Archive for the ‘Software’ Category
I have a machine set up in the basement that I use strictly for gaming. Its pretty much been a workhorse for me and I’ve never had any real issues with the box. Until recently. A few weeks ago the thing wouldn’t boot. Not even a post. No beeps… just nothing. After a bit of moving cards around, pluging and unpluging various cables and whatnot, I discovered that the machine would in fact post with a error beep sequence when the memory was completely removed. I moved the two memory sticks (2Gb total) from bank 0 to bank 1 and the machine decides to boot. Something died on the motherboard and the machine simply will not function with memory in bank 0. Go figure.
No problems with the machine since that bizzare little incident. Until last night. For whatever reason, I decided to take a perfectly good machine and install XP SP3 onto it. Luckly I did this after my nightly fix of Left 4 Dead… mainly because once the SP3 install completed, the machine went into a reboot loop. It would get as far as beginning to fade in the XP startup logo screen, freeze, then reboot. Safe mode was a bust as well. It was late so I just turned off the machine and decided to look at it again in the morning.
Sitting with my morning coffee I googled ‘xp sp3 reboot loop’. Second in the search results was this link:
Quickly glancing through the article I happened to catch this:
Users who have seen this message say that their PCs are running one specific motherboard — an ASUS A8N32-SLI Deluxe — equipped with an AMD processor. Those same users claim that inserting a USB flash drive or connecting another USB-based storage device before booting solves the problem.
Odd… thats my exact motherboard. But come on! Plugging in a USB drive can’t really be a way to get it to boot…. can it?
Sure enough, I grab a thumb drive out of my laptop bag, plug it into a USB slot and boom, the system boots without a hitch.
What. The. Hell?
The the drive out, no boot. Put it back in, boot. Crap like this drives me crazy. How does that solution make any sense at all? Obviously I’ve still a bit of work in front of me getting the machine back to 100% but at least I can get to a desktop to work on it.
This appears to be a more permanent fix, though I haven’t gotten around to trying it yet.
I’m sure everyone remembers the massive hype the surrounded y2k and the potential compter problems because of the rollover to the year 2000. Not that the hype wasn’t needed, it was a real problem… we just didn’t see many problems because a majority of people paid attention and took care of it before it hit.
Looks like the year 2009 caught people off guard.
Reports started rolling in around midnight 12-31 on whats now been termed ‘zunepocalypse‘, Zune music players started locking up (as in bricked solid) all over the world because of an error in the way the firmware handled leap years.
Friday morning (after having New years Day off) I come in to work to find that one of our main accounting applications, Timberline Office, had a date error which prevented the software from running. It regarded any date of 1/1/09 and later as invalid. (to Sage’s credit, they had a registry fix available quickly which we were able to push out to all affected severs and workstartions within an hour).
We also noticed a few hours later that our (in-house) database synch programs had stopped running. Again, an error in a date routine (from a commercial library) caused these programs to fail on the 2009 changeover. A simple restart of these programs and they were back up and running but we still need to debug the date error so it doesn’t happen again.
The y2009 date problem… who knew?
If you just ignore the obvious.
“Vista sells on almost 100 per cent of all the new consumer PCs around the world,” the Microsoft CEO proclaimed. He added that the operating system was also selling on, “45 percent of all of new business PCs”. Which is enlightening, since business users are about the ony buyers of new PCs that get a choice.
Which really is the point isn’t it? You can’t exactly walk into a Best Buy or WalMart and pick up an XP box anymore can you? Microsoft took care of that little issue a while ago. The only place you can get an XP box (that I’m aware of) is online and thats getting more difficult by the day.
In any case, I maintain that Vista’s actual numbers are inflated. Just because a machine shipped with Vista doesn’t mean its actually running Vista when it hits a users desk. Case in point: we just did a hardware refresh for five laptops in the company. Every one shipped with Vista install but that so called operating system was blown away with an XP install as soon as they hit our bench. Microsoft still counts those as Vista installs. Second case in point: we just recently rolled out an upgrade to 50+ desktop machines moving them from Windows 2000 to XP Pro. Of course you can’t actually buy Windows XP volume licenses anymore. You have to buy Vista volume licenses which, while currently allowing you to install XP instead of Vista, are actually recorded as Vista sales.
Vista just simply is not doing as well as Microsoft would have you believe.
It looks like crap now (well, crappier), but I’ve finally updated this ancient WordPress 1.5 theme to work with widgets in a dynamic sidebar (thus the crappy sidebar).
Speaking of WordPress, if you’ve been putting up upgrading to version 2.5, now is probably the time to get off your butt and get to it. I’m running across several reports of active wordpress hacks that are injecting link pages and hidden adsense code into vulnerable installs (including ZDNet apparently).
Edit: No, really. Upgrade.
Okay, people, if you are running any version of WordPress older than 2.3.3*, you need to upgrade now. Seriously. WordPress 2.3.2 and older have security holes that are being actively exploited by hackers to inject spam links into blogs which are not maintained. And search engines like Technorati are de-listing hacked blogs. Are you listening now? Do I have your attention? Upgrade your web apps before you get hacked and your site drops off the search-engine radar.
I took all of 15 minutes (including download time) from my busy schedule today and upgraded the site to WordPress 2.5. The upgrade was, as usual, quick and painless. The new version is a pretty significant change behind the scenes so the jury’s still out on the new features/layouts until I’ve had a bit more time to play around with them.
side note: this template is really starting to show its age. I really need to get around to updating it. At the very least I need to add in widget support.
When Yahoo acquired del.icio.us a little over two years ago, I thought we could expected some pretty serious enhancements to the site. Instead it looks like Yahoo has been content to let del.icio.us just sit and rot. I haven’t noticed any major enhancements to the site in quite some time. In fact some features, like the blog link posting seem to work worse than ever.
Case in point, del.icio.us didn’t post my latest collection of links for two days. When it finally did, it posted just one of seven new links. The interface to set up these automatic postings is archaic and no log of past activity is provided. Ok, so thats not exactly true. There is one results line displayed. However, even though it just post to the site last night, right now the results still display as ‘results:new job — nothing yet’. As well, the ‘notes’ feature for each link barely works. I’ve noticed that most of the time, changes made don’t take unless you select ‘full-screen edit’ mode first. Even then, the editor has a difficult time navigating multiple line entries. While I’m bitching, the collection of tags you are presented with when posting a link is a jumbled mess. Is it really too much to ask for these tags to be put into columns for easier reading?
Forget web 3.0 or even 2.0. Del.icio.us is stuck back in ‘web .5′. Using the site has become more an annoyance than anything else.
I really wish I knew why Yahoo bought the site and what their plans for it where. Because after two years, it looks like they’ve forgotten about it.
So… anyone have any suggestions on alternative sites?
If you haven’t seen JibJab’s new ‘sendables’ movies, you need to check them out. Select one of the movies listed under ‘starring you’ in the left hand column and get to work. You can paste up to 5 heads into these movies to customize them. The tools JibJab provides to ‘cut’ the heads out of the pictures you upload are very straightforward and easy to use.
I put the three kids, wife and dog into the movies. You’ve never seen kids laugh harder. Especially with the dog running around in the movie dressed as an elf, dancing and throwing snowballs.
Once you create the movie, you can email it out to whoever you like. However, like drugs, the first one is free. If you want to email out other movies you’ve created, you need to buy more credits from JibJab. The exception is the movie ‘snowball fight’ which is sponsored by Pepsi. You can create and send out as many of those as you like for free.
OfficeMax has something similar at elfyourself.com but the graphics tools are very basic compared to JibJab. Even ignoring that, I’ve tried a few times over the past couple of days and haven’t been able to get a complete movie out of the site. I guess they’re having problems handling the traffic.
I was browsing through the limited software isle of the local Sam’s Club with one of my daughters this afternoon. We came across the game American Girl: Julie Saves the Eagles. Daughter is a bit interested in the American Girls series (since her Grandparents have bought her a few) so flipped open the cover to ‘Julie Saves the Eagles’.
Apparently American Girl Julie’s idea of ‘saving the Eagles’ is to rip the heads off of adult eagles and then use the decapitated craniums to terrorize baby eagles.
I was greeted with the Google ‘you’re denied because you look like a trojan/span/virus’ error message again this morning. Only this time I noticed something new. A captcha box has been added to the bottom of the message:
It looks like this is a problem that Google is responding to. Only problem is, the response sucks… mainly because captcha sucks. Its much easier to just change my homepage setting to a straight www.google.com address instead of the mozilla specific address. Althought my fingers appeared to have slipped and spelled out yahoo instead of google. (if for some reason you really like the Mozilla branded homepage and are having this same problem, you can always change your homepage to www.google.com/firefox/)
side note: There have been a few rumors going around about some problems between Google and the Mozilla Foundation. Mainly that Google isn’t happy with the amount of money it is paying Mozilla as a result of firefox users being directed by default to Google search. If a person was paranoid, they might think Google is intentionally causing ‘random’ problems for this default Mozilla branded Google link. That theory doesn’t really work however since it appears that most of this revenue comes from the mini search bar in the upper right instead of the default homepage.
edit: Scratch that www.google.com/firefox/ link… I’ve now recieved the same error using that one as well. Hell, I recieved the error just typing in www.google.com.
I log on this morning and find myself greeted by the Google error. Again. This is starting to get a bit annoying and it looks like I’m not the only one having this problem (that’s a link to search results from Dogpile since Google is currently blocking me).
A brief read through those search results shows that most of the people who are getting this error are using automated tools or scripting to check page ranks and other search results (which I’m not). I’ve yet to run across someone else getting this error just accessing the Firefox default home page (which I am).
This error is mentioned in Wikipedia’s Google Search entry:
The suggestion that the user’s computer may be infected is often incorrect. The screen was first reported in 2005 and was a response to the heavy use of Google by Search Engine Optimisation companies to check on ranks of sites they were optimising. The message may also be triggered by high volumes of different searches from a single IP address. The block is removed after a day.
Looks like Google is being overly paranoid. You’d think Google would be able to recognize the Firefox defualt URL of:
So I’ll do brief update on the machines I tried installing 7.10 on that I discussed (ranted about?) here:
System 1: Work system that was giving me the modprobe error. I was able to get the system to boot when I added the option ‘all_generic_ide’ to the grub command. So great… it boots. Now I can’t get the system to keep its screen resolution settings. Every reboot, it defaults back to 1024×728 85hz. I manually set it back to 1280×1024 75hz and it works great… until the next power cycle.
System 2: Kids system at home. We still have the random garbled screen boot problem. Playing around in the BIOS made it a bit more stable, but has not resolved the problem. Once we get it to boot though, we’re fine.
We have a problem with firefox whenever we use the user switching. Kid1 logs in, starts firefox and does their homework. Kid2 switchs over, logs in, starts firefox and does their homework. Kid1 one comes back, switches back to the their account and…. no firefox on the screen. Kid1 tries to start firefox again and is greated with:
And there is absolutely nothing the kids can do to kill the firefox process(es) its complaining about. Dad has to ssh in from his office and kill it every time he gets paged (i.e.: Daaaaaaaaaaaaad! Its doing that thing again!) from the living room.
This happens any time any user switches back to their login when they had been running firefox.
System 3: There is no system 3 anymore. It’s running XP sitting on some user’s desktop right now.
So I wander downstairs this morning start up my home office computer. Even through my pre-coffee haze I can notice something is not quite right. I was greeted with the following screen instead of the standard Google homepage:
I cropped the shot for size, but here’s the entire text:
… but your query looks similar to automated requests from a computer virus or spyware application. To protect our users, we can’t process your request right now.
We’ll restore your access as quickly as possible, so try again soon. In the meantime, if you suspect that your computer or network has been infected, you might want to run a virus checker or spyware remover to make sure that your systems are free of viruses and other spurious software.
We apologize for the inconvenience, and hope we’ll see you again on Google.
And the URL string Google claims is dangerous:
You may recognize it as the standard firefox start URL.
So how do I know it isn’t actually a result of ‘a computer virus or spyware application’? Every computer in the house did it. Even my work laptop.
Last year I detailed a fight I had with the kids school (see the entries:Here we go again and I win for details). A teacher had sent the oldest daughter home with some computer homework that was Microsoft centric. You couldn’t do the assignment properly without using Microsoft Office software. Well is looks like I’m in a bit of a OS fight yet again.
Last night oldest daughter informed me that she had to do some violin homework on the computer. Turns out the lessons she is now expected to do at home are all on a DVD. A DVD that is, you guessed it, Mac and Windows only. I guess it never occurred to the people who made the lesson DVD to make is an actual DVD. That way it would work not on in any DVD player, but any computer or even game console that can play DVDs. Presently the only windows based system I have at home is my gaming box… and at the moment that system is spread all over my basement workbench. I had to write a note to her music teacher stating that she couldn’t do the practice sessions since she doesn’t not have access to a windows/mac computer at home. We’ll see where this latest problems goes.
I don’t quite grasp how a public elementary school can just assume that every student has access to a computer at home. Over the past year my kids have brought home various assignments that have required Microsoft Windows, Microsoft Office, a DVD drive, Color inkjet printer, and internet access. They’re making a lot of assumptions about what their kids have access to at home.
Did I happen to mention the new school cafeteria software? The ones where the parent can log in and see how much money is left in their kids account, what they’ve been buying, and select what they are and are not allowed to buy? Did I mention that it only works in Internet Explorer? I called the schools admin on that and he suggested using the firefox plugin ‘ie tab’. Well thats great… except that IE tab only works on MS Windows system that already have Internet Explorer. Whats the point? Our tax dollars at work.
I’ve been hearing quite a bit of hype about the newest release of Ubuntu 7.10 (Gutsy Gibon). The hype includes comments such as “Ubuntu version 7.10, proves that Linux can compete with and, in some cases, trump Windows as an everyday desktop system when it comes to pure usability. ”
I can honestly say its been years since I’ve been so completely and utterly disappointed with a Linux release. Not since the early days of Slackware have I run across something this bad. I downloaded 7.10 via bittorrent and attempted to install it on three separate systems, two of which were already running 7.04 without a problem. Here are my results:
A generic work system (AMD Sempron based with 1 gb. Actually one of 4 systems on my desktop at work). Was running Ubuntu 7.04 without a problem. I inserted the CD as was greeted with…. nothing. I’m told I was supposed to get some kind of dialog box giving me various install options. All I got was a window showing the contents of the disk. Since that option apparently wasn’t going to work, I went into Software Sources and set the CD as the only source and attempted a system update. The box locked solid. Thinking I had a bad CD, I burned another one and tried again with the same result. Thinking I had a bad download, I downloaded and burned yet another CD… with the same result. I said to hell with it, set software sources back to normal and went through the standard distribution update through the built in update manager. The entire update was downloaded from the Internet (it refused to recognize the CD), updates were installed, system rebooted, showed the ubuntu splash screen and…. locked solid. A check of the console shows the error message:
udevd-event: run_program: ‘/sbin/modprobe’ abnormal exit
Back to 7.04 for this box. Next up…
A Dell GX260 (Pentium 4 based w/513 mb) home system. Also running 7.04 without a problem. Primarily used by the kids for web browsing and schoolwork (Open Office). Decided to just do a fresh install. Booted the 7.10 CD and went into the live cd system to test it out. Everything ran great… for about 30 minutes. Then it locked up. Thinking (hoping?) it was a fluke, I rebooted… back into live cd and it seemed to work. After about an hour of the kids banging on the live CD version, I decided to go ahead with the install from the CD. The install completed, the system rebooted and I set up users accounts for the kids and let them have at it. Everything seemed to work fine except for the fact that I had to download a .tar file from adobe to install Flash in Firefox…. and I had to run this install seperately for each and every user on the system. Oh yeah… playing MP3’s? Thats a separate install as well (still). So much for “trump[ing] Windows as an everyday desktop system when it comes to pure usability“.
Anways, once that was done, everyone seemed happy. Until the next day. The system was powered on and we were greeted with this:
Great. After trying to reboot several times with the same result, I said to hell with it and reinstalled the entire computer again…. with the same result. It seems 7.10 is good for one reboot on this system. After that, the video goes all to hell. I went into the BIOS for the system and played with various video/memory settings including the AGP aperture size (increasing it). This seemed to give the system a little more stability. Now we were greeted with a scrambled screen as above once out of every 4-5 reboots. (and these aren’t standard reboots. the system locks solid on this crash and you can’t just CTRL-ALT-DEL it, you have to hold the power button down until it shuts off). Bzzzt. Thanks for playing.
Back to 7.04 for this box. Next up…
A Lenovo ThinkCentre (AMD Athlon 64 with 1gb) work system. New system with no OS installed. Just to be absolutely sure, I downloaded yet another CD (third one) from a different source. Booted the system and attempted a clean install. The install appeared to work fine… until reboot. I get the Ubuntu splash screen w/ the cylon like status bar scanning back and forth. After about 5 minutes of this, the screen goes blank and the system is dead. If I try to switch to a console screen to check the status before the 5 minutes is up… the screen goes blank and the system is dead.
I’m done with Ubuntu 7.10
(but you probably already knew that)
You just canâ€™t seem to throw enough memory at Vista.
The â€œOut of Memoryâ€ error â€¦ is one of the biggest and most baffling of Vistaâ€™s file handling problems
These donâ€™t have to be large files and the problem can also occur when copying smaller groups of files that in total exceed 16,400 files between reboots. Following the â€œOut of Memoryâ€ message a range of other errors can occur such as menus and tabs disappearing within the Windows environment and even reboots and BSODs are reported.
But I’m not really gripping about this particular issue. This problem will probably (maybe?) be fixed with yet another service pack/patch/hotfix/update from Microsoft. I have another pet peeve with Vista. Take a look at the file copy dialog in the video from the post linked above. It’s 2007 (almost 2008), Microsoft has been working on Vista for FIVE years and who knows how many years and man hours have been spent on previous Windows versions. Microsoft STILL cannot throw up a dialog box that contains an accurate time remaining on a file copy. Not to mention that absolutely useless ‘progress’ bar. The only purpose that moving bar serves is to show the users that the computer is still (probably) functioning and hasn’t crashed (yet).
Yesterday I mentioned a bit of a problem I was having installing a new piece of hardware. The message I complained about in that post was actually pretty minor compared to another problem I ran into.
I was in the process of configuring a new Avocent AutoView 3100 KVM Switch for one of the computer rooms. For some reason, the Avocent shipped from the factory set to NOT pick up an IP address via DHCP. To set the IP, I would have to connect to the management console of the switch via the nine pin serial port on the back of the KVM. Problem: my latop (Thinkpad T41) does not have a serial port and I lost my USB to serial conversion dongle. So, the only other computer I had available to me on the workbench was my Microsoft Vista Ultimate testbed box. I connected the KVM and the Vista box with a serial cable and go to run HyperTerminal on the Vista box to configure the KVM.
There is no HyperTerminal on the Vista box.
In fact, there’s no serial communication software at all on the Vista box. So I can’t use Vista to connect to the serial port on the KVM. This is a capability thats been a part of a base Windows install for as long as I can remember. This is a pretty basic fuctionality that is needed buy just about any IT shop for configuring various pieces of hardware, testing/using modems amoung many other uses. How can Microsoft call this OS software ULTIMATE and yet not even have the most basic serial communications software included?
Now here’s the real kicker. I went looking to find a possible reason on why Microsoft chose to drop that software. I couldn’t find one.. but I did find this page on the Microsoft web site:
HyperTerminal is no longer part of Windows. However, you can use Telnet. It’s a simple, text-based program that you can use to connect to another computer over the Internet.
Um, no. Sorry to tell you this Microsoft… but telnet can only be used to connect to other computers on a network with an IP address. It cannot be considered even a remote replacement for HyperTerminal’s functions.
Hilgraeve, the publishers of HyperTerminal, do provide a free download of HyperTerminal Private Edition on their website. Only catch is its only free for ‘personal’, no business use. You want serial communications software for Vista Ultimate? Be prepared to spend more money. Microsoft… thats idiotic.
I just recently allowed my Thunderbird installs to automatically download and install the latest update. I haven’t seen this talked about on the Mozilla forums yet, but ever since I upgraded my inbox has been completely flooded with spam messages. Upwards of 200+ messages per day. Before the update I had maybe 10-15 get through on a daily basis while the rest where filtered out of the inbox into the Junk Mail folder. It seems with the 188.8.131.52 update the spam filtering has ceased. It’s not a critical problem… bit it is annoying as hell.
side note: this hasn’t been noticible on some of my work accounts (the ones I use Thunderbird on and not Outlook). The reason? We use the PostINI service to externally filter spam messages before they ever even reach our servers. Thats why I believe the problem is related to Thunderbird and not a sudden shift in spammer techniques.
Back in June of last year I posted an entry about the Tor software from the EFF. At the time, I wasn’t very impressed with Tor. It involved downloading a couple different packages from differet locations, a lot of config file editing and tweaking and, to top it all off, it was slow. Dead slow. So slow that I felt like I was back to my Apple //e running a 300 baud modem.
Recently I’ve been looking at anonymous web proxy software and web sites. I wasn’t have much luck as the sites where either slow, covered with ads or slower and covered with ads. On a whim I decided to check out the Tor software again. Wow, eight months later and the software has made gigantic leaps forward. The download now contains all needed software in a single bundle (not that big a deal, but it cuts down on the annoyance factor). After installing the software, the only configuring I had to do was change the proxy settings on my browser (which is easy to begin with). It worked right out of the box. No more text file editing or command line executables. Most importantly, its much faster. There’s times when you don’t even realize your running through the Tor system. There’s a few hiccups now and then but nothing that’s overly annoying. If you’re looking for a way to anonymize your internet use, check out the Tor system.
I’ve had a Windows 2000 based server at work that has been acting up for the past few months. This box is our primary tape backup and firewall logging server. The system did its job, it had just become a pain to work with. Since I found next to nothing online in relation to the problem, I though I would describe the symptoms and solution here in the off chance it could help someone else who is having the same issue(s).
Symptoms of the problem:
IE displays first page then hangs after any click. Windows update hangs on start with white screen. Network neighborhood hangs on start with white screen. File explorer (i.e.: My Computer icon) displays first page then hangs if any icon in the window is doubled clicked. Continues to work fine if ‘right-click’ and ‘explore’ is used on an icon instead of double-clicking. Finally, the strangest item, everytime an account would sign out, a dialog box would pop up stating that the Power Meter program was not responding and prompt to end task.
Like I said, the computer was funtional, just annoying to use. After a while it had annoyed me enough and I finally had the free time to try and chase down the problem. It turns out that every one of these problems stemed from expired security certificates in the JCE (Java Cryptology Extensions) files. The Java JCE embeds itself into Internet Explorer, Microsoft embeded Internet Explorer functions into the OS (good call there Microsoft) so when the JCE ceased to function, so did various portions of Internet Explorer.
Problem was resolved by removing all programs that had JCE components , installing the latest version of the Java runtime environment (1.5.0.06 which can be found at java.sun.com) and, of course, rebooting the machine. I determined which program installs were using the JCE components by searching for the directory ‘\jce’ in the program install directories. On this box two programs had JCE components. Progress remote database access client and the Dell Openmanage server software. Since these programs were not in use, both items were uninstalled from the machine. This may have been all that was needed to fix the problem, but just to be sure the latest Java runtime environment was installed.