Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Dan Brown’s the Lost Symbol

lostsymbolLast night I finished reading Dan Brown’s latest. One of the longest books I’ve read in a while, but that’s more of a slur on my book reading habits than the book itself.

I’ve read all four of Dan Brown’s other books, and enjoyed each one. Angels & Demons being my favourite, closely followed by The Davinci Code. One thing I noticed during the previous for books, was there was a pattern shared between them all. A serious problem followed by a string of clues, codes or events that would get in the way, not always overcome, but resulting in a relatively happy ending. I think the lost Symbol throws in some surprises.

When your reading the first half of the book, you set expectations on what you think the ending of the book will revolve around. My initial expectations were were quickly resolved by half way through the book. At the half way point, the book takes a turn to tradition. Clues, puzzles and codes all with a pressing time limit and lives hanging in the balance. Even an ongoing hint at imminent global ramifications.

As usual Brown takes commonly known scientific theories, buildings and historical facts and adds his own twists, intertwining reality with the story he’s trying to tell. Every element of science and history in the book has a bedding in fact. Each claim made, justified and backed up enough for any layman reader, including myself, agree that it is plausible in the context of the story.

The final part of the book brings all the parts of the book into context and answers all the questions that were previously left hanging. The end reveals what man kind has been searching for all their lives with a magical reveal that is conceivable and humbling.

I’m sure some people will find truths in Brown’s book as they did in the Da Vinci code and that, when, not if, the film of this book is made it will be a great film.

Well worth the read!

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Problems installing a CCR CMS Exchange 2007

25582_exchange2007logo I’ve been meaning to Blog About this for a while, before Exchange 2010 comes out. So here goes…

I had pre provisioned five exchange objects, two for servers meant to hold the HUB/CAS roles, two for the CCR Cluster Nodes and one for the CMS. The delegated local admin had installed the HUB/CAS servers with no issues, but hit a problem after installing the mailbox role on the first node, the CMS creation failed with the following message.

Clustered Mailbox Server ......................... FAILED
The computer account 'Server' was created on the domain controller
'\\fsmoholder.domain.suffix', but has not replicated to the desired domain
controller (localdc.domain.suffix) after waiting approximately 60 seconds
. Please wait for the account to replicate and re-run setup /newcms.
The Exchange Server Setup operation did not complete. For more information, visit http://support.microsoft.com and enter the Error ID.
Exchange Server setup encountered an error.

The local admin tried a few things to discover what the problem was and resolve it himself with no success. So passed the problem back.

Waiting for replication as indicated in the error message, doesn’t solve the issue. So I checked the obvious oversights for causes of the problem.

  • Service Account for the Cluster has full control of the CMS Computer Object in AD
  • Manually re-creating the Network Name Resource in Cluster Manager before waiting for a replication cycle and then running setup /newcms with all the required switches again.
  • Checking TCP Chimney was disabled. This can cause timeouts when talking to Domain Controllers, especially on Exchange Boxes.
  • Removing all traces of exchange from the nodes. (Ensuring v8.0 registry hive is removed is often overlooked) Removing the provisioned objects from AD and going through the motions of installing again.

After a few hours of troubleshooting I logged a call with MS, getting the same error numerous times. So they went through a very similar troubleshooting process that I’d been through and reached the same point.

I should explain that this exchange installation was sitting in an AD Site with a 15 minute replication delay from the DC containing all the FSMO roles.

Microsoft eventually helped us get this resolved after a day of troubleshooting.

The problem here lies with the Server 2003 Cluster Service, not Exchange. When a network name resource is created, it insists on going to the PDC Emulator to take control / create the Computer Object. This means that when attempts to use the computer object on a local DC occur, it gets locked out, because the password set on the PDC Emulator for the object is not the password on the local domain controller, yet, due to replication delays. The CMS creation then fails.

Solution

When our AD was a lot smaller, with hardly any users, we had moved the PDC emulator to the local site to resolve the issue. This wasn’t an option any more, with upwards of 40,000 user accounts and active migrations taking place.

The solution was quite simple. Essentially, we removed the CMS Resource Group from the Cluster, pre-created a new one, along with the Network Name Resource and the IP Resource, and waited for an AD Replication Cycle.

We then added the /domaincontroller switch to the setup command we were using to create the cms.

Setup.com /newcms /DomainControler localdc.dom.suff /cmsname:ExchangeCMSName /cmsipaddress:10.0.0.10 /CMSSharedStorage /CMSDataPath:"M:\Storage Groups"

The reason we did this was to ensure we knew what local DC exchange was going to use. It didn’t change the fact that the Cluster Service was attempting to use the computer account on the FSMO holder.

We then kicked off the command, but that’s not it. As soon as we had kicked off the command, we had to monitor the computer account on the DC we specified in the setup.com command above and continually refresh its status. At some point in the setup, you would see that computer account getting disabled, sometimes more than once, we needed to enable it as soon as possible. Once we enabled the computer account, only once for us. The command to provision the CMS worked fine and we could watch the other Resources being created in Cluster Manager. All fixed!

I should point out that this problem doesn’t exists in server 2008 as the Cluster Service is a little more intelligent.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Creating a Windows PE 3 Bootable USB device

WinPE 3I’ve used Windows PE for a long time. And I’ve grown to love it. It’s an extremely useful tool, not just for OS installation, but for diagnostics.

Since there’s a version of WinPe for x64 & x86 (& itanium) I like to keep both x64 & x86 on my USB stick. Essentially copying the each version to the root of the USB stick as needed. Meaning at any one time I have three copies of WinPE on my USB stick. Other applications I copy directly to my USB stick, so that I don’t have to remount the image every time i need another application added.

Shortly after Windows 7 was released came a new version of WinPE, WinPE 3.0 on the Windows Automated Installation Kit.

Preparing the USB stick.

WinPE Diskpart Preperation You’ll need to prepare the USB stick. To do this open a command prompt using Run As Administrator and use the following commands.

diskpart
list disk
select disk 7
clean
create partition primary
select partition 1
active
format quick fs=fat32
assign
exit

Make sure you select the correct disk by adjusting the third command above.

Getting WinPE 3.0 Quickly

I’ve already done this so I’ve uploaded it to save you some time. The new Windows AIK is 1.75Gb my files are 170Mb & 146Mb for x64 & x86 respectively. I’ve detailed the packages I’ve used below.

hotfile Files are hosted with HotFile as I don’t have enough storage to host them myself.

  • Both x86 & x64 versions are available.
  • WMI, HTA & Scripting Packages
  • ImageX copied to the image (System32 folder).

Once you’ve downloaded the file above, you can either copy the contents of the version of WinPE you wish to use to the root of the USB stick.

Creating a WinPE 3 Image

To create your own customised WinPE 3 image, you can follow Microsoft’s instructions here. The page details all the packages you can install and how to install them. The commands I used for each version are below.

Remember to run the Deployment tools Command Prompt As Administrator.

32-Bit WinPE 3

copype.cmd x86 c:\winpe_x86
copy c:\winpe_x86\winpe.wim c:\winpe_x86\ISO\sources\boot.wim
Dism /Mount-Wim /WimFile:C:\winpe_x86\ISO\sources\boot.wim /index:1 /MountDir:C:\winpe_x86\mount
Dism /image:C:\winpe_x86\mount /Add-Package /PackagePath:"C:\Program Files\Windows AIK\Tools\PETools\x86\WinPE_FPs\winpe-wmi.cab"
Dism /image:C:\winpe_x86\mount /Add-Package /PackagePath:"C:\Program Files\Windows AIK\Tools\PETools\x86\WinPE_FPs\winpe-hta.cab"
Dism /image:C:\winpe_x86\mount /Add-Package /PackagePath:"C:\Program Files\Windows AIK\Tools\PETools\x86\WinPE_FPs\winpe-scripting.cab"
copy "C:\Program Files\Windows AIK\Tools\x86\imagex.exe" C:\winpe_x86\mount\Windows\System32\imagex.exe
Dism /unmount-Wim /MountDir:C:\winpe_x86\mount /Commit

64-Bit WinPE 3

copype.cmd amd64 c:\winpe_amd64
copy c:\winpe_amd64\winpe.wim c:\winpe_amd64\ISO\sources\boot.wim
Dism /Mount-Wim /WimFile:C:\winpe_amd64\ISO\sources\boot.wim /index:1 /MountDir:C:\winpe_amd64\mount
Dism /image:C:\winpe_amd64\mount /Add-Package /PackagePath:"C:\Program Files\Windows AIK\Tools\PETools\amd64\WinPE_FPs\winpe-wmi.cab"
Dism /image:C:\winpe_amd64\mount /Add-Package /PackagePath:"C:\Program Files\Windows AIK\Tools\PETools\amd64\WinPE_FPs\winpe-hta.cab"
Dism /image:C:\winpe_amd64\mount /Add-Package /PackagePath:"C:\Program Files\Windows AIK\Tools\PETools\amd64\WinPE_FPs\winpe-scripting.cab"
copy "C:\Program Files\Windows AIK\Tools\amd64\imagex.exe" C:\winpe_amd64\mount\Windows\System32\imagex.exe
Dism /unmount-Wim /MountDir:C:\winpe_amd64\mount /Commit

Once you’ve followed all the instructions you can copy the contents of c:\<architecture>\ISO\ to the root of the usb stick you are using.

Samsung NC10, a 6 cell battery & Windows 7

samsung-nc10-battery I’ve had my NC10 for a few days now and you can read about some of the things I've done to maintain the battery runtime XP delivered, but with Windows 7 in my previous posts.

I got my 6-cell batter delivered and wanted to let you guys know how I got on. With the three cell battery I managed to reproduce XP’s 2.5 hour life on Windows 7 after a bit poking around with services and drivers etc.

I charged up the new battery and run it from fully charged, just browsing the web. until it switched itself off. 7.25 hours it lasted. I was impressed. This battery had not been conditioned properly and it was already producing comparable run times to the advertised life.

The interesting thing here is that the batter life achieved with a 3-cell battery is not anywhere near half of what you get with a 6-cell battery. I’m sure there’ll be a scientific explanation about why this is, due to load sharing etc, but for now, I’m just happy that I’ve got a very portable machine that can last a full work day.

One other thing I wasn’t expecting was the battery sticks out of the case at the bottom. I wasn’t expecting this, as people only talk about how much the 9-cell battery sticks out of the body. Perhaps this is because most NC10’s come with a 6-Cell battery in the first place.

I can’t think of any other interesting things to say about my NC10, so this may be my last post about it. Well at least until Google Chrome OS is released :-).

My General Theme for Windows 7

02010_thefugacity_1280x1024As in my previous post for Netbooks, I’ve compiled a theme for Windows 7 for my PC. The theme contains 25 nice images I’ve compiled with a resolution of 1280 by 1024. I thought I’d share this theme also.

Download it here [20Mb]

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Scavenging Battery Life with Windows 7

Since I installed Windows 7 on my NC10 I’ve been trying to find ways of getting the battery performance on a par with Windows XP. I’ve gone through Windows 7 Power settings with a fine toothcomb, I’ve gone through application settings to try and reduce requirements and am now looking at disabling unnecessary services.

imageAs an aside, I previously mentioned that I like Google Chrome on the device. One tip that seems to reduce hard drive & Wi-Fi activity is to disable DNS pre-fetching. This actually saves you time, but produces activity while the browser resolves any domains that are present in links on each page you visit. Only a small overhead but I think it helps a little.

Back on topic, I started looking at the services that were started on my installation of 7 Home Premium. I then Googled for anyone that had done similar. I found someone had gone through the services and documented what ones he’d turned off.

Charles Sparks ‘BlackViper’ – Windows 7 Service Configuration

I did’t disable all the services he had, but there was a number that I disabled. Some of the ones I disabled are below, but you may find that you are able to disable other services and would like to keep these on.

  • HomeGroup Provider
  • Windows Media Player Network Sharing Service
  • Windows Search
  • Diagnostic Policy Service

I had a look at the scheduled task service and didn’t disable it as I wanted to see if any tasks were set to run even though the machine was on battery power. I’ll write another post on that.

But the result of disabling some services, was encouraging… The battery life appears to be back up to XP levels for the three cell battery. I now get two and a half hours of browsing with 7.

I’ve also thrown in the towel and ordered a 6 cell battery. So I’ll be able to let people know what results I get with that.

Google Chrome on Netbooks

An Internet Browser is what I use most on my Netbook, so I sent some time looking at different browsers. They all do pretty much the same, rendering speed arguments aside. It was the interface that mattered to me. I tried all the big browsers, IE8, Firefox, Opera, Chrome.

imageIn the end I settled on Chrome. The main reason I liked it, was because the toolbar area was the smallest of all the browsers. Allowing me to see more of the page. I know some of you will tell me about full screen modes etc, but I don’t like it. I prefer to have the Start Bar and the IE toolbar visible.

I’ve tried Chrome on my PC before, but I didn’t quite like it on systems with larger screens. But for Netbooks, Chrome is my browser of choice.

One thing I’m looking forward to is Google Chrome OS. The combination of this browser and Google’s work with Android will be something that I think will push Windows 7 aside on Netbooks.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Windows 7 Theme for Samsung NC10

01792_autumnishere_1024x600I’ve spent some time compiling some nice images that are 1024 by 600 for the Samsung NC10. There are 25 images in total. Thought I’d share for others to enjoy.

Download the Windows 7 Theme for Devices with 1024x600 screens.

Samsung NC10 with Window 7

samsung-nc10I got my hands on a Samsung NC10 this week. Call it a birthday present to myself. I’ve read so much about this Netbook that I’ve been refraining myself from purchasing one for a while. But I gave in when I had some disposable birthday cash. Just after ordering, I placed another order for a 2Gb memory DIMM. I think 1Gb isn’t realistic for anything anymore, even a Netbook running XP.

The first thing i did when I got my hands on the unit, was pop in the memory upgrade. There’s a nice access panel specifically for you to do this, it’s even labeled ‘Memory’, so it wasn’t a problem.

The next thing I did was boot to my newly created Windows PE 3 USB stick and install Windows 7. All the hardware was detected during the installation, but some operated better with a driver update. I was happy for example to just update the Graphics, Audio Drivers and Touchpad driver. Of the Samsung suite of tools, the only tool I installed was the Easy Display Manager. This tool reactivated some of the function keys and the ability to adjust the screen brightness. I would have liked to use the Easy Battery Manager tool, but I wasn’t happy with the way it worked with Windows 7. So I opted not to use it. The only feature I miss is the auto dim of the screen when you move from AC power to battery.

Windows 7 runs brilliantly on the device, in every area. A much more modern looking OS compared to the ageing XP. I tried Windows 7 on the NC10 with just 1Gb of memory, and it makes no difference to the OS itself. The difference becomes obvious when you start running memory hungry apps like a couple of Office 2007 apps at the same time.

With web browsing only, the average battery life I got on the three cell battery was just over two hours with WiFi on and the screen brightness at its lowest. This worried me, as I was expecting to get 3+ from this. Concerned, I restored XP as shipped and was surprised to only get 2.5 hours under the same circumstances. I’m not sure if it’s the combination of XP and sharing the power load over 6 cells that gives the NC10 it’s 8 hour battery life, but was quite disappointed with just 2.5 hours.

Not liking XP and an extra twenty minutes not being a deal breaker for me. I reinstalled Windows 7. Now, knowing I was happy with the OS, I started playing with the other applications I would use. I’ve got a set of applications that I use regularly, but was aware that some of them weren’t really suited to the confines of a 1024 by 600 resolution display. I’ll blog about some more experiences over the coming day’s but I’ll end by saying that Windows 7 is certainly a Netbook OS worth considering with only the sacrifice of a little battery life.