
      goto :EOF
      if not "%prt%" EQU "N" goto :EOF
      set prt=Y
      print /D:%device% "%userprofile%\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Windows NT\NTBackup\data\%1"
      Insert Call PrtBkLog \\Server\Printer In the backup batch file, and you're going - you can even leave out the lame e-mailed reports!