Archive for category Troubleshooting

Using algorithms to evaluate status

Today I had an interesting one happen. Starbucks has a reward program wherein if you use their card 15 times you go to a “Gold Level”. Once at that gold level, it keeps rotating every 15 times. You can check the status by simply logging in to their website and go to your “My Rewards” page or your account. Interestingly enough, today when I logged in, I got a page that said “Gold Level” however to spread the word about the program, they provide you with a social media plugin (FB & Twitter) at the bottom. Somehow though, because I was at the reset point (0/15) the reward plugin wanted me to tweet I was at a Welcome level:


Hmm, looks like there might be some work needed on that algorithm Starbucks Winking smile


Why Yahoo! never made it too far

Disclaimer: I am not a programmer. I did a bit of programming in college and I “dabble” occasionally. I by no means consider myself hard core but the following might assume I think I am.

We all know the hype of IE9 right? It’s the latest and greatest out of the halls of Redmond. They’re suggesting for all of us to upgrade and try it out and see for ourselves it’s the best thing since sliced bread. OK, I took the plunge, I upgraded just like many others will – in order to try it out as well as try to be ahead of the IT curve, in such a case I get asked any questions.

Today, I took my browser to Yahoo! Answers because Bing told me it would have the answer to the question I was looking for. I got there and Yahoo! told me IE9 wasn’t a new enough browser and I should upgrade:


What’s even more comedical is when I click on the Upgrade Now link, in lieu of taking me anywhere it takes me to a page that says:

yahoo faux paux 2

Yep, that’s right. IE8 isn’t available for my system. So, three learning experiences we need to teach Yahoo! in order to get them up to speed:

1. When testing for browser compatibility your programmers might want to use $browser >= $version and not just hard code specific versions

2. P.S. I’m running Windows 7 which runs IE 8 fine although you don’t seem to think so

3. IE8 is not ONLY available for XP, Vista and Server 2008. It comes bundled with Windows 7 which makes it available for that OS too (see number 2 above).

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Sirius Travel doesn’t seem to serious about updates

Technology is all around us. 10 years ago, we had modems and BBS systems, today everyone connects everything with their mobile phone, with a 3G (or 4G card) and our data lives in the cloud. It’s no wonder the satellite radio phenomena is growing at an increasing pace. So much so Ford includes it in all cars. Not only does it include satellite radio, but they’ve also started bundling a service called “Travel Link”. Good news is you get it free for 6 months, bad news is, it doesn’t work, or by the time it does, it’s too late.  Here is an example…

According to their website:

Q. How often is the traffic information updated?

A. Traffic data is updated every 1.5 minutes.

OK, so if I’m stuck in traffic for over 10 minutes, that 1.5 minute interval should have hit, right?  Well, have a look at these photos:

2010-05-05 16.28.57

If you click on the photo, you’ll see the emergency board read:

Accident ahead…expect long delays

Now, by this point, I had been stuck in traffic for 10 minutes (as noted above), so I figured, let’s check Sirius Travel Link. What did it have to say?

2010-05-05 16.29.18

Yep, you’ve read it right:

There are no reported traffic incidents along the route.

Further, I was stuck in traffic for another 20 minutes and it never reported any problems on the road whatsoever.

So, what is the conclusion I’ve come to? Yep, I’d rather spend the $5.99 on a beer than give them money to tell me there isn’t traffic problems when there clearly is. Looks like there is some more testing to do boys, either that or maybe figure out that the updates really aren’t every 1.5 minutes like your FAQ says.

[editors note] – I’ve left the names of the photos the exact times they were taken (2010-05-05 16.28.57 and 2010-05-05 16.29.18 respectively) to show that there’s no photoshopping or foul play involved. The technology doesn’t do what it says it is charging you for.

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Getting Started with Intune

Earlier this week Microsoft announced a new program called Windows Intune:

intune logo

The concept behind it is simple…Management via the cloud – including licensing. Now, that simple sentence means a lot more under the hood.  Let’s take a look at what Intune is and what it has to offer.


One of the more difficult things SME (small / medium enterprise) customers have is getting the right software licensing.  Intune helps address this by giving you a license to Windows 7 Enterprise and also includes in it the rights to Software Assurance. Right away you should be jumping up and down…Why?  Because SA includes MDOP, a small set of tools that have more bang for their buck than you know.  If you’ve not heard of MDOP before, check it out and if you’ve got SA, try and get your hands on it to learn more about it (you can also test the bits via MSDN and TechNet).


Ok, so we now know what the licensing is like, how does it work? As with more and more tools these days, Intune is a cloud based service.  Simply navigate to a URL and you’ve got your management console in one location.  The biggest benefits to this are Anywhere access and the lack of need for a complex back end infrastructure (you don’t need your own SQL server, you don’t need your own SCOM server, you don’t need your own…). So, you want to know what it looks like?

intune console

Simply login using your LiveID and away you go…More in to management with LiveID’s later…

It runs entirely on Silverlight so no need for ActiveX components of old (yay), which also means for those of you who prefer to use something other than Internet Explorer, yep, it works in Firefox (p.s. say hello to cookie monster there 😉 :

console firefox

What’s Included
software reporting

So, you now know about the licensing and the console, what is it that’s under the hood that Intune can do for you? First off, it does Inventory…For those of you familiar with MDOP you’ll recognise some of the screens to be similar to the AIS (Asset Inventory Service). It tells us the software title, publisher and a category as well as the count of computers it’s installed on:

intune software listing

Further, we can drill down on the software title and get more information on it if the software title offers it up to the agent/console.

licensing amalgamation

Wow, Microsoft teams are starting to collaborate (joke). No, really though, for years we’ve had eOpen, we’ve had tool B and then we’ve had the different licensing agreements from here there and everywhere…Well now with Intune, there is a licensing module that will bring all of that mess tidily (is that a word?) under one roof. Simply import a .csv file with the agreement and license numbers or if you don’t have that, manually add them and watch your licenses appear magically in the same console that manages the software (woo hoo!!):

intune licensing

software update management

As noted above, one of the biggest challenges for smaller organisations is infrastructure. To get the functionality of what Intune offers, you’d need SQL, SCOM, SCCM, WSUS and a full time position (benefits, health care, pension, vacation pay, agro)…Intune takes care of that and software management is no exception. With Intune you can manage software updates with a simple click, no need for the infrastructure and even better yet, no need for the disk storage to hold all of the potential updates!

intune updates

and again, as integration is key, simply click on any update to get further information about it:

update drilled down

You can also approve and decline updates on a one-by-one basis this way too (don’t worry you can globally manage multiple updates too).


So, all of the above is great (as an IT person) however what about the people in management who want pretty reports? Yep, Intune has those as well. Three basic categories:

  • Update reports
  • Software reports
  • License reports

As they allude to, the first one tells which machines (based on your filtering criteria) meet or don’t meet specifications of a certain classification, status or grouping.

The software report does what it says on the tin – reports on the software you’ve got installed. Again, filter on the publisher, category or specific computer groups/departments.

software reporting

And then the licensing reporting, the most critical to the number crunchers…Installation report and puchase report – again filtered against all agreements or selected agreements, depending on what is entered in to the licensing module (explained above).


Ok, so there is loads included above but what determines how this information gets to Intune and how exactly does it get there? Well, similar to GPO’s, Intune has policies that are controlled by it’s agent. Simply download the x86 or x64 client from the administration area and install it (from what I can tell it embeds your Intune information in to the .msi installer). No questions, simply double click the installer, reboot and let a few more updates trickle down and presto, you’re Intune. All traffic to and from Intune is encrypted over an HTTPS tunnel to keep it secure, and once an agent checks in, it can, like GPO’s be assigned policies, when to update, what to include and what software/patches to send to the machine.

Further one cool thing is the agent allows the user to request remote control from the administrator over this SSL connection. They simply open their Intune agent locally (on the desktop by default) and click on Microsoft Easy Assist:

intune agent launch 

This triggers an email to whomever is set up in the console (in their language even), with detailed information about the remote control request and includes a link to directly remote control the user:

intune error


So, to wrap it all up, Intune is the remote system admin toolkit without the need for local infrastructure and expertise.  It gives you:

  • Windows 7 Enterprise Licensing
  • MDOP
  • Software Assurance
  • Inventory
  • Patch Management
  • Reporting
  • Remote Control
  • Monitoring & Alerting
  • Malware Protection
  • Licensing Control

…all in one simple location for one simple price.

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Microsoft’s Virtualisation Announcement & XP Mode

After today’s Virtualisation Hour there was a lot of buzz surrounding the announcements Microsoft made about memory and naturally XP Mode.  I wanted to take a minute though and look more closely at the XP Mode story and hope to help you more clearly understand it.

xp mode

XP Mode…First off, what exactly is it?  Well, it’s virtualisation functionality that allows your Windows 7 machine to run legacy Windows XP applications.  Subjectively looking at it, what it does is allows you to migrate to Windows 7 while still having “backwards compatibility” with older, potentially legacy XP apps.  Maybe you’ve got an app that was developed a long time ago and the developer left…Maybe you’ve got an app that is being developed for Windows 7 but in the interim you need to support it on XP…Maybe you’ve got an app that is part of a merger or set of existing apps that needs deprecated.  XP Mode serves the needs of all of the aforementioned.

XP Mode, however, when it first came out, required what is known as HAV or Hardware Assisted Virtualisation.  In the Intel world it’s Intel VT, in the AMD world it’s called AMD-V.  Essentially it was a BIOS switch you needed to flip in order to ensure that your hardware could run the virtualisation stack more seamlessly.  If you’ve done any 64 bit virtualisation before, surely you’ll have seen this setting.  However, the draw back of this meant that the value sell proposition of Windows 7 was less attractive.  One of the main benefits of Windows 7 was that it didn’t require all of the resources previous operating systems did and hence you could easily upgrade your older hardware to Windows 7.

However, if you were to upgrade legacy hardware, what did this mean?  You guessed it, no Intel VT or AMD-V in most cases, which also now meant no XP mode.  With today’s announcement however, you can now virtualise XP without needing HAV.

This gives you a seamless experience and supportability for those legacy XP apps on any piece of hardware.  That’s the good news.  Here’s the IT spin on it though and where most people go wrong or don’t think of the consequences…

Windows XP mode is a STOP GAP.  It is not an enterprise solution.  Just because you know certain apps work fine on XP and they don’t pass the acidity test to run on Windows 7 DOES NOT mean simply roll out XP mode.  XP mode in a sense is a stand alone machine that is isolated from everything.  Now you ask, wait, it’s part of the domain surely?  Well, yes, however it only gets fired up by the end user when it is needed, therefore the manageability factor of this workstation is VERY difficult to handle.  Let us also not forget that XP SP2 is going End of Life on July 13, 2010.

Also, as an IT admin, ask yourself (if you know about .vhd technology), do you really want .vhd’s floating around in your environment with potentially lucrative company data and applications?  Also, each time you rebuild a workstation, now not only is it one rebuild, it’s two – per workstation!

Sure there are times in an enterprise when you need “XP Mode” but there are much nicer enterprise tools available…Take for example MED-V.  Alternatively, you could always try to run the app in App-V which would centralise it and make updating much easier and put less overhead and burden on your network.  There is further, the option of RDS, but that’s a lot of infrastructure to just support one app. 

My point is that while, yes, it is nice to see the XP Mode caveat of HAV taken away, take it with a grain of salt.  Play your legacy Flight Sim games at home in XP Mode…Use Microsoft BOB in XP Mode, but please don’t take this announcement to mean that now you have a get-out-of-jail-free card to go deploying XP Mode in your corporate environment.

So, without further adieu, here are the distributables you need to make this happen should you wish to remove the requirement for HAV, making XP Mode work in Windows 7.

32 bit MSU Package

64 bit MSU Package

and, should you want some more bedtime reading, here is the KB article which corresponds to the announcement and the MSU’s above.


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T-180 and counting Heathrow (and that’s not a terminal or gate number)

So, travelling to Seattle today I got the joy of using London Heathrow’s new Terminal 5 for the first time.  Normally I fly with Virgin, so I’m usually flying from Gatwick or the posh terminal 3.  However today saw me seeing this:

DSCF1021 (1024x768) DSCF1022 (1024x768) DSCF1023 (1024x768)

I must say, two thumbs up to the architects.  Clean, airy, light, fancy.  However, beauty is only skin deep right?  Let’s look at the monitors:

DSCF1018 (1024x768)

Oh, well done.  Nothing on them but an XP task bar.  First off guys, you do know that XP support ends soon?

Good news is though, they didn’t reveal too much in the task bar.  There’s sound on these machines and one other small applet, but aside of that, there’s nothing revealing security wise like the folks in Las Vegas have.

What is more worrying though is that I think they need a System Management Package (have you guys heard of System Center), because it seems they knew about these problems, but had to record it manually.  What do I mean…Well, covert ops photos show us the following:

DSCF1027 (1024x768)

 DSCF1028 (1024x768)

See the bloke in the two photos above staring at the two “broken” monitors (revealing the XP task bar)?  Yep, he’s one of the IT guys at Heathrow doing asset control and what does he have?  You guessed it, pen and paper!

I guess looks can be deceiving.  Beautiful airport strung together with IT that is powered and audited by sneaker net.

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First off, in the words of Microsoft’s Zune “Hello From Seattle”.  If you don’t get that flip your Zune over on the back and see what it says :)  This week, I’m in Seattle for various things and as such, what does that imply?  Yep, I’m travelling again and when you travel, you have to go to airports.

Today’s selected airport of choice is a double post whammy.  Yep, they didn’t just have one issue, they had two, so a double dip of fun at none other than London’s new Heathrow Terminal 5.

All checked in with the new kiosk (although it did have difficulty reading my passport) – third time lucky – bag dropped at the desk and the attendant says to me “You’ll be departing out of the B Gates.  Watch the monitors for details”.  OK, no problem, go through security and have a Starbucks (as you do) and let’s have a look at the monitor:

DSCF1031 (1024x768)

Hey, not to bad.  Here’s a close up for those of you interested in what’s wrong:

DSCF1030 (1024x768)

You know what causes this most often?

This Stop message occurs when requested data is not found in memory. The system generates a fault, which normally indicates that the system looks for data in the paging file. In this circumstance, however, the missing data is identified as being located within an area of memory that cannot be paged out to disk. The system faults, but cannot find, the data and is unable to recover. Faulty hardware, a buggy system service, antivirus software, and a corrupted NTFS volume can all generate this type of error.

There’s also a tool called the Diagnostic and Recovery Toolset (DaRT) you might look at downloading as well which will further help you diagnose your problems…

Ok, no problem right.  Maybe it’s just one dodgy monitor that has decided to pack it in for the day.  Nope, even better yet, I go to the next bank of monitors and PRESTO:

DSCF1032 (1024x768)

There she is again in all her glory!

So, Heathrow IT, you might just want to check TechNet!

Happy travels!  

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Vegas – The home of XP, DameWare, Messy Desktops, Java, Intel video cards and Sound

I love airports.  What else to do with your free time besides scout out all of the things that shouldn’t be done in public :)  I’ve been to Seattle, Gatwick, Southampton and now let’s take a look at what we can find in Vegas…

DSCF0885 (768x1024) DSCF0888 (1024x768) DSCF0889 (1024x768)

What does the departures board say?  It says I’m running Windows XP and looking closer at the board doing the adverts next to it tells me:

  • They run a Java based dos client (DDC Java – version 1.6 even)
  • They use DameWare to remote control their devices (anyone want to sniff port 6129?)
  • They haven’t done too much with the desktop for 14 days as the clean desktop wizard is appearing
  • The have sound on their kisok machines (why?)
  • They are using the intel graphics chip set

Come on guys, I wouldn’t want to go gambling in your city with your IT staff…They’re showing their hands making it easy for the opponents to gauge them!

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Now Boarding – Anti-Virus flights from SEA (with Alaska Air)

For those of you who commonly read MVP blog posts, you know where we all were last week, right?  Well, if you didn’t there are loads of places that will tell you we all descended on Redmond for a big summit, but the rest…Well, I’m under NDA.  However, when I was leaving Sunday, I wasn’t the only one at the airport.  Sure you say, there are loads of passengers at the airport.  Nope, this is no normal passenger.  On Sunday, February 21, Alaska Airlines had a very special passenger…He kept “popping” up everywhere…to Las Vegas:

DSCF0926 (1024x768)

…to Palm Springs

DSCF0929 (1024x768) 

…to San Diego:

DSCF0931 (1024x768)

(apologies for the fuzzy images above, I was on a bit of a recon mission without trying to get kicked out of SeaTac) :)  Who was this stray passenger?  Well, let’s have a closer look at other monitors around SeaTac:

DSCF0932 (1024x768)

DSCF0933 (1024x768)

Ah, ok it was Mr Micro.  Most people call him Trend.

What have we deduced from this lesson?

– Alaska Airlines uses Trend Micro A/V on their corporate LAN

– Ensure you make alerting silent if the machine is connected to a kiosk 🙂

Happy travels!!  

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Feedback is golden, but when it gets out of control…

The power of the Internet.  Freedom of speech. Anonminity.  All of these things crop up daily when we visit websites, forums, blogs…We can post what we want and quite often, as “who” we want.  For example, in a Windows IT Pro article entitled “Microsoft Investigating Windows 7 Battery Problems”, it seems SteveJobs commented on the problems:

jobs comment

Was it really Steve?  No, of course not.  Did the poster comment using his real name?  No.  Did he leave his thoughts though?  Yes he did.  Was this comment constructive or feedback useful? No probably not.

According to Mary Schmich, who wrote an essay titled “Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young”, which we all commonly know as the sunscreen song now, Schmich writes:

Be careful whose advice you buy, but, be patient with those who supply it

What does all of this mean?  Well, recently at Engaget, they’ve decided to silence their users due to comments getting out of hand.  Obviously with the traffic they receive it must be harder to filter/moderate the feedback and they felt it easier to shut off the capability to comment altogether, stating their commenting community only make up a small percentage of their readership…However, what if those comments are useful?

What are your thoughts on letting users add their feedback to your website?  What do you think of moderation?  I’d be interested to get your feedback – my comments are enabled here 🙂

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