Monday, 26 April 2010

I’ve received a number of emails this morning complimenting me on a YouTube video showing a new app that syncs with iTunes via the WiFi connection. The only problem is, I’m not the same Greg Hughes that wrote the app.

To see what all the geeky excitement is about, watch the video below.

The Greg Hughes in question is actually a guy in the United Kingdom. He tells me he’s a 2nd-year Computer Science student at the University of Birmingham. What he’s built looks pretty cool. I hope that when my namesake submits his app to the Apple Store, they accept it and let all of us get at it (I’m wondering if they won’t approve based on past decisions, and if they’ll say it performs an action already provided by an Apple product -- but I’d sure love to be proven wrong on this one).

The app is set to be submitted at the Apple App Store soon according to the author, and it looks like we can check for the latest information at http://getwifisync.com/ (there’s not much there as of the time of this writing, but that will almost certainly change) and there’s a Twitter account at http://twitter.com/WifiSync to check out.



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Apple | Tech
Monday, 26 April 2010 07:19:43 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Friday, 23 April 2010

image I’ve been fighting a bit with my installation of Outlook 2010 (beta) for the past several days. Don’t get me wrong, now: I love Outlook 2010, it’s by far the best version of Outlook ever. The ability to have multiple Exchange account visible at one time is a killer new feature, and there are a lot of other great improvements.

But Outlook can be challenging sometimes. It’s a complicated program, especially when used with Exchange. So. now was just one of those times. Consistently the program would hang and I’d have to wait for what seemed like an eternity for it to come back to a responsive state. I did a lot of analysis and narroowing down the behavior by disabling a lot of account and feature settings, and decided that it seemed to be related to a hosted Exchange account I use for my greghughes.net email service. The more account features I enabled and accessed in Outlook, the more it would hang. For example, if I accessed the calendar associated with that account and then tried to open something, or if I switched from the calendar back to the mail view, or if I tried to look up a contact, Outlook would hang. It was to the point of being ridiculous in terms of getting anything done, since the hangs could last a few minutes or more at times. Outlook actually trained me to walk away and come back in 5 minutes. But that’s better than a busted up laptop, I suppose!

I started troubleshooting this and a couple other issues I was seeing that were affecting performance. One of the problems with trying to resolve Outlook issues is that the error messages the program provides are often very generic in nature and don’t point to a root cause. If I had a dime for every time it told me I didn’t have permission to do something , or for every time Outlook told me it’s trying to connect to an Exchange server and failing, I’d be rich. There are a zillion things that can cause these generic, simple errors. And the funny thing is, sometimes it’s not even an Exchange server it’s connecting to, even though it says it is. It might be connecting to a domain controller name instead to try to go a GC lookup, for example. You have to know what to look for, and how Exchange and Outlook work, in order to solve most Outlook behavior issues. Luckily I have a lot of past experience in that department.

At any rate, I eventually got to the point where I was spending my time looking at the Exchange Server’s connection status window. To see that, you locate the Outlook status icon down in the task bar near the clock, hold down the CTRL key, and click on the icon. Then you can choose the menu option for Connection Status. You only see that option if you CTRL-click the icon, though.

     Exchange-Connections 
         (Server names omitted where appropriate to protect the innocent)

One of the first things I noticed was the fact that there were communication failures to my hosted Exchange server see the red-outlined numbers above), and that the connections were taking a long time to establish themselves. The status would stay at “connecting” frequently, and that was always the same time when Outlook was hanging. So, I figured was getting somewhere. At least I had a likely correlation. The other Exchange server, which is domain-authenticated and available on the local network, wasn’t hanging. Connections were quick and reliable (as you can see from the numbers above) on that one.

That made me think some more. Every time I start Outlook, I am prompted to enter my credentials for the greghughes.net Exchange Server. Despite the fact that I click the “save password” box when I log in, I am always prompted when starting Outlook. I had planned to see if there was a certificate mismatch problem of some sort, but with the connecting communication failures happening, I wondered if there might be a problem with the credential being passed to the server. As you can see in the connection status windows picture, the connection is an Outlook RPC over HTTPS type, and so I went investigating in the account settings for the greghughes.net account:

     image

     image

Sure enough, I found what I suspected I might: Outlook was prompting me to enter a username and password – behavior that’s associated with basic authentication – but Outlook was configured to use NTLM authentication when connecting. So, logic says that it was trying for a NTLM auth, waiting around for it to time out, and then reverting to the lower-security username and password over HTTPS. That would probably explain the communication hangs, and why Outlook wasn’t saving the plain text credentials when I asked it to.

I changed the proxy authentication setting to use basic authentication, and restarted Outlook. I was prompted to enter my credentials once, and haven’t been asked since. And, the connection to the server is much more snappy and reliable.

I don’t really know why the communication hangs started up a few days ago. Perhaps something changed settings-wise when my svchost.exe file got eaten by my AV software. I have been running Outlook 10 beta for a couple months and it was a new issue (although the credentials pop-up was consistent since installation).

But, regardless it looks like at least one or two of the problems I was having are now solved. And that’s a good thing. Now I’m off to troubleshoot some auto-archiving issues.



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Microsoft Office | Tech
Friday, 23 April 2010 17:07:55 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Many users of McAfee's virus scanning products are experiencing some real pain today due to a false positive virus alert (for the wecorl.a virus) that is resulting in dcom error reboots and in many cases the removal of the valid Windows svchost.exe from affected systems.

Despite a massive slew of articles and posts made on web sites today saying a new virus is in the wild and infecting computers (typically referring to this is a zero-day vulnerability), this is not in fact a virus outbreak, as anyone who knows how to use Google and has a remotely curious mind can discover in a matter of seconds. It’s an antivirus false-positive. The wecorl.a trojan is a couple years old, and this is not it. Even if it was a virus, it would not be zero-day.

In a nutshell, McAfee made a big mess with their AV update early this morning, and they are working feverishly to fix it. Read on.

First of all, if you're affected by the problem described below, information about a workaround fix and an update is available from McAfee at the McAfee Threat Center web site:

One of my own computers fell victim to this today, and I've been fighting with it since. I just got it back online, restored to normal and fully operational. My problem started at about 7am today and so I was figuring it out on my own, but the instructions McAfee has provided for the workaround/fix (linked above) are basically the same thing.

wecorl A DAT (virus definition 5958) file that appears was released earlier today has an issue that causes the valid Microsoft svchost.exe critical system file to be flagged as infected. It's not infected, though. This appears to impact primarily Windows XP SP3 computers, but it could be broader than that. As a result of the false flagging of the file, the McAfee AV software takes action, which can include doing nothing, quarantining the file, or in some cases removing it completely (that's what happened to mine).

If the file is quarantined or deleted, Windows stops working normally and a lot of the typical Windows functionality just isn't there anymore. Things like start menus, drag and drop capabilities, copy and paste in Explorer, and a whole lot more. You can still open Task Manager and launch new tasks manually, and the CMD window interface (command line shell) works just like always, so it's possible to get around to fix it up.

If you are running McAfee Virus Scan and have a signature file version 5958 (open the "about" dialog and look for the DAT version), then it appears you are affected. Rolling back to 5957.0000 (which was issued 4/20) will resolve the issue. There is also an "extra.dat" file available that can be dropped into the McAfee AV scanner's DAT directory while in safe mode, and then the computer should be restarted. Or if you're a business using EPO to centrally manage your AV system, you can push it out with that.

But if your svchost.exe file has been quarantined or deleted, you'll have to do some hands-on repair (at east for now, until a better solution is put together). The link at the top of this article walks you through what's needed.

This is a serious challenge today for McAfee. Their web sites appear to be badly overloaded and I have friends in the business who are waiting on hold with McAfee for extended periods on time. In speaking with people working at other (huge) companies, it's apparent the impact is huge and widespread. Thousands of people who should be working are dead in the water now, so to speak, with no computer to do their work on.

I hate to think what the financial impact of this is. It's got to be huge. Follow the link above and check it for updates from McAfee as time goes on.



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IT Security | Tech
Wednesday, 21 April 2010 12:07:18 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 08 April 2010

image Apple today announced a technical preview (for registered developers) of iPhone OS v4, which will be released to the public this summer.

It adds a whole slew of new features and capabilities, one of few of which will apply only to the latest models of the iPhone due to computing power requirements:

iPhone OS 4 will work with iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, and the second- and third-generation iPod touch this summer, and with iPad in the fall. Not all features are compatible with all devices. For example, multitasking is available only with iPhone 3GS and the third-generation iPod touch (32GB and 64GB models from late 2009).

The mail and multitasking capabilities will be big, so will the addition of eBooks (using the same store as the iPad) and the ability to organize apps on the screen into folders. Today you have to page through screen after screen, all on one “level,” but with the new OS that story changes.

At the enterprise level, there are some other substantial changes and improvements in areas such as app distribution (wireless app distribution for the enterprise is here) as well as security and device management – and all of these are important if Apple wants to make the iPhone something a secure and well-managed enterprise can leverage. Cisco and Juniper are working on SSL VPN apps to allow secure access to the enterprise, as well.

Oh, and they are adding their own advertising network to the iPhone app story, with a service called – shockingly – iAd. Go figure.

The iPad will get OS v4 this fall, according to Steve Jobs during a press Q&A session.

Too bad I don’t have a 3GS, so no multitasking for me until i replace this iPhone (which now sports a badly-cracked glass screen, but still works great).



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Thursday, 08 April 2010 10:48:32 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 07 April 2010

TechCrunch reports today that Google is dog-fooding (using and testing internally) a desktop app that lets you make Google Voice calls.

Google announced the acquisition of Gizmo5 last year, a company with an app that provides Internet based calling software for mobile phones and land lines. At that time they pointed out the Gizmo5 folks would be joining the Google Voice team and working to enhance Google Voice for the future: “Gizmo5's engineers will be joining the Google Voice team to continue improving the Google Voice and Gizmo5 experience.”

This is something to look forward to. Google Voice is a great service, and filling in some of the gaps in the current offering would round it out quite well.

UPDATE: At Download Squad, their sources inside Google indicate that something is coming, as well: “…Google sources have confirmed this as well, saying "We're looking at a full, free, VOIP/SMS desktop client...It's amazing.”



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Tech
Wednesday, 07 April 2010 21:06:55 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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image Richard and I recently interviewed Nick Simons, a program manager at Microsoft who works on the Office Web Apps. He’s been there quite a while, and can say (with pride) that he killed Clippy, that annoying little character that thought he knew what you were trying to do, but often got it wrong and ultimately got removed from the office suite.

In our interview on RunAs Radio this week, Nick discusses Microsoft’s Office Web Apps and how people can use Office 2010 and the Web Apps to share and collaborate, and how it all integrates with SharePoint 2010 and Windows Live Skydrive.

He also briefly describes how they killed Clippy back in the day, and why.

Nick Simons Puts Office on the Web
RunAs Radio Show #155 -- 4/7/2010 (36 minutes)

  • This week’s show page on RunAsRadio.com (with RSS feeds and various available file formats)
  • Direct link to the MP3
  • RSS feed to subscribe to the MP3 format


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Microsoft Office | SharePoint | Tech
Wednesday, 07 April 2010 14:46:26 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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I have two different Exchange Servers and associated accounts open and active at the same time in my copy of Outlook 2010. That’s a new feature in the new version of Outlook, by the way: multiple Exchange accounts visible in one profile – Quite a great change over previous versions!

I’ve had a problem ever since installing this beta copy of Office 14, though. In the to-do bar (that sidebar thing on the right side of the Outlook window that shows you a bunch of info such as monthly calendars, upcoming appointments, contacts, tasks, etc.) the calendar from which appointments were being displayed was not the calendar I wanted. The info being shown there was not useful, because that calendar wasn’t the one I use.

So, I was trying to figure out how to change the calendar displayed there to the one associated with my other Exchange account. How Outlook chose which calendar to display, as far as I could tell, was a matter of which Exchange Server I set  up first when I installed Outlook.

imageI tried a number of things, including looking at every setting available in Outlook’s Options screens, changing the default mail account in the Outlook account properties dialog, and searching the registry for info, but in the end it was something much simpler. It took a bit of trial and error, but I finally figured it out.

What fixed it was calling up the account info screen (File > Info), then opening the “Account Settings” dialog, switching to the “Data Files” tab, highlighting the OST file associated with the account that contains the calendar I wanted to have displayed, and then clicking the “Set as Default” button. Then I closed the dialog box, shut down Outlook and restarted it, and lo and behold the correct calendar was showing. Freakin’ magic, I tell ya.

You’d think this solution might be a bit easier to find (I searched far and wide in the help and on the web), but at any rate it’s fixed now. And since I will probably forget the next time I need to do this, here it is recorded for posterity’s sake.

The Outlook Blog has a bunch of cool info about the Outlook 2010 version that users should find interesting and useful. Anyone know any other cool little tweaking tricks for Outlook 2010 that people should know about?



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Microsoft Office | Tech
Wednesday, 07 April 2010 14:30:08 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Saturday, 03 April 2010

I drove down to Best Buy today to check out the iPads they had on display and for sale. It was about 1:30 p.m. when we arrived and they still had quite a few in stock, but only the 32GB and 64GB models. The 16GB iPads had sold out just before we arrived.

My impressions of the device were this: It was a little heavier than I thought it would be, and a little thicker feeling, but a nice size. It has a great display and is very snappy and responsive. The iPhone apps displayed at 2x resolution were generally pretty blocky looking, but useable at least until a higher-resolution version is released. I wouldn’t want to keep viewing some of them for too long just because it was hard to look at them that way for more than a few minutes. Maybe I’m just spoiled.

Why do I want one of these things? There are a variety of reasons, but one particular reason tops my list. I’m very much looking forward to running ForeFlight Mobile HD on the iPad in the future. The picture on the right shows a couple cool screens of the aviation application revamped for the iPad’s larger display. They’ve iPad-ified acreens for plates, maps, weather, downloads, and airport data. They’ll be adding a bunch of other iPad enhancements in a future update.

Anyhow, back to my check-out-the-iPad experience… The Best Buy sales guy said ( in a “you didn’t hear it from me” sort of way) that they would have another shipment of them in next Sunday. For what it’s worth. I asked for and got a paper from the guy entitling me to go to the front counter and pick up a 32GB model and continued to shop at the store. But, as I thought about it I kept returning to my position over the past few days: The iPad doesn’t have enough value for me without the 3G radio built in. I was considering buying one for use around the house, but just couldn’t justify buying two of these in the first month.

So, I returned the paper to the floor sales guy and said thanks, but I was going to wait for the 3G models. He nodded and said he understood.

It’s a cool device with a nice interface. It’s a lot like a big iPod Touch or iPhone, as the kids pointed out. But it also can do more than the smaller devices in terms of app capabilities and performance.

I’ll pick one up once the 3G models are out. For now, I’ll wait.



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Apple | Mobile | Tech
Saturday, 03 April 2010 20:06:48 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Friday, 02 April 2010

I’m a power user of both Google Voice and Microsoft Outlook (currently using the 2010 beta version at home). One of the interesting little speed bumps that accompanies the Google Voice service is the fact that, in order to have a phone call to one of your contacts appear as if it’s being initiated from your Google Voice number, you have to dial out to a custom phone number that the Google Voice service provides/assigns to every number you dial.

In other words, let’s say I want to call (999) 888-7777 from my cell phone. And that I want the Caller ID info to display my Google Voice phone number, not my cell phone’s information. In order to do this, I have a few options:

  • Dial via the Google Voice browser interface – GV allows me to enter a number from the web interface (or click to call a GV contact), which results first in my phone ringing, and then when I answer it I wait on the line while the service dials the person I am trying to call. GV acts as a sort of automated operator, connecting me and the other party.
  • Dial a special unique phone number – Specifically a number assigned by Google Voice, which is a sort of “proxy” number. Typically beginning with area code 406, I have to know the number to dial. If I dial that number, the GV service forwards the call to the proper recipient’s phone number, and their phone rings. Google Voice sends my GV caller ID info to their phone. The problem is, I have to have a way to actually find out this number, and the only practical way to do so is to ask the person to send a text message to my GV phone number. Magically, when they do that GV shows the special (406) number that I need as the number that sent the txt message. It works, but it’s kludgy.
  • Use the Google Voice iPhone web app to dial any phone number – This option allows me to dial someone similar to the “proxy number” option above, except that I don’t actually have to know the proxy number ahead of time. Interestingly, the iPhone app sends the recipient’s actual phone number to the GV service, then gets a (406) proxy number back and presents me with a brief dialing to call that number. So, it handles the “What number should I call” problem and doesn’t require me to convince my friend to send me a txt message to find out his or her 406 number.

So – That last option raises some interesting questions. The iPhone/mobile web app is apparently capable of taking, via some API, a phone number and then returning a GV number to dial. Now, I haven’t snooped the network traffic or looked to see how this is actually done under the hood, but it makes me think. Assuming that there’s for sort of API available, how else might I want to use it?

It’s not too much of a stretch: Since I use a GV number for my work number in my home office, it would be *very* useful to me to be able to click on a phone number in Outlook (in an email, in a contact, etc.) and have it dial the (406) number that the GV service can possibly provide. A nice, clean way to dial wherever the number appears on the screen would be great to have. Unfortunately, Office 2010 appears to have removed support for it’s old Phone Number Smart Tag (all smart tags seem to be deprecated, in fact). So how to recognize and hook into phone numbers would be one of many open questions.

I can imagine some other probable complicated moving parts that have to be accounted for (for example, authentication and user context: Does GV appears to assign the same (406) numbers to multiple GV users, but for different numbers. In other words, where a given number in the context of my account might dial 999-888-7777, the same (406) number on another GV account might be assigned to ring 555-444-3333).

But -- if it can be done, this seems like something that people would be willing to buy for say, $9.95 or so a pop. I know I would. Or maybe Google should build it an ship it for free, just to push adoption and gain some traction among the Outlook-anchored crowd.



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Geek Out | Tech
Friday, 02 April 2010 10:25:08 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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I decided the other day that I won’t be in the lines on Saturday morning when the iPad becomes available at Apple stores and Best Buys around the country. Cory Doctorow also says he won’t buy one, but for different reasons. He goes so far as to say you shouldn't get one either. Interesting arguments. I’ve discussed before – here on this site - some of the reasons I think I want one, as well as some of the concerns I have about it, and in the end I do want to acquire one.

But, this Saturday’s event won’t be for me.

Why? I’m going to wait for the 3G-equipped model.

The more I think about it, the more I realize I need portability in the iPad if I am going to use it, meaning portability and network access across the boundaries and gaps of WiFi networks. I plan to use an iPad from the road, in the hangar, at any random place where I might land and want to check a weather report and email, that sort of thing. So, without an available-most-everywhere data service (a phrase that some, I know, will debate at length), it just won’t meet my needs.

So, I wait.

Anyone else waiting for the 3G models before buying? Too bad they’re not available on day-one. I’d grab my lawn line chair and head right down there if they were.

Update: A good New York Times article talks about perceptions, limitations and redundancy in the iPad. Interesting perspective.



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Apple | Mobile | Tech
Friday, 02 April 2010 09:32:42 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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