Vol. 19, #26 - June 30, 2014 - Issue #986
Finding Tech Support Online
- Editor's Corner
- NEW! Ask our Readers
- From the Mailbag
- Finding Tech Support Online
- Tip of the Week: Group Policy and WMI Filtering
- Recommended for Learning
- Microsoft Virtual Academy
- Quote of the Week
- Admin Toolbox
- Admin Tools We Think You Shouldn't Be Without
- Events Calendar
- Asia Pacific
- Webcast Calendar
- MSExchange.org Exchange CON 2014 Registrations are Open!
- Register for Webcasts
- Tech Briefing
- Windows Server
- Windows Client
- System Center
- Microsoft Azure
- Windows Server News
- Seven steps to shrink your cloud storage bill
- A different use for differencing disks
- Stretched cluster failover requirements
- Untangle vSphere network configuration issues
- WServerNews FAVE Links
- Low-Flying Plane Picks Up Flags From Ground
- Sophisticated Cat
- Soccer World Cup 2014 Trick Shot Heroes
- How to Persuade Others with the Right Questions
- WServerNews - Product of the Week
- SolarWinds free Real-Time NetFlow Analyzer - Don't Let Bandwidth Hogs Slow Down Your Network
- SAVE THIS NEWSLETTERso you can refer back to it later for helpful tips, tools and resources!
- FORWARD THIS NEWSLETTER to a colleague who you think might find it useful!
- SEND YOUR FEEDBACK to [email protected] if you have any comments or suggestions!
This week's newsletter is all how to get effective tech support from online forums. Tech support is something each and every one of us needs at one time or another in our IT jobs. Of course some classic examples of how *not* to provide tech support is what Dogbert is doing in the following Dilbert comic strips:
There are some days when I just can't get enough of Dogbert...
NEW! Ask our Readers
We occasionally get questions from readers that we either don't know the answer to, and in the past we've included such questions in our Mailbag section and called on our community (the readers of this newsletter) to suggest some answers. We then post the replies received in the Mailbag of a later issue.
To provide better visibility for reader requests we're adding this new section to our newsletter, but it will only appear when we've received a suitable question that we think our readers might be interested in trying to answer. So if you are an IT pro and are struggling with some technical problem or issue and haven't found help elsewhere, send us a brief description of your problem to [email protected] and if we think it's appropriate we'll include your question in this nwq section of our newsletter.
Back in Issue #984 Tips and Tools for Bootable USB Drives we included the following question from a reader named Robert:
I have just copied several Hi8 tapes, successfully to DVD's, and they are playing well on both my DVD player and on my PC with Windows Media Player. However, the files created on the DVD, are shown as (example) -- VTS_01_3.VOB. My windows system does not recognize the file extension .VOB, and it is not registered. The default program shown within the Defaults, is Windows Movie Maker. This program will not play the DVD files, but I can make them play, when I select the default as Windows Media Player. This temporary default only works for the individual file selected, and when that particular file is closed, the default program returns to Windows Movie Maker. I require to import these .VOB files into Windows Movie Maker, so that I can edit them, and create an edited DVD compilation. Windows Movie Maker at the moment, cannot open and play a .VOB file. I have had a frustrating time, trying to add a new file extension, and I wonder if there is a free program out there, which will help me with this task. Your help would be much appreciated.
Our helpful readers provided ton of answers to Robert's question, and here's a selection from the responses we felt were most relevant:
I just renamed the extension of the .vob files to .m2v and this worked fine. --John
Just rename to an mpeg and play. --Don
This isn't the solution you would like to have, but, if the .VOB files aren't encrypted by DRM they can be renamed to .MPG and played or edited just like any other MPEG-2 file. --David
Windows Movie Maker supports only MPG and AVI. You can try renaming one of the .VOB files to .MPG or .AVI and see if it will import into Movie Maker. If the import works...drag the file to the timeline and Save/Publish (File / Save Movie File) it in the .wmv or .avi format. Then...re-import the new .wmv movie clip for editing purposes. However WMM will not be able to export back to DVD format. You will need another DVD Authroing software to do it. --Antonio, a Systems Administrator from Australia
I've used FileTypesMan with good success:
--Doug, a Systems Administrator for an aerospace company
VLC media player will play Robert's .vob movies. --David from Australia
You probably got 100s of answers recommending dropping WMP and use the free VLC player. There is also a 64 bit version now, very stable. Add my vote for VLC. Get the latest version (or older if you want to test) at Filehippo.com. --Howard
Mitch, here is a forum your reader can go to for help:
Here is my experience with this forum:
--Initials M D
Now here's a new question which we received from a reader named Ginadi who is on the IT staff of a large company:
Do you see any potential risk or other problems related to the changing computer name (I don't know - SUS, Certificates,...)?
And are you agree that PC name on the base of User account name might have potential security risk?
I asked him for more information and found out that he's specifically concerned about renaming Windows workstations, not servers; that this is being driven by a business need due to integration with another company; that the company's current computer naming scheme includes the user's username in the computer name; and that the company is currently using Active Directory 2003 and WSUS 2008R2.
Can any of our readers provide any advice concerning this matter? Email us at [email protected]
From the Mailbag
In the Mailbag section of Issue #985 SSDs in Servers we innocently asked whether any of our readers knew who first used the words bootstrapping or booting with reference to electronic computers. In Issue #984 Tips and Tools for Bootable USB Drives we published a few of the many responses we had received to our question. Obviously this topic struck a chord with many of our readers because we've continued to receive responses, some of them highly educational despite the apparent trivial nature of the topic. For example, a reader named George said:
In the June 23rd e-mail newsletter, I spotted a few things that old guys like me who lived through some of this stuff like to see correctly reported. I hope you will bear with a cranky old historian's re-revision of the history presented in your newsletter.
First, core memory: core memory is non-volatile. That is, it does retain its contents when power is removed. Earlier computer memory was volatile, since it was based on vacuum tubes and in some cases relays. But core memory was a great invention, because you could power off the machine, power it back on again, and pick up where you left off. We saw this very demonstration in the '70s when we were evaluating minicomputers for our grad school campus - one vendor used core memory, and would demonstrate at their facility the advantage of having core. They'd turn off power to the computer while everything was running, and everything would stop. They'd wait a minute as we horrified onlookers wondered who was going to get hanged for doing that, and then turn it back on again. The printers would pick back up where they left off, the terminals would light back up with the same screen contents, and the card readers would resume their clicking away. The company was Interdata, I think. We ended up with a Prime minicomputer, though. Core memory was slow, because, among other things, readout was destructive - when you read a memory location you had to rewrite/refresh it (done in hardware). Yup, you could turn off power and it would remember, but if you read the data, you had to rewrite it or it was gone. So it wasn't the fastest memory technology in practice, and was replaced by denser, cheaper, faster semicon memory. Core technology is still used today, however, in military computers like the AN/UYK-43 - in the form of mated film memory - where the non-volatility is of value.
Boot: we commonly used the term bootstrapping, which was colloquialized to boot. We always said that it was analogous to a cowboy lifting himself up by his bootstraps - the loops on each side of the boot used to pull the boot on. Like standing in a bucket and trying to lift yourself up by pulling on the handle. But in this case it worked, because the Initial Program Load on power on would either execute a loader, or you would toggle in the address of a load routine in memory using front panel switches and then hit the run button. The load routine would load a more complicated set of routines from tape, paper tape, etc. which would in turn load more complex code - all of which would be far too long, complex, and doomed to error if done by hand. So the computer was, in effect, lifting itself up by its own bootstraps, to avoid errors in the startup process. As a side note on errors, my Uncle, who worked developing the Whirlwind computer, used to laugh when I described how we'd write a program, submit it for compilation, get back an error report, correct the code, repeat, etc. until the program ran. He said back when he was working on Whirlwind, they "didn't know they were allowed to make errors", so the programs ran first time. Sounds like a shaggy dog story to me . . . But the engineers in those days did a lot of bench checking before a program was tried, so maybe he was telling the truth.
Finally, Flash: as I understand the technology, there's a slow bleed-down of stored electrons in flash memory cells, so it's not an "archival" medium like DVD or CD. Good for short term, but not long term retention, like we want to have for photos and memorabilia, financial records, etc. I think that also militates for using flash in RAID configurations in server applications, since over time, any data loss would be mitigated. Archival longevity is a specious issue, however, since once data is stored in digital form, it can be moved from one medium to another before its quality degrades. So archival storage changes in nature from dependence on a write-once, read forever medium to a write-and-migrate management strategy as we move forward. I suspect that given the march of ever-smaller bit feature size that accompanies technological progress, we will recognize the volatility and storage life of media as a characteristic that needs to be monitored and dynamically managed as time goes on - at least for data of great importance to retain. What that data might be is left to the individual keeping it to decide. But ablative, or even magneto-optic, phase change, or dye-based disks seem to have quite a long storage life when kept in benign environments, so I think it will be a long time before laser-written or -assisted disk technology gives way to flash. Of course, there's always a new technology right around the corner . . .
Anyway, thanks for the opportunity to set the record straight, and for a thought-provoking newsletter that, well, provokes thoughts!
Fascinating stuff, thanks. I didn't know about the bleed-down issue of flash memory--can any of our readers point us to more information concerning this and whether this issue should be a concern to IT departments for any reasons? Email us at [email protected]
Another reader named Simon told an interesting story that highlighted the non-volatility of core memory:
Core memory does retain the state when power is lost. I began my computer career working on HP 2100 mini computers. These had core memory (32K Words) and the topmost section was the IPL program. I well remember taking this stack of core memory out of one machine and putting it into another so that I could boot the second machine. Another advantage of core memory was during power fail -- the power supply had enough reserve to write the state of the machine to memory (not too much to save back in those days!). On restoration of power, the machine would start back up where it had left off.
Try doing that with an SDRAM stick from today's PC...
Another reader named John who says he is a long time reader going back to Windows 98 Newsletters actually remembers building his own core memory:
Also a reader said the early electronic computers did not have RAM but instead had magnetic core memory. The early computers did have drum memory aka sequential memory just as hard disk are today as is magnetic tape. Core memory was the first commercial Random Access Memory, aka RAM. RAM meaning you could address any word in memory directly without having to seek to a track and read blocks of data to find the word you needed. Where I worked we built core memory by hand and a large board maybe 18" x 18" x 2" contained 32K bytes - and that was the upgrade for 8KB and 16KB models
My how times have changed.
Finally, also in Issue #984 we included a Tip of the Week about accessing hidden boot options in the BIOS. A reader named Charley who works at Cisco responded with:
I have an X1 and I tested this BIOS change and it is work! Nice tip. Thanks!
BTW we're looking for more tips for our Tip of the Week section so if you have one you'd like to share with our readers please send it to us at [email protected] and we'll be happy to include a one-sentence bio of yourself along with some links to your website, blog, twitter, linkedin, and so on.
And now on to this issue's editorial by Yours Truly...
Find Tech Support Online
What do you do when you have an IT problem you can't solve on your own? In the old days you'd call the phone number on the box your hardware or software product was packaged in and get phone support from the vendor. Nowadays however most vendors don't even post their phone numbers on their websites, and packaged software is a thing of the past with more applications and services being delivered from the cloud. And if you do find a phone number and get through to support, your average run-of-the-mill Level One technician usually just follows a Q&A script which often leaves you frustrated and still without a solution to your problem.
Hence the online support forum. Most vendors have online support forums on their websites where you can post your problem and hope to get a resolution if the vendor's FAQ wasn't helpful to you. These support forums are typically haunted by two types of individuals: technicians working for the company and knowledgeable customers who like to help. My experience is that it's usually the latter who are most helpful. Technicians who work for the vendor and are asked or required to spend time on the vendor's forums typically respond to scenario-specific questions with cut-and-paste answers that cover every eventuality that might be linked to your scenario. I suppose they do this because they're underpaid and overworked, so they try to be as efficient as possible with their responses. But this "shotgun approach" to providing tech support is impersonal and often doesn't help you get to the root of your problem.
How to get good support from forums
So your best bet is to try and post your question in a way that is likely to pique the interest of those peers (other customers) who regularly inhabit the forum. How can you help ensure your question gets a response? One step you can take is to spend 5-10 minutes browsing the forum *before* you post to it. Find out who is active in the forum to ensure first that you are posting to the *right* forum and an *active* forum, then add a "hook" to your question to try and interest your peers. For example:
"I've got a problem similar to the one that DJGook posted and which AdHork and NumBorg answered, and I hope someone may be able to help. When I try to..."
The advantage of this approach to posting questions is that it recognizes that a good support forum is a *community* of individuals who have similar goals and try to help one another in their journey.
The second thing you can do to increase the chances of getting help in the future is to give back to the community by attempting to answer the questions of others. It doesn't matter if you don't have all the answers, just offer a timely suggestion when you can do so, because the point of "doing community" is that individuals don't have all the answers.
The third thing you should do with online forums is to help keep the noise down. I can think of at least two ways you can do this. First, ditch the snark. A tech support forum is not the place to show how smart (or smartass) you can be. If you feel a need to be snarky, go post on Slashdot. Second, ask good questions if you're trying to solicit more information to help someone. If you have an urgent problem and post a question to a forum, there's nothing more frustrating than someone who responds with a series of one-liners like this:
Me: I'm experiencing [description] problem with Active Directory, what should I do?
Idiot: Have you checked the SRV records?
Me: Just checked, everything looks OK.
Idiot: Can you ping the DC?
Idiot: What about certificates?
Me: Not sure what you mean??
Idiot: Did you try jiggling the wires?
and so on...
Instead of responding with a train of questions like this, a better way to respond would be like this:
Me: I'm experiencing [description] problem with Active Directory, what should I do?
Idiot: My own experience with problems like this suggests that there are three main culprits you might want to investigate. First, make sure the SRV records have been properly registered in DNS. KB816587 is a bit old but it's still good info, and be sure to check KB241505 as well. Second, make sure you have network connectivity with the domain controller by using ping to check. I actually once had a similar problem because of a loose wire in a patch panel...
Note the difference in tone and helpfulness here. Instead of supposing you're an idiot ("Did you try jiggling the wires?") the person trying to help is humble ("suggests that") detailed (references KB articles) and personal ("I actually once had a similar problem") in their response.
Best tech support forums
When I need support for a Microsoft product, I usually start with the TechNet forums:
The "integrated" user interface for these forums is a bit cumbersome to use however, so I usually start off by googling or binging the forums like this:
Active Directory network problem site:social.technet.microsoft.com
What if you try posting your problem to the TechNet forums and don't get a resolution? In that case you probably want to try some other non-Microsoft forums for IT support. One I've used in the past that's been helpful is Experts Exchange:
I've also heard from others that the SpiceWorks community is good for all kinds of IT support issues:
We've examined Spiceworks in a couple of past issues of this newsletter:
What online communities do you go to for tech support when vendor forums fail? Share your recommendations with us and we'll pass them on to our readers so other IT pros can benefit from your wisdom. Let us know at [email protected]
Tip of the Week: Group Policy and WMI Filtering
The following tip was excerpted from my book Training Guide: Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2012 from Microsoft Press:
Although security filtering is fast, WMI filtering can be slow. Improper use of WMI filtering can therefore have a significant performance impact on how Group Policy is processed and applied. As a result, you should be sure to test the performance of any WMI filter before you deploy it in your production environment. Examples of WMI filters that usually evaluate quickly include filters that query for registry keys or environment variables. WMI filters that might evaluate slowly include filters that query the CIM_DataFile namespace or for installed products using the MSI database.
An alternative to using WMI filtering in many scenarios is to use the Item-Level Targeting feature of Group Policy Preferences, which allows you to change the scope of individual preferences so that they apply only to the specified users or computers. For example, by using Item-Level Targeting, you can allow a preference item to be applied only if the targeted computer has a battery, has a certain amount of free disk space available, has an IP address within a specified range of addresses, and so on. For more information about using Item-Level Targeting, see http://www.wservernews.com/go/1403785178215.
GOT TIPS you'd like to share with other readers? Email us at [email protected]
There don't seem to be that many good books on helpdesk and IT support around, but these two might be helpful for your company:
Help Desk Manager's Crash Course
A Guide to Computer User Support for Help Desk and Support Specialists, 5th Edition
Microsoft Virtual Academy
Some announcements from the Microsoft Virtual Academy:
July 16-17: Windows Azure Pack; Infrastructure as a Service
Learn how Windows Azure Pack brings the benefit of the cloud to your datacenter. Windows Azure Pack (WAP) builds on the power of Windows Server and System Center to deliver an enterprise-class, cost-effective solution for self-service, multi-tenant cloud infrastructure and application services that runs on the hardware in your datacenter, giving you the benefit of the cloud with the customization and control you need. Learn more during this free, expert-led training on July 16-17. Register Now:
July 24: Migrating legacy Windows Server to 2012 R2 and Microsoft Azure
Out with the old! Migrate from Windows Server 2003/2008. What's the best way for IT professionals to ensure a seamless transition to Windows Server 2012 R2 on-premises and in Microsoft Azure? By getting help directly from Microsoft professionals during our July 24 Jump Start. Register now:
Quote of the Week
"The best way to grow as a fighter or at anything else is to keep your mouth closed and your mind open." --MMA fighter Forrest Griffin from his book "Got Fight? The 50 Zen Principles of Hand-to-Face Combat" available from Amazon here:
Note to subscribers: If for some reason you don’t receive your weekly issue of this newsletter, please notify us at [email protected] and we’ll try to troubleshoot things from our end.
Symantec Backup Exec 2014 delivers powerful, flexible, and easy-to-use backup and recovery to protect your entire infrastructure whether built upon virtual, physical, or a combination of both. Try it today.
SystemTools Hyena is designed to both simplify and centralize nearly all day-to-day management tasks, while providing new capabilities for Active Directory management and system administration.
Pester is a PowerShell BDD style testing framework:
Hewlett-Packard's USB Disk Storage Format Tool can quickly and thoroughly format virtually any USB flash drive in a wide range of file systems as well as create bootable USB media:
Plugable USB Charging Adapter for Apple, Android, and other devices:
Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC 2014) on July 13-17, 2014 in Washington, D.C.
Microsoft SQL Server PASS Summit 2014 on November 4-7, 2014 in Seattle, Washington
TechEd Europe on October 27-31, 2014 in Barcelona, Spain
TechEd New Zealand on September 9-12, 2014 in Auckland, New Zealand
Add your event
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MSExchange.org Exchange CON 2014 Registration is now Open!
Registration is open for MS Exchange CON 2014, an information-packed annual event designed for busy IT Professionals within the global MS Exchange Community. This online event is hosted by MSExchange.org and begins at 10am EDT | 7am PDT | 3pm BST on Thursday, September 18, 2014. Participation is limited to 1,000 attendees, so register here today!
All registrants will also receive complimentary access to all of the Office 365 Exchange CON 2014 sessions. This popular online event took place earlier this year, but you'll receive access to view the entire event on-demand when you register for the upcoming MS Exchange CON 2014!
Register for Webcasts
Add your Webcast
PLANNING A WEBCAST you'd like to tell our subscribers about? Contact [email protected]
Video: Auditing vs Advanced Auditing Configurations - Part 1 (WindowSecurity.com)
Configuring Windows Failover Cluster Networks (Ask the Core Team)
What's New in Windows Servicing: Service Stack Improvements: Part 3 (Ask the Core Team)
Experimenting with WIMBoot using MDT 2013 (Michael Niehaus' Windows and Office deployment ramblings)
Useful deployment links (Michael Niehaus' Windows and Office deployment ramblings)
Enterprise Mode Internet Explorer (Michael Niehaus' Windows and Office deployment ramblings)
Understanding the Windows ADK for Windows 8.1 Update and Configuration Manager OSD (System Center Configuration Manager Team Blog)
Announcement: System Center 2012 Configuration Manager Support Center Tool Has Been Released (System Center Configuration Manager Team Blog)
Deploying Windows RT 8.1, Windows 8.1, and Windows Server 2012 R2 Update (KB2919355) Using System Center Configuration Manager (System Center Configuration Manager Team Blog)
Using WatchGuard XTM To Create A Hybrid Cloud With Windows Azure (Aidan Finn, IT Pro)
Deploying Windows Azure Pack - Part 1 (WindowsNetworking.com)
Introducing Microsoft Azure File Service (Microsoft Azure Storage Team Blog)
Seven steps to shrink your cloud storage bill
Cloud storage is unquestionably a great solution for housing your data, but its management costs can easily skyrocket without proper planning. Fortunately, here are seven expert, pain-free tips for shrinking your cloud storage bill that you can start implementing right away.
A different use for differencing disks
There are many VDI shops still using differencing disks on a one-on-one basis so they can keep their base images pristine. What these shops many not know is that you can attach multiple disks to the same hard drive to build virtual desktops without disrupting the image's state. Don't get held back, here are important factors to keep in mind when considering using differencing disks.
Stretched cluster failover requirements
Failover clustering is an often utilized and expensive strategy for preventing a physical server failure from resulting in an outage, but if an entire data center fails, then what do you do? Find out the steps, requirements, and other important factors you need to consider before building a stretched cluster.
Untangle vSphere network configuration issues
vSphere network configuration problems account for most performance troubles in virtual machines, making it essential to understand key troubleshooting steps. Fortunately, this exclusive article has the tips and solutions you need to identify and correct top performance issues. Get a head start today.
This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff
GOT FUN VIDEOS or other fun links to suggest you'd like to recommend? Email us at [email protected]
Low-Flying Plane Picks Up Flags From Ground
Cesar Falistocco, captain of the Argentina Aerobatic Squadron, raises Argentina and Chile's flags with the wingtip of his plane skimming the grass:
The cat learned to do this on her own and even tries to flush the toilet afterward:
Soccer World Cup 2014 Trick Shot Heroes
In honor of the FIFA World Cup 2014 - here are the World's most talented soccer trick shot heroes:
How to Persuade Others with the Right Questions
Management expert and sales guru Daniel Pink explains a series of simple questions that will help you influence others in a positive way:
WServerNews - Editors
Mitch Tulloch is Senior Editor of WServerNews and is a widely recognized expert on Windows administration, deployment and virtualization. Mitch was lead author of the bestselling Windows 7 Resource Kit from Microsoft Press and has published hundreds of articles for IT pros. Mitch is also a seven-time recipient of Microsoft's Most Valuable Professional (MVP) award for his outstanding contributions in support of the global IT pro community. Mitch owns and runs an information technology content development business based in Winnipeg, Canada. For more information see www.mtit.com
Ingrid Tulloch is Associate Editor of WServerNews and was co-author of the Microsoft Encyclopedia of Networking from Microsoft Press. Ingrid is also Head of Research for our content development business and has co-developed university-level courses in Information Security Management for a Masters of Business Administration program.