Friday, October 1, 2010

The Unspoken Horrors of IT

We all know the kinds of things that happen in front of a keyboard and computer monitor.

The kinds of things you wouldn't really want to discuss with Nana... Or Mum... Or any polite company really.

Which is fine!

Those that know me know, I'm certainly no conservative (Hi mum!)

I'm more than happy for people to do whatever unspeakable act they like bathed in the glow of their LCD screens... Today however, during the normal course of our duties, we were confronted with the gory aftermath of such escapades.

A laptop came in for repair and it was simply filthy. Apparently a "Glass of water" had been spilt on it, but upon further investigation, we wondered at the possible divity of the user as the "water" seemed very much like "Red Wine".

All thoughts of divinity were quashed when we noticed some suspicious looking stains on the T and Y keys.

"There's no way" the team all thought, experiencing a rare, collective recoil... But we just had to know.

It happens that where we work we have access to black lights and people trained in the CSI style use of them. And with very little prompting one such trained professional proceeded to investigate our suspect stains... And confirmed our fears.

Suspicious and unsettling white stains - Photo by Tyson

"The stains are most likely a bodily fluid"

Those... white... stains... are... a... Bodily Fluid...

The mind BOGGLES!

Why in the name of all that's holy would you present a computer for repair so recently after, what can only be described as, having sex with it?

Why, sweet Christ, not use a tissue or wet wipe when finished?

Let me tell you in the cold light of day, far removed from the intense solo passions of an evening "family movies", the reality sinks in... This dude just had sex with his computer... Then split red wine on it... THEN asked us to fix it for him.

Bravo, anonymous porno jerk off guy... BRAVO!

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Global Hive Mind

Please if you do nothing else today, at least have a look at this! This inspiring video reminds me why I got into IT. It's a talk on the power of Web Video, by Chris Anderson (who may have a vested interest in the topic but his insights are eye opening.)

The basic premise is that now web video is so accessible interesting things are happening. People are learning and developing skills and ideas faster than ever before.

It’s clear evidence that a global network such as the internet, has the potential to significantly improve on the educational capacity of the human race. Thus improving the quality of life for millions (possibly that'll be even be billions).

The really exciting part, is that this rapid exchange of ideas that is now possible, and accessible to many over the internet, will inevitably forge better ideas faster.

The issue then becomes, making access to this vital educational tool ubiquitous. It is of paramount importance that this technology reach as many people as possible, and hearing from, Christopher Makau towards the end of the talk, that seems like it could be a reality sooner than we think.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Rant - Grrr Cloud

OK I’ve just got to say it... What is it with these people and “The Cloud”?!
Anyone who reads this blog, yes both of you, (hi Mum) knows that the Cloud as a networking concept has existed for decades. It’s only recently that it’s become a fashionable marketing accessory.

(That’s a joke BTW, there’s no way my Mum reads this blog.)

The Cloud is a conceptual hook to represent a large network... Often the internet. It’s an umbrella concept used to simplify the complexities of large networks, similar to what the concept of Traffic is, to Cars and roads. Basically it’s a mental get out of jail free card “Don’t worry about that bit it’s in the Cloud.”

I can show you network diagrams from the 90s that use clouds to represent large networks and the internet.

So now finally the rest of the world is catching on to the concept. But that bugs me! I see all these sales, marketing and management people carrying on about how wonderful the cloud is going to make everything... Do they realise they’re using a synonym for “the Internet”?

There’s nothing new in these “Cloud Services” certainly nothing you couldn’t achieve with a couple of big data centres’ and some clever scripting. But that’s the rub, that’s all we’re seeing from Cloud Platforms... Put your stuff in a data centre and run some clever scripts on it. It’s primarily just marketing Bollocks and it annoys me.

Some bright spark (probably Eric Schmidt) has coined a term to hook public interest in internet services by giving it a cool name.

So anyway I’m now gunna get back to scripting my documents to synchronise with a FTP server hosted offshore. Probably quicker to say I’m “Clouding” my stuff.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Long time no Blog

Hmmm it’s ages between posts.

This is largely due to the fact that I'm spending a lot of my time in Azeroth.

Yup! I’m back on the WoW.

But didn’t I post this... and this... Ranting about how MMOs like WoW is destroying gaming? Well yeah, but in my defense much has changed!

It’s been made “Casual Friendly” which is frequently interpreted by the more dedicated fans as “noobifed”. Well compared to the hardcore I am a noob and I for one am loving the changes. It’s easier to get groups together for dungeons and they are, as a rule, much more successful than the groups I remember from back in the day.

So there you have it! No posts because I’ve been raiding Ice Crown Citadel. Dam Lich King is going down!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Windows 7 Firewall

Recently I've been looking into the Firewall built into the Windows 7 Client and I must say I’m pretty impressed with the levels of flexibility and power I’ve seen so far.

To expose this functionality you’ll need to open;
Windows Firewall with Advanced Security (you can just search for that from the start menu)

Now this stuff may not work for you but my objective was to lock Windows down tighter that a fishes arsehole! I mean think about it! Why should every application on your PC be allowed uncontrolled access to the internet? Whose PC is it? Whose internet bandwidth is it? Is it yours? Or are you just going to gift it to whoever wrote the apps you choose to install?

No. No. NO!

We’re IT pros! WE say what happens on our PCs. Not Steve Jobs, not Larry and Sergey and certainly not the cool guys that wrote that crack and keygen for that game you played once and then uninstalled!

Think you don’t need to worry? One command for you my friend;
Netstat -aon

Go on, go run it now… I’ll wait. I’m happy to wait, I’m just an article on the internet.

If netstat’s too hard to interpret check out TCP View. ( ) it’s a bit friendlier and runs in real-time. Alternatively you could always pull out network monitor and just have a little look at all your outbound traffic.

So do you know what half to the crap running there does? I didn't.

So I’ve set myself the challenge of creating a functional machine with no “allow all” rules either inbound or outbound. OK there is one notable exception to this challenge, the Xbox 360. I’ve allowed all incoming connections, this is not best practice. But the risk for the 360 is minimal and I need to ensure a consistent WAF (Wife Approval Factor) as the 360 is her main source of media content. So I’m not playing media center extender rules… Yet. I’m sure I’ll eventually find an article on configuring MCE for the 360.

So the first step is to break everything! Block outgoing connections;
The Box labeled 4 indicates you should do this on all profiles.

Now would be a good time to run your netstat -aon again. Just to get a picture of what a connectionless machine looks like. Might be a good idea to restart first.

So now you can jump into the outbound rules and create exceptions for what you need.

You’ll note there are a bunch of rules that are built in. I’ve left these as they are for now. Looking at it there are some things I could live without but that can be addressed in another article.

Creating a rule is easy just right click out bound rules and select new rule. Then there's a wizard. I'm not going to screen dump all that, it's pretty obvious. I will say when creating port rules for outbound connections, you are interested only in Remote ports. Local ports don't matter as much here.

So at first I created a port rule for 80 and 443 allowing all… "Allowing all"!? WRONG!

I amended that so that it was a Program Rule allowing 80 and 443 for Chrome. Sweeeet!

As you can see I’ve banged in other things I think I need. To create rules allowing Windows Update you need to create Custom Rules and then select the services button. Allow 80 and 443 for Windows Update and BITS.

Only you know what you'll need and it'll probably take a bit of time and patience. This page has some rules for other common applications and is a good spot to start. First things to get going is windows updates (see above) and updates for your anti-virus applications.

From here the challenge is going to be defining rules for all the games I play now, and any new games as they are installed. OK I'll admit it’s still not tighter than a fishes arsehole BUT it is a work in progress and it’s better than it was. 

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Network Monitor

Ok I’ve posted enough rants about the state of the Gaming Industry recenetly. Now it’s time get back to the hardcore tech!

Over the past fortnight, I’ve been working like a dog on issues around a new firewall implementation. I won’t go into those issues because quite frankly, they’re pretty boring. However I’ll talk about one thing I’d recommend any IT pro or enthusiast become familiar with.

The art of Network Packet Analysis.

Being the Microsoft fan boy that I am :) ... I’ve been using Network Monitor and it’s been serving me well troubleshooting issues with my bastard firewall implementation.

So to begin your journey into the wonderful world of layers 2 and 3, you can load up NetWork monitor and then select what interface you want it to listen on. Then select New Capture.

Then click start

As soon as you click start you’ll see there’s probably a whole bunch of frames streaming in and your brain will be frozen by data overload (well ok mine usually will be anyway).

In this situation it’s a good idea to filter your data. To start with select the display filter

Now try these filters;

To filter by address Ipv4.address == (or what ever IP your like)
To filter by port tcp.port == 80 (port 80 is for web traffic but we all know that... check this link out for more ports!)
To filter by application Conversation.ProcessName == "wspsrv.exe"
Note you can string multiple filters together by using an “and”.

Once you’ve found data that is relevant you can right click on a frame and select Find Conversations, obviously this will show you all frames in a given conversation.

Interpreting the data provided by an application like this can be tricky but the more you do it the better you become at it. I would encourage anyone working in the field to become at least vaguely familiar with tools like this one.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Economics of Ease

This may seem like a middle aged bloke pining for his youth, but let me just say; Games today are nowhere near as difficult as they were when I was young.

Yes there is a certain amount of nostalgia associated with that statement; however it’s also an irrefutable fact! I’ll even go on to say the reason games are easier is purely economic.

Back in the 80s (Haha! More nostalgia!) one of the primary sources of high end gaming experiences was the local arcade. Or in my case, having grown up in a small rural community, it was back in the 90s you could play Mortal Kombat at the local Laundromat. Nevertheless when on holidays I’d locate the nearest coin-ops and pump the majority of my spending money into them. My spending money was by no means meagre however it never really lasted more than a day.

These games were hard, unfriendly to new players and bloody addictive. As a result my brothers and I experienced game play in 3 minutes blocks between which we’d frantically feed our parents hard earned coins into that tiny but insatiable slot. The response was almost Pavlovian;

  • “Warrior needs food badly...” = insert 20c
  • “Woah! Shell Shocked!” = insert $1
  • “Game over... Continue?” = insert whatever we’ve got left!

Now with the benefit of hindsight the economic incentive for this level of difficulty is obvious. And just as obvious is the incentive we had to be better at the games we played.

This level of difficulty was mirrored on the home systems we enjoyed. The arcade ports were just as difficult and the titles developed exclusively for the home platforms shared this apparent contempt for the player. But as a wise man pointed out while we discussed this very issue; there were far fewer gamers back in the “good ol’ days” and the kinds of people who enjoyed games also enjoyed more intellectual pursuits.

Find a gamer in the 80s or 90s and chances are they would enjoy chess, puzzles and generally derive value from things that required skill and cunning. These attributes characterised the games we played as youths. Yes they were hard; but with this level difficulty, also came a high level of satisfaction when you managed to achieve victory!

Then the rabble came. I blame Sony. Their slick marketing of the Playstation brought gaming into popular culture and as it became less of a niche pursuit the difficulty of games was diminished.

This time the economic incentive was to sell more games to people who would play at home. So as the demographic broadened then by necessity the skill and cunning required to enjoy games was lessened. If game got a reputation for being unforgiving fewer of this new wave of gamers would be willing to shell out cash for a copy. Who wants to pay to be punished? Actually don’t answer that.

But it gets worse because then the MMOs came. These games are all about extracting as much cash as possible for the audience but instead of inserting coins every 3 minutes you insert credit card details every month. The value proposition of an MMO is so much greater than that of an arcade game but they’ve achieved that by flattening the difficulty curve to such an extent that a human doesn’t even have to be at the keyboard to be successful! If a game is so repetitive that it can be botted; how can it really be all that interesting? As I’ve said before this is a dangerous concession to the lowest common denominator and it’s made entirely as an economic decision.

 Just look at the Nintendo Wii. It has out sold the Xbox 360 and Play Station 3 presumably on the premise that it’s more accessible thus securing a larger market. But that may be to the platforms own detriment. The Wii may well the best selling console but it’s also the least played (ref )

I don’t want to come off as a grumpy old man caught up in the nostalgia of his youth. I think it’s great that games now have a wider audience; as the capital generated by this larger player base has facilitated the production some really entertaining titles. It’s just that these titles are designed so the majority of players will be able to witness the final cinematic.

All hope is not lost though as there also seems to be a bit of trend towards ramping up difficulty ('s_Souls#Reception ). Maybe we’ll witness the creation of a new subgenre, Hardcore games for Hardcore gamers.

Whatever happens I really hope that games in general aren’t diminished by their acceptance into a larger market.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Why MMOs make you a Crap Gamer

Those that know me know I play a lot of games. I’m not that good at many games but I sure enjoy playing them! What I want to talk about today is a specific genre of game. The MMO.

I put a couple of years into World of Warcraft but I never had enough time to be “hardcore” and what free time I did grab for WoW was to the detriment of my relationship. But I honestly thought this game was simply the best thing since Malt, Hops and Barley were mixed together in water!

When I first loaded it up using a free trail from a friend (isn’t that always the way?), I remember being a little disappointed. The pace of the game play was deliberately slow and the combat was quite abstracted from the user input, this I later figured out was to accommodate for laggy internet connections but it really made the game feel less immediate. Despite this initial disappointment I remember rushing to level 10 driven largely, I must say in an effort to be useful to my friends who were already well into the game.

Then when I did meet up with them I remember them laughing at my lame gear, which sent me off again in search of upgrades. Well that pretty much set me on the treadmill. From there on out I was chasing the twin carrots of levelling up and better gear, so I could be more useful to my regular playing group.

It eventually occurred to me I was doing the same things over and over. The same three or four button combos to down an enemy, repeating the same instances hoping for the right item to drop from a boss. So many hours wasted just seeking an item that would allow me to down an enemy a few seconds faster. But because of the hours I’d sunk and my regular playing group, I attached immense personal value to the fruits of my virtual labours.

Eventually though I did just crack. When I saw the treadmill for what it was, I just couldn’t be bothered to sink the hours required to gain a better grade of gear.

I then moved on to games with more responsive controls and less “hamster on a wheel” style game play and I had a ball!

I’ve concluded; the MMO essentially rewards crap play, almost as well as skilful play. You can achieve maximum level in an MMO regardless of skill level. It’s in the developer’s interest to never make you feel like giving up you are paying a monthly fee to play their game after all.

Once I moved on from WoW I found really challenging multiplayer games like Soul Calibur 4 or Dawn of War 2 so much more rewarding. There is no persistence in these more challenging games but I didn’t miss it at all, I felt so much better when I was able to be competitive on an even footing.

To be competitive in an MMO you need to chase the correct gear, you can chase that gear regardless of skill level and yes gear does make a huge difference. Once you have the correct gear and know the correct combat rotation, there’s not much else left to do.

What threw this into stark relief for me was the Dawn of War 2 mod; The Last Stand. It takes the DOW2 engine and creates a survival mod where you fight waves and waves of enemies while also adding RPG-like persistence, that is, they tacked on a levelling up component. As you level up you get better gear and can thus survive longer. Making you value levelling up more. It was like a tiny MMO where it only takes a couple of days to hit max level. Then seeing how many people could get to level 20 but still be quite awful at the game it all became clear...

MMOs are dumbing gamers down.

Gamers no longer compete on a level playing field; it’s no long a finely balanced scale of skill and luck. If you find an area challenging just stick with the game long enough, you’ll be able to come back with a higher level character and better gear and kick some ass.

The tendency to introduce elements of persistence in modern games is sold as “adding replay value” to the game. But really it’s a potentially harmful concession to the lowest common denominator. Give me games that require skill, I’ll find my own replay value!

Anyway I’m off now to play Dungeons and Dragons Online! :P

Monday, May 24, 2010

This is something that makes me happy

Technology and information being used to benefit those who need it most. This what we're on about when we talk about technology empowering people!

Laides on bikes with netbooks bringing information to people in remote areas! I won't go on about it, just have a look at the article.

The sad thing is this gets less publicity than Facebook privacy issues.

Thursday, May 13, 2010



I can handle DRM that does stuff like this;

NICE! They've decided to add value! Love you Valve!

Then I saw this;

Bastards!! I paid for that!

BTW if you haven't played this yet you simply MUST! It is the best FPS/Puzzle game ever!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

What is a VPN?

Torch, the asker of many great questions, asked today “What is a VPN really?” and I admit had to think about that for a while.

How do you define a Virtual Private Network in this modern world? There are lots of tools that have similar looking functionality, Remote Desktop tools and cloud services for example yet these are not VPNs. So what properties makes a VPN unique?

For me a VPN is an encrypted tunnel between a client and a server. It must involve a virtual (software) network adaptor on the client which connects to the VPN server to create the tunnel. Network traffic can then be securely routed via this Virtual Adaptor to the VPN server and the network resources behind it.

If I’ve failed to make sense (which is highly likely due to my propensity to assume everyone has a similar level of knowledge and background as I do) check out these definitions from highly reputable vendors of information.

Flicking through these articles i think the key concept to grasp, is that of encapsulation. In fact that concept is so intrinsic to all of networking it’s worth a post all of it’s own...

Got a different definition? Got something to add? Well that's what comments are for! Don't be shy... No one reads this blog anyway!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Edit another Users Registry

Scenario: Some noob has used a machine you own and has foobed something in their HKey\Current User now they're crying for you to fix it.

Piece of piss! Delete the user profile, hit them with a stick and scream at them to stop being such a NUB!


If option 1 is out, you just need to;

be an admin
open regedit
highlight HKey_Users
click file
click load hive
browse to the users profile folder
Open up their NTUser.dat IE - c:\users\[NOOBS NAME]\ntuser.dat
Make the required changes
Highlight the Noobs Key
Click Unload Hive

This post is dedicated to Torch, who deals with this sort of noobery all day every day.

Blessed is the soul who leads the ingornant into the light of truth!

May he find peace from his torment.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Action Center - Simply a great thing Microsoft did

This is the last post in a series on pleasant surprises from Microsoft. We’ve been talking about some of the things that make you think “Wow! That’s a great idea!” So without further ado here’s the last thing I wanted to talk about.

Today we're talking about the Windows Action Centre. It seems like such a small thing... That little flag down in your system tray. You may not have even noticed it. But it represents what I consider to be an important shift in thinking.

Action Centre brings to the fore any recommendations the user may not have been aware of. For example a fresh build of Windows 7 will pop an action notice reminding you to configure backups! That one reminder will actually be what prevents data loss for thousands!

Some people won’t like it. They don’t like being nagged to do things. Also I’m sure it’ll end up giving some useless recommendations. But for me I was sold the day it popped a message that said “Oh hey I noticed you’ve been having some stability problems. Did you know there’s a new chipset driver available that will resolve this? Here’s a direct link to download what you need.”

Wait... What?

The OS knew it was having problems, queried a web service with the problem signature, found a match and recommended a solution! With zero effort from me the user! Take a minute to ponder that. It’s pretty dam amazing.

The more issues that can be resolved easily like that, the less time we spend maintaining our computers giving us more time to use them as the useful tools they’re supposed to be.

Action Center is a fantastic initiative and it should be applauded. Check out this video on the subject. It shows that much greater consideration has gone into the end user experience, and ultimately investing in making life easier for the user is only going to result in higher quality products. This is a key reason for this series.

We’ve seen a lot of high quality products come out of Microsoft recently, it’s a massive improvement and I sincerely hope it’s a trend that continues.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Microsoft Security Essentials - Another pleasing thing from Microsoft

Here we have the continuation of a series about the good things that have come out of Microsoft recently. We’re talking about the kinds of things that make you go; “Well I’ll be stuffed! I never expected them to get THAT right!” So all this week I’ll post articles on the little features that I have found pleasantly surprising.

So those of you that read title will have read "Microsoft Security Essentials" then thought, "Wait what? Ok Ben’s lost it now... He’s pimping for an app with Microsoft and Security in the title!?

W T F ?"

I know, I know. We all remember Windows Defender, Forefront Client Security or how about Live One Care. Microsoft has been trying to enter the desktop security market for a while. With mixed success. Well I grudgingly confess they’ve finally won me over. The best endorsement I can give is that over the last few months I’ve been progressively uninstalling McAfee Anti-Virus and installing Microsoft Security Essentials for any friends and family that I encounter.

What am I doing that? I’m doing that because it’s Good!

As a small aside I feel I should point out I was doing it before well before the whole DAT 5958 “experience”. Ok I’m not going to say I knew something like THAT would happen. What can I say? I caught a whiff of something rotten coming from the McAfee kitchen and jumped ship to Microsoft Security Essentials.

It’s faster, has a smaller footprint and from what I’ve observed it works just as well as the other big AV products. Also it’s FREE! Free Anti Virus application with free updates. You can’t argue with that price!

I must say we’re still running McAfee at work though, those that have experienced the administrative pleasures of the EPO server will know why. Those that have not must be filled with torment and anguish and are clearly, in some difficult to comprehend way, subhuman.

Unfortunately in terms of useful tips this is it; The next time you’re stuck thinking of an AV solution for Mums PC... Give Security Essentials a shot! I bet it surprises you. Hopefully in a good way.

Check in Tomorrow for the fifth and final post in this series.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The NEW Windows Backup Tools - More good things from Microsoft

Here we have the continuation of a series about the good things that have come out of Microsoft recently. We’re talking about the kinds of things that make you go; “Hells Yeah! They’re finally getting it! They’re making my life easier!” So all this week I’ll post articles on the little features that I have found pleasantly surprising.

Can you say “Bare Metal Recovery”?

Three words right up there with as many positive connotations as some other well known three word combos such as “I love you”, “just lay there” and even one of the most pleasing phrases in the english language “want another beer?”

The idea of a bare metal recovery is simple. You create a backup on a particular server with a particular hardware configuration. When that server dies, you can restore that backup to a totally different server with a totally different hardware configuration. Are you with me on how cool that is?

I know this concept is old hat to a lot of industry veterans that read this blog, but I think it’s fair to acknowledge that Bare Metal Restore is now supported natively in windows backup in Server 2008 R2. And let me assure you it's pretty dam cool!

That tick box there means you can be sure you can move your server image to new hardware without even having to install Shadow Protect or Livestate. The first time I saw it I felt like someone CARED! Or the sadly, more likely scenario, that someone in marketing wanted me to think they cared.

But that shouldn’t diminish the joy of this feature. Especially when you consider that it will roll down to the workstation OS sooner or later.

I already perform a daily system image backup on my Windows 7 machines. However this won’t offer bare metal recovery... Yet.

I’m just performing my system image backups in anticipation. Not to mention the benefit of creating an archive backup that should protect me from the ever present threat of Stupidity (as mentioned in the previous post.)

The great thing about this hip and trendy use of hard disk “images” is they’re MOUNTABLE! Yup you heard me. You can take the VHD file created by your regular scheduled backup and mount it in Disk Management!

Mount it in Disk Management! Yeah! I know! It's exciting right?

I guess I get excited when something is native to the OS. It comes from being absolutely sure of the tools I’ll have at my fingertips whenever and where-ever things decide turn pear-shaped. This stuff is built into the OS so I don’t have to mess around with restrictive licensing and third party image formats. It’s all there in the OS that currently has 90% market share... Oh and it works at that!

So remember to do you backups kids! It’s now a THOUSAND times easier than it used to be. Check back tomorrow for another Microsoft product that made me grin.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Live Mesh - Something Else Good From Microsoft

Here we have the continuation of a series about the good things that have come out of Microsoft recently. We’re talking about the kinds of things that make me go; “Hells Yeah! They’re finally getting it! They’re making my life easier!” So all this week I’ll post articles on the little features that I have found pleasantly surprising.

I can sleep at night!

I don’t have to worry anymore.

What gives me this assurance? Well my friend all my important data is safe in the cloud! Which isn’t to say the cloud doesn’t have its own set of issues but I keep a copy of my data locally and now I keep one in the cloud and with the flexibility of having my stuff out there I can keep it all in sync between my PCs at work at home and on the road with my laptop!

This is a good thing! After years of burning CDs and DVDs with multiple failures and dubious shelf life then going with homemade removable hard drives, cheap USB devices and even a brief flirtation with Tape drives the dark and twisted nightmare of managing my personal data has now evaporated! The sensation was so overwhelmingly positive it’s difficult to articulate. The thought can best be wrought into language with this phrase;

“I don’t have to worry about that anymore.”

The sensation of joy is congruent to the joy of dancing around wildly... Wearing nothing but my undies... On my head.

A major concern of mine is losing my data particularly anything I’ve written. So pushing everything I write up to the cloud every time I click save... Yeah that goes in the Pros column.

My access to this cloud based Nirvana is through LiveMesh. Once it’s installed I recommend syncing “My Documents” to the cloud straight away. I won’t go on about how I configured it because everyone has their own requirements so grab a copy and evaluate it for yourself.

One important thing to point out is that Syncing data to the cloud protects you from all sorts of data loss, fire, flood, Ewok rapage... You're all covered! Everything really except for of the most common causes of data loss... Stupidity.

Yup if you go ahead and save a blank document over the top of Thesis.docx the mesh client will happily sync right up to the cloud and overwrite whatever was there. There's no beating Stupidity so it’s STILL really important to have an archive backup running in case you score some tickets for a trip on the fail train.

If fact tomorrow I’ll go over Windows backup and why I love it now.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

powercfg - A Good Thing Microsoft Did

A lot of people like to bash Microsoft and probably rightly so. But I think with Industry Giants as with anything else really, it’s important to take the good with bad. So I’m writing a series on all the Good things I’ve seen come out of Redmond recently. The kinds of things that make me go “Yeah! They’re finally getting it! They’re more in touch with the poor slobs out in the field who have to work with this stuff!” So over the next week I’ll post articles on the little features that I have found pleasantly surprising.

Check this out! Ever wondered why your PC won’t go to sleep when you want it to? Or ever been surprised by a sleeping PC waking up on its own? Or have you pondered how to expose the finer details of windows power management?

Well the command line tool powercfg is where it’s at! Windows Power Managment tools of the past have been a little hit and miss. But with this new tool it’s much easier to peak behind the curtain and get a handle on what’s really happening power-wise.

For example the following line will list all those devices that can wake your PC from sleep.

powercfg -devicequery wake_armed

Handy yeah? Ok how about this?

powercfg -requests

This one lists all the “objects” that have asked nicely for the computer not go to sleep! Super handy! Well ok handy when you’ve got a PC that won’t sleep anyway.

Here’s another one I’ve been using recently;

powercfg -energy

This creates a report energy_report.html that details any power issues you should be aware of. Go and run it now... I BET you change some power management settings after seeing this report!

There’s lots more to this app, you can manage power profiles from the command line which means you can script power profile changes. So if Group Policy won't give you what you need powercfg just might! Have a look at the documentation and see for yourself.

Don’t forget to check back during the rest of the week for other features that you may find useful one day.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


You may have already heard about this one.

McAfee DAT update 5958 causes a false positive on svchost.exe and under the default configuration DELETES IT!

We got the bulletin this morning and checked our PCs. Looked like we'd dodged a bullet! They were all on 5959 so we'd skipped over the dodgy update. - YES!

Then we got the email from a remote site. 8 PCs wont boot! - NO!

There's a fix but it's very manual as it requires booting each PC and replacing svchost.exe. It could have been so much worse though. Better to repair 8 PCs than hundreds!

Twice in a week we've been owned by our AV product!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Finally! Something interesting!

OK here’s a fun one! I just got back from lunch to discover an outage on one of our exchange servers.

To be more specific an outage on a particular mail store. All other stores on that server were fine. The boys had kicked the server over but that didn’t resolve anything. All five databases in the store were dismounted when the server came back online.

Finally! Something interesting!

We got the stores back online by forcing them to ignore missing log files (we could always bring back lost mail from the archiving server, yes we do send every piece of email we receive to an archive server doesn’t everyone?). Then we began collating data on the outage and pretty quickly a picture started forming.

I’ll list these in reverse chronological order so as to build the suspense!

Event ID 104 – 4/19/2010 12:26
MSExchangeIS (3240) Mail P-T: The database engine stopped the instance (3) with error (-1090).

For more information, click ....

Event ID 486 – 4/19/2010 12:26
MSExchangeIS (3240) Mail P-T: An attempt to move the file "C:\EXCHANGE LOGS\Mail P-T\E02.log" to "C:\EXCHANGE LOGS\Mail P-T\E020005DC2D.log" failed with system error 2 (0x00000002): "The system cannot find the file specified. ". The move file operation will fail with error -1811 (0xfffff8ed).

For more information, click ....

Event ID 259 – 4/19/2010 12:21
The file C:\EXCHANGE LOGS\Mail P-T\E02.log contains the Malformed Archive Trojan. No cleaner available, file deleted successfully. Detected using Scan engine version 5400.1158 DAT version 5955.0000.

This looks to me like our Anti Virus product found what it thought was an infected file E02.LOG and deleted it; as a result exchange lost the plot! As would I if someone removed one of my transaction logs midflight.

So yeah new policy, exclude your exchange transaction logs from your Anti Virus scans!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

I has da powa!

Love it or hate the iPhone is a popular piece of kit. It’s got a lot of great features including a super friendly UI, disturbingly friendly at times. Like going to dinner at an undiscovered serial killers home, everything is shiny on the surface just don’t go down to the basement.

Aside from the suspect practices of its creator one of my big gripes with the hardware itself is battery life. I struggle to get 24 hours use out of a full charge. Of course I could charge it every night but where does that leave me when I forget? Those that know me know that forgetting stuff is one of my more adorable or onerous personality traits depending on how long you’ve known me.

So after a couple of weeks of experimentation I’ve come up with a few battery saving tips that may extend your devices operational hours.

• Turn off Bluetooth
• Turn off Wi-Fi

Obvious enough really these two saved me some power... But hold onto your undies it's going to get more obvious;

• Turn down Backlight Brightness

This change gave me the most visible improvement to battery life. With the backlight on the minimum setting I got 3 days out of a charge! Admittedly I couldn’t use the phone outside during the day... But that was a sacrifice I was willing to make for the sake of science.

I’ve set the backlight brightness to about 10% and that seems to be a happy medium for me.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

DiRT 2 - Cheaters Paradise

So the guys at work scored a few copies of DiRT 2 and we've been having fun setting times and breaking each others records. Well those of us that have the "Time" (IE Skill) to be competitive.

The online leader board allows us to keep track of each other and download each others ghosts to race against. It's always a laugh to download the Bosses 2.08 minute time then beat it in 1.42 minutes... Don't know why that is, perhaps I'm just really petty.

But I digress the issue with the leader boards is the bloody cheaters! When you've got world record holders 20 - 40 seconds faster than everyone else you know something is amiss.

I've managed to get a hold of a ghost lap for one such record holder and about 100m from the start line he just veers of the road and cuts an enormous section off the track! CHEATING BASTARD! Well I of course tried to follow his clearly more optimal racing line but my car just reset on the road leaving me feeling frustrated and guilty for trying to cheat.

Well those feelings of frustration were short lived. For it is a well know fact when something annoys a geek he'll move heaven and earth to address the annoyance.

Fortunately for me I didn't have to move Heaven or Earth just some files.
Dig around in the games install folder and you'll never know what you'll find! Well in my case I found each track has a file called "resetlines.cqtc" if this file were to "go missing" so will the reset lines for that track. Then the user is free to drive where ever they want! So that's how they're doing it!

CHEATING BASTARDS! But at least I can see how it's done. Also I'll admit it is fun to be able to explore the tracks a little more and invent little challenges for myself.

Clearly CodeMasters don't really mind if the user twiddles with their racing sim then posts to results on the public leader boards. This is a trivially easy "mod" (IE exploit) that is just plain dumb. I take this as a sign of the games multiplatform development. But having said that how difficult is it to perform the same Exploit on a hacked XBox 360? I can't comment on that having never made the attempt but I IMAGINE it wouldn't be much harder.

For crying out loud I moved a file and was able bypass huge sections of track... It seems to me that this would be a very easy exploit to monitor and prevent. Given that it extensively diminishes the enjoyment of the online leader boards for many users, it's really just not good enough.

For shame CodeMasters FOR SHAME!

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Prank

We use a Sharepoint Document Library at work. Basically this is the go to location for any work we're doing. It contains Project Plans, Change Request, Requisitions, network diagrams and thousands of other documents. I Start most mornings by clicking the link indicated below;

This morning that link redirects to this;

Yup that URL is now http://portal/sites/ti/rick.swf

"Never Gunna Give you up! Never gunna let you down!"

Ohnoes! We've been RickRolled! I nearly fell off my chair laughing.

More information on that valuable cultural phenomenon is available here;

It's great to be be able to have a laugh at work. However the boss seemed ready to crack until I created him a new link;

Friday, March 19, 2010

Remote Desktop to Support video and 3D applications!

Server 2008 R2 Service Pack 1 will include enhancements to Remote Desktop services that will greatly enhance the RDP experience. Apparently they're offering a Client Side GPU decoder obviously with the encode happening on the RD Server.

That's quite exciting.

I'll be able to remove the 20m DVI and USB cables that run from the Server room to the Bosses Desk!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Devil LAN

OK so have a look at this graph and tell me it doesn't look like a row of Devils!

This data is captured from the uplink on an IP camera. It looks like at dawn and dusk every day the traffic spikes and then during the night it's double what it is during the day... Creating the impression of a row of little horned creatures.

It's a interesting artifact and I can only guess at it's cause... Possibly some peculiarity in the Video Codec?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

300GB Short Stroke

Last post I mentioned a 300GB short stroke across 6 x 2TB drives.

Well anyone want to see how fast that is?

OK then here it is.



Praise be to the sweet merciful lord! This is brining me some serious happy.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Oh dear that was too easy really

I'm glad to report that I've found a solution to the 2TB limit problem.

Let me tell you it was a serious Faceplam moment once I figured it out.

It turns out when you build the RAID you can just configure whatever size you want under the handy Array Size option. UGH!! How easy is that!?!?
So I built the System as 300GB and then allocated the rest to a "Data" volume.
The final build looks like this... Hmmm 5TB... Both volumes are RAID10 over all 6 drives and the System is a sexy 300GB short stroke.
I'm seriously thankful to all that is holy that I figured that one out. I was starting to feel decidedly noobish.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Only 2TB What the...?

Oh god it hurts.

Seems like 2TB would be more than enough storage on your boot volume. Well turns out it's all you get no matter what you want!

As you may have noticed these machines I’ve been testing and building this week have been built for high performance.

I’ve been discussing the RAID configuration which involves 6 x 2TB drives. This insane amount of storage has been configured in RAID10. Performance is good and we’ve got some redundancy which is nice.

The problem is when once we get the OS up and running we can only address the first 2TB of disk leaving the remaining 4TB in an unreachable limbo!

This is because the OS is booting from a MBR drive. The MBR system is old. It’s limited to 4 partitions and 2TB of space.

We really want the disk to be a GPT Disk so we can use the rest of disk. But as far as I’ve searched I’ve not discovered how to create a GPT disk at install or convert the System disk from MBR to GPT. I mentioned this issue in a previous post but all week I’ve assumed it’d be easy to resolve.

Turns out your hardware needs to support EFI booting. EFI is the new BIOS. It looks useful here’s a video on the Pre OS environment in windows that is interesting and elaborates on the topic in in a relevant way.

The bummer is the machines I'm working with are BIOS based and thus only boot from MBR.So right now I’ve got a 6TB volume of which I can address on the first 2TB. The research is continuing.

The Future of Games

This is a highly entertaining look at where gaming is moving in the future.

It's a little worrying for me as well. Why are there more accounts on Farmville than Twitter? Why did Wii Fit do so well? And hell even I bought into Guitar Hero!

Check it out it's 30 minutes long but the presenter, Jesse Schell, is very entertaining.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Striping Shenanigans

So last time I looked at this 6 x 2TB drive array I hypothesised we could get it up to close to 1GB per second if all drives were striped. So I went ahead a did just that. Naming the resultant RAID0 array appropriately....

I must admit is was nice to see a 10TB volume in Disk Management. Given this is just in a standard desktop case not some rack mounted SAN attached monster. It's an obsene amount of disk for a dekstop really. It made me feel all giddy with excitement.

So I ran this bad boy through it's paces and was a little dissapointed to see little to no improvement in disk performane at all.

So looks like I'm hitting the maximum throughput on the RAID card... or the PCIe BUS... At a guess anyway.

The next step was to have a look a single drive performance with that controller. So 6 single disk arrays were created.

OS was installed to the first drive leaving the other 5 for Software raid testing. Performance on a single drive looks like this.

107MB/s is pretty dam quick! But why does a three drive stripe give the same 450MB/s that we got out of a 6 drive stripe? I think really we're looking a the performance of the write Cache on the RAID controller rather than raw drive speed.

So here's a quick breakdown of the Software RAID0 testing I ran through.
These tests were with Directory Opus copying a 12GB file from the Software RAID to the System drive. Peak Speed seems to scale with the number of drives in the Software stripe. However average speeds were consistent across all configurations. The peak was always achieved within the first 5% of the copy and then throughput slowed down for the rest for the operation, probably keeping pace with the single drive target of the copy.

So while all this is mildly interesting it's safe to say the whole 1GB/s throughput execerise resulted in an epic fail. Don't worry though I'll go away and think about it a bit and see if I can't open up that bottleneck and get closer to the important milestone in IO performance.

Friday, February 19, 2010

How to Add a Timestamp to Photos after they've been downloaded

Newer digital cameras aren't supporting embeding a timestamp in the photo. However our Regualtory services people require this feature for Legal reasons.

The following procedure can be used to add a Visual Timestamp to an image;

Install IrfanView
Install IrfanView plugins on the same page

  1. Load Iview
  2. Click file
  3. Click batch conversion/rename
  4. Add files that need to be stamped
  5. check on Use advanced options
  6. click set advanced options
  7. check on Add Overlay text
  8. click settings
  9. Make sure we've set text box Width 3648 height 2736
  10. Enter the EXIF TAG Value of the Date Taken TAG ( $E36867)
  11. Set the font to something inteligent (Calibri 48 Bold Green)
  12. Click OK
  13. Click Ok
  14. Click Start

Happy days. If legal boffins decide to challenge the validity of the timestaps we can provide them with the original files and they can check the date tags themselves.

UPDATE 14/05/2013 - Saw this is by far the most visited blog post I've made. So cleaned it up and removed referenced to user permissions this post assumes you have admin rights.

Increase the Size of a VMWare Drive

VMWare has a tool that allows you to resize a VMDK file...

"C:\Program Files\VMware\VMware Server\vmware-vdiskmanager.exe" -x 20GB "d:\Virtual Machines\EPO Server\Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition.vmdk"

Ok that's awesome Ben but what about the partion?

You can use the Diskpart tool! But Ben... If your disk is the system volume you can't!

Well here's where I earned my pay today!

Mount the Disk in another VM!!! - (yup that's it!)

Diskpart will work then! - Doh of course! You really are awesome Ben!

detail disk
select disk *
detail volume
select vloume *

NOTE The drive MUST have a drive letter for this to work

How to use Diskpart

Decrease the Size of a ShadowProtectedDisk

Yes Shadow Protect is AWESOME however it has an annoying chink in the armor that even Livestate had covered back in the day.

That is to say Shadow Protect lacks the ability to restore to disks SMALLER than the orginal. This could be a major problem at times... It could be instant fail for a DR exercise with a limited hardware budget for example.

There is hope however! You just need to dig deep into your bag of super-nerd tricks and come out with a combination of solutions.

So your backup is too big to fit on your new disk? Make the backup smaller then!!
  1. Restore image to a disk that is large enough for the backup
  2. Make the partition on that disk smaller
  3. Backup the smaller image

Simple no?
Ok here's what I would do if I had a Hyper-V server built and waiting...

  1. Open Hyper-V
  2. Edit the settings of an existing VM that you've got sitting doing nothing or create a new one
  3. Create a new Dynamically Sized VHD that is as big as the backup image requires
  4. Boot the VM from the Shadow Protect ISO
  5. Restore the Backup image (30 - 60 minutes depending on image size and LAN speed)
  6. Shutdown the VM
  7. Change the settings so it boots from the Gnome Partition Editor ISO
  8. Boot the VM again
  9. Resize the partition using this funky free tool! (should take about 30 minutes depending on hardware grunt)
  10. Boot back into Windows
  11. Load Shadow Protect
  12. Create a backup of your new SLIM disk (30 - 60 minutes depending on image size and LAN speed)
  13. Bathe in your aura of WIN (15 - 120 minutes)

Total time for the job is 90 - 150 minutes depending on image size (and levels of WIN bathing)

Clearly in a DR situation this procedure does TRIPLE the time it takes to restore a ShadowProtect image. So the time it takes to set this up and shrink any images needs to be weighed against the time it would take to rebuild the server from scratch.

Also there's no reason this HAS to be done in a VM... If you've got plenty of BIG disks spare this would work just as well on real hardware (with the exception of RAID controller driver issues for both ShadowProtect and GPartED)

OR... if you restore to VMware:
Just make the virtual disk size as big as you need and specify it NOT to use all space up front.
Shadowprotect will be able to restore into the large disk, but it will not take up all the disk space on your host's hdd.


Or you could just do this;

Short Stroke Love

Just got in a bunch of 2TB drives and a speedy RAID controller... Now let's see what we can do with some silly Short Stroke Configs.

3 x 2TB Drive stripe... 450Mb/sec /sigh I think I’m in love.

But why is it flat? It doesn’t peter off at the end like other examples…

Well that’s because I forgot to make it a GPT disk at install (don’t even know if you can) so it’ll only partition the first 2TB hence the boost! It’s like enforced short stroking.

This will be a production setup. It's accually RAID10 across 6 drives. If I stripped all six drives I'm pretty sure I could get close to 1GB/Sec!

Short Stroke RAID Research

The Short Stroke RAID takes advantage of the fact that data access from the outer edge of a HDD platter is faster than the inner edge. There’s a lot of chatter about it on the Googlenet.

When “Short Stroking RAIDing” we create RAID 0 volumes that leverage a drives outer edge Sweet Spot before the performance drop off.

This snap from HD Tune Pro clearly indicates the performance “sweet spot” for a 250GB WD drive. Looks like it’s about the first 90GB.

As far as I can tell there’s not much more to it than that. I grabbed a couple WD250GB drives and ran them through several tests in different configurations. I consistently measured write speeds at around 150MB/s in all the configurations (I have a feeling OPUS is reporting read speed).

So here are the Read results;

So as you’d expect from the graph 1 Drive runs at 60MB/s two drives striped gives nearly double that (clearly there’s some overhead).

The interesting thing to note is that size of the striped volume made no difference performance as long as the data was in the first 90GB. When we tested “The Rest” at the back end of the disk, things started slowing down, just like in the graph.

The thing is some of the Short Stoking Guides you’ll find online will imply you should only use the outer edge of your disk and not touch the rest. I believe it should be fine to use the rest of the disk as long as it is used for non time critical data, that won’t be accessed when you are using the high performance section of your drive for productivity (IE Gaming), a good candidate for that may be the pr0n folder.

So yeah it’s not a magic bullet. Simply put if you require fast access to data, keep it at the beginning of the drive.

You shouldn’t need to jump through hoops with third party RAID or hard disk management tools (all my testing was with software RAID in Windows).

I recommend putting in some effort to find out what the sweet spot of your drive is, then leverage that with intelligent partitioning. All this “Short Stroking” carry on is pretty much a load of wank!