Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Mastering Windows Vista

As mentioned in a previous post, I'm studying for the 70-620 Configuring Vista certification exam. As part of this process, I've read 85% of Mark Minasi's book, Mastering Windows Vista Business. The book starts rather low tech, moves toward more work related topics and higher level information as the it progresses. It covers a lot of information, and at 1020 pages it should. I don't know if this was the best resource for studying for the Vista exam, but it was on my shelf waiting to be read. As I mentioned I only cleared 85% of the book, which is 867 pages, because the last section covers automated corporate deployment options with images, etc., which is not covered in the 70-620 exam; I was getting short on time and CBT CD to watch. All-in-all another good book by Mark Minasi, his easy style and readability makes all of his books great resources.

I've also watched 15+ hours of video using a CBT Nuggets product with James Conrad. This was quite the undertaking (3 hours the first day, then two 6 hour days), most of the content I was familiar with, but there were a few gems I may need for the exam or work in general. James is quite chatty, cracks himself up and sometimes makes some amusing metaphors and examples, one was (I'm paraphrasing), "Imagine having a three year old that just ate a box of Twinkies." I give this product a mild recommendation, as it was interesting most of the time and the presentation was definitely workable.

Additionally I've read free guides from ProProfs and took a couple of sample tests from MeasureUp. Both of which were worthwhile.

Now with all this time in, I'm feeling pretty good about passing the test, I'll know tomorrow afternoon for sure...

Monday, September 29, 2008

Google as IT

I must say that over the years, troubleshooting has become much easier with the rise of the search engine. Many an issue has been solved just by visiting a search portal with the exact (or vague) error message.

One of my favorite resources is Google's Special Searches which are narrowly defined for Microsoft, Linux, Apple and BSD (also for the U.S. Gov't, but they don't really help with computers). Being able to trim out a lot of the chaff saves time usually wasted scanning over irrelevant results.

So next time you're troubleshooting, give the special search a try.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

IM Chattin' Part Deux

Well it's not been quite two weeks since I've started using Miranda IM and I've made the decision to go back to Trillan. The plan was to unify all my chat clients and that was Miranda IM's promise, but all it did was add more work for me.

The install and configuration was lackluster, it didn't really like to stay online and I had to click an "Allow" prompt for Miranda IM to interface with Skype (which had to be running), everytime the client started. The main reason for trying the new chat client was software unification, so not only did I have to run Skype, but I had to acknowledge access for the Skype plugin. This left me asking, "Why should I need to be involved in this?"; it should be seemless and happen without any input on my part.

So aside from the dull interface, I suppose Miranda IM is an okay multi-platform client (if you don't need the Skype plugin), but for the price Trillian Basic is still the way to go.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Microsoft Press E-books

Microsoft Press Books, while not always the best in their catagory are certainly useful. One feature I've come to really appreciate is that most of their books include a CD-ROM containing a full copy of the manual in eBook format, typically PDF.

This isn't to say other publishers like Sybex and O'Reilly don't do this, but it seems far more common with MS Press. Anyone who's lugged a 1310 page tome around with them can appreciate a searchable PDF.

For the last few months, my first search on a given tech subject is for a MS Press book with an eBook.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

VMware Server 2.0 Released

VMware Server 2.0 (the free version) was released yesterday and is a great testing and learning tool for hosting multiple operating systems on one system.

I've used this quite a lot at client sites, hosting a Windows workstation to add to a domain without having a GPO applied to my company laptop. This has also been invaluable in testing Linux and Windows configurations alike, without distubing a production environment.

If you haven't used it yet, give it a try, the price is unbeatable.

Network Card Unseen

Today I was examining a customer's Lenovo X60 which failed to see its internal network card in the Windows Device Manager. It recently returned from having the motherboard replaced (cola was spilled into the keyboard).

After trying to get Windows XP to discover the device for a few minutes, I rebooted, went into the BIOS (use F1, not the blue ThinkVantage button) and reset the BIOS to defaults. Once it rebooted, Windows found and automatically installed the NIC driver. Problem solved.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Geek Envy

Okay, I thought I was one of the cool kids for getting a 24" LCD. But whiIe checking out the SBS Dvia Blog today I see this: Four 24" monitors on a Vista system. If only I wasn't spending money on food and gas...

Monday, September 22, 2008

Welcome to...

This is the second of a group of IT templates I'll be posting from what I've created or gathered/modified. This one is your basic "Welcome to Company" sheet that I tyically hand out to new employees. It's only a page long and surprising it's actually been read more than once (unlike the typical stack of papers handed out by HR that largely goes ignored).

The template is in PDF form, but if there are requests for an editible format (Word), I'll post a that as well.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Free Exchange Presentations

One of my favorite tech authors, Jim McBee, just posted his slide decks from the past Connections conferences. I've just reviewed a couple of of them and there's definitely gold in there; like what to setup for monitoring and logging in Exchange 2003 and lessons from Exchange 2007 migrations.

This is an excellent free resource for anyone looking to expand their Exchange knowledge.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Vista Ready Boost

Yesterday I purchased a new 8GB Secure Digital card (only $21!) in order to free up my current 2GB SD card used in my Vista laptop for use in my new(ish) Canon SD1100 IS.

Curious as to what allocation unit size to choose when formatting for optimal Ready Boost, I read a number of blogs, The Vista Forums, Tom Archer's Blog, Notebook Review Forum and more. But as I browsed, I didn't seem to get the answer I was looking for, so I just experimented.

Most of the articles say to format the card as FAT, but I need encryption on the card to store backup data, so NTFS was needed. After the first formatting at the default size, 4096 bytes, it showed as unusable for Ready Boost. After a couple of tries, I found the winning size was the largest size, 64 kilobyte, which allowed Ready Boost to work and give me the encryption I require. If I get bored, maybe I'll try other allocation unit sizes and do a comparison; okay it'll never happen, I'm never bored.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Company Infrastructure Template

Here's the first of a few templates I've gathered or made throughout the years. The Company Infrastructure template.

This "catch-all" document can be a central repository for network, system and vendor information, something to use to survey the environment for an audit, or when handing off to / indoctrinating a new IT person. Not all of the entries may be relevant and there will be some line items that need to be added, but hopefully this help you get started.

Here's an abridged overview I created for a client, much of it has been gutted and fictious information added to obfuscate the company.

The template is in PDF format, but if there's a request for something editable, I will make the Word format available as well.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Hand me my Sceptre

My new 24" Sceptre LCD monitor just arrived, in fact I'm looking using it now while writing this post. What I replaced was a very nice, but old and power hungry, 21" Dell Trinitron CRT which is now on Craigslist as I write.

I bought it from CompUSA for $329.41, with shipping and no tax (you'll have to pay tax if you live in Illinous I imagine). During my three month search, I examined numerous comparison shopping sites, but couldn't find exactly what I was looking for, a 24" LCD with reasonable specs at a decent price. Last week while drilling down through the selection of LCDs yet one more time on PriceGrabber I found the Sceptre LCD. I've seen Sceptre LCD televisions at Costco, but they were usually sub-par. This monitor had some pretty good reviews, so I took the plunge.

I'm happy to say this is a nice looking, quality monitor and of course at 1920x1200 there's a huge viewing area. All-in-all this product has my recommendation!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

PGR4 Wallpaper

I've been playing Project Gotham Racing 4 now since February 14th (thanks honey) and just recently began taking photos. You can pause the game at any time and snap a picture from any angle. It's really quite amazing and the quality is equally as good.

You can take pictures anytime during the game, but I setup a custom race so it would be a location, track and weather of my choosing. Once I found the right spot, near Big Ben with the London Eye in the background, the Aston Martin DBS speeding through the rain soaked streets, I paused the race, found an esthetically pleasing angle and snapped my photo. Once it was uploaded I went to the PGR Nations web site, logged in and downloaded my picture.

Larger picture here.

It's now my current wallpaper, but I'm working on more. Time for some good Z06 pictures.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Oh no!!! It's 8-bit MIME

Recently a customer was experiencing mail delivery failures:

Action: failed
Status: 5.6.1
Diagnostic-Code: smtp;554 5.6.1 Body type not supported by Remote Host

 Turns out that the Windows SMTP service (what Exchange 2000/2003 uses to transfer mail)  advertises 8-bit MIME, which isn't compatible with some mail servers (they were using Postfix). In any case it was causing a lot of bounced mail and unhappy employees.

 After a bit of searching, the answer turned up in a Knowledge Base article, 262168.

 The fix was mostly straight forward and I was able to use their commands verbatim. But there was one hiccup, the utility that is used, mdutil.exe, is not on the Windows 2003 Server disk and not available for download. I dug through my ever handy pile of disks and found a Windows 2000 Server CD which held the compressed file.

 Once the fix was applied, mail detente was achieved between the OS factions.

Monday, September 15, 2008

IM Chattin'

One of the great boons of the Internet has been instant messaging. Not only does it allow you to keep in touch with friends and family across the globe, it's great for work as well; which is the point of this post.

 Being self-employed (and the only employee) it is very useful to be able to communicate, with clients and colleagues, realtime without spending an inordinate amount of time on the phone. Clients who need information or have an issue can contact me at a moment's notice and garner my immediate attention. With colleagues it is a great tool for us to use when needing quick advice regarding a script, command, confirmation regarding the best course of action or a myriad of other things.

 Of course when you're talking a handful of customers and a couple dozen friends, colleagues plus family, they all use differing clients: AIM, MSN, Skype, Yahoo, etc. To that end, I currently use both Trillian and Skype. In my constant effort to save computer resources I recently found an excellent comparison site on Wiki which pointed me to a number of multi-protocol IM clients. The one which holds the most promise (for Windows, my main platform) is Miranda IM.

 Miranda IM was an easy install and I added the Skype plugin. The interface isn't as nice as Trillian or Skype, but certainly functional.

 I'll give it a try for a few weeks and post more then...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Vista Exam 70-620

I recently signed up for the Microsoft exam 70-620, Configuring Microsoft Windows Vista Client. To that end I've been reading Mark Minasi's Mastering Windows Vista. Now with just over 600 pages into the book, I'm still waiting to learn more about the administrative side of the OS. I'm a huge fan of his, with five of his other books in my collection and having seen him speak three times. He has a speaking style and humor that suites my personality and makes dry subjects enjoyable. The first half of the book seems suited for noobs, but now it seems to be moving into the more technical end of the pool, that actual stuff I need for the exam.

 With the exam approaching in two short weeks I hope to have this book finished along with my CBT from CBT Nuggets. I'll post when I finish the book and again when using the CBT. Now if I could just find the time to do all this (and play Project Gotham Racing).

Saturday, September 13, 2008


Ok, so I've signed up for Twitter and I'm still wondering what the point actually is. Most of the posts I'm seeing are about having a sandwich, attending a meeting, flying home, etc. I've been posting once or twice a day, "working on blog", "trying to get AdSense to work", "going home for the weekend". Does anyone really need to know this stuff? Maybe I'm not following the most interesting folks, but it seems lame so far.

 Perhaps others are getting more out of it, I know it was a font of information after a recent natural disaster. But I wonder if it was in the vein of "picking up my stuff" and "turning the coach back over and I found some loose change". Hopefully someone can post a few reasons why one would continue Twitting. I'll keep using it for a while, but if it doesn't start becoming useful in a few weeks, I'm done.

Friday, September 12, 2008


I've been on LinkedIn for a few years now and never really got the point. I guess I viewed it as a large dynamic phonebook to track co-workers when they moved on to new jobs. And I realize it is useful for recruiters as well as anyone wishing to start a company, but I'm neither of those.

 My view of LinkedIn was changed earlier this week when I actually got a prospective customer call based on their LinkedIn search. I met with them today and if all goes well it will be my truly useful use for the site.


The About page has finally been updated.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Nokia Gets ActiveSync

Thanks to Mary Jo Foley for this update: Nokia's S60 3rd Edition phones are getting ActiveSync. I currently use Netvigour Hosted Exchange for my mail, which allows me to have Outlook synchronized on all my systems plus have access to calendaring, contacts and mail on my Treo 700w (which btw, is underpowered and just plain old).

To my last point, I am now searching for a phone to replace my aged Palm. I've been with Verizon now for over nine years and my contract is ending this December. After all this time, it's time to weigh my options and it's great to have another few dozen phones thrown into the mix...


I, just like a million other blogs, implemented Google AdSense. This blog is hosted by a friend of mine, Jeff of Jeff.com, someone who actually paid attention when those first domain names were being sold. Anyway I'm hoping to get enough money to buy him a beer once in a while for his charity.

 The registration for AdSense and generation of the ad wasn't difficult, placing it in the template was a little agitating. It turns out the template is confused as to which side is right and left, which caused the AdSense Managerplugin to place it over the text on the wrong side. Maybe it's supposed to be from the prospective of sitting inside the monitor looking out, but I think that's a long shot. Anyway, I just edited the code using Vi on the server and I was off to the races. Hopefully I'll earn enough for a six-pack before the year is out...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Live Mesh

Over the past few of weeks I've been using Live Mesh to capture my ideas for this blog. If you haven't checked it out, it's worth a look. It allows you to store files in the cloud (up to 5GB) and synch this with Windows clients (Mac support coming soon). There is a small client app that installs placing a shiny blue folder on your desktop and it trickles the data to and fro. If you have over 5GB of data, it just replicates the excessive data only to the connected clients. And so far it's been stellar.

 I'm going to use this to act as a backup for my wife's important directories so she (read: me) won't have to worry about losing her files.

 I have to give credit to Paul Thurrott who mentioned how much he liked Mesh on his podcast.

Not This Theme

Well, this theme just isn't working for me. It needs to be more subtle with the style/colors for my taste and the style sheet seems to be having font size issues (or it's me 'cause I'm a Wordpress noob).

There seems to be an endless supply of choices at Free Wordpress Templates where I found the current one. The search continues...

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


The first post should be something meaningful I imagine, so here it goes...

A little about me... My name's Tom, I've been in IT for 11 or so years, mostly as a consultant, and have seen a few things, good, bad and lame. I'll try to share some of my experiences, plus maybe even something useful time to time like a new utility, blog or webpage. I imagine some posts will cover other tech items like cars, video games and my search for the right cell phone.

We'll see where it goes and how the site evolves. It took quite a while just to choose a theme (which may still change), hopefully the next updates will go a little faster (like fleshing out the About page).

So welcome and I'll try to make this worth everyone's time.