PERT Chart With Nodes

PERT chart with nodes and a single task
PERT Chart

Visio 2010 is a great tool for designing PERT charts.  Since it lacks some of the shapes needed to easily add and connect nodes with other PERT items, I came up with a few tools to make it easier.

My step-by-step tutorial explains how to create nodes and connections that work seamlessly.  After completing these steps, you will have three new shapes to work with:

PERT Node, PERT Connector, and PERT Task.

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Windows VPN Keep Alive

Batch file properties window.
Batch Shortcut

I enjoy the one-click facility for connecting to my VPN in Windows XP.  It gets the job done, but I sometimes struggle with the famous dead connection bug.  This is a very common problem in Windows that causes the VPN to become unresponsive after two to five minutes of inactivity, even though the status still says “Connected.”

I created a one-click solution for both connecting and maintaining a VPN.  Setting it up is simple.  It involves just these steps, which I will explain below:

  1. Set the VPN “idle time before hanging up” period to “5 minutes” instead of “never.”  This forces Windows to properly reflect any disconnection.
  2. Create a new batch file, which I have provided below.
  3. Edit the batch file to match the name and address of your connection.
  4. Create a desktop shortcut to the batch file.
  5. Edit the shortcut properties so that the batch automatically runs minimized with a nice icon.

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Visio Shapes and Dashed Lines

Navigating the options: More Shapes > Visio Extras > Callouts
Shapes Menus

My Flight Operations professor would like his students to create procedural flow diagrams in Visio 2010 using comment boxes with both solid lines and dashed connectors.  This turns out to be easier said than done because the latest version of Visio has line style “effects” that globally override any dashed connectors.  We can create the comment boxes easily, but how do we get them to automatically show up with specific connector formats?

The answer is to create a custom shape using a connector that is not styled.

My step-by-step instructions will guide you through a procedure to achieve that outcome.  I am providing screen shots as a visual aid, though a corresponding flow chart can be provided as needed.

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Windows VPN Requires NTLMv1

LAN Manager authentication level set to Send NTLMv2 response onlyrefuse LM
Solution Screenshot

I’ve stumbled upon a seemingly undocumented authentication error in the Windows VPN system.

Error 691: Access was denied because the username and/or password was invalid on the domain.

This can be caused simply by elevating the VPN server’s LM authentication level to 5, which refuses the NTLM protocol.  According to KB823659 requiring NTLMv2 should not break Windows XP connections unless older systems are involved.  However, this configuration does cause client and server authentication errors.

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Microsoft Update Incompatibility Pinpointed

Microsoft Update screen excerpt
Microsoft Update, Unclogged

Years ago, Microsoft changed the Windows Update website in a way that made it incompatible with my laptop. It would show me the Express and Custom install buttons, followed after some delay by a meaningless error message.

The website has encountered a problem and cannot display the page you are trying to view. [Error number: 0x800A0007]

I’ve finally found the underlying problem: Microsoft Update now requires at least 700 MB of virtual memory, just to check for updates.  It also fails to check for this resource before it crashes.

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Installing APCUPSD for Windows

Apcupsd Setup wizard, Choose Components dialog
The Setup Wizard

What’s big and slow and rarely ever useful?  For one thing, the software that comes with every desktop-grade Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) made by APC.  This isn’t news.  I know APC would like nothing more than to have me buy a more expensive piece of hardware that I don’t need, just to get the useful software that I do need.

Enter APCUPSD with USB support for Windows.  It’s free.  It’s open source.  It’s probably not supported by APC, but if you’ve ever tried to get tech support for a desktop-grade APC unit that was connected to a server, you already know APC isn’t going to help you with computer problems.  This free piece of software makes my UPS more useful than just a battery with a power switch.  Now I can have my server send a text message to my mobile phone whenever a blackout strikes my area.  I can see live power management statistics from any web browser in the world, including the one on my phone.  I have fewer things to monitor with regard to uptime, and I love it.

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Service Pack 1 Breaks DSL Internet?

Windows 7 Logo and Frowny Face
When Good Windows Goes Bad

I had a bizarre experience installing Windows 7 Service Pack 1 for the first time.  I was helping a relative with their routine computer maintenance, which evolved into a three-part service call.  During my first visit, I made sure all of the Windows Updates were installed, including Service Pack 1.  That part went according to plan.

On my second visit, I learned that the computer was no longer able to connect to the Internet for about 10 to 30 minutes after it was turned on.  The primary symptom was that the computer was receiving a new DHCP lease from its DSL modem but was unable to ping any address or resolve any name.  In roughly the time it took me to figure that out, make a futile attempt to reset the modem, try to release and renew the DHCP lease, find the ISP’s phone number, and work my way through the ISP’s annoying automated telephone menu, the Internet connection suddenly started working.  I later rebooted the computer and encountered the same problem, worked through the same steps, and saw the computer’s connection suddenly start working again after a delay of many minutes.

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Offline Files and Access Errors

Offline Files Folder
The Offline Files detail view shows limited information about permissions.

Another great Windows XP feature with another great set of problems: Offline Files.  If you have a laptop or unreliable inter-site connectivity, then you know of the necessity of keeping a local copy of your shared files to make them available at all times.  The Offline Files feature automatically keeps track of which files need to be synchronized for you, making that offline experience very slick.

Try to do this in a multi-user environment, however, and it will blow up spectacularly.  The most common symptoms appear when double clicking a document icon in offline mode.  Windows loads the program associated with that type of document, and that program instantly crashes or throws a file error.  This happens any time more than one user tries to use the same file offline on the same computer.

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Split Tunnel Virtual Private Network

Detailed overview of a split tunnel VPN system.
Split Tunnel VPN is Faster for Multitasking

Anyone who has attempted a Virtual Private Network (VPN) connection in Windows XP has run into this problem:  You want to have access to computers at your home or office, but Windows accomplishes this by routing all of your activity to the home network.  If your work involves transferring files to a server and surfing the Internet, then your Internet activity has to piggyback on the VPN and travel twice within your limited home bandwidth.  This means your slow VPN is even slower when you load a website, and any interruption of the VPN will break all of your connections to FTP sites, IM services, etc.

You may have tried to coerce Windows into routing your traffic to two different gateways, but quickly realized it wasn’t designed to do that.  Adding entries to the local routing table can solve the problem temporarily, but doing so requires administrative privileges and ugly dynamic logic to handle a gateway address that changes every time you connect the VPN.

My solution for this scenario comes in two parts:  1. A static address for the VPN client computer, and 2. A persistent route for the VPN client’s static address.  This is a bit easier said than done, so the following tutorial includes screenshots and details.

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Active Directory Log Disk Lost

Event Viewer excerpt showing atapi and disk errors.
A Disk Kissing Itself Goodbye

At 2:45 this morning, my home office / techie practice server suffered a catastrophic failure of its primary slave disk.  Among other things, that disk was responsible for storing the Active Directory log file for the server’s Windows 2003 domain controller.  The device itself was a Maxtor 20 gig model going on 12 years of age.  It was still in service after the server’s motherboard overhaul because of the Windows 2000 Active Directory Services recommendation: “For best performance, place the database and the log file on separate hard disks.”

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