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Think IPM

Monday, October 31, 2011

My Digital Graveyard

imageWith Halloween here, I figured I would rummage around the basement a bit and dig up some long dead gadgets. They are all headed for the trash bag so this is their last bit of stardom. I'd hand them out to trick or treaters but fear the retaliation on the house. ;)

First up are the drives. A three and a half inch floppy drive and two CDROM drives. You can tell the oldest one by its beige color. The RO in CDROM stands for Read Only and these drives kept to that specification. No burning, writing or copying to these CD readers. Strictly read only at a blazing speed of 12x.

The pager and Kodak camera were easy candidates for the graveyard. Kodak doesn't even produce or develop the film anymore. Good luck finding a beeper plan. ;)

I've never even actually used a BNC connector. If not for the 10MB Ethernet connection to its right, this Intel NetExpress printer thing would have been Dead On Arrival when I stumbled upon it way back when.

The Philips remote was a fully programmable mono-color TV remote control. I never really got used to the screen based keys. I couldn't quite give up the tactile feel of the remotes I had already. It's actually quite funny since I'm typing this blog post out on my iPhone right now. I prolly should have given the Philips more of a chance before dismissing it.

Last but not least is the Panasonic CF-01 handheld computer. That puppy ran Windows 95 with a touch interface (via stylus of course) and was pretty kick ass. It was a little smaller than the iPad and I had it throughout the 90s. Sometime during that period, I turned it into a live web server and picture frame. I kept that sucker running for a loong time before retiring it.

I'm sure everyone reading this has their own digital graveyard sitting in the basement as well. I say dig 'em up and hand 'em out or toss 'em away. :)
Either way, Happy Halloween.imageimage

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Friday, October 28, 2011

Off-Topic: Evernote Tip: Remember house stuff.

I haven’t blogged about Evernote yet but I love it!  I’ve become a premium subscriber to the service and have been slowly digitizing EVERYTHING and uploading it to the Evernote cloud. 

Disclaimer : This post is not about whether or not it is a good idea to upload all your information to the cloud.  If you are fully against this idea, off to CNN.COM you go.  BUT if you are interested in a cool application, then read on! ;)

The main reason I love Evernote is for it’s awesome OCR capabilities and cross platform support.  I basically use my iPhone to take pictures of things (Whiteboards, labels, scribbling) and then am able to search against it on my computer or iPad thanks to Evernote’s OCR capabilities.

Their slogan is Remember Everything so here are some examples of uses I had this weekend.

Paint colors and formulas:
I decided to take pictures of the paint labels for rooms so down the line, if I needed a touch up quart, I’d have the formula on hand. (via Evernote’s iPhone Application).
I decided AFTER painting but you get the idea. Smile 

I also used Evernote and my iPhone to capture all the details about my boiler.  I was curious to research the age of the boiler so I took a bunch of pictures, loaded them into Evernote and then researched the boiler later that day. (My boiler is over 50 years old BTW).

When you are roaming the hardware store looking for a part, I think it is pretty handy to have a lot of this information at your fingertips.   (I also have lists of light bulb sizes for all the rooms handy since I always know when I need one but never the type!)

Although I’ve subscribed to Evernote, you can do all this and more with their free version.  Your only limitation is the monthly limit of uploaded material.  If you have Evernote and have some creative uses for it, let me know in the comments.  I’m always looking for more ways to use it to help me.


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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

VMware Purple Screen of Death KB alert.

imageJust noticed this alert on the VMware support site.

If you are upgrading to vCenter 5, be sure to verify that ALL of your hosts are running at least 4.0 Update 3.  Hosts running version 4.0 Update 2 can experience a purple screen.

It is important to note that even though you are only upgrading vCenter, you are still ‘touching’ ALL of your production hosts managed by that vCenter.  Once you have upgraded vCenter to a newer release, it will immediately and without warning begin to update the vCenter Agents (vpxa) on all hosts registered to it.  Normally, this is a painless non-disruptive process but it’s worth noting that there is at least some level of potential risk involved.

It would be nice to have the option of, prior to the vCenter Agent upgrade, having the system go into maintenance mode, clearing out any running VMs (leveraging vMotion) and preforming the upgrades in a rolling fashion to limit exposure to running workloads.

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Removing the Citrix Access Gateway client.

imageThis might be a pretty niche tip but I was struggling today to figure it out.  I had long been a fan of the VPN functionality of the Citrix Access Gateway and dutifully installed the client on my Windows 7 x64 bit machine.  Everything had worked great for years.  Today, I decided to switch up the VPN to leverage the pimped out Netscalers in our office and needed to install the new Netscaler VPN client.  The new client complained about the old one being installed and refused to install until I removed the old one.

Uninstall.  Seemed easy enough until I realized that my years old CAG client installation was not showing up in my Add/Remove programs.  The shortcut entries in my Start menu also did not show an uninstall either.

After some searching around on my laptop, I found a setup cache folder that had the original setup executable.
A quick doubleclick and I was able to choose REMOVE and begin my uninstall of the old Citrix Access Gateway Plugin.


Hey Citrix programmers, next time, save me some aggravation and  just programmatically uninstall the old version for me.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Cool Tool : Microsoft Mouse Without Borders.

So Microsoft released this project a while ago and I was like *yawn*.   I normally work from my laptop and either RDP into remote systems or sit in vCenter to do my work.  So when I saw some announcements about Microsoft’s free little garage project that would let you control up to 3 other machines on your desk with your primary keyboard and mouse, I honestly just passed on it.  I didn’t really see the need for it in my work environment.
Fast forward to today when I have 2 laptops on my desk while building out a portable demo lab (VMware Workstation 8 and a bunch of VMs on a laptop) and this program is SUPER USEFUL!  So if you happen to find yourself with more than 1 windows keyboard on your desk, check out this great utility.
You basically install a quick little app on your primary machine and it will give you a Security key to use on your next installations on the other machines.  All connections are done through the network so this won’t help you BUILD the other machines, but will allow you to seamlessly move your mouse across the screens/monitors as if in extended mode.  Shared clipboards and drag and drop file moves are really useful tools.
I passed on it the first time around but glad I had a chance to try it out.
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Monday, October 17, 2011

vSphere 5 Trust issues : Cannot synchronize host.

imageWhile doing some seemingly straightforward patching via Update Manager on my Home Lab ESX servers, I got this strange message after a reboot.

Cannot synchronize host Carlo-esxi2.  Cannot complete login due to an incorrect user name or password.  vSphere HA agent on this host is disabled

Reading this error, you might think that your root password may have changed or been mistyped.  In reality it is the backend account that vCenter uses to communicate with the ESX host.  Somewhere along the patching/rebooting, it went out of sync with vCenter.  The fix is pretty easy.  Just Disconnect the ESX server from VC and reconnect it.  This will prompt you for the root password and will reestablish a connection between vCenter and the Host.  You will be prompted to reaccept the SSH fingerprint again.  At that point, you should be home free.

Quick Takeaway from this: Communication between your vCenter and ESX hosts are NOT dependent on your root account or password BUT the Root account is used to ESTABLISH the communication.  After that is complete, you can feel free to change the root password at will.

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Enabling/Disabling SSH via vCenter

Sometimes it is useful to have an SSH session to an ESXi server for troubleshooting.  You can always enable it via the console (F2 –> Troubleshooting Options –> Enable Remote SSH) but you can also enable and disable it via the vCenter client.
More often than not, after enabling the SSH shell, I walk away from the console only to find out that I left SSH enabled.  Left enabled, you get a configuration issue warning on the host in the vCenter client.
To clear the warning condition, you can navigate to the configuration tab of the ESXi host and select ‘Security Profile’.  From there, you can start and stop the various services (daemons) available on the host.
Clicking Options for either service and you will have the ability to remotely shut them down clearing the configuration error on the host.
No more going back into that freezing datacenter. Smile
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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tracking your IP with a Spreadsheet?

Maybe you have a small network, home or lab, but still have enough devices on the network that keeping track of IP addresses is necessary.  Too small to justify actually paying for something but big enough that a solution is needed.  Most people I know use a spreadsheet.
Today, I ditched the spreadsheet for the FREE SolarWinds IP Address Tracker.
Quick Download and run.  I decided to install mine on my Domain Controller since that is where I end up when looking for an available IP. (DNS, DHCP Consoles)  The IP tracker seemed like a logical fit to that process.
Typical Next, Next, Next install.  Super Straightforward.
After the install, launch the program and add your Subnet to start the scan.
After a quick scan, you are presented with all the IP addresses in USE.  You can added custom comments to any of the IP addresses as well.  I did notice that some Devices that did not respond to pings (Windows 2008 Servers with their Firewalls on) did get missed but I just added them in. [Kind of like a spreadsheet with a little something extra]
It’s actually pretty straightforward and pretty useful.  I do wish the free version did automated scans (background scans).  You can only capture IP addresses of machines that are ON at the time of the SCAN.  I’d rather see a limit of 1 class C Subnet that is fully featured.  I would think that would still leave plenty of functionality to ‘sell’ to the larger installations.  Either way, I’m very happy with this free tool.  Thanks Solar Winds!

SIEM by SolarWinds
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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Taming Chameleon Applications

Another super in-depth write up by Jacques Bensimon.  Thanks JB!
As the great migration to 64-bit Windows continues, most of us have by now had ample opportunity to confirm the statement made in a previous post to the effect that, with few exceptions, a run-of-the-mill 32-bit program that neither knows about nor cares about 64-bit environments is automatically presented a “32-bit view” of a 64-bit environment and should install and operate without issues.  But there are those pesky exceptions, and one particularly strange category of potential exceptions I ran across I initially dubbed “Chameleon Applications” before figuring out what they were, why some of them had issues, and how to get around the issues.
I’ll first describe the observed behavior of just two such problematic applications before explaining the reason for the “chameleon” moniker – in both cases, these were neither particularly new nor particularly old 32-bit applications that had installed without issues or complaints on a 64-bit platform (Windows Server 2008 R2):
· App A:  This app had, during its setup, also successfully installed a 32-bit Crystal Reports runtime component but, when launched, inexplicably complained that it needed the 64-bit Crystal Reports runtime and would refuse to continue without it.
· App B:  This app consists of (1) a system service that occasionally updates a machine Registry key with a list of web addresses downloaded from a backend system (yes, even 32-bit services can run on 64-bit Windows) and of (2) an Internet Explorer plug-in which accesses that list of web addresses from the Registry as part of its job (don’t ask).  This cooperation wasn’t working as expected because, as it turned out, the system service was writing the web addresses to a key somewhere under HKLM\SOFTWARE\CompanyName\... (i.e. unexpected 64-bit behavior) whereas the plug-in  was trying to read them from HKLM\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\CompanyName\... (i.e. normal 32-bit behavior).
In both cases, since 64-bit behavior was observed, my first thought was that the setup of these applications unexpectedly contained and had installed some 64-bit executables.  Yet, upon verification, both the main executable of App A and the system service executable of App B were confirmed to be 32-bit executables (here’s a new IPM  utility called TSFlag that, besides displaying and optionally changing any executable’s “Terminal Server Aware Flag”, also displays whether the executable is 32-bit, AMD 64-bit or IA64 – see sample screenshots below.   The archive contains both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of the utility).  However, and this is where the “chameleon” behavior comes in, when viewed in Task Manager while running, both the executables in questions were displayed as 64-bit processes!  Understand, we’re not talking here about programs like SysInternals’ “Process Explorer” and “Process Monitor” for example which consist of 32-bit executables that *contain* and extract a separate 64-bit version when launched on a 64-bit platform – these were 32-bit executables that somehow *became* 64-bit once loaded into memory and executed, an impossibility as far as I was aware.
The answer:  Upon further examination (looking at the executables’ loaded modules in “Process Explorer”), it became clear that these magic executables were in fact .NET assemblies and that, against the implicit intent of their authors (who clearly had not considered or been aware of the possibility that they might someday be run on a 64-bit platform), they were executing under a 64-bit .NET Framework. This is apparently the default behavior on a 64-bit platform when an assembly isn’t explicitly coded or registered for execution under a 32-bit Framework, and  I neither know how to change this default behavior (if it can be changed) nor do I think it would be a good idea to do so – the ramifications could be very ugly.  There is however a Microsoft tool called CorFlags (found in the Windows SDK) that can modify a specific .NET assembly in such a way that it is compelled to run under a 32-bit Framework (the modification consists of flipping a single bit in the executable, as will be seen in a screenshot below).  The syntax for performing this modification with CorFlags is as follows:
CorFlags.exe assembly /32BIT+ /Force
Since this command actually modifies the target executable, it would be well to create a backup copy of the original executable before applying it.  Also, be aware that if the executable is strong-name signed, which is not frequently the case because strong-signing is not recommended for EXE assemblies, CorFlags warns that it needs to be resigned – I have not found this to be necessary in practice.  Both App A and App B, along with other misbehaving “chameleons” I’ve come across, have been functioning just fine since getting the CorFlags treatment.
NOTE:  There is no statement being made here that a 32-bit .NET assembly that winds up executing under a 64-bit Framework (i.e. a chameleon) will necessarily misbehave.  I’m sure if we look around our systems we’ll all find any number of 32-bit .NET apps and utilities that have been working just fine despite running under a 64-bit Framework, whether or not that was their authors’ intention.  The above workaround should therefore be reserved for those that do misbehave and for which their authors have not (yet) provided 64-bit-compliant versions.
For the purpose of illustrating the above concepts with a real example, I looked for a chameleon executable to which we all have relatively easy access, and came upon the executable vmconnect.exe installed as part of the Hyper-V Tools component of RSAT (Remote Server Administration Tools) on Windows 7 64-bit.  Without further comments, the following screenshots demonstrate that vmconnect.exe is a 32-bit executable that Task Manager lists as a 64-bit process whereas a copy of the executable (vmconnect2.exe) to which CorFlags has been applied as explained above is listed as a 32-bit process.  (Note that this was done only for illustration purposes as vmconnect.exe is not a misbehaving chameleon).
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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Upgrade to the iPhone 4s or Wait for the iPhone 5?

imageConsider this :
iPhone released June 29, 2007
iPhone 3G released July 11, 2008
iPhone 3GS released June 19, 2009
iPhone 4 released June 24, 2010
iPhone 4S released October 4, 2011

Seems to me like an iPhone 5 release around Summertime 2012.
If I’m eligible for the upgrade price from AT&T, I’m probably gonna upgrade to the 4S.  The new camera seems great.  Who bout you?

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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

AppSpeed 1.5 left behind if you upgrade to vSphere 5.

I dig AppSpeed!  I know I might be in the minority here in the sense that most people don’t even know what the product is but trust me, if you NEED IT, it’s GREAT!
AppSpeed is a result of a VMware acquisition a couple years ago and is a great way to gain insight into your Web/Database applications running in your Virtual Environment.  When someone complains that the website is slow because it’s been virtualized, AppSpeed can help you determine that it is slow because of a SELECT * statement hitting a particular database that is taking minutes to return [as an example. ;)].  The product is an OVF based appliance that passively sits on the ESX hosts and sniffs and inspects the traffic reading all the way down to the transactions within the packets.  All self learning and all self discovering.  Very cool!
Unfortunately, it seems that with the latest release of vSphere 5, the current version of AppSpeed (1.5) will not work.  I was hoping it was just a ‘support’ thing but in my lab testing, it just would not register correctly with vCenter 5.  Hopefully there will be a future release to bring this great tool into vSphere 5.
* http://partnerweb.vmware.com/comp_guide/sim/interop_matrix.php
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