FreakoutITGeek's Blog

Random IT postings from Freakz

Monthly Archives: March 2011

Serial killer

A few days ago, I was using my work Secure USB storage device ( stick / pen drive, whatever you want to call it) and I accidentally put it into a Window PC with a faulty USB port.

The PC in question was under a users desk and the user appears to have been kicking the front of the box, causing the plastic structure of the inside of the USB port to become broken, exposing the connectors and bending them out of shape.

When I connected the USB device to the PC it corrupted the device, I assume that the connectors passed incorrect voltages over pins that are not designed to accept such voltages.

After realising this, I tried the device on another Windows PC and received an error advising of a power surge on the USB port interface and that the device had been deactivated (at least there is some sort of integrity checking).

Interestingly I was asked a few days later to investigate a fault on an Intel iMac which was experiencing faults with an interactive whiteboard connected to it. A colleague had already looked at the issue and upgraded the firmware on the machine and I upgraded the drivers and the software for the interactive whiteboard but the iMac was showing an error on login “USB Over Current Notice: A USB device is currently drawing too much power. The hub it is attached to will be deactivated” .

Because of my earlier experience with the PC I checked the USB ports on the iMac and found a broken port where the connectors were touching the shielding surrounding the port. It appears that the power sent through the pins were being transferred to the other pins, and presumably the earth, causing the error. As the site did not have the funds to have the machine sent for repair, I carefully moved the pins using a watchmakers screwdriver so that they weren’t touching the shielding or each other and then taped off the faulty port.

The iMac is now running quicker ( which makes sense as it’s not having to deal with a hardware fault) and the users are now aware that they have to be more careful when connecting USB devices so as not to damage another port.

I hope this information helps someone else in a similar situation.

No where to hide

For years Windows administrators have been hiding file and printer shares using share names ending with $, even Microsoft does it on XP and Windows servers ie C$

My problem with these hidden shares happened a few years back when staff that I support complained of being unable to print from some applications. After investigation it appears that some Windows based programs have difficulty printing to print queues that end in $. The fault happens in Microsoft Publisher most often, where it appears to ignore the $ sign at the end. Recently it has also been reported with Adobe Acrobat Reader (hence this blog entry).

The only solution appears to re share the print queue on the server without the $ in the name, which unfortunately makes the queue browsable (unless you have disabled browsing via Active Directory).

This fault is really frustrating, but just one of these things that you need to live with when you have admin on a server, without Domain Administrator rights.

The only option open appears to be to ensure that, although the print queue is browsable and users could add the queue to their PC, the security is set so that only appropriate groups have access to print to the queue, something that I believe should be set up even if the queue is hidden.

Hope this helps someone experiencing the same issue and if I find a suitable solution I’ll post it here.

(comments welcome)

Rotten apples?

As most Apple geeks in the West of Scotland are aware (according to press reports in February), Apple is allegedly building the third Scottish Apple store in Braehead Shopping Centre, which appears to be an ideal choice.

Braehead and the Hillington area are situated just off the M8 motorway and the area is already home to some exclusive brands such as Porche and Porcelanosa, Making it an ideal location, especially as the store will fit in nicely within the Breahead shopping centre.

So why the sour taste in my mouth? The reason is that whilst openly welcoming Apple to the Renfrewshire area ( Braehead is classed as being in Renfrewshire rather than Glasgow), I’m aware that the local council are actively forcing schools and other council departments to buy Windows based PCs with a view to having the IT estate Windows only within under 5 years!!

It is my opinion that Apple systems, despite their initial costs, have a better Return on Investment, Total Cost of Ownership and lower running costs compared to the ‘recommended’ Windows based computers currently forced on the council departments and support staff.

I’m sure that there is some sort of policy on the ‘green’ credentials of the machines purchased and I would be amazed if Apple could not pass or surpass the same criteria.

So why the apparent anti-Mac stance?

I believe that the majority of the support staff do not understand how to support OS X and are very Windows centric.

I believe that Apple’s OS X performs better than Windows and is more compatible with Windows / Unix servers and desktops than Windows could ever be with OS X because it had been designed to (to coin a phrase from most teachers end of term report cards) ‘work well with others’.

I hope that Apple decide to donate some systems to the local Schools, just to see what the impact will be within the council and to see their red faces as they try to explain their position to the press and Apple.

( looking at Google today I found a confirmation that Apple are actively recruiting for the store -> http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?oe=UTF-8&hl=en&q=cache:W0IkNWlRW4UJ:www.apple.com/jobs/uk/retail.html )

No spudger? No problem

On occasion I need to open laptop cases (like Apple’s iBook) , printers etc for repair, but there can be quite a few clips that hold the case together after all the screws have been released ( which is a sign of a good case design, in my opinion).

If you go to a website like iFixit.com, they suggest using a ‘spudger’ to get past these clips.. but what if you can’t get your hands on one?

A simple and cheap alternative is to pop down to your nearest stationary shop and pick up a plastic folder (like the one I have pictured – £1.69 from WH Smith). The plastic cover is pliable, so much so that you could even bend it into a tube, but it’s still thick enough to return to a flat state when released.

Next take a card (credit, ID, etc) out your wallet, place on the folder and trace round it using a permanent pen.

Using a Stanley knife or sharp scissors, cut round the outline to leave you with a card shaped flexible plastic tool for sliding down the side of cases to pop those frustrating clips, without damaging them.

Using an A4 folder you should be able to get 10+ of these cards from each face of the folder, making it a cheap alternative to a spudger.

Important notes:

I prefer to use clear folders as they are less likely to leave transfer marks on light coloured laptops, printers etc.

Remember to wipe off any excess marks, left from the permanent pen, to prevent transfer to any device you are using it on.

You can easily carry this tool with you in your wallet and it might even come in handy if you lock yourself out your office 😉

Update:
A smaller and easier to make alternative could be a plectrum? I have noticed that FireBox (£20), play.com (£30) and ThinkGeek ($25) have the PickMaster Plectrum Punch, which allows you to create a guitar plectrum from an old store or credit card or other plastic. As long as the plastic is thin and pliable enough it may be of use where the clips are close to the opening [so not so handy opening a 2006 iMac 😉 ]