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Once upon a time I decided to try out OpenDNS. OpenDNS is a free alternative to using your ISP’s DNS servers. Besides allowing me to be less dependent on Comcast, which is great, OpenDNS also offers potentially speedier DNS lookups, phishing filtering, domain blocking and typo correction. I’m still in the testing phase, but so far it seems to live up to the promises.

I only had one hitch in the setup: when I switched over my computers to OpenDNS, I could no longer ping any of them on the LAN by hostname. The pings would head off onto the Internet and be unresolved, rather than staying on the LAN. With a little websearch, I discovered that there is an easy fix. The problem is that OpenDNS doesn’t make it easy to find, because they use terms that the ordinary home user wouldn’t to describe the problem. In fact, the fix should should be a default setting, given that OpenDNS specifically targets home users. Fix:

  1. Change the DNS addresses on your static IP computers and in your DHCP config on your router to 208.67.222.222 and 208.67.220.220 (don’t forget to release/renew IPs if you use DHCP)
  2. Setup an account on OpenDNS.com
  3. Add a Network (the outside IP address from your ISP) and give it a name
  4. Click Settings, go to Advanced Settings and find the section called Domain Typos
  5. Under Exceptions for VPN users click “Manage”
  6. In the box, type the name you used in step 3, click “Add’, then “Done”, then “Apply” at the bottom of the page.
  7. Give it a few minutes, and then do a test ping. Everything on your LAN should be pingable by hostname.

Source: WRT54GS and Local Names

UPDATE: I have discontinued use of OpenDNS. I couldn’t see any noticable performance gains.

Once upon a time I wanted to be able to VPN in to my home network. I researched a bit and discovered that my Windows XP Pro computer could be set up natively as a VPN server. I followed the built-in wizard, forwarded the appropriate ports on my router, and was up and running. But, the VPN connection only worked with the PPTP protocol and I wanted to be able to use L2TP/IPSec, because of its stronger security. The XP documentation says it supports L2TP, but it’s not so easy to set up, because of lack of documentation, and lack of default support for NAT traversal (apparently, Microsoft thought that this feature was a vulnerability, because they removed it by default in SP2.)

This is my most ambitious Technical Bedtime Story yet. The solution took days of googling and experimenting to get just right, but it works (by all means, please let me know if you know of a better way to do this). Here’s are the steps; I used Windows XP Pro as the VPN server and Windows Vista as the VPN client:

Create an Incoming Connection on Windows XP Pro

  1. Go to Control Panel/Network Connections
  2. Click on Create a New Connection
  3. Select “Set up an advanced connection”, click Next
  4. Select “Accept incoming connections”, click Next, Next
  5. Select “Allow virtual private connections”, click Next
  6. Check the user you want to be able to connect, click Next
  7. Select “Internet Protocol (TCP/IP)”, click Properties
  8. Check “Allow callers to access my local area network”
  9. Select “Specify TCP/IP addresses”
  10. Add two addresses from your local range, click OK, Next, Finish

Use Simple Authority to create a computer certificate on Windows XP Pro

  1. Download and Install Simple Authority
  2. Use Simple Authority to create a Certificate Authority (CA) and then a certificate. (It should put two certificates on your Desktop, with .cer and .p12 extensions)

Import the certificate on Windows XP Pro

  1. Go to Start/Run
  2. Type “mmc”, click OK
  3. In the window that pops up, click File/AddRemove Snap-in, click Add
  4. Select “Certificates”, click Add
  5. Select “Computer account”, click Next
  6. Select “Local Computer”, click Finish, Close, OK
  7. Expand the Certificates folder
  8. Right click the Personal folder, then All Tasks/Import, click Next
  9. Click Browse and find the certificate you created (pick the certificate with the .P12 extension), click Open, Next
  10. Put in the password you used when you created the certificate in Simple Authority
  11. Check “Mark this key as exportable”, click Next, Next, Finish
  12. Navigate to Personal/Certificates
  13. You should see two certificates, drag the second one to Trusted Root Certification Authorities/Certificates (if you don’t do this you will get Error 789 when you try to connect)

Import the certificate on Windows Vista

  1. Copy the certificate to the Vista machine
  2. Repeat the above process (the dialog boxes look slightly different, but it’s close enough to the XP method)

Create a VPN client on Windows Vista

  1. Go to Control Panel/Network and Sharing Center
  2. Click Set Up a Connection or Network
  3. Select “Connect to a workplace”, click Next
  4. Click “Use my Internet connection (VPN)”
  5. Type your publicly accessible hostname or IP address (the outside address of your router) in “Internet Address”, click Next
  6. Check “Don’t connect now; just set it up so I can connect later”
  7. Type your username and password,
  8. Check “Remember this password”, click Create
  9. Click Start Menu/Connect To, find your VPN connection, right click and choose Properties
  10. Click the Security tab
  11. Select “Automatically use my Windows logon name and password (and domain, if any)”
  12. Click the Networking tab
  13. In Type of VPN select “L2TP IPSec VPN”
  14. Click IPSec Settings
  15. Uncheck “Verify the Name and Usage attributes of the server’s certificate”, click OK (if you don’t do this you will get Error 835 when you try and connect)
  16. Select Internet Protocol Version 4 (TCP/IPv4), click Properties, Click Advanced
  17. Uncheck “Use default gateway on remote network” (this will create a split tunnel), Click OK, OK

Make changes to the registry on Windows Vista

  1. Open regedit on the client computer
  2. Navigate to “HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\PolicyAgent” (for XP clients it’s “HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\IPsec”)
  3. Add a new DWORD value
  4. Rename it to “AssumeUDPEncapsulationContextOnSendRule”
  5. Change its value from “0” to “2”, close regedit

Forward ports on your router

  1. Configure your router to forward the following ports to your Windows XP Pro computer: UDP 500, UDP 1701, UDP 4500

This may take a bit of extra monkeying around to work complelety. For instance, I had to delete and recreate the Incoming Connection a number of times. Good luck.

Sources: IPSec NAT-T is not recommended for Windows Server 2003 computers that are behind network address translatorsL2TP VPN connection between 2 XP computersHow to Import a Server Certificate for Use in Internet Information Services 5.0L2TP/IPSEC error 789: security layer encountered a processing error during initial negotiationsHow to configure an L2TP/IPsec server behind a NAT-T device in Windows Vista and in Windows Server 2008Using a Linux L2TP/IPsec VPN server with Windows Vista

UPDATE: I have found that there is some kind of glitch in Windows XP Pro’s “Incoming Connection”. Whether I am using PPTP or L2TP as the protocol, the VPN sometimes just stops working. I try to connect and it just won’t. If I delete and then recreate the Incoming Connection in Network Connections, it starts working again. Restarting the RRAS service doesn’t do the trick, only deleting the connection does. This usually happens after the computer hibernates and then wakes up. Something doesn’t get reset properly, ARP cache maybe? If you find a solution to this problem, please let me know.

Once upon a time it’s starting to get hot where I live, and I want to make my computer automatically hibernate at night and wake up in the morning, in order to reduce power consuption and heat. I need it on during the day, because it acts as a VPN and media server, but at night it gets no use. I only leave it on so that I don’t have to remember to turn it on in the morning, and because my wife leaves applications and documents open that I don’t know if I can close without her getting mad.

I did some looking into the problem and found many articles about how to use Scheduled Tasks to sleep/wake up the machine. But they don’t both work at the same time; they are mutually exclusive. Either you can hibernate the computer automatically and then wake it up manually, or you can wake the computer automatically and hibernate it manually. More specifically, the articles recommended using a scheduled task with the “Wake the computer to run this task” option set, to automatically wake the computer. And they recommended a scheduled task with the command “C:\WINDOWS\system32\rundll32.exe powrprof.dll, SetSuspendState” to automatically send the computer to sleep. However, this sleep approach somehow disables the computer’s ability to automatically wake up the computer because it disables wake events.

I was dissapointed to find this because I wanted a Windows native solution, and because I had already sunk so much time into the effort. But after grieving for awhile, I got over it and found a third party program that works well. Apparently the author of the program felt the same pain that I did and coded it himself. It’s called WakeupOnStandBy. Use it if you need to both automatically wake and and hibernate your computer.

Sources: How To Put the System into hibernation or Standby from Run menuAutomatically wake a hibernating Windows XP machine

UPDATE: I don’t use WakeupOnStandBy anymore. I do this instead:

  1. Go to Power Options in Control Panel and create a power profile called “day_power” that is set to never standby or hibernate, and a power profile called “night_power” that is set to hibernate after 20 minutes.
  2. Create a Scheduled Task called “day_power” with the following options:
    • Schedule: Daily at 8:00AM
    • Other settings: Wake up the computer to run this task
    • Command: C:\WINDOWS\system32\powercfg.exe /S “day_power”
  3. Create a Scheduled Task called “night_power” with the following options:
    • Schedule: Daily at 10:40PM
    • Other settings: Wake up the computer to run this task
    • Command: C:\WINDOWS\system32\powercfg.exe /S “night_power”

Once upon a time I’ve been keeping my old desktop computer alive because I’m in school and don’t have the money for a new one. I built it in 2002, and it’s doing very well for being 7 years old. But more and more I’m discovering the boundaries of what it can do. For instance, I discovered that it didn’t support the S3 sleep state (Suspend-to-RAM) by default. So, when I put Windows XP into standby to try and conserve power and reduce noise, it did neither of those things, because it only offered the S1 sleep state, which leaves all the fans turned on.

The A7V333 manual only mentions S3 in two places: jumper settings in reference to allowing USB devices to wake the computer, and a BIOS Power Management setting called “ACPI Suspend-to-RAM”, which unfortunately did not appear when I looked in my BIOS settings. After much googling, I found out that the computer must not be in jumper free mode (it is by default) if the “ACPI Suspend-to-RAM” setting is going to show up in the BIOS. I love how good ASUS is at documentation. Speaking of documentation, refer heavily to the manual and follow these steps to get S3 working:

  1. Look in the BIOS Advanced settings and find your CPU Frequency. If it’s not there, divide your CPU Speed by your CPU Frequency Multiple. For example my CPU Frequency is 133Mhz (1600Mhz/12.0x)
  2. Change the JEN jumper from 2-3 to 1-2
  3. Set the SYSCLK DIP switches to your CPU Frequency.
  4. Change the USB01_PWR and USB23_PWR jumpers from 1-2 to 2-3 (Your power supply must support +5VSB leads for this to work. Most recent power supplies do, which it should indicate somewhere on the label)
  5. Look in the BIOS Power Management settings for ACPI Suspend-to-RAM and set it to “Enabled”
  6. If you have a PS/2 Keyboard, go to Power Control and set Power On By PS/2 Keyboard to “Enabled”
  7. Download and run the MCE Standby Tool to make sure that the S3 sleep state is selected (rather than S1)

You should now be able to put your A7V333 computer into S3 Standby.

Source: a7v333 and suspend to ram

Once upon a time I was getting bugged that my TV would cut off the edges of the video when I tried to watch Live TV, or playback Recorded TV on my Windows Media Center. My set up: Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 with a S-Video connection to a Toshiba 32″ CRT television.

From everything that I’ve googled on the issue, this appears to be intentional, and is called overscan. Apparently, the electron gun at the back of the Cathode Ray Tube televisions didn’t used to be very accurate, and couldn’t hit the exact edges of the screen. So manufacturers set the gun to fire wider than it needed to. This cuts off a portion of the video at the margins, but the work around has been for TV producers to define “title safe” and “action safe” areas of the screen and keep everything important in this area when filming.

Newer display technologies like LCD and Plasma don’t suffer from this problem and can output perfectly aligned images. This allows standards like HDTV to be possible. And now, because some programs are starting to be filmed in HDTV and then converted back for regular TV viewing, the “title safe” and “action safe” conventions are being ignored.

I first noticed this while watching an episode of The Simpsons. Text crucial to understanding a visual gag was cut off on my screen, and so I started to look into the problem. I discovered that in order to fix the problem, I would have to trick Windows Media Center. Here’s how:

  1. From the Media Center main menu go to Settings/TV/Configure Your TV or Monitor
  2. Choose Next (Ignore the “Watch Video” part)
  3. Choose Traditional TV/MonitorTelevision as your Display Type
  4. Choose DVI, VGA, or HDMI as your Connection Type
  5. Choose Standard (4:3) as your Display Width
  6. If your Current Resolution is set to 800×600 leave it, otherwise change it to 800×600
  7. Choose Finish this Wizard

This tricks Media Center into outputing without an overscan margin, because it optimizes itself for display on a non-overscan monitor.

UPDATE: If the above does not work, put the following in the registry:

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00

[HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Media Center\Settings\MCE.PerUserSettings]
“optimizeFor”=”ComputerMonitor”

Once upon a time I wanted to be able to start up my computer remotely. It’s a Windows Media Center PC, so most of the time, it sits in standby waiting to start back up when it’s time to record something. Thus, often when I want to connect to it to make changes or set something to record, it’s not on.

Wake-On-Lan (WOL) is a technology that can help here. If WOL is enabled, a computer in a low power state waits for a “Magic Packet” to be broadcast to it, before it will come out of sleep. The Magic Packet is a UDP packet, sent to the broadcast address of the LAN, which contains the MAC address of the Network Adapter. If the MAC address matches the MAC of the computer, it starts up. There are many programs out there that can send a Magic Packet.

This all works very well if the computer sending the Magic Packet is on the same LAN as the sleeping computer, but requires some additional effort to get working over the Internet. Especially if the very common Linksys WRT54G is your wireless router. The WRT54G setup page employs javascript to prevent the user from entering a broadcast address, so there is a work around. Here’s what to do to set this up:

  1. Enable WOL on your computer. This is usually a setting in the BIOS. (This may not be possible if you are using a wireless card. Only the very latest cards support Wireless Wake On Lan.)
  2. If you don’t already have Firefox, download and install it.
  3. Download and install the DOM Inspector Firefox Add-on.
  4. Using Firefox, open your Linksys WRT54G admin page (usually 192.168.1.1)
  5. Click on Applications & Gaming
  6. Add a new entry: Application=”WOL”, Start=”9″, End=”9″, Protocol=”UDP”, IP Address=”200″
  7. In Firefox, click on Tools, then DOM Inspector.
  8. Use DOM inspector to find the “WOL” entry and change IP Address from 200 to 255. (Firefox will red highlight the areas you have selected in DOM Inspector, this makes it easier to narrow down to the correct element.)
  9. Click “Save Changes” on the Applications and Gaming page.
  10. Download and install a Magic Packet program that can send a packet over the Internet. I like this one: http://magicpacket.free.fr/

You should now be able to wake your computer up from where ever you are. (Also, I should say that my router has firmware version 8.00.5. I don’t know if this matters, since I don’t have any other router to test it on.)

Source: WoL (Wake on LAN) through NATWOL – Wake On LAN through Linksys router

Once upon a time I was getting angry at Vista, because it seemed like every time I turned on my laptop, the hard drive would thrash (exhibit high disk activity) for about 5-10 minutes, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. This was a problem, because it was reducing my battery life significantly.

Using the Vista Resource Monitor, I discovered that the process performing so many writes to my hard drive was a system process, PID 4, writing to the C:\System Volume Information folder. But that didn’t really shed any light on the situation, because a system process could be anything.

After googling incesantly for weeks, I discovered that my problem was shared by others, and most likely caused by Vista’s System Restore feature making a backup. Most of the proposed solutions said to simply turn off System Restore. I’ve personally never seen the benefit of System Restore; it’s never saved my rear end before. But there’s always a first time, so I didn’t want to turn it off, I just wanted it to not run when I was using the computer.

There are three solutions to the problem, (1) turn off System Restore, (2) disable the Scheduled Task that causes System Restore to run, or (3) alter the Scheduled Task that casues System Restore to run. I am partial to solution 3, as I’ve explained, but I’ll list them all:

Solution 1 – Turn off System Restore

  1. Go to Control Panel/System/System Protection
  2. Uncheck the box next to the C: drive
  3. Click OK

 

Solution 2 – Disable the System Restore task

  1. Go to Control Panel/Administrative Tools/Task Scheduler
  2. In Task Scheduler navigate to Task Scheduler Library/Microsoft/Windows/System Restore
  3. Click on “SR” in the top middle window
  4. Then click Disable in the right window

 

Solution 3 – Alter the System Restore task

  1. Go to Control Panel/Administrative Tools/Task Scheduler
  2. In Task Scheduler navigate to Task Scheduler Library/Microsoft/Windows/System Restore
  3. Right click on “SR” in the top middle window and choose Properties
  4. Click on the Conditions tab
  5. Make sure the following are checked: “Start the task only if the computer is idle for”, “Stop if the computer ceases to be idle”, “Restart if the idle state resumes”, “Start the task only if the computer is on AC power”, and “Stop if the computer switches to battery power”
  6. Click OK

 

And they all lived happily ever after. ZZZ

Source: Microsoft TechNet Forums

UPDATE: I’ve discovered that there is another thing that can kick off an annoying System Restore Point creation that thrashes your hard drive and doesn’t care if your computer is idle or on battery: Windows Defender. It creates a System Restore Point when it installs a definitions update, by default about every 3 days. According to the web, this can be turned off this way:

  1. Go to Control Panel/Windows Defender/Options/Advanced
  2. Uncheck “Create a Restore Point before applying actions to detected items”

 

Source: MAXIMUMpcguides

Also, I found that System Restore takes up a ridiculous amount of space on your hard drive, which can only be reduced through the command line. Again, way to go Microsoft, why did you even release this crappy OS? And why did it take you until 2009 to realize that you need to get user feedback through a public beta?

  1. Click the Start menu, then type “cmd” in Start Search
  2. Right click cmd and choose “Run as administrator”
  3. Paste this in the command window “vssadmin Resize ShadowStorage /For=C: /On=C: /MaxSize=2GB”

 

Source: 5 Star Support

decorative_letter_once upon a time I figured out how to use the Microsoft Remote to turn my Windows Media Center on and off. The pre-built MCE systems (like the HPs) came with this function, but I built mine myself and had to figure it out. This was a while ago, but I thought it might be useful to someone out there that’s still trying to get the most out of Windows Media Center 2005 like I am. I cobbled together this information from several forums and sites. This solution requires two things: an ACPI compatible motherboard that supports sleep mode S3, and a working Microsoft Remote Control (and receiver). And also, you shoud know in case you don’t: turning off the MCE really means putting it into standby mode. It has to be in standby mode, rather than shut down or hibernating, so that it can wake itself back up to record shows.

  1. Reboot your computer and go into the BIOS settings (probably under Power Management) and set the sleep mode to S3. This may also be called Suspend to RAM. You may also need to set your BIOS to allow Wake from USB. Sorry I can’t be more specific, BIOS settings vary widely from motherboard to motherboard.
  2. Put this in the registry

    Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00

    [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\usb]
    “USBBIOSHACKS”=dword:00000000
    “USBBIOSx”=dword:00000000

  3. Go into Device Manager, under “Mice and other pointing devices” right-click “HID-compliant mouse”, choose Properties, click the Power Mananement tab, check “Allow this device to bring the computer out of standby” and click OK. If there is more than one HID-compliant mouse object, try each one until you find the one associated with the remote.
  4. Set the computer to automatically sleep after a reasonable time of inactivity, I used one hour.

 

Now you should be able to turn on/off your Windows Media Center by pushing the PC power button in the upper right corner of the remote. Also, the TV power button in the upper left corner can be used to control your TV, if you teach the MCE remote. You can find the instructions at the bottom of the MCE Remote Manual. And they all lived happily ever after.

Source: Microsoft Support

decorative_letter_once upon a time I stumbled upon a wonderful program that makes life with Windows XP better. It’s called Junction Link Magic, and it’s wonderful because it lets you create junction points in Windows NTFS partitions, and because it’s free. Junction points are the equivalent of symlinks (symbolic links) in UNIX/Linux, basically hard shortcuts. By hard shortcuts I mean that when you, or the OS, or applications access a symlink of a file or a folder, the shortcutting is invisible and you are none the wiser. The best Windows analogy of this function is My Documents. My Documents displays as its own high level folder, but the actual files are stored somewhere else, usually C:\Documents and Settings\Your_User_Name\My Documents.

Why use junction points? My practical application is that I store a lot of video files on my main PC, most of which are accessed over the network by my Windows Media Center PC, and I am constantly running out of space. My main requirement is that I want to add space (hard drives) but I don’t want to destroy my existing folder hierarchy, because I don’t have the excess space to hold the files while I rebuild/repartition/re-array everything. I wanted something like symlinks so that I could basically add a hard drive, and then graft (mount) that space onto my existing structure. Windows XP does let you mount a new hard drive onto an existing empty NTFS folder using Disk Management, but I found that too inflexible for my needs.

Enter Junction Link Magic (JLM). JLM is just a simple GUI that does for you what you would have to do on the command line otherwise. That is to say, Windows XP can already create junction points, it’s just not fun. So now I add my hard drive, use Disk Management to get it all partitioned, move the folders I want to offload onto the new drive, and then use JLM to graft the folders right back to where they used to be. The OS and applications can’t tell the difference. It’s a flexible solution that works very well for ever expanding video libraries. And they all lived happily ever after. ZZZZZZZ

Once upon a time. Anyway, I have my Windows Media Center set up to look for videos on a network share on my main PC to populate My Videos. Recently, I decided I wanted to be able to delete videos on the main PC using the Windows Media Center remote. It’s just easier that way. If I watch a video and decide that it’s a waste of space, I can delete it from the comfort of my couch. I used to be concerned about accidentally deleting things, and so I never worried that this didn’t work. I reconsidered because of three factors: laziness, the fact that Media Center has a confirm delete dialog anyway, and rapidly diminishing hard drive space on the main PC.

As it stood, when I tried to delete a video in My Videos with the remote I received the message “COULD NOT DELETE FILE”, with the sub heading “Media Center was unable to delete [file name here].” I knew that this had to be a permissions issue, so I started playing around and eventually fixed it.

Here’s how to fix the problem. This solution assumes that the user that runs Media Center on the Media Center PC also exists on the sharing PC and has the same password, if any. It also assumes that the Media Center user has full control of the share on the sharing computer (“Permissions” on the Sharing tab in Properties of the shared folder). And the instructions are for Windows XP, but Vista is very similar.

  1. On the sharing PC, in Windows Explorer, right click the shared folder you want to be able to delete from.
  2. Choose Sharing and Security.
  3. Click on the Security tab.
  4. If your Media Center user is not in the list, click Add and use the dialog box to add the user.
  5. Click Advanced near the bottom.
  6. Select your Media Center user and click Edit.
  7. Make sure that Apply Onto has “This folder, subfolders and files” selected.
  8. Check “Delete Subfolders and Files” and “Delete” in the Allow column.
  9. Click OK, OK, OK.
  10. You should now also be able to delete videos from My Videos from the comfort of your couch.

 

And they all lived happily ever after. ZZZZZZZZ