Wednesday, August 27, 2008

FREE Quest for Glory II Remake Finished

I've just discovered that AGDInteractive's remake of the Sierra classic "Quest for Glory II: Trial by Fire" is now available for download.

The old EGA/VGA Graphics screens have been replaced and the whole thing has been written from the ground up - over an eight year period.

It's a free game so if you like adventure games or if, like me, you were quite attached to the old Sierra style games, give it a go.

The URL is:

How to Convert a Screen Image to a Suitable Graphic Using the GIMP.

This tip is "low tech" but something I'm often asked.

How can I grab an image from the screen so that I can stick it into a Word Document.

I'm sure that there's people out there nodding their heads and saying "ah, yes, the old Print Screen or Alt+PrintScreen trick" - then just paste into word". Well, yes and no.

Did you know that if you do a print screen and paste it into Word, Excel, Powerpoint or even Lotus Notes, that the size of your document will grow considerably compared to saving the same image as a JPEG and then importing it?

If you have a lot of graphics to insert, then this oversight can lead to serious performance issues, instability and ultimately document corruption. There is a better way.

A Quick Note on The Gimp
I've selected The GIMP as the package of choice here, not because it's the best but because it's the best FREE application which works across multiple platforms.

How To Grab the Image
If you're in a web browser, you won't need these instructions most of the time since you can simply right-mouse click on most images and save them directly. If you're in something like Acrobat or if you want to capture part of your screen, then it's a different kettle of fish.

  1. The first step is to get the image you want to grab into an unblocked position on your screen (ie scroll so that you can see the entire image).

  2. Now Press the PrintScreen Button. This copies the current screen to the clipboard. Note that if you only want to capture the current window or the current dialog box, you can use the Alt+PrintScreen button.

  3. Start the GIMP software

  4. From the Gimp Menu, select File, Acquire, Paste as New.
    This will paste the screen into the GIMP so that you can work on it.

  5. If your image is smaller than what you've captured, you'll want to crop it.
    a. In the Gimp toolbar, click on the tool marked Select Rectangular Regions (or press the R key).
    b. Draw a rectangular box around what you want to keep (your image).
    c In the Gimp Image Window, select Image and then Crop.

  6. In order to use the image in a software package like Microsoft Word, you need to save it. To save, select from the menu File, Save As and save the file as a JPEG.

  7. You can now import the file into Microsoft Office using the Insert, Picture, From File... menu command - or into Lotus Notes using the File, Import menu command.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Ending the Blackberry OS 4.5 Saga

Well, it's been quite a few days now and I've tried all kinds of different tricks to overcome the Blackberry OS 4.5 rebooting problem on the 8800. I've tried different media cards, different types of handheld erasures, different types of card formatting.

Nothing... I can get the device to stop rebooting with the card in but as soon as I try to put any data on the card, *REBOOT*

This morning, I found the only solution that works for me. It's called Blackberry OS 4.2.1101

That's right, I downgraded and my problems disappeared immediately.

Henceforth, I' m referring to OS 4.5 as Blackberry "Vista" (or Blackberry ME).

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Ongoing Blackberry OS 4.5 Reboot Saga

In every organisation, there is always one idiot who has to download and install the latest set of patches.

Usually this person is the biggest waster of IT time in the business and they're responsible for countless hours of lost productivity while the IT department tries to fix their non-critical "business" gadget.

Usually, I can just shake my head in disbelief but this time I can't. This time, the problem is me.

It's easy to justify an upgrade and the associated testing as part of my job - usually but as I contemplate wiping my blackberry for about the twentieth time in three weeks, I'm wondering if I'll ever feel comfortable with it again.

I solved that pesky reboot problem with a reformat of the MicroSD card and all was well.

Unfortuately, one of our staff members asked for a card of their own. I gallantly gave up my trusty 2Gb card - then went out and got myself an 8Gb one.

I wasn't sure it would work in the 8800 but I tried anyway. It reported the right numbers so it must have been ok.

Just before going home, I decided to copy a book (mp3 audio) to the card. I got partway then *reboot*.

It all started happening again.

I reformatted the card and the device settled. Copied some more data and ... *reboot*

It's still early days but so far it seems that OS 4.5 might be the Vista of Blackberry. Proceed with extreme caution.

Domino Licence Renewal Headaches (or the Disadvantages of Passport Advantage)

This is a short (and not entirely serious) post to have a quick whinge about the way IBM Lotus Domino licenses are renewed.

Techie Blindness
So, here I am a SysAdmin for my company wanting to login to IBM Passport Advantage to renew my licensing. As a SysAdmin, I'm happy to be shown C++ code, HTML, you name it - it's all good to me. It's only when non-computing financial terms are mentioned that my eyes start to glaze over.

License Reconciliation
One of the things that happens every year with our renewals is a process of reconciliation. First of all, I try to work out how many licenses of IBM's software I'm using and how many they think I'm using. This often means that I will want to add a license or two because although I try to anticipate growth (and buy additional licenses in readiness) the truth is that the business changes its mind so quickly that sometimes you install more than you've paid for.

Luckily, the extra software usually doesn't get installed until after I've already used up all my "safety planning" licenses. So, come September (renewal time for us) I usually haven't been flaunting copyright laws for very long.

So why does this matter?
Well, the whole renewal process takes a bit longer and a few more brain cells, than I'd like. I'd rather delay an implementation and keep my renewal dates the same than end up with two Domino products with different renewal dates. It just doesn't work for me.

Self Service
I'll admit upfront that I've never been much of a fan of passport advantage - it's just too fiddly for my liking but I figure that even if I can't just go in there, add a few licences and hopefully add some licenses of new products, like Quickr, I should at least be able to tell what IBM thinks I've got - without needing vendor assistance.

Not so...

Sure, when I get to the clients, it's great, I can see exactly how many Lotus Notes clients I have. Servers though... that's tricky. It's hard enough trying to remember the difference between Enterprise and Utility servers (and which one is used where in our organisation) without trying to figure out the whole processor value unit business.

There's a nice little button on the passport advantage screen that says "hide PVU Configuration". I liked the look of this and thought "wow, if I click this it might show me how many instances of the software I have - or at least it will hide those words which are making my eyes glaze over. Must click button.... arrgh..."

Anyway, I'm not sure what clicking that particular button did but it didn't make those numbers go away and it didn't make passport advantage simple enough to figure out on my own.

After a minute all that boring non-IT stuff started swirling and I felt myself losing consciousness. Luckily, I managed to click the [X] on the browser tab just as I slipped from my chair.

I guess there's still a place for the IBM business partners after all.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Blackberry Handset 0S 4.5: Media Card Killer (Constant Reboot Problem and Solution)

Blackberry OS 4.5 is out now and I've already had to upgrade one device to it because of the profile issue I mentioned in my last post.

Now since I did the upgrade on my own PC and I later reconnected my Blackberry, I was prompted to do the upgrade on my device too.

I did as requested.

Well, I might as well have ended my day there and then because a significant portion of my time from then on went towards various efforts to stabilize the device.

You see, my trusty 8800 had started an endless cycle of reboots. Coming up long enough to prompt for a pin, then rebooting again.

I tried a whole host of things, reapplying the OS, uninstalling and reinstalling my desktop software and associated Blackberry OS patch.

Nothing worked.

My call to Telstra provided no joy either.

Then I found this on Crackberry.Com. I should have looked there first.

Basically, it says that Blackberry OS 4.5 is incompatible with media cards from earlier Blackberry OSes.

It's not a new problem either because the posts indicate that the problem occurred with earlier versions of the Blackberry software.

Doesn't RIM actually test any of this stuff?

The Solution.

  1. First, Remove your SD media card and your blackberry will play nice.

  2. Now, put your media card back in without removing the battery and you should be able to reformat it. It will take a short while before the blackberry will want to reboot again - so do the next steps quickly.

  3. Go to Options (spanner icon)

  4. Choose Media Card.

  5. Press the Blackberry Button.

  6. Choose Reformat card.

  7. The interface doesn't tell you that anything is going on (which is a really nice touch from RIM - thanks guys) - but in any case, it is formatting the card.

  8. Eventually, it will tell you that the card has been formatted (about 1 minute per GB).

  9. Your Blackberry will function normally from now on though you'll have to re-copy all of the data from your local drive back to the media card (you did back it up didn't you).
Thanks a lot RIM - I didn't need the last few hours anyway. - grrr.

Upgrading Blackberry Handhelds to new Firmware (and fixing Locked Policies)

There's a lot of reasons why you might want to upgrade your blackberry's firmware including the availability of fixes/patches and new features.

One reason I didn't expect was to fix a policy issue.

The Policy Issue
Recently we split our Domino and Blackberry servers. Yes, I know that they shouldn't have been on the one server in the first place but at the time we were a bit tight for licensing.

We ended up with Blackberry on a new server, with a completely different name, IP and Notes server name. As a result, We had to wipe all our handhelds and re-activate them on the new server.

Since hardware was in short supply, (it's a long story) the original server got wiped and we no longer had any access to the original BES.

One of our handhelds unfortunately had a higher security policy.
Guess what... those little babies can survive a handheld wipe. In fact, it's a security feature.

So, the way out is simple. Fire up the old blackberry server and push a default policy back to the device. Uh... except that the old server is gone.

It turns out that upgrading the device firmware is the only way that you can remove the policy.

So how do you upgrade the Firmware?
Simply go to the Blackberry page for the provider of your blackberry connection (in our case Telstra). You should find a download link that will take you to your provider's portal into the downloads area.

From here, you pick your blackberry handheld device and the firmware upgrade you're looking for and download it.

Once the download arrives (for some reason Blackberry downloads are really slow), you can simply run the executable and let it extract.

Then, you plug your handheld into the USB cable and start up your Blackberry Desktop Manager software. It will prompt to automatically backup and do the upgrade. You just have to hit a few keys and then go away for a few hours. (yep, that's right - it takes a few hours).

Eventually your device will reboot and start working - well, except for the fact that you have to reactivate it and re-personalise it. Of course, if you're like me and you keep most of that information (ringtones, wallpapers etc) on a SD card rather than on the blackberry itself, this is a synch.

IBM is Brilliant (More on Sametime Licensing)

A few days ago I posted lamenting the loss of Sametime because neither of our production Domino servers could run it (one was way too critical and the other was running Blackberry, which doesn't happily co-exist (without a lot of tweaking thanks very much Lotus Evangelist for the info).

Thanks also to the people who posted and suggested that the licensing model allowed me to install a separate instance of domino provided that it was used for Sametime-only.

This seemed a little risky in terms of licensing interpretation, so I took the time to query IBM on it.

The response I got from IBM on this issue was nothing short of fantastic.

Why was IBM's response so good?
In the first instance, I got an admission that they weren't sure and that they'd find out.

IMHO, this is a good response because it shows that they're prepared to admit when they aren't sure of something and, more importantly, that they're geared up enough to want to find out.

I'd prefer a response like that from a vendor over a blustering cover-up any day.

Secondly, In case I needed any convincing on the value of IBM's Unified communications platforms, they managed to mobilise the appropriate people both overseas and here in Australia to respond to my question in record time. I was quite impressed.

Finally, and most importantly, the solution presented fixes my problem entirely.

Well done IBM.

Sametime Licensing
The Sametime Limited Use Entitlement documentation is available online at IBM.

There is a paragraph in this document which reads as follows;

The integrated instant messaging and awareness features available from within the client do not eliminate the need to install the Lotus Sametime server software in your infrastructure. The server components have not been integrated into IBM Lotus Domino software. However, there is no additional license charge for the entitled Lotus Sametime server software when used as indicated above.

Put simply, this suggests that in the case of Sametime (including the Limited Use version of Sametime), Domino can be treated as simply a "runtime" environment which needs no further licence provided that you don't install any additional domino applications on that server.

I probably wouldn't have interpreted it that way, but I have it on record from an IBM licensing guru, (and I asked and clarified very carefully) so, I'm satisfied.

What does this mean for you?
If you've got a version of Domino (and clients) later than 6.5.1, then you are permitted to install a second Domino server and put Sametime Limited Use edition on it.

All you need is a little bit of hardware - heck, an old PC will probably do the trick.

If you have a version of Domino and Lotus Notes Clients, there is absolutely no excuse to not make use of this functionality. Everyone should be on Sametime!

If I'd known this about the licensing a few years ago, I'd have installed it pronto. As it happens, I'll be hoping to install Domino today... and I think I'll go straight to version 8.0.x.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Goodbye Sametime

"Goodbye Sametime,
Though I never knew you at all
You had the grace to sound good
While those around you crawled..."

I'm tossing Sametime, not because it's bad software. I'm sure it's great but because I've spent a little while trying to load the limited edition server for Domino 7.0.2 and my efforts have ended in failure.

If I can't demonstrate the software to my boss and his team, then there's very little hope of us adopting it's big brother (The full client).

Years ago, when we had a spare server sitting around doing nothing, I loaded the Sametime Limited Use server onto it. The whole thing took minutes. We ran a six month pilot but nobody used it - mostly because no training was provided and because we were all cooped up together in the same office.

Nowadays, it's more common for one or more of our people to be working offsite, or from home. This means that Sametime could have some advantages.

Today I was ready to set up the software permanently. I knew all about not installing Sametime on your main production (email+web+apps) server, so I decided to install it on a smaller server. The blackberry server.

It didn't work.

I ran through a document containing about ten reasons for it not working and tried all of the associated workarounds. Then I started searching the internet to see if there are any known incompatibilities with sametime and the Blackberry.

There are.

In addition, RIM have just downgraded Blackberry Enterprise Server for small businesses to no longer have any sametime functionality so I'm not sure if there's any benefit to be had.

So, since I won't install Sametime on our main server and I can't install it on the Blackberry Professional Server - and of course, I can't put it on our test server either. I'm stuck.

The bundled software isn't very "free" if I have to buy yet another notes licence to deploy it. So that means that my people won't be seeing SameTime anytime soon - and if they don't see any benefits, they're not going to be asking for upgrades to the full product.

It's a pity really. that Sametime and Blackberry just can't be friends.

Optimising Your New Windows 2003 SP2 Domino Server

We recently bought a new server and replaced our trusty old main domino server. Some of my earlier posts covered this topic.

Our users were understandably expecting a bit of a performance boost - not that domino had ever under-performed, but hey, if you spend over $20K AU on a new server, you're entitled to expect to see some benefits.

Instead, the new server was slower than ever and we spent ages pondering the issue.

I've been rather busy of late, so this is the first server at my workplace which I haven't personally been involved in building. We got an outside party to do it. That's my excuse anyway - though admittedly, I doubt that I'd have done much better using my normal server-building routine.

Checking for the Cause
There are a few places you should check if ever you have a server which is under-performing.

  • Event Viewer
    You should always have a browse through here to make sure that there are no messages from failed services or drivers. A driver that is failing or not working to it's full potential can place a serious drag on the system.
  • Task Manager
    This is the fastest way to see what the server is doing. You can get to this with a single Ctrl+Alt+Del and a click on the task manager button. The first place to visit is the performance tab. If Either CPU or Page file usage is high, then you need to look at the processes and sort them accordingly. Eventually I'll do a post just on this.
  • Performance Manager
    Like Event Viewer, this is found under Administrative tools. It will give you a lot of options for graphs. Ultimately, your aim is to determine whether anything flatlines at 100% though be careful as sometimes this is misleading. Eventually, I'll do a post on how to get benefit from this tool.

What it wasn't
  • CPU and Memory
    It wasn't CPU, since CPU never seemed to go anywhere really. Domino is one of the most CPU friendly systems I know. It wasn't memory either. We noticed some issues with paging - it would sit at 100% for a time - regularly actually - almost like clockwork.
  • Page Files
    We increased the size of the page file - for some reason Microsoft setup doesn't always allocate the correct size. The usual best for a page file is 1.5 times memory, so for a 4GB server, a 6GB page file is suggested. Of course, this isn't strictly true because the more memory you have, the less you have a need for a page file. One thing is certain, page files significantly over 1.5 times memory aren't used by the system. They're just a waste of space.

  • Disk Issues
    Since the server was a newly loaded server, we could be certain that the problem wasn't fragmentation. Not so about the RAID controller though. We decided to split our seven drives into two RAID Arrays, a RAID 1 (Mirrored) set of 2 for the Operating System and a RAID 5 set of five for Domino and Data. I've heard that it's better for performance to put the Domino System itself on the mirrored drive but I've not had that confirmed.

  • Notes Indexing
    When moving a Domino system to a new server, you need to expect to have poor performance until the full text indexes and the views are rebuilt. An overnight LOAD COMPACT task can help to take care of some of this. Mostly though, it's a matter of time. Our problem went on too long, so this wasn't the issue.

Dumb Microsoft Things
Microsoft does a lot of awful things to the Windows Server 2003 SP2 build. You need to undo these in order to improve performance.

  • Indexing
    For a start, Microsoft turns indexing on for all drives by default. On a domino server which does nothing other than domino, this is sheer lunacy. To turn this off...

    1. Right Click on the Drive in My Computer and Select Properties.
    2. At the very bottom of the drive properties, deselect "Allow indexing service to..."
    3. Click on Ok.
    4. In the Confirm Dialog box, make sure you specify the drive and subfolders, not just the drive.
    5. Click Ok.
    6. I don't know if a reboot is necessary but it could help.

    Of course, you could just turn the indexing service off in service manager but I'd recommend disabling the flags as well in case a Microsoft Update accidental turns it back on.

  • Data Execution Protection (DEP)
    In this case, this nasty little feature was the main cause of our troubles. I did a bit of searching and couldn't find any technotes to suggest that this feature should be turned off for Domino - though there's an IBM Note suggesting it needs to be turned off for QuickR.

    Interestingly, there are plenty of notes suggesting that it needs to be turned off for Exchange.

    To turn this baby off, you need to right-mouse click on My Computer, then choose Properties. Click on the Advanced tab and then on the settings button in the Performance frame.

    In the Performance options dialog box, click on the Data Execution Prevention tab and then choose the option to Turn on DEP for essential Windows programs and services only. Click on the button marked Ok. You will need to restart your server.

Resolving Network Performance Issues
In our case, a few PCs also had network performance issues. To sort these out, we turned on TCP/IP Port Compression. Here's how to do it.

For the Server
  1. Open Domino Administrator
  2. Click on the Configuration Tab
  3. In the left hand pane, expand Server and click on Configurations.
  4. In the middle panel Choose the server configuration you want to modify.
  5. In the right hand pane, expand server then click on Setup Ports...
  6. Click on the appropriate port (Usually TCPIP) but check to see that it's enabled to be sure.
  7. Tick the checkbox marked Compress Network Data and then click Ok.
  8. You need to restart the domino server for this setting to take effect.

Note that this setting will only produce benefit if other servers and clients have port compression enabled - otherwise it will send uncompressed data.

To turn port compression on for a Lotus Notes client;

  1. Select from the Notes menu, File, Preferences, User Preferences.
  2. In the User Preferences Dialog, choose ports.
  3. On the ports screen choose the correct port (it will be the one that is enabled) and tick the box marked Compress Network Data.
  4. Click Ok

You will need to restart your Notes Client for the settings to take effect.

One final note: Thanks to the guys at Convergence without whose assistance I probably never would have found these settings.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

When Hardware Leasers Try to Kill You

Following on from my other "when xxx tries to kill you" posts, here's a beauty which just happened to us.

Our company leased a multi-function device from a large brand-name company (who shall remain unnamed) and the device worked very well for about a year.

During that year we used the device as a colour photocopier, printer and scanner. It had some other brilliant capabilities too, like the ability to OCR a word document and scan things to JPEG or PDF.

It could save files on our network shares and could send those files as emails to us both internally and externally via the domino server. It even hooked into our Domino LDAP nicely allowing us to lookup any email address that was in our address books.

After about a year, we decided that the device was so good, that we would upgrade to the next model - in fact, that we'd get two of the next model and that we'd be using the device as a fax as well.

So the large corporation turned up and swapped out our old devices for new ones and everything has been going well for the past year.

Then, out of the blue, we started getting emails to suggest the machine needed paper. The emails were from a different email address, a different company - even a different company. Nevertheless, they were addressed to our internal administration groups for the copiers.

I used the web to look up and contact the company responsible and they confirmed that indeed, they had run out of paper in the last ten minutes. It seems that they had our old machine but hadn't wiped it.

I then contacted the large manufacturer/retailer who originally leased the equipment to us. At first they weren't particularly concerned (or interested) but then I stated that it was a legal matter and that the configuration still had ip addresses of our servers and passwords.

Sure, our firewall would protect us - unless they hacked the VPN (unlikely) or came onsite (also unlikely) but the fact remains that the device had not been wiped and that it contained system information which may or may not have been encrypted - depending on how these systems store it.

The retailer then played hand-me-around with it's management people for a little while and then they told me that they'd sold the device to another company who had then re-sold the device to it's current owners. They therefore had no right to ask the current owners to remove out settings from the device.

It's with our legal people now but the moral of this story is...

Don't let ANY equipment which may have corporate data on it leave your office without completly erasing it first - even if it's only going for repairs.