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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Wind Damage

Albion Water Tower

A strong tornado hit Michigan today, tracking from Battle Creek to the north-east. I was close enough that I needed to take shelter from this storm.

Several trees were snapped in half by the force of a strong gust front in Albion, Michigan. Here are the photos I took of a few broken trees for my report to the weather service.

I didn’t have any damage myself, but on the radar it looked like a strong tornado tracked from Battle Creek up to Mason, and the south end of that hook echo packed some wind, I’d say 50 mph!

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Do-It-Yourself Work Bench

Work Bench Side Diagram
Side View Diagram

For the novice carpenter, grabbing supplies from a helpful home improvement store is one thing.  Attempting to build a functional piece of furniture, from scratch, using just spare parts and the most basic tools, is another story altogether.  There is no manual for this, no instruction sheet, no alphabetized parts list.  The how-to articles I was able to find on the Internet helped about as much as one of those cooking shows on TV where the chef uses ingredients I’ve never even heard of.

My recent experience tackling one such tutorial, while successful, might have looked like I was performing a slapstick parody of This Old House to an impartial observer.  I learned a few tricks along the way, including some techniques that really should be considered by tutorial makers everywhere.

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Speaking of Genealogy

Finding Your Ancestors in Michigan, by Robert Chapin, March 2011
My Title Slide

I made a fun little PowerPoint show about the tricks and shortcuts that genealogists can use to find historical records.

Finding Your Ancestors in Michigan

This is for a class where I will demonstrate how to start a family tree and begin researching the names of ancestors and relatives.  My main points include how to use free, general-purpose genealogy databases, and how to balance the focus and relevance of different resources.

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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June Joys

EMU, jury duty, JCC, Rob's Relatives, WordPress, Canon Camera x.x, Google Images >:{
My week, in logos

Many exciting things happened here recently.  Last Thursday I volunteered to help staff the airport while the Nascar drivers flew in for their race.  Friday I did my first solo flight at JCC.  Saturday I got a perfect score on the aviation test.  I spent Sunday reading the Aeronautical Information Manual.  Monday I performed a rejected takeoff that I was particularly proud of.  Tuesday I basically had a class from 4pm to 11pm.   But right before that I was congratulated on being admitted to EMU for the fall term, so it was all smiles.  🙂

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Weezer 8-Bit Album Cover
8-bit Album Cover

Weezer – Buddy Holly (nordloef Cover)

Before there was Weezer, there was Weeze, and before that, Elisha Cuthbert had an NES console.  At least, that’s how I’d start the music video for “The 8-bit Album.”

But don’t get your hopes up. This isn’t a Weezer album.  Well, it is, sort of.  It’s more like a this-is-what-Weezer-would-have-sounded-like-on-a-25-year-old-arcade-game album.  It’s experimental.  It’s childish.  It’s adding a happy hardcore remix to two genres that are already too far juxtaposed.

This was my 2nd-favorite track.  You’d never know from listening to it that it was released in 2009.  I was planning to upload the Bit Shifter cover last month instead, but I just didn’t like the choice of (original) lyrics in that one.  8-Bit is Creative Commons licensed.