Power Of Community–Virtualization Reality–Halifax Leg

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DSCN5321 (640x480)On the continuing Eastern leg of the Virtual Reality community tour – I drove from Sydney to Halifax yesterday morning in order to make an up time, avoid the fog (which closed the airport) in order to talk with professors and IT staff at Nova Scotia Community College. The meeting was setup by my friend David Jelico – a prof that is very passionate about Technology and teaching students a balanced approach to surviving a career in IT. Topic was about private / public cloud and how the college could incorporate it into their curriculum as well as embrace some of the technology themselves.

As is always the case with David – his passion shines through and lots of lively conversation ensued with a full Q&A back and forth with everyone in the room. Nothing like keeping “the Microsoft guy” on his toes, eh?

After grabbing a bite to eat between sessions at “The Q” (best damn rib and BBQ joint in Halifax hands down) we hopped the ferry to cross over and setup for an evening event at the NSCC Waterfront campus – overlooking the beautiful harbour. If I had to choose a campus with a view – this would be the one.

The event itself was a bit modified. We had lower numbers then previous cities, so I modified the content to be better suited to a smaller crowd and focused on engaging and talking with the guys and showing / building the environment collaboratively with them. I say “building” mainly because I had a hardware issue that made it so I had to completely rebuild one of my Host Hyper-V servers which was left in a default install state. The demos were extended to literally build the second Host and enable it to work as the second node cluster for the highly available VM system.

After the event – I offered up a round of drinks for good measure at my favourite local establishment “The Old Triangle” where it happened to be jam night – bring your own instrument for traditional down home kitchen party. I kind of regret not picking up the Bohran to play a tune myself – but I was otherwise engaged in talking with Rob about his plans to setup a Canadian Home Grown Hosted Datacenter service using the full suite of MS technology (System Center Virtual Machine Manager, System Center Opalis, System Center Operations Manager, Hyper-V and more). I look forward to sharing his story with you here as they build it out and how they use these technologies to offer up hosted infrastructure to their Canadian customers.

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I’m writing this post the day after – enjoying a rare day in the sun on the wharf downtown in Halifax. I was working at a Co-Working space called “The Hub” earlier today, but the sunshine was calling and I had a lunch meeting with a friend so I took advantage of some mobile technology and charged laptop in order to write with a view of the ocean.

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Power of Community: Virtualization Reality–Sydney

One of the challenges we face as IT folk is taking the time to work on our professional networking skills at in-person events. I mean seriously – we’ve worked all day, solved peoples problems and kept servers and systems running. At the end of the day – we mostly just want to go home. IT Folks are few and far between that want to take the time OUT of their personal lives outside of working hours in order to get together and talk about technology.

The concept of The Virtualization Reality community tour was to go out to established groups of like minded Technical Professionals and give them the straight goods on what the Microsoft Virtualization stack can do. Whenever we ask groups what we can do so support them – the answer is always – “get us speakers and content for my group”. From the beginning with this tour – I mentioned that we would not be restrictive on where we go – so long as there was a local champion to help out. We had to make the investment and go to locations that we haven’t been before – to show support of the efforts the local community members. 

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For the Eastern leg of this tour – I’m in Sydney Nova Scotia right now (can you tell) – the day after the event before I drive down to Halifax to continue the tour. I mentioned the intent to support established groups – but what about areas where there are currently NO GROUPS to speak of? We don’t come out much this way – so much so that we actually made the business section of the paper over the weekend with an article that “Microsoft was Coming to Town”. The driving force for coming out was the passion of a couple of guys from a local Professional Services company here in Sydney called AG Research

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That’s Joe on the left, Darryl on the Right – met them both a couple of years back at TechDays Halifax. They told me at the time “Come on up to Sydney – the weather is great and there are lots of IT folks out this way who would love to see ya”. So when Darryl contacted me to say he’d sign up to host an event, how could I refuse.

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Kudos to Darryl and Joe for pulling this off! Also – an awesome show of support from their company AG Research for both giving them the opportunity to host this and put on an event for the local IT Community AND driving awareness with their customers. Weather has been great (reminds me of a beautiful Summertime day in my hometown of Saint John, NB) for my drive up from Halifax.
Over 30 people showed up last night with lots of questions and interest to learn about the Microsoft Virtualization stack.

 

The real value is hopefully going to continue – I encourage everyone to keep in touch and establish a group that regularly gets together and supports each other in the local community. I’ll do my best to come out again.

Info: Windows 8–first peek at UI and experience

I’ve been anxiously awaiting for some REAL visuals and a first demo at the experience of what Windows 8 could look like. Finally after waiting a couple of years, Sinofsky was on stage talking about Windows 8 with Walt on stage at AllThingsD. Before continuing have a look at the video they published below.

>(embeded code won’t work – use this link instead)

Love it.

Pure AwesomeSauce!

A Couple of points I heard listening to the whole thing:

  • user gets to choose what’s on the start experience
  • works with older programs
  • companies could add programs to start experience (group policy?)
  • same interface on multiple form factors, touch or not

I could see myself using that split keyboard on a slate form factor while working from the couch! Then walking over to my desk to switch to bluetooth enabled keyboard for heaver writing jobs.

Digging a little further – there is a Windows team video by Jensen Harris, Director of Program Management of the Windows User Experience team. Nicer view of the functionality and no interruptions.

This is the first time I’ve see this UI and build of Windows – I’d be pulling the wool over your eyes if I said I had access to more info or details about plans, ship date, enterprise deployment or formfactors – Nadda. Zip. Ziltch!

All I know is I am freakin’ excited.

If you have anything to do regarding building apps, user interfaces or are curious about the next version – you should sign up and get your ass over to BUILD

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(link to calendar.ics file with deets)

We saw the first glimpse of the client in a consumer setting. 

Show Me The Server!

HowTo: Optimizing your Home Wireless Network

SNAGHTML25d5ade1So now that we have Joey figured out in the last article – I got pinged by @kjb_Photography on twitter yesterday – asking about extending coverage in his home wireless networking environment. I could take the consultant answer easy out and reply “it depends” but hey – this is a learning environment, let me share what I did in my house and what you can do to yours to improve your WiFi experience at home with consumer hardware.

First off – I don’t proclaim to be a wireless expert in any sense of the word. I read the manuals (on occasion) or ping my friends who actually ARE wireless experts who implement secure wireless solutions for the likes of various acronym “security agencies” here in Canada.

Where would I start? Know your Antennas.

WRT54G_Linksys_Router_with_7_dBi_AntennasMost home networking routers have your typical antennas that should be for the most part oriented straight up (or down if ceiling mounted) and away from any dense structures like walls or metal filing cabinets. To keep this simple – the signal strength emanates outwards from these antennas for the most part as a circle (or ellipse) and when they are upwards or downwards facing – the signal extends horizontally in all directions (omnidirectional). If you rotate the antenna to ne horizontal – it would go vertical in all directions – if you get my drift. Here’s a picture of my main router bad boy Linksys with upgraded 7 dbi antennas. More dbi – more power (I feel like Tim the Toolman right now). Wireless N routers with multiple antennas or internal antennas are different with their spread – but whatever modem you purchased probably came with a manual or online link to a manual talking about placement and antenna coverage. Go dig it out and find it – RTFM.

The single most screwed up reason why WiFi sucks at your house?

Location… Location… Location!

Get yourself a good LONG cable to put your main AccessPoint/Router wherever you are going to get the best coverage for your home / office layout. Don’t put it up against a wall unless you want less coverage behind that wall – especially if it is a cement wall or in my case a double layer brick wall (live in a century home). You know that you should chuck out that dinky little 2 foot Ethernet cable that comes with your internet modem or router and get a 50 footer or whatever suits your needs to optimally place your router for coverage.

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I approached wireless in my house the same way I would approach fitting up an office. Where would you put wireless access points with antennas to cover the best signal horizontally (not vertically)? I have that big dual 7 dbi Linksys as the main internet router and Wireless AccessPoint at the back on the second floor. I then run a cable up to the home office on the 3rd floor to my main switch where I have a generic dLink router/wireless combo device plugged in for 3rd floor coverage. My second run goes down under the kitchen into the basement and up into the middle of the 1st floor. my Linksys 610N sits on top of a bookshelf – away from the exterior walls.

Ideally I would put the main router in the middle of the second floor – but I chose the back for two reasons – it gives me signal in the back yard and it is where the main internet line comes into the house.

That’s a lot of AccessPoints!

imageYes – I am “Tim the ToolMan” excessive with coverage in my house – but I had old routers laying around. The trick to make everyone happy is to have each router configured with the same SSID and the same WPA2 password. I also choose channels and frequencies where there is less congestion with my neighbours (more on this later). I  can “roam” from floor to floor, inside and out without an issue.  To configure the two AP devices (again – just regular routers I had laying around) I configured each so they had unique IP addresses – I use the 192.168.10.x network so something as simple as 192.168.10.1 for main router, 192.168.10.2 for dining room and 192.168.10.3 for the home office.  Each was plugged in to the INTERNAL bank of Ethernet ports – not the INTERNET port that is usually plugged in to the internet provider. I also turned off all DHCP servers except for the main Linksys.

You own router might have specific modes where it acts just as an Access Point – mine didn’t so I went the manual route I described above.  I didn’t have to go out and purchase APs directly for additional cost – I just used what I had at hand. Likewise – you can BUY AccessPoints that are not routers and all they do is serve up wireless networks.  I strategically placed my new Linksys 610N on the main floor so I could run a cable from it directly to my xBox – can’t do that with a simple AccessPoint.

So – a long story to say that the quickest and easiest way to extend your wireless network is a two step process:

  1. Properly place the first router/Wi-Fi point in your house centrally for coverage.
  2. get yourself a long cable to plug into the first router networking ports and run the cable to second Wi-Fi router / Access Point where you need more coverage.
    1. just make sure you configure the second router to not serve up DHCP
    2. have a proper IP address that is different then your main router
    3. plug the cable into the regular networking ports – not the INTERNET port
    4. duplicate the SSID and WPA2 password as the first router

A second option is to opt for a Wireless Repeater type of Access Point – but I’m not a fan of these – mainly because your second device that is placed further away from the main AccessPoint will be “serving up” a connection that will have a bottle neck of however fast / however reliable the WiFi is at it’s location.  So sure – you have strong signal, but you have a choke point of throughput as it relays the network traffic to the 1st Access Point.  Go with cable – cheap and Fast.

Do you know if you have Spectrum Congestion?

Lastly – I mentioned Channels and less congestion. Everyone has wireless devices in your neighbourhood and they all talk on the same frequency and similar channels of that frequency.  More chatter = crappier speed and reliability. Best solution for you to find the right spectrum from multiple points in your house?  A laptop with a free copy of inSSIDer 2 running to help you determine what your local spectrum looks like for congestion.

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You can see I live in a congested area and I currently have strong signal in my house over the channels I have the wireless set to use.  However – what you don’t see is that even though there are at least 6 routers that support Wireless N technology – none of them are configured to use the 5 GHz range which is currently Free and Clear to use.

Looks like I need to upgrade my wireless networking gear.

What does your wireless architecture look like?

Wanted: Designer or Framework?

imageBefore anyone says anything – yes – I am not a designer / WP expert in the slightest sense. I design infrastructure, put up servers and architect solutions for a living – I don’t make them look nice. Hence the reason this blog currently has a default theme and no framework or cool thingies / widgets down the side.

I need to invest in creating a better online presence for “Regular IT Guy” but at this point I am more focused on useful and relevant content. Imagine that? Smile Get the story right, then work on execution.

If you have suggestions on what to do / what frameworks to use or if you would like to partner with me to make this a better place – I’d love to talk with ya. Drop me a note in the comments or send me an email rick@regularitguy.com

How to re-broadcast a public WiFi network

I was catching up with Joey the @AccordionGuy earlier today – chatting over coffee. He used to work on the same team as me at Microsoft before heading out on his next adventure. His current gig has him living in a luxury furnished bachelor pad here in Ottawa with all the amenities – including Big Screen TV, stereo, private coffee bar and free High-speed internet.

Seriously – what more could you ask for?

imageHow about a better internet service – one with a WIRED connection? You see – his internet is provided by a common travelers ISP who shall remain nameless (starts with Data, ends with Valet).  It’s the type of service where you login and you are allowed to use ONE IP at a time. That’s a bit stingy and old school in a world where we all carry multiple WiFi connected devices (iPad, Slates, Tablets, Xbox 360s, smartphones, laptops, desktops).  Remember – I did say that he is living here away from his home base for the summer – he’s got lots of requirements for connectivity – AND NO WIRED INTERNET CONNECTION. Normally this would be an easy fix – buy a travel router and plug in – done deal. I remembered that I used to have a hardware travel router that could re-broadcast one WiFi network as your own and therefore share it with multiple devices. Unfortunately as with some things that I touch – this travel router died for some reason and I was left scratching my head for options.

CTR350Part of my Traveling kit of technology I use for my day job while presenting on the road is a Cradlepoint CTR350 travel broadband router. It has the ability to very simply plug in to a wired connection and act as an Access Point for wireless devices. Very simple – but requires either a wired connection OR a USB DataStick activated with Bell or Rogers in order to have an internet source. It doesn’t have the re-broadcast capabilities I am looking for in this situation. Plus – I wasn’t about to leave it in Joey’s hands for the summer – you never know what kind of surfing he’d be doing.

Wireless N Portable Router (CTR35)                                             A little further research and I discovered that the current product line is called the Cradlepoint CTR35 and has the feature I am looking for – WiFi as WAN. This simply allows you to re-broadcast a visible secure or unsecured WiFi network with your own SSID and settings – for up to 16 wireless clients. I won’t bore you with the details – but here’s the step by step process on how to enable it on their CTR35 device (remind me to go pick one up, would you?).  There – one problem solved – Joey just needs to find one and he’s off to the races.

If you are a road warrior – invest some cash and get something like this – especially the updated CTR35 with this re-broadcasting capability – it will pay off in spades. I use my older one with USB stick to offer up Internet connectivity at locations where public WiFi isn’t available and I want to give access to friends around me.

But what if I don’t have one?

imageDigging further still – there is some free software that builds upon the little known WiFi Access Point hotspot mode of Windows 7. I found out about this from @Oising at TechDays Montreal back in November of 2010. You can take a Wired internet connection and broadcast it out over your supported Wireless card – provided it’s running a supported set of drivers. I mention it Builds upon the solution since it ALSO adds the ability to re-broadcast a public WiFi network.  The software called “Connectify” – it’s FREE (ad supported) and is available from http://connectify.me/

After downloading it from the webpage (links to download.com) and running the install – it does recommend you install a specialized browser for Facebook (they make something like that?) which I quickly declined. I authorized it to install a couple of connectify network drivers (required for the magic of simplifying the re-broadcasting) and then launched the program. It runs minimized in your system tray and has an easy to use non-technical Wizard interface to set things up for you.

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I don’t quite get the dude with the roman outfit – but whatever turns your crank I guess.

Remember the part where I mentioned “supported drivers”. Well – it turns out that my sample laptop (Dell Latitude XT2 tablet) I was setting this up on does not have a supported wireless card that would support turning my laptop into a Wireless Access Point – only an Ad-Hoc network which doesn’t cut the mustard.

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Bummer. To save yourself some time – here is their list of supported cards / wireless chipsets.

All that being said – their interface – once you are past the wizard to do the initial configuration seems simple enough – you bring it up from the task bar icon.

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Stuck like me with a laptop that isn’t supported and still want to use it? If you read through to the bottom of their list of supported and unsupported cards – you’ll notice one USB wireless adapter that is supported – Intellinet Wireless-N USB Adapter. You can pick one of these up and be on your way.

A quick check of the other laptops and netbooks across the house revealed that I’m S.O.L. I can’t actually test this puppy out! Looking at the techspecs of Joey’s Dell laptop – he has a 75% chance it will work (he has 4 options of wireless cards – three are on the good list).

This blog post ends with a “to be continued” until I can find hardware in my crib that actually is supported – or if I hear back from any of you about your personal experiences. Please do tell – did it work for you?

What about you Joey? any luck or are you going the Cradlepoint hardware route?

Swapping out the php.ini file for uploads

Maybe I am just a glutton for punishment. My other online buddy @rbuike – who also dabbles in WordPress on occasion has suggested I check out some php.ini file modifications. I updated the file based on this link he sent over from the support forums:

memory_limit = 100M
upload_max_filesize = 192M
post_max_size = 100M
file_uploads = On

As a result – I do now see a changed admin interface for media uploads – which should solve some issues I have with podcast episodes being too large to upload… but does it fix any of the whacked out picture issues from LiveWriter?

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This is a picture I took while flying back from Newfoundland – it’s actually 1600×1200 and I changed it to 640 x 480 within LiveWriter to see if it helps. Previous attempts failed at this point – let’s hit publish to see how she works.

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Nope – try… try again…

Windows Live Writer and WordPress Image Uploads

imageOk – not exactly the first post I wanted to put up – but I’ve spent the better part of an evening with @energizedTech helping me figure out why I have been unable to easily upload blog posts with images imbedded in them written by LiveWriter. I was leaving the default options of using the RPC connectivity to upload the files correctly into the Media library on the WP blog – nothing was working if the image pixels were over 300 x whatever – it just failed!

Web interface was no help either – I’d go into media libraries, manually upload a larger file (600 x 399 as an example) and it would error out on me after uploading with a simple red HTTP Error – seeming to fail.  But – with a refresh of the library contents – low and behold – the file would be there! To include it into a post – it would be a manual edit/add into a post to include the picture from the media library and finally – the thing would be done.

not exactly your easiest fix to get this working. Kinda stupid really. Got any ideas – I am all ears!

My work around for now? Using the FTP upload option properly configured to my particular hosting provider (1 and 1) and blog location.

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Rockin’ it old school – just for some screenshots and simple image uploads! Thanks LiveWriter for having some flexibility on image storage options.