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Consultants and deadlines

I’ve spent some time consulting for a small and medium sized companies and I’ve seen many consultants make many errors and one of the worse for you clients is blowing deadlines.  Now for me to say that you’ll never run into a situation where your project is incomplete when the deadline comes would just be silly.  As all consultants know that there are sometimes factors in your project that are outside of your control.

For first time consultants, it may be hard to adjust to the hard deadline because when you are an employee for a company, deadlines are important but sometimes can be flexible, but consultants don’t have that luxury.  When you rely on other companies for your source of income, coming through on your promised completion date could hurt your future business.  Making sure you come through with your deadlines is just one way to endear that client to you.

Communication with a client is one of the biggest things a consultant has to remember (but don’t over do it).  Use this in conjunction with common sense when it comes to project deadlines.  If you become aware of a component or software that you need for your project is backordered or delayed let your client know as soon as you are made aware.  I’ve seen some consultants wait until the deadline due date to inform the client that it couldn’t be done because of a backorder.  This also has the advantage of giving the client more time to adjust for the launch of the software or product.

Live in the real world, when it comes to the beginning discussions of the project make sure you don’t over promise.  If you don’t think that you are going to be able to meet the deadline, then either pass on the project or ask for a time adjustment.  Because if you feelings turn out right, you aren’t benefiting anyone when everything falls apart.

One of the things that helped me stay on track is status reports.  Some companies require these on a regular basis, but even if they don’t I still send them, and even if they don’t want them, I prepare them.  Status reports don’t just help the client know where you are, it’s a reminder to you of where you are with the project.

When your project does run over a deadline, think like your client when you approach them with the information.  For one don’t use personal issues to excuse while you are past deadline.  Clients only care about the project and why it’s not done, being honest on your short comings can go longer than whining.  Also try to always remain positive, don’t go to clients with negatives, like problems without solutions.  They hired you, make sure when things go bad and drag your project longer you come up with solutions before telling them.

Some positive things you can do when your project slides past the deadline, small things like offer an apology (and mean it), give the client a brief run down of where you are, and choices to proceed.  Also depending on the terms, give the client back some money.  I know it hurts, and should only be used if they paid good money, but this helps show the client that there is goodwill between you.  Just like a retail store will refund cash to a unhappy shopper, you can refund or knock off some money to show that you care…and hopefully keep a client.

One of the things I try to always keep in mind when I was working with clients, is to put myself in their shoes.  I’ve given consultants timelines that for one reason or another were not met, but the client being upfront and honest with me and kept me in the loop and didn’t try to make all their money in a single shot was the consultant who I would always come back to.  In a sea of consultants make yourself stand out, you wont be a fit for every client, but the ones that work with you, will be more likely to come back.

Microsoft Patch Tuesday: May 11th 2010

Microsoft Windows LogoOn Tuesday May 11th Microsoft released another round of updates for the Windows Operating System.  Here’s what they are and what they do:

SECURITY UPDATES:

Update: MS10-030/KB978542
Type: Critical
Affected Systems:
XP, 7, 2003, 3008, 2008 R2, Outlook Express 5.5 and 6.0 for 2000
What it does: Outlook Express, Windows Mail, and Windows Live Mail programs all have a vulnerability which can lead to a remote code execution attack, which would be executed by a remote email server.
Suggestion: Microsoft rates this as “critical” and you should treat it like that unless you don’t use Outlook Express, Windows Mail or Windows Live Mail on a daily basis, but it you don’t then I think you could wait to install it until you next scheduled patch day for your company.
Size: 1.1MB – 4.7MB

Update:MS10-031/KB978213/KB976321
Type: Critical
Affected Systems:
Office XP, Office 2003, Office 2007
What it does: There is a problem with the VBA runtime that can allow an attacker to use a programmed document to perform remote code execution on the system. This affects Office and any other application which uses VBA.
Suggestion: Being that this affects Office applications, I suggest you install this update immediately.
Size: 1.3MB – 2.7MB

MISC UPDATES

Update:KB890830
Type: “Important”
Affected Systems: Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows XP, Windows 2000, and Windows Server 2003
What it does: It updates the definition to remove Malicious Software, Microsoft updates this every second Tuesday of the month.
Suggestion: If you have another anti-spyware/anti-maleware software then this isn’t a pressing update, though if you have nothing, then I recommend to install this as soon as you can.
Size: 9.7MB – 10.0MB

Update:KB981726/KB905866
Type: “Important”
Affected Systems: Office 2007 Junk E-mail Filter
What it does: This update provides the Junk E-mail Filter in Microsoft Office Outlook 2007 with a more current definition of those characteristics that define certain e-mail messages as junk e-mail
Suggestion: I think at this time, most people use something else to filter their mail so this isn’t important, install during you next massive update.
Size: 5.4MB

If I missed anything please let me know, but this is a good start on getting to know the updates that everyone should see and help some people plan when they should run their updates.

Apple soon to Release iPad Wireless Fix!

    For those of you that have iPads in your business, you might be aware of the Wifi bug that the iPad has.  If you don’t, then you are lucky, pretty much when the iPad goes to sleep and then wakes up, it no longer checks to see if your router or DHCP server still has it’s address free, and just continues using that ip address. Princeton had this problem earlier. There are also some other problems that this patch and solutions hope to fix like,  weak signal from Wifi and forgotten passwords are some of the problems reported.  If you have long leases on ip addresses you shouldn’t have much of a problem, but if they are shorter, you’ll get an ip conflict.
    Apple today update a support document (iPad: Issues connecting to Wi-Fi networks) detailing some current solutions to Wi-Fi connectivity issues surrounding the iPad. The new support document lists  some possible workarounds, but also states that “Apple will also address remaining Wi-Fi connectivity issues with a future iPad software update.”  It’s about time, as many forums on Apple centered website have started asking about this very problem.  Though no date is set on when this update will be distributed, the workarounds seem like the could be some help to people.

The liste of workarounds include:

– Updating Wi-Fi router firmware
– Using WPA or WPA2 wireless security
– Adjusting screen brightness
– Renewing IP address

Hopefully if you are experiencing this problem, you can mitigate the problem temporarily with the suggestions that Apple make and then permanently when the patch comes out.

Q&A Monday: Reinstalling Wan MiniPort

Question:

My WAN miniport has gone missing. I accidentally deleted it durring some computer troubleshooting.  Do you know how to get it back short of a complete Windows re-install?

Thanks,
Howard S. Jordan
Montgomery, AL

Answer:

It’s been a while since I’ve been in this situation, but this should work:

  1. Download devcon.exe from some Microsoft site. 
  2. Open netrasa.inf in c:\windows\inf
  3. Look for the section [Msft.NTx86]
  4. In the DeviceID column, you can see the installable devices.
  5. Run this command to install the WAN Miniport (PPTP):
    devcon.exe install c:\windows\inf\netrasa.inf MS_PptpMiniport
  6. You can install the other devices similarly. I think you will need MS_L2tpMiniport, MS_PtiMiniport, MS_NdisWanIp, MS_PppoeMiniport additionally

Let me know if this helps you.

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If  you have any questions that you want Jim to answer, from business servers to home computers, drop him a line at me@jimguckin.com, and he’ll try to answer your question.  Check back every Monday for a new Question and Answer session, and check back Wednesday and Friday for other technical insights.

Windows 7 Command Prompt

CommandOne thing I like in Windows 7 is the easier way they have to open Command Prompt, and it can be done from any folder. To open a command prompt just press and hold down the shift button and select the “Open Command Prompt here” tab. It’s that simple, and was a time saver for people for me who use command line codes.

AVG Free vs Microsoft Security Essentials

    For the longest time when asked about a free anti-virus/anti-spyware software that I would use and recommend, usually top of the list would be AVG Free and I think that many of the techs that I worked with would agree with it.  Infact another tech originally turned me on to the software and it became part of my virus/spyware removal tools.
     Recently while poking around on one of the blogs I watch, I noticed that this person was using Microsoft Security Essentials.  Now I instantly lost a little faith in that, mostly becuase I don’t trust Microsoft to secure Windows, becuase if they could, then it should be a part of Windows and not a seperate program.  I was curious though as the other bloggers software choices I found as a benefit.  So putting my nerdy pride to the side, I got Microsoft program and gave it a week run.
    Now generally I am very careful on where I go around on the internet, and wanted to really give it a real run for it’s money.  I purposly went to the dark corners of the internet hoping that I would get something, and I was surprised that at the end of the test, that my computer was maleware free.  Though obviously does this mean that Microsoft’s program was good at stopping spyware or was I just really bad at getting spyware while trying.
    Though this isn’t a full blocking program, as it doesn’t check sites as you go along, or doesn’t automatically scan your e-mail when it comes in, so it’s not a free magic bullet. Though Internet Explorer 8 and FireFox I know have phising filters added to them to help in phishing attempts.
     One thing that I really liked when using Microsoft Security Essentials was that I completely forgot that it was installed and running  unlike a lot of programs that I’ve tried, it’s easy to use and it’s not intrusive.  Though I would recommend it for an everyday user of the internet, and as an addition to whatever you are currently using for cronic spyware reciepients.  Though I am sure it has it’s weaknesses, and won’t work in every situation, I still think this program is a must have for everyone.  It even changed my opinion on Microsoft securing my computer, and that’s big.

Admin Toolkit: 5 Linux tools you need for Windows

I think most System Admins have a USB thumb-drive with a bunch of tools that may be needed to diagnose any problems that might come to their network or their own computer. (Or is it just me?)  I plan to go over what tools I use in more detail at a later time, but for this post I wanted to focus on the Linux tools that I have on my thumb-drive to help me in my day to day operations.  I don’t list these in any particular order, just the order they are on my thumb drive:

GParted Live
Site: http://gparted.sourceforge.net/livecd.php

GParted Live is a Linux distribution that runs “live” from your thumb-drive or CD.  From within the program you can do many things like resize, create, check and delete partitions.  I’ve used this mostly to check or resize partitions but for your everyday drive maintenance.

Knoppix
Site: http://www.knoppix.net/

Knoppix is a full live Linux distribution, one thing I like about it, is that it’s has a user friendly GUI interface that allows you to mount drives and copy data easily.  It’s really a full version of Linux and has such applications as OpenOffice,  Gimp, Konqueror, FireFox, Apache, PHP, MySQL and hundreds of other quality open source programs, so it’s really an all in one without having to install it on your hard-drive.

Trinity Rescue Kit
Site: http://trinityhome.org/Home/index.php?wpid=1&front_id=12

Trinity Rescue Kit is an all in one Linux tool.  It does easily reset windows passwords, full access to mounted NTFS drives, run a samba file server (so you can copy data to another server), recovery deleted files with utilities and procedures, recovery of lost partitions, and so much more.  Those were just the ways that I’ve personally used the software, great program.  Though you might want to re-look at some Linux commands prior to using this product.

SystemRescueCd
Site: http://www.sysresccd.org/Main_Page

Offers numerous tools to handle tasks like partition management, file recovery, hard disk testing, ftp, and disk formatting. It does offers an easy-to-use GUI which tends to put it higher up on my list, because sometimes looking at a GUI is easier than looking at and remember commands.

Ubuntu Rescue Remix
Site: http://ubuntu-rescue-remix.org/

Like most excellent live Linux CD tools for Non-Linux users, it includes an outstanding GUI  that can help you handle tasks. You can recover and rescue Mac files/file systems, recover data from nonstandard external drives, recover deleted files, and more.

These aren’t the only tools, or even the best tool for your enviroment these are just suggestions that have helped me along my career.  Now there are some good products that cost money to use, more recently I’ve come across SpinRite which is a good program, but the Linux tools are open source and free (though I highly suggest that you donate if you download).

Q&A Monday: Test your Security

Question:

Hi, I’m not a computer expert, but I just switched internet providers and I want to make sure that my home network is secure by seeings what “ports” are open?

Leah J. Hemby, Stockbridge, GA

Answer:

There is a website that I’ve used and recommended to other to use to self test their own network. The website is hosted by GRC and the program is called ShieldsUP.  ShieldsUP finds your computer Internet address and runs scans on it for open ports.  There are a couple different options to scan File Sharing, Common Ports, etc to narrow down your search for exactly what your concern area is.  One of the reasons that I like this site is the ease of us, that someone like yourself to someone with experience can look and get useful information from this site.

——————————————————————————————–
If  you have any questions that you want Jim to answer, from business servers to home computers, drop him a line at me@jimguckin.com, and he’ll try to answer your question.  Check back every Monday for a new Question and Answer session, and check back Wednesday and Friday for other technical insights.

Exchange and iCal Problems

    Recently I got a call, that a user was having problem with a program callediCal, I had seen and briefly used the software, but wasn’t an expert on it. I did some research I verified that it was Apple’s built in e-mail client.  The user didn’t always have this problem, it occured one day while he was attempting to delete stuff from the calendar.  We got the following error message from the user:

iCal can’t decline the event “(null)” on the Exchange server.

The account "My Mail" currently can’t be modified. To discard your changes and continue using the version of your calendars that’s on the server, click Revert to Server. To save your changes on your computer until the problem is resolved, click Go Offline.

    When the user clicked the revert option, the program shut down and when they clicked “Go Offline”, it  just went offline, and didn’t resolve the problem.  I went to the Apple Support Forums for iCal, and posted this error message and asking how to solve it (to this day still havn’t gotten an answer).  I went to trying to solve it and pray someone would answer my question quickly. 
    I became entangled in the fact, that while I’ve worked with Apple Computers in the past, that I didn’t know enough about them to troubleshoot specific software.  So I looked at it as I would any PC problem that I would have gotten.  So I thought that if a user called and had outlook problem, what would I do?  Well since it’s an exchange server and there isn’t the fear of loosing information (and I had a backup just in case) that I would have the user remove and recreate the link in iCal and see if that solved the problem.  It did, and everything started syncing without a problem.  Just a simple and ever true remove and re-add the settings solved the problem…shows you that sometime the tested methods work.

Delete Hiberfil.sys to regain space

Just incase you didn’t know when you activate the hibernate function on your laptop or computer, Windows takes a snapshot of your running programs, open files, etc. and writes that information to your hard drive in a file. The hibernate function was designed to speed up shutdowns and restarts and save power on laptops.

Hiberfil.sys, is the name of the file to where Windows saves the hibernation data. This file is equal to the size to the amount of RAM in the computer.  If you have plenty of hard drive space on your computer then this isn’t much of a problem, but if you’re running low on hard drive space and you never use the hibernate feature, then the hiberfil.sys file just sits around eating up unessisary space.

You could attempt to manually delete hiberfil.sys file, but it will just come back when the system takes another snapshot. To get rid of the file once and for all, you must disable the Windows Hibernate function. You can do this through either Windows or the command line.

Windows XP

On Windows XP systems, you can easily disable Hibernate

   1. Open the Control Panel and access Power Options.
   2. Select the Hibernate tab in the Power Options Properties dialog box.
   3. Clear the Enable Hibernation check box and click OK.
Windows XP – Power Options – Hibernate

If you would prefer to disable Hibernate through the command line, you can use the steps outlined below.

Windows Vista and Windows 7

Completely disabling Hibernate through Windows Vista and Windows 7 is significantly more difficult than on Windows XP. The Hibernate settings are still stored under the Control Panel’s Power Options applet, but they are buried under each power plan’s advanced power settings submenu. I have had problems removeing hiberfil.sys by altering the appropriate Power Options on either Windows Vista or Windows 7

The only surefire method of disabling Hibernate, and thus removing hiberfil.sys, on Windows Vista and Windows 7, is through the command prompt and the following steps:

   1. Open a command prompt with administrative privileges.
   2. Enter “powercfg.exe -h off” (Figure D).
   3. Exit the command prompt.

As soon as you clear the check box or execute the above powercfg.exe command, Windows should delete hiberfil.sys. Though I suggest that you just take a minute to check the file’s exsistance for yourself to be sure.

To turn the Hibernate function back on, simply recheck the Enable Hibernation setting under Power Option Properties or enter “powercfg.exe -h on” at a command prompt with administrative privileges.

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