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A network support customer was having an issue on one PC that every time he opened Excel documents with graphs generated by data from worksheets, no graph would appear. However the same Excel document opened on any other PC would work fine. If other users logged into the affected system the graphs worked. I found that defect print drivers could cause this problem, so I changed his default printer and the graphs work. Changed it back and the graphs wouldn’t work. I then uninstalled and reinstalled the drivers for the default printer he was using and the problem was gone. So do not run out corrupt print drivers when troubleshooting Office 20XX problems.


 

One of our IT consulting customers using a Windows 7 laptop was experiencing a problem with access mapped drives while connected to their company using VPN.

Doing some research I found that Windows 7 and Vista both have what's called "slow link mode".  The behavior is that if the latency of the network connection exceeds 80 milliseconds (ms), the system will transition the files to "offline mode".  The 80 ms value is configurable using a local group policy edit.

  1. Open Group policy (start -> run -> gpedit.msc)
  2. Expand "Computer Configuration"
  3. Expand "Administrative Templates"
  4. Expand "Network"
  5. Click on "Offline Files"
  6. Locate "Configure slow-link mode"
  7. This policy can either be disabled or set to a higher value for slower connections.

Note – The "Configure Slow link speed" value is for Windows XP Professional. [more]

Additionally, there is a registry value that can be added that can force auto reconnection...

When a server has been unavailable (offline mode) and then becomes available again for connection, Offline Files Client Side Caching tries to transition that server to online mode if all the following conditions are true:

  • There are no offline changes for that server on the local computer.
  • There are no open file handles for that server on the local computer.
  • The server is accessed over a "fast" link.

You can adjust the definition of "slow" and "fast" by using the SlowLinkSpeed Offline Files policy. With this, you can configure Offline Files Client Side Caching to ignore these conditions and transition the server to online mode regardless of whether these conditions exist. To do this, follow these steps:

  1. Click Start, click Run, type REGEDIT, and then click OK.
  2. Locate and click the following registry subkey:
    HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows\Curr entVersion\NetCache
  3. Click Edit, point to New, and then click DWORD Value.
  4. Type SilentForcedAutoReconnect, and then press ENTER to name the value.
  5. Double-click SilentForcedAutoReconnect.
  6. In the Value data box, type 1, and then click OK.

Finally, here is a link to a Microsoft TechNet article explaining how Vista/7 handles offline files.  At the bottom of the article is a procedure for disabling offline files completely using a Group Policy Object.  http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc749449%28WS.10%29.aspx


 

I had an IT consulting customer email me requesting assistance with extending the system partition on a Windows 2003 virtual machine. The partition had been running low on disk space for a while. The customer had extended the vmdk using VMware, but was unable to extend the partition using diskpart. This is normal behavior for a Windows 2003 system so I scheduled downtime so that I could use VMware Converter to fix the problem.

I have done this operation a number to times in the past. You simply tell Converter to convert the VM and target the same ESX cluster with the imported copy. During the operation, VMware gives you the option to change the partition size. Windows recognizes the partition size change at first boot and you are good to go. However, the customer failed to tell me that they had un-marked the c:\ drive partition as active while trying to get the disk to extend. When I shut the VM down to clone it, it never came back up. Neither did the imported copy. Both were completely useless. They would boot to an “Operating System not found” error. [more]

I tried fixboot and fixmbr from the recovery console but neither worked. I ended up restoring from a CommVault backup. Later, based on some comments from coworkers, I decided to see if I could fix this problem by mounting the disk to another VM and adding back the “active partition” status. I mounted the vmdk that was broken to a Windows 2008 server and using disk manager re-marked the partition as active. Sure enough, after dismounting from the temp VM the original VM booted up no problem. Just one more reason to use virtual machines.


 

It is possible to boot a Cisco router off of a USB flash drive.  This can come in real handy if you are on-site and the compact flash of the router is bad.  Here are the steps to do it: [more]

  1. Format your USB flash drive with a FAT file system.  This needs to be FAT and not FAT32.
  2. Copy the system IOS image to the USB flash drive.
  3. While the router is powered off, plug in the USB flash drive to the USB port on the router.
  4. Power on the router and when it starts to boot up press the Break key to enter ROMMON mode.
  5. Once in ROMMON mode enter the following command to boot to USB:
    • boot usbflash0:<system image file name>    (e.g. boot usbflash0:1841-advsecurityk9-mz.124-23.bin)

The following link has some more information about what is supported: http://www.cisco.com/en/US/prod/collateral/modules/ps6247/prod_qas0900aecd80232483.html

 


 

During this last maintenance window for a customer, I needed to update and recompose their linked clones and then log in and test the various applications to make sure everything was working properly. After the recompose had completed, I fired up the View client only to be greeted with an error message that said “The View Connection Server connection failed (null).” This was obviously a problem. After some quick searches on the VMware KB, I found an article which states “View Client 4.5.0 or earlier fails to connect to View Connection Server if Internet Explorer 9 Beta or Windows 7 SP1 Beta is installed on the same client system.”

I had IE9 Beta installed. After removing it (and rebooting), the client connected up just fine and all was good again.


 

When performing searches on Google I often find it helpful to narrow the results based on when the pages were indexed by Google.  This is helpful in situations where the results for your keywords are returning a lot of old pages with dated information, but you’re looking for new information pertaining to the subject.  Google provides the options to search for recent pages through their advanced search options.  To see the options available you can click the “Advanced search” link beside the search box, click the “Date, usage rights, numeric range, and more” link, and change the “Date” option.  The options currently available are past 24 hours, past week, past month, past year.

Using the advanced search works, but it takes a few clicks to get to and doesn’t have many options for the date range.   I’ve found it’s quicker and more flexible to just add a query string parameter to the end of the URL after you search for your keywords.  [more]

ValueResult
&tbs=rltm:1 real time results
&tbs=qdr:s past second
&tbs=qdr:n past minute
&tbs=qdr:h past hour
&tbs=qdr:d past day (24 hours)
&tbs=qdr:w past week
&tbs=qdr:m past month
&tbs=qdr:y past year

In addition to those basic parameters you can also add an integer after the “qdr” unit values to specify a specific number.  For example “&tbs=qdr:w2” will only return pages discovered by Google within the last 2 weeks.  Here is what your URL would look like in that case: http://www.google.com/#sclient=psy&hl=en&q=conetrix&tbs=qdr:w2


 

I needed to make an audio recording using my laptop.   Previously I had good success using an USB Plantronics headset which has a microphone (DSP 400).

This was my first recording with my new laptop (ThinkPad T410, Windows7).   The T410 uses the Conexant 2085 SmartAudio HD sound adapter.

I downloaded the open source software “Audacity.”  It is great software with many advanced features I have never tapped.  It is simple enough I can use the basics and be up and running as soon as it is installed.

When I plugged in the Plantronics headset, it was recognized right away, but there were a couple of problems to address before being able to record.  [more]

First the internal microphone on the laptop was not deactivated when the headset was plugged in.  This meant extra noise and sounds were being captured. 

I looked through the sound control panel “Recording” tab and could not find any means to the mute the microphone.  (A co-worker later showed me the control panel microphone mute button.  It has the same icon as the speaker mute button, so I overlooked it.)  What I did discover was the volume slider did not appear to effect the internal microphone as the recording level meter continued to register sounds even when the slider was all the way down.  For my first recording I resorted to disabling the internal microphone in order to limit recording to the headset microphone.

Second, when I did a test recording with Audacity, there as a stream of white noise which was as loud as my voice.  Back in the Sound control panel I remembered seeing some Windows settings to automatically adjust sound volumes when the PC is used to place or receive phone calls (Skype-like calls I assume).  I went to the Communications tab in the Sound control panel.  By default the setting was set to “Reduce the volume of other sounds by 80%.”  I changed the setting to “Do Nothing.”  I made another test recording and the white noise was gone.

After I completed the recording project, I attempted to enable the internal microphone.  It was gone from the Sound control panel.  With the headset unplugged there were no recording devices listed. 

The only way I could get the internal microphone to reappear was to uninstall Conexant in the device manager and restart the laptop.  When the laptop restarted it reinstalled the Conexant adapter and the internal microphone was available again in the Sound control panel under Recording.

Preparing to write this post, I was able to take the time to look further for a way to mute the internal microphone.  And, the Gotcha took on new dimensions.  There is a “Mute Microphone” button at the top of the keyboard.  My old laptop didn’t have this button and so I never thought about having a dedicated mute button.  No need to disable and ultimately reinstall, just press the button.

UPDATE:  People have commented that the mute microphone button did not fix the problem for them, but turning off the microphone boost did.


 

I was recently helping a friend who was having trouble getting online with her Mac laptop.  After over an hour of talking to Apple they told her that her computer was self assigning the IP address, but did not tell her how to fix it. 

A little bit of forum scouring provided me with more than a few people who are having the same issues and a few ideas of how to fix this issue.  The idea that seems to have fixed the problem was resetting the PRAM.  Parameter RAM, or PRAM, is a small amount of RAM that stores the basic setup information about the computer.  This includes settings for the mouse, keyboard, startup, etc.  Warning, you may lose some of your customized settings.  However, you can use the Control Panels to restore them.  Here are the steps to reset your PRAM:  [more]

  1. Shut down the computer.
  2. Locate the following keys on the keyboard: Command, Option, P, and R. You will need to hold these keys down simultaneously in step 4.
  3. Turn on the computer.
  4. Press and hold the Command-Option-P-R keys. You must press this key combination before the gray screen appears.
  5. Hold the keys down until the computer restarts and you hear the startup sound for the second time.
  6. Release the keys.

 

The Internet Explorer 9 Beta is out and already I can see several new features and improvements over previous versions. While it still isn’t enough to get me to switch from Chrome, they are making serious improvements in the UI and how it handles certain websites. One new feature, however, I find quite interesting. They’re called jump lists and basically, it’s a bookmark on steroids.

Windows 7 has allowed you to pin applications to the taskbar for easy access. IE also provided the ability to switch tabs via the pinned application on the taskbar. Now, they have taken it to the next level. You can pin a specific site to the taskbar and open to it as if you were starting a new application. Currently, this is an IE only feature, but Microsoft hopes to turn it into a standard for other browsers to follow suit. [more]

Let’s say, you browse to http://arstechnica.com and you want to pin their site to your taskbar. Click/drag the tab to your taskbar and it will automatically pin. Notice that the icon has changed.

Then when you click on it, it opens up a “special” version of IE with its own special colors and icons.

This information is grabbed from the favicon.

Finally, the jump list. Right-click on the pinned application:

Notice that there are new “tasks”. When you click on one of these, it opens that specific page. The code to add this information is really simple.

<!-- C-razy IE9 stuff --><meta name="application-name" content="Ars Technica"/>
<meta name="msapplication-starturl" content="http://arstechnica.com/"/>
<meta name="msapplication-tooltip" content="Ars Technica: Serving the technologist for 1.2 decades"/>
<meta name="msapplication-task" content="name=News;action-uri=http://arstechnica.com/;icon-uri=http://arstechnica.com/favicon.ico"/>
<meta name="msapplication-task" content="name=Features;action-uri=http://arstechnica.com/features/;icon-uri=http://static.arstechnica.net/ie-jump-menu/jump-features.ico"/>
<meta name="msapplication-task" content="name=OpenForum;action-uri=http://arstechnica.com/civis/;icon-uri=http://static.arstechnica.net/ie-jump-menu/jump-forum.ico"/>
<meta name="msapplication-task" content="name=One Microsoft Way;action-uri=http://arstechnica.com/microsoft/;icon-uri=http://static.arstechnica.net/ie-jump-menu/jump-omw.ico"/>
<meta name="msapplication-task" content="name=Subscribe;action-uri=http://arstechnica.com/subscriptions/;icon-uri=http://static.arstechnica.net/ie-jump-menu/jump-subscribe.ico"/>

I’ve added this to one of my sites within minutes and all works as intended. Now because the jump list is actually pinned to the taskbar, the Windows team had to modify the structure of their code to allow IE to do this. This is why it still requires a reboot to install IE9. They’re modifying the kernel to allow for jump lists. Pretty neat stuff.

 

If you have more than one domain controller and are trying to examine why an account keeps locking out (for example, after a password change), you can download a tool from Microsoft called LockoutStatus.exe.  This tool will help you analyze which Domain Controller the lockout happened against if there is more than one DC.  It will also list the time it happened so it can help speed up the process of examining the Security logs in the correct DC’s event logs. 

The tool can also be used to unlock accounts easily.  You must specify the name of the domain account that you are searching for.  [more]

Further information can be found here: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc738772%28WS.10%29.aspx