FreakoutITGeek's Blog

Random IT postings from Freakz

Monthly Archives: April 2012

Just when you think they’re dead

At work we get our new PCs imaged before they are delivered to the organisation. This is pretty common practice in modern companies, especially ones that realise that their IT support staff are busy enough installing apps and diagnosing/repairing faults.

My issue comes from the recent batches of PCs that came into my work recently. This is the first batch of Windows 7 machines and has been a massive learning curve for most of us, especially when there has been little obvious testing before the machines were sent to the sites.

As much as I could rant on about the lack of planning and how myself and my colleagues have been firefighting instead of providing a great service to our customers, that is not what this is about.

The reason for this blog posting is that I received a system that was imaged and configured for another organisation. The logical thing would be to send it back for our supplier to resolve but I have been asked to re-image the machine. Simple enough request you’d think, until you realise that the machine in question has had a BIOS password set, and you’ve probably guessed that it’s not our password and the settings are not correct for our defined security policy.

One of the issues with the BIOS is that the boot from Network (PXE Boot) has been switched off, so I can’t even image the machine with our defined image until we find out what the password is.

So I investigated how to reset the password and after trying ‘backdoor’ passwords and removing all power and internal backup power to no avail, I found a utility from the Hardware manufacturer that could record the settings from a machine that had the correct settings, store them to replay them on the faulty machine.

Now here comes the zombie bit…

The program will only work on DOS.. I thought in the age of USB pen drives, Windows PE, Windows 7 and Windows 8 just round the corner that DOS was dead and buried years ago..

Luckily I dug up my stash of old floppy disks and was able to hunt down an external (USB) floppy Drive that the new PC detects. I still have some old decaying Win 98 install floppies In my stash so I copied one and amended it to work with the program. So I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll be able to beat the security and I can get back to what I’m paid to do.

Why are PC hardware manufacturers not providing utilities that work under Windows? I would suggest that they should provide a CD image, but how would a user be able to save the settings file to restore on the other system? I guess a network interface would be required?

I’m sure that Apple don’t turn round and ask you to create system 7 images to update their hardware.. when will hardware vendors realise that it’s time to move past DOS. Most people don’t even know what it is/was, or maybe that’s the reason.. To prevent novice users from using what is after all an administrative tool designed for deployment and configuration of PCs?

Anyway it’s been a blast from the past with floppy disks, even an LS120 SuperDisk drive (Immation) which didn’t work. I guess this is the reason that DOS disks are still available for Microsoft’s TechNet downloads (which I don’t presently have a subscription to) , and it has kept me in touch with my past.. even though I prefer to be looking to the future.

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Trump

The irony of someone called Trump complaining about wind power has not passed me by but I won’t use it as a cheep joke.

For those in the world who have not heard, the million/Billionaire Donald Tump got planning permission in Scotland to build yet another golf course, despite the concerns of various parties including some concerned with animal and environmental protection.

Now he is complaining because there is a plan to build off shore wind turbine farm that will be visible from his new golf resort ( I believe that the actual resort building has not been built yet).

His concerns appear to be that the turbines will blight the landscape (or seascape), that wind turbines cause bird deaths, that the tourist trade of Scotland will be affected and that the turbines will be produced by Asian countries ( I think he said china but I could be wrong).

Whilst Mr Trump may have loads of money, I do wonder how he made that
money and whether he has lost touch with reality and the realities of the normal working person, specifically the Scottish public and the tourists that visit Scotland.

I am quite sure that if the average tourist realised that the energy they use came from natural, low carbon sources such as wind (yeah I have taken into account that wind power does use CO2 in it’s production, if not whilst it produces the electricity) they would far prefer visiting Scotland than other non environmentally friendly locations.

Although the initial cost of such installations may be high, once in place maintenance costs are low and this means low cost electricity generation and although Mr Trump may not care about how much he pays for his power I’m sure that most of Scotland do and our tourists certainly will be put off by high costs of goods, accommodation etc if Scotland doesn’t start moving to more sustainable forms of energy.

With the growth of electric vehicles and the move away from fossil fuels, not only for environmental reasons but also because of the cost and health implications, the demand for more environmental methods of generating power for the growing demand should increase.

As for any risk to bird population that Mr Trump mentions, I’m sure that studies of existing wind turbines have indicated that this is a myth, which is constantly brought up by people against such installations. To be honest if you consider how birds deal with all sorts of man made objects it’s a bit insulting to suggest birds can’t cope with wind turbines. Animals are very resilient creatures, something that anyone will agree on after seeing deer at the side of the M8 or other of Scotland’s motorways. There are probably more bird deaths from other man made and natural sources that those produced by wind farms. If I am not mistaken Mr Trump was less concerned about the plight of wild birds when he built his golf course and how many birds has he killed with his international ‘jet’ set life, flying around the world, I wonder?

Any small impact to the natural ecosystem of the Scottish landscape, either at sea, land or air, from such installations will be small but the impact to the worlds natural animal and human population of not going ahead with such installations is far greater.

Finally, Mr Trump probably would be much happier if a company he owned or held shares in were building the turbines and I feel he has a grudge against those companies that are investing in Scotland’s green energy sector. These companies are working with the Scottish workforce, bringing back much needed engineering industry and skills we have lost from shipyards etc over the decades.

Has Mr Trump not realised that all these business people like golfing and do a lot of their networking on the golf course? They want to come and visit a country that is not just implementing these turbines but developing and testing other green forms of energy creation. Scotland could be a world leader by utilising our universities and natural resources including our labour and creative spirit not to mention our determination in creating better and more efficient sources of environmentally friendly power.

If Mr Trump wants to pull out of Scotland that’s his choice, but for me Scotland has a bright green future ahead of it and I’m proud to be Scottish and proud of our environment, every part of it, from wind turbines to the great glens, munros and our wildlife.

Social Media Apps & Mobile Sites

I love my iPhone, I was lucky enough to win it in a competition run by the employment web site Monster Jobs when they launched their first iOS application for their site.

Early on I loved to surf the web on it as it was just like surfing from my PC and I soon became used to the lack of Flash support, After all HTML5 was the future!

Now I get frustrated that the same sites, years later, still have flash based sites or even worse direct me to the Mobile version of the site. Why can’t these sites get their sites fixed, the iPhone, iPad and various other mobile devices have been out for years but they are still alienating a large percentage of their market by redirecting mobile devices to these useless sites??

The biggest frustration has to be social media sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Kiltr and the like. Not only do these sites direct you to the mobile version of their site but they also promote their iOS app saying it will provide a better experience. Sorry but the vast majority of the apps and mobile versions of the websites do not even provide the same experience, instead they give you the minimum data they think that you want.

Sorry but I want at least the same data and a better experience than I get from the actual site, that’s what I’m used to as an Apple fan.. Give me better, better design, better interaction, better responses.. just better everything.

I don’t understand how these sites provide a substandard product and then crow about it as if it’s brilliant, it’s not, it’s crap. Most don’t even have the most up to date info on the app, I often get an email advising me of an update on one of the sites only to open the app and see nothing new, even after it has updated and pulled down any updated data.. Why??

One day I will actually get an app that does what it said on the tin and wow me so that I won’t want to start up my iPad or iMac in order to access the full website and I will be able to do everything I want from my iPhone.

Some day?

Missguided youth

When I was growing up I was lucky enough to see the first generation of home computers to appear in the UK and see what they were capable of.

I remember being in primary school (probably part of the youth club at the time) and playing games on all the different computers, and games devices from companies such as the Spectrum, Amstrad, Atari etc.

Later on my family invested in an Acorn Electron and later still the BBC Master ( the follow on and bigger brother of the BBC model B) which I taught myself how to program using one of the more popular computer programming magazines which was about at the time. The magazine was not platform specific, as most are today, but provided details on how to write the same game using all the most popular home computers at the time, something that was handy as my friends had different makes of computer.

I later went on to look into how these program’s were saved on the BBC and Acorn Electron to tape and later to disk using basic techniques to hide the code from prying eyes like mine and I even tried to send a ripoff version of PacMan to the BBC in a vain attempt to create something for Red Nose day.

Once in high school I was introduced to my first Mac within the Secretarial Studies department and was amazed at the small floppy disks it used and how it loaded a full word processor package and OS from just one or two disks.

Being used to playing with computers I took a few computing courses in the school and via day release at college, my first introduction to PCs, but most of the time I was ahead of the teachers or bored with business programs and wanted to know about networking the BBC micros in the lab rather than writing code in COMAL, BBC Basic or whatever we were using at the time.

Anyway, to get back to the reason for my post. Nowadays the schools I see are not even giving kids the chance to explore IT like I did back in the day.

I see kids stuck on Windows XP machines, using MS Office and programming in Visual Basic (and an old version at that).

Where is the diversity and choice I had as a kid? Why can’t schools offer up to date programming languages? Why aren’t they being shown how to program iPads or Android phones? Surely there are options available for Scottish schools, even with their limited budgets.

I’d love to see someone like Apple or Microsoft taking a small struggling Scottish school and giving them the chance to see what real IT is about.

I fear that it’s not just the budgets that are to blame but the short sighted view of the education system that hasn’t moved with the times and appears more concerned with central purchasing and saving money instead of providing an exciting and rewarding experience for their learners.. Maybe they think IT is just dull and boring?

There is such a wide range of possibilities with technology today, if you can think it up it’s probably possible if you just sit down and sort it out.

I think Apple have got it right with their iBooks to try and engage pupils with interactive books that draw them on and enable them to learn, rather than trying to teach them.

I sense that there’s still barriers to the uptake of Apple kit in Scottish schools because of the focus on cost saving and central purchasing. This is a shame as the pupils will miss out on all the wonderfully opportunities available to them and will leave school with a jaded view of IT and it’s capabilities.

I guess I’m just a dreamer and I think that life could be soo much better, but I guess that life is just not like that. 😦

Update (23/04/12): Today is the 30th Anniversary of the launch of the ZX spectrum, from the legendary inventor Sir Clive Sinclair. It’s great to see that Google have honoured the event with a Google Doodle and reading about this iconic machine brings back many fond memories. Wonder what we will think of our current tech when we look back in another 20 years?

Cisco / Linksys E4200 router

Readers of this blog may remember me mentioning my home setup and my plans on future upgrades..

Things have changed a bit and I thought I’d let you know my experiences so far..

I have a fair bit of IT kit.. salvaged IT kit (iBook G4, Apple iMac [2006 intel chipset]), my 5 year old Dell laptop, my iPhone 3GS, our Nintendo Wii, DSi & our iPad and My wife finally upgraded from her blackberry to a Samsung Galaxy Ace. My old router was one of the best available at the time, but with only 4x 10/100 network ports and the wireless G wifi it was struggling with all the devices competing to share the Virgin media connection.

I finally upgraded this to a Cisco / linksys router, the E4200 Wireless N-450 Dual Band Gigabit Cable router.
I believe that Cisco have upgraded the hardware since we purchased it but I assume that the firmware is not that different from the original version that I have.

The dual band allows the older systems to use the Wireless-G signal, whilst newer devices can use the Wireless-N signal for video streaming etc. Well that’s the theory but the signal strength doesn’t go far enough, dispite having 2 dedicated internal ariels in the unit, however finding a more central location may resolve this issue in the future.

The 4 Gigabit Ethernet ports would be great if Virgin’s Netgear router ( I had to get the original Motorola Surfboard modem replaced as it gave up the day the Cisco arrived) had gigabit ports on it. Luckily I only have my old iMac running on the ethernet ports at the moment so it’s not a massive deal breaker for just now.

The E4200 also has a USB port to allow for file storage using an external USB drive, not as good as a NAS, but space for storage and backup is always worth having. This was a struggle to get set up originally as the software for Apple OSX is focused on more modern versions (Snow Leopard & Lion). I have found that the best way to use the USB drive sharing feature on the the Mac is to format the disk on the mac ( as the router software only formats in Windows format) and then plug it in the USB port at the back. I have added the share to my startup items on the iMac and saved the account details so that it appears on the desktop on login and I can use it as a backup drive.

The original Firmware needed updated in order to get the file sharing working properly but it’s good that Cisco/linksys are putting out firmware upgrades quite regularly.

The USB port (unfortunately there is only one and it doesn’t appear that it will work with a USB hub) can be used to share out a printer over the LAN & WAN. during my testing it worked OK with the iMac, unfortunately I have a Canon Pixma device that has printer / Scanner and disk printer so it wasn’t really what the port was intended for so it’s back connected to my iMac. Also the sharing of the printer via the USB port doesn’t support Apple’s AirPrint so is no use of you want to use it with your iOS devices (use something like Fingerprint on an iMac instead).

The multimedia features of the router do not appear to be very Apple friendly and only work on the iPhone / iMac if you download apps such as MediaConnect and FlexPlayer which are a bit basic and I had trouble getting them to work properly with my test media content as the TwonkyMedia server appears to be more Windows media oriented? ( please see update below for update(s) on streaming media to/via Apple devices)

I have tried to use the FTP functions using my iOS devices but I have decided that it’s a lost cause and I don’t feel the security is strong enough on the router, just my feelings but I prefer my files to be safe and private.

The second ‘public’ wifi ( an option on the the E4200 ) is a good idea and I played about with it but unfortunately as Virgin replaced my ageing cable modem with a Netgear router I have had to set the Cisco to Bridge mode, which disables the guest network functions. When I did play with the guest network I was expecting to see something on my web browser like you see at a the local coffee shop but it was more basic than that, so it’s ok if a friend comes over and needs access [although if they were a friend or family I’d probably just set them up on the main WIFI] but it’s no good for anyone in the street that needs to have Urgent/emergency access to the Internet 😦 [guess I expect too much]

Overall it’s a nice small router and will serve us well for a while. The lack of Apple friendly options is very disappointing from such a large International company, but I guess if you want Apple features you have to buy Apple products?

One day technology will catch up with my expectations?

Update 07/05/2012

I have given the Twonky Media Server another try and I have had better results after a recent upgrade to the MediaConnect software (which worked well enough as a demo for me to upgrade to the full product using the in app option).

I have found that if I copy my music files from iTunes to the external USB drive they steam to my iPhone without any issue.

So far it’s early days and I tried playing a Handbrake ripped version of Family Guy (one of the StarWars special episodes – yeah I know it has a free digital copy, I was playing about with Handbrake ok!) and it ran without issue on my iPhone and on the iPod (2), however other TV content that was in my iTunes library (proper download) didn’t play, however that could be an signal issue rather than a router, compatibility or software issue.

I haven’t tried putting image files on the drive again as I’m not sure if it’s worthwhile or not, ( ie can I import to/ export from the photo library on my iOS devices?) possibly something for future testing when I have some spare time.

For those looking for some tech details about file compatibility the Twonky Server is compatible with the following file types (details from http://twonky.com/products/twonkymac/twonkyu.aspx )

Music: MP3, WMA, WAV, 3GP, M4A, MP4, LPCM, Ogg Vorbis, FLAC, MP2, AC3, MPA, MP1, AIF

Photo: JPEG, PNG, TIF, BMP

Video: MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG2-TS, MPEG4, AVI, WMV, VOB, DivX, 3GP, VDR, ASF, MPE, DVR-MS, Xvid, M1V, M4V

Looking at the compatibility list it’s clear that my earlier statement about compatibility was misleading and I guess I’d just had a bad day when I ran my original testing – I apologise if anyone feels that I have mislead them but we all make mistakes. The compatible file formats make the software and therefor the Cisco router, compatible with a wide range of hardware and software that supports DLNA / uPnP.

I have downloaded the ‘Twonky Mobile’ app for iOS devices and will test it when I get a chance so keep an eye out for a posing about that.