Tuesday, December 30, 2008

"ItFixed" it for me!

This may come in handy for some one using Dynamsoft Source Anywhere.
I have a virtual machine running on vmware that hosts our company's source code. There is a program called Source Anywhere that allows our offshore developers to connect over a VPN and access the source code. Over the past few days we have been receiving several strange error messages and other quirkiness accessing the source code.
In an attempt to fix the problem I have restarted the necessary windows related services. This did not seem to have any effect.

Only after a virtual machine reboot did the program start working normally again.
I beleive it was a server memory issue that was causing the problem. This may not be the best way to deal with the source code app but "ItFixed" It for me!.

Monday, December 29, 2008

No 1 - Open Office Suite

Number 1 on "My Top 10 Most Useful Free Programs" is Open Office available from http://www.openoffice.org

I know most people use some version of Microsoft Office to open and create word and xls docs but there is another free alternative. Open Office is "The free and open productivity suite". It has most of the same basic functionality as its MS counterpart. It even has the capability to open and save word and excel documents.

For those on a budget that would like to have standard office document capabilities seriously consider Open Office. I will admit that it may not have every advanced feature that the MS programs have but for the average home or even office user Open Office will be more than adequate.

There is also a portable version that will run from a USB stick. You can find more info on this version at PortableApps.com

Clark Connect Server Compromised

Up to today I have been a big fan of Clark Connect Linux but today I was contacted by our ISP that one of our boxes was compromised and was running a fishing site that was attempting to collect paypal passwords.

The server did not have an easy password so it could not have been guessed. I am disappointed that this happened as I now need to re-evaluate my other Clark Connect Servers for security problems.

If anyone has any info as to any weakness or vulnerability in Clark Connect please let me know.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Friday, December 12, 2008

How to create a Bootable WinPE 2.0 USB Key

I have to start by saying that I did not create these instructions initially. They came from Windows Connected. However I did add some of my own comments about issues that I found during the process. In the end I ended up with a bootable USB key that boots into WINPE 2.0. The initial interface is just a command prompt, however I added some portable apps that run under winpe. I now have the ability to check any disks for virus, ftp files off to another pc for recovery, as well as a few other utilities.

Below are the steps I followed to get my usb key working.


Windows Preinstallation Environment (PE) 2.0 is a slimed down version of Windows (hence all the MiniNT references) that used to be the exclusive domain of OEM's providers. Microsoft has wisely chosen to offer this to the masses as part of the Windows AIK. USB keys can be found just about anywhere these days for next to nothing. Combine the capabilities of WinPE with the portability of a USB key and you just made a very powerful troubleshooting, imaging, and data recovery tool. Here is a quick step by step on how to do just that:

Step 1. ) Get USB Key ( I am using a 2GB PNY Attache key)

You probably already have a few and if not you can purchase these just about anywhere, so I won't tell you where to get one. You should get a USB 2.0 device of at least 512mb in size, but if you plan on putting a lot into a custom PE install or plan on using it to transfer data too then you are better served getting a larger size (2.0-4.0GB)

Step 2.) Download and Install the Windows Automated Installation Kit (Windows AIK) This is almost 1GB in size so it may take a while.

This deployment oriented tool set contains Windows PE 2.0.

Step 3.) Format the USB key

Note: This must be done from Windows Vista (Although this says it requires Windows Vista I have read that someone has gotten this to work on XP)

Start a command prompt and run the following. This set of commands assumes your USB key is detected as disk 1, you should double check that by doing a list of the disks before cleaning it. If you have multiple hard drives you could end up wiping your second drive using this command. You have been warned.

* Diskpart
* select disk 1
* clean
* list part (to see if the partitions are all gone)
* clean ( I had to run this again for some reason even though it said it completed successfully the first time)
* list part (to see if the partitions are all gone)
* create partition primary
* select partition 1
* active
* format fs=fat32
* assign
* exit

Step 4.) Setup Windows PE

* In this step you will create and customize WinPE for your disk. From the machine that you installed the Windows AIK go to the start menu and select "Windows PE Tools Command Prompt" from under the Windows AIK program folder.
* Copype.cmd x86 c:\winpe_x86
o you can create an 64-bit version by changing the architecture from x86 to amd64
* Add customizations to WinPE
o copy any tools you want available to the C:\winpe_x86\iso folder such as imaging tools if you want to use this for capturing images (imagex, wimscript.ini)

Step 5 .) Copy Windows PE to USB Key

Insert the USB key into the machine that you have WinPE on and run the following command to copy the contents to the USB Key

xcopy c:\winpe_x86\iso\*.* /s /e /f e:\

change c: to reflect the drive your files on and e: to be your USB key.


Once the above completed successfully I tested the usb key on a laptop. It successfully booted into winpe with the command line interface.

I then added some portable apps that I downloaded from portableapps.com and portablefreeware.com

I created a new folder called "Utils" and then copied the apps to the usb key.
I am currently using the following apps on the keys.
*7-Zip - file compression util
*ClamWin Portable - antivirus software
*FileZilla Portable - ftp client to get files off to another pc
*Firefox Portable - Firefox web browser
*Folder2Iso - creates an ISO file to burn to a CD
*Toucan Portable - file sync utility
*WinSCP Portable - secure file transfer utility
*Alt Commander - File Explorer similar to windows explorer for browsing file on disks

If anyone wants to add to this please post your comments.

Hope this helps someone.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Dell Power Edge Problem

This one has got the better of me...
I am working on a Dell Power Edge 2950 that is connected to and external array (Dell Power Vault 210S) The disk and backplane are all supposed to run at U320 speeds but on the Dell Open Manage screen it is only negotiating a speed of 80.

The machine is an oracle database machine and the performance has degraded tremendously and I believe it is related to the disk throughput. A query that used to take 20 mins is now taking 5 hours.

I have updated the firmware and drivers per dell tech support site.

If anyone can think of something I'm missing I would really appreciate the help.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

No 2 - Klok - Time Tracking App

Number 2 on "My Top 10 Most Useful Free Programs" is KLOK available from http://klok.mcgraphix.com

From the website:
Klok is a tool intended to be used by individuals, who have a need to track the time they spend on projects, tasks or anything else for that matter.

Klok is an Adobe Air app that will require a download from Adobe if you dont already have it. The app is very simple and easy to use way to track projects. It has made it to countless other Top Ten lists on the internet already but one more couldn't hurt.

I use Klok a bit differently than most. From what I have seen in other reviews Klok is used to track time against multiple projects. As I am a IT repair tech I use it to track time against clients. Each client has their own Klok "project". As I work for that particular client I track the time accordingly. At the end of the month I use KLOK to create a monthly time sheet that I use for billing.

(INSIDERS NOTE: Klok is working with Intuit to integrate with QuickBooks. They they are also working with integrating into other programs such as Jira, Freshbooks and a few others. Check the website for more details http://klok.mcgraphix.com)

Klok's current stable version is 1.0 but Version 1.5 is very close to being final.

I have been using the latest deveopment build for quite a while now and i have to say it is much better than version 1.0 despite a few minor bugs which should be worked out in the final release.

Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Network Mapped Drives and "Open With" prompt

Here is an interesting issue I came across today and thought I would share the solution in case anyone else has the same issues.

Upon double clicking on a mapped drive letter in "My Computer" or Windows exlporer I was getting the "Open With" prompt window.

As it turned out the pc had a virus that has since been removed by there was some left over registry entries hanging around

I make no guarantee that this will work for you but it may be worth checking.

Open up regedit and search for "MountPoints2". Under that key i found several entries that mached "\\servername\sharename\blablalba There was also a subkey_Autoplay and a Shell key. After deleting both keys it worked as normal.

NOTE: Always backup the registry before making any changes as some changes will render the pc unusable and in need of a reinstall of the OS.

MalwareBytes Saved me again

Just a quick post today. Malwarebytes' Anti-Malware has helped me clean another pc.
It is another free antispam \ antispyware program that has not made My Top 10 Most useful free prgrams list but I think I must give it an honorable mention.

The program can be downloaded from http://www.malwarebytes.org It is only a few megabytes in size and installed in a few minutes.

As like the other they do have paid versions that have some additional functionality but the free version works great at least for me.

This is another favorite of mine that is going on my USB key of repair tools.

Friday, November 14, 2008

No.3 - Zone Alarm Firewall

Number 3 on "My Top 10 Most Useful Free Programs" is Zone Alarm personal Firewall available from http://www.zonelabs.com

From the Zone Alarm website
ZoneAlarm Free Firewall blocks hackers from infiltrating your home PC by hiding your computer from unsolicited network traffic. By detecting and preventing intrusions, ZoneAlarm Free Firewall keeps your PC free from viruses that slow down performance, and spyware that steals your personal information, passwords, and financial data.

* • Essential firewall protection
* • Be invisible to others online
* • New interface makes it even easier—smaller size keeps it light

Anyone that browses the internet should know how insecure it really is. If your pc is connected to the internet chances are very good that someone has atleast attempted to fine out what network ports are open on your pc. Public places such as schools, libraries, airports, and coffee shops are known to be insecure when it comes to the internet. Here is an example... I teach night school at a Technical School. One night I brought my personal laptop into the school to demo some software to my class. Within 5 minutes my Zone Alarm had notified me that it has blocked over a dozen attempts to connect to my pc. Now I have no idea if it was a student in classroom down the hall or an automated script running somewhere that is looking for open ports but either way I was protected from the attack.

For those of you that dont think you need a firewall please read this article.

Zone Alarm comes in several versions. I prefer the free (Firewall Only) version as I have other programs that perform the same tasks as the programs that come with the paid zone alarm version.

The program installs much like any other windows based program and once completed will require a reboot to activate the services that would normally start when the pc starts.

Once it comes up the first time it will auto detect the most common programs and set up some default rules for general internet traffic like web and email.
For many people that is all you will need to do. For others, it has the ability to customize rules for different networks right down to the application permission to connect to the internet.

One other good feature about Zone Alarm is that it will popup an alert and ask for user input if it detects something that it does not have a rule for. You will then be able to allow or deny the connection for this time only or have it remember so you will not be asked again for the same item.

If your on the internet you need a firewall and there are many firewalls out there that I have tried but to me Zone Alarm is the most complete, not too difficult, free firewall for the home user. I have recommended it to many of my business clients.

Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Monday, November 10, 2008

No.4 - Portable Apps

Number 4 on "My Top 10 Most Useful Free Programs" are Portable Apps available from http://portableapps.com

From the website:

A portable app is a computer program that you can carry around with you on a portable device and use on any Windows computer. When your USB flash drive, portable hard drive, iPod or other portable device is plugged in, you have access to your software and personal data just as you would on your own PC. And when you unplug the device, none of your personal data is left behind.

For anyone that frequently needs to use many computers and likes to keep their own data private, Portable Apps is for them. Being in IT support I am always on other users pcs. Very often I need a program that is not installed on that pc. There are many portable apps available from FTP, ssh , web browsers, Open Office apps, music and video players to other very useful utilities.

At any given time I have at least 2 USB flash drives on me and one always has my portable apps installed. There is a portable version of FileZilla that I use quit frequently.

There is a nice Portable apps Menu app that will show you all of your installed apps (similar to the windows start menu). It should run as soon as you plug in your usb key.

Here are two screen shots of portable apps. Notice that they look almost exactly like the non portable versions however these apps do not leave any data or files on the pc that you run it on.

File Zilla Portable

7Zip Portable

The developers of the individual apps are constantly updating the portable apps with bug fixes and new features so I usually check the site once a week or so to download any new versions of the apps I use.

There are also new apps that under development. You can searh their forums http://portableapps.com/forums to find out if one of your favorite apps can be made portable.

Friday, November 7, 2008

How to find which network ports are open on Windows

Here is another small tip that may help someone out.

To find which ports are open on your windows pc.

Open a command prompt then type

netstat -na

It will list the ports that are open and listening on your pc as well as any that have any that have an ESTABLISHED connection to them. (see the example image below).

All pcs need to have some ports open to communticate on a network. If there is one that you are not sure of, search for the port number on google to get more info.

No.5 - IZARC

Number 5 on "My Top 10 Most Useful Free Programs" is IZArc (Available at http://www.izarc.org/)

From their website "IZArc is the ultimate freeware archive utility supporting many archive formats like: 7-ZIP, A, ACE, ARC, ARJ, B64, BH, BIN, BZ2, BZA, C2D, CAB, CDI, CPIO, DEB, ENC, GCA, GZ, GZA, HA, IMG, ISO, JAR, LHA, LIB, LZH, MDF, MBF, MIM, NRG, PAK, PDI, PK3, RAR, RPM, TAR, TAZ, TBZ, TGZ, TZ, UUE, WAR, XXE, YZ1, Z, ZIP, ZOO"

I have found this app to be better than winzip or the built in compression tools in XP and Vista. I have not come across a compressed file that it has not been able to open yet. It also has the ability to encrypt and decrypt files.

The interface is extremely simple and easy to use with drag and drop functionality.
To create a new archive you can simple drag the files onto the apps window and click the Add button. IZarc will automatically create the zipped file for you.

To open an existing compressed file you simple double click on it.
IZArc also adds "right click" functionality to the windows explorer to make if easy to extract files from within compressed archives.

There is also a portable version available that will run from removable media such as USB keys and CDroms. Have a look at this version here http://www.izarc.org/izarc2go.html

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

No.6 - FileZilla FTP Client

Number 6 on "My Top 10 Most Useful Free Programs" is FileZilla FTP Client (Available at http://filezilla-project.org/)

FileZilla is a free FTP client. For those that do not know what that means, It is a program that allows you to transfer files between your pc and other computers on the internet. This comes in handy for those that create their own websites and need to send files to a web server.

The user interface is fairly simple.

Filezilla allow you to save multiple profiles that allow you to easily switch between servers you connect to.

On other feather I like about this software is the ability for it to connect using SFTP and FTPS. This is the secure method of transferring files over ftp. Think of it as HTTPS of FTP.

For those of you that like to take your programs with you on a USB key or other removable there is also a portable version available that work the same way.
You can download that version from Portableapps.com

And for those that would like to run their own FTP server there is a Server version available at the web site.

Friday, October 31, 2008

No.7 - AVG AntiVirus

Number 7 on "My Top 10 Most Useful Free Programs" is AVG Anti Virus (Available at http://free.avg.com

AVG is a very useful and necessary program for anyone that is on the internet or checks email. There is a free version and several non-free versions available.

The non-free version usually come with some extra functionality or are part of a "Security Suite" but I usually do not recommend getting full suites of software as they are usually bloated with items you don't need.

AVG does run in the system tray and will let you know when updates are available to download and actually update itself automatically.

It also has the ability to run scans on demand.

Any client personal pc I come across that doesn't have any anti virus software usually gets this update. In fact I have even removed paid versions of anti virus software in favor of AVG.

I have seen many a client pc that is infected with several nasty virures. For the amount of effort that is needed to download and install this software I cant understand why anyone wouldn't be using it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

No.8 - CCleaner

Number 8 on "My Top 10 Most Useful Free Programs" is CCleaner. (available www.ccleaner.com).

CCleaner is another very useful program for removing unnecessary files. This one isnt intended as a Spy or Spam ware removal tool but is still very handy at letting you know what is usually ok to delete. It checks locations like TEMP files, Recycle bins, Temp Internet Files, cookies and log file that have accumulated.

The interface is very simple as well. ( See image below)

There are two main options. Analyse will do a scan and let you know how much will be saved after you Run. Run will actually clean up the files it found.

Some advance features include a Registry Scanner that attempts to find and repair problems.

It is amazing how much hard drive space is wasted over time. This tool will help you get some of it back.

I just re-ran it on my pc and it found another 5GB of space. Try it out and see how much it can find for you...

Monday, October 27, 2008

No. 9 - Lavasoft AdAware

Number 9 on "Top 10 Most Useful Free Programs" is Lavasoft's AdAware (available at www.lavasoftusa.com ).
Lavasoft is another one of my favorite removal programs for Spam and Spyware.

It is very simple to install and update. There are really 2 buttons that you should concern yourself with. The Update button and the Scan button.
I highly recommend clicking the Update button and download any definition updates before running any scan. As this is the free version you must run the update manually.
The paid versions will do this for you.

After the update is finished you should click the scan button to scan your pc. There are several types of scans available. The Smart Scan will check the most usual places for spam and spy ware to be install. The Smart Scan runs relatively quick. The Full Scan will check every file on your pc and could take several hours to finish.

Once a scan is finished it will display a screen with a list of items it found. You can simply click on the items and have them removed. If there is something that should not be removed you can add it to the Ignore list.

A nice feature of AdAware is the Quarantine. If you remove something that should not have been removed you can find it in the quarantine and restore it if needed.

Between Adaware,SpyBot Search and Destroy and two others (articles coming) I have restored many pcs to usable conditions.

Friday, October 24, 2008

No.10 - SpyBot Search and Destroy

Number 10 on "Top 10 Most Useful Free Programs" is SpyBot Search and Destroy (available at www.safer-networking.org).
As many of you know your pcs usually become slower over time. This is usually due to spamware, spyware or viruses. SpyBot is one of my favorite removal programs due to its ease of use as well as the available advanced features.

The main screen (see below image) is very simple. You really just need to click the update icon to check for program updates (the free version does not do this automatically) then click the "Check for problems" button.
The scan will take anywhere from 10 mins to 3 hours or longer depending on how much data is on your computer.

The advanced features are enabled from the Mode Menu Option (just select Advanced Mode)
On the addtional screens that become available are some very helpful options to remove various types of infections. There is a system startup page that detail what is being run when your pc starts. You have the option to disable the item or delete it entirely.

Another nice feature about Spybot is that is give you an option to "Immunize" your system. The theory is to help prevent any future infections of older spam/spware definition.

i would also like to mention that even though this is a free program it included an app called "Tea Timer" that runs in your task tray and watches in real time for changes to various startup location so if a program is attempting to install without your knowledge you will be notified. When a change is detected you will be given the option to allow or deny the change.

I can count the number of client PCs that this program has help me clean. I consider this one to be a must in your pc cleaners tool kit.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Top 10 Most Useful Free Programs

Again I am dropping the ball on updated this blog on a regular basis. Not enough hours in the day I guess...

Anyway over the next couple of weeks I will be posting several articles about My Top 10 Most Useful Free Programs. This is a collection of programs that I have put together based on years of testing out countless apps. From being in an IT support postion. (see www.ItFixed.com for more info) all of these programs I use on almost a daily basis if not hourly basis. Here is the intial list. I will be posting a mini article about each one in the upcoming days...stay tuned.

Top 10 Most Useful Free Programs

1. Open Office
2. Klok
3. ZoneAlarm
4. Portable Apps Suite
6. FileZilla
7. AVG AntiVirus
8. CCleaner
9. Ad-Aware
10. SpyBot Search and Destroy

If anyone has any others to add please drop me a note as my list will inevitably change over time.


Thursday, May 8, 2008

PXE and Network Booting.

This article will hopefully help at least one techie out there. Please drop me a line if it does.

I have been experimenting with PXE network booting of servers, desktops and laptops lately.
If you don't know what this is I will give the "in a nutshell" version of the explanation. PXE stands for Preboot Execution Envirionment. For those pcs and servers that have a network boot capable network card you can press a key (seems to be F12 more often than not) while the pc is in POST. If enabled in the systems bios the pc can boot an image stored on the network and not even need a CD/DVD drive to function.

This comes in handy if you are installing a new OS on a system and dont want to carry the CDs or DVDs around with you.

I have set up a Centos 5 server to act as my PXE/tftp server to server the images I would like to access from network bootable machines.

On Centos there are only a few rpm packages that need to be installed to get the server setup and working as the tftp server.

Once the packages are installed it is relatively easy to add your images.
For example on my server I have several images available. These include
Centos 5, Fedora 8, Knoppix, System Rescue, PartedMagic and a few others.

With my setup I am able to go to any pc or server in my network and boot one of the images of my tftp server.

The OS images come in handy if I need to reinstall the OS on a server that has for example had a drive fail. The system rescue and partedmagic images help in the example of a users pc that is failing and would not boot. I could boot the rescue image of the network and then mount the drive to attempt to salvage any useful data.

For those that experiment with VMWare Servers, you can also set up a kickstart script to automate the istall of new servers. Using VMWare server, Centos and a working kickstart file I can have a new server up, running and configured in about 10 minutes.

Obviously there are many benefits of setting up this type of server so I will not list them all.

At first I was a bit itimidated by the whole network /PXE booting setup as I thought it was going to be extremely complicated to set up. If you feel this way too let me be the first to say "Stop It"
I had my server up and running in about 2 hours with working and tested boot images.

Hope this helps someone.
Good Luck

Its been a while

Not sure what to say. Its been a while since my last post....just busy I guess.
I will try to add content more frequently by I cant make any promises :)