#BlizzBlog Day 1: The Plowing

It started snowing mid to late afternoon Monday, but the snow was pretty light until later in the evening. The governor declared a state of emergency, asking everyone to stay off the road except for emergencies. So why, oh why, do the plows go by so often on my little street? I can understand not waiting until the storm is over, but I think realistically there’s no need to plow every 1/4 inch that falls. Sheesh.

Catch-22

Bought a new printer today, to replace the Canon Pixma MP-500 that has been our main family printer for a few years. It started being all squeaky last week, and then it started completely missing horizontal bands. Tried all the head cleaning options, and finally tried removing the cartridges and the printhead and cleaning it by hand. A lot of ink went down the drain, but to no avail.

For a replacement, I wanted a multi-function printer (to be able to send the occasional fax and make copies and scan things), and also one which supports Apple’s AirPrint so our many iDevices can print. After a couple of hours browsing Amazon, and reading magazine articles, and other sources of online reviews, and then seeing what was available locally, I decided upon an HP PhotoSmart 7520, which I could pick up at Staples for $149, plus we had a $10 off coupon, so even with the tax it came in around $149.

Brought it home, and after the unpacking ordeal I connected it via USB to our AirPort (actually, TimeCapsule with built-in AirPort). On both Macs, the new printer came up right away when going into the System Preferences, Printers area. They both had to download and install software, but all that went smoothly, with no reboot or anything. Printing worked fine, and I was able to print a couple of sheets of business cards for Clara with no problems, on card stock, too!

Later on, I wanted to get the AirPrint going, so I went through the on-screen menus to setup the Wireless. I can’t tell you how many devices I’ve connected to our home network over the years, both wired and wireless. Many vintages of Mac, PC, Linux computers; many iDevices, many other small devices, too. I have 3 WiFi routers (2 configured as AP only) that all expose the same SSID, and this has worked fine for years. But not for this printer — it would not connect. One of the AP’s (the AirPort!) is right next to it, even. I begin to lookup whether there are firmware updates. Sure enough, some digging turns up how to update your printer’s firmware. And guess what? (Hint: this is where the title comes into play), the way you update firmware is via WiFi.

Huh?? I’d like to know what brilliant person came up with *that* scheme. The printer even has a memory card reader socket on the front. Why not allow firmware updates that way?

In any case here are some of the things I tried to work around the problem:

  • connect to our “open” wifi AP, in case the problem was with passphrase recognition
  • connect to a neighbor’s AP, in case the problem was connecting to our specific router.
  • use a portable router I keep in my laptop bag. It wouldn’t stay powered on, though.
  • setup ICS on my laptop, but kept getting an Access Denied error.

Finally, I turned WiFi on, on the old Fios router that’s there for our cable boxes to connect back home. Even that took some trial and error, but did get it working, and the printer did connect, and download firmware. After that, it connected to our network OK, but when I then moved the printer back downstairs, it no longer would. I finally changed the SSID on the Apple Airport (Time Capsule), and then it could connect to the original network. Maybe it doesn’t like Airports, or maybe the signal was too strong, but all of this just goes to show that WiFi can still be tricky, and building a product that can only get updates via WiFi is ill-advised. It works now, and AirPrint works, but it was quite an ordeal.

Logging back into my router, I realized how old the distro I’m running is — it’s a version of DD-WRT from May of 2008. I had another problem with it recently, where after a power outage, it wouldn’t connect back to the internet right away. Only after a couple of hours,  (and presumably, the expiry of the DHCP lease), was it able to. Might be time to update this thing, and I’m thinking of using OpenWRT instead this time, as DD-WRT doesn’t seeem to have been updated much (at least as far as official releases go) in the intervening 4 years. Any non-spambot comments?

Unfortunately, this CharlieCard isn’t valid for usage with in the system

The MBTA has for years now had available a “stored value” type of card for subway, buses, commuter rail, etc. All very neat. You can go to a vending machine at subway stations and refill the card with cash or use a debit or credit card. It’s even possible to refill them on the bus, but I always get flustered trying to do it, and the drivers are often impatient about it. More recently, they’ve added a web-based system for refilling your card, which sounds pretty handy. But I’ve tried many times to enroll my ancient CharlieCard, only to get an error back. I assume it was because it was too old, and pre-dated when the started allowing access via the web.

Yesterday, I was on the bus and ran out of money on the card, so I went to refill it. I was asking the bus driver “What do I do next?” but he wasn’t really answering me. I failed to follow the correct sequence, and ended up with a paper ticket with $5 on it, minus the cost of the bus fare. Argh! When we got to Harvard, I picked up a *new* CharlieCard, so I’d be able to enroll it in their system. When we got home, I did try to enroll the card only to get the same error message back. Sheesh!

I emailed the support email address listed on the site, holding out little hope that I’d actually receive an intelligent answer. But less than 10 minutes later, I did get a response: “Unfortunately you would have to grab another card at the station. This error is due to a glitch in the MBTA’s system, and there’s no way to tell in advance which cards are compatible with the online system and which ones are not. I apologize for the inconvenience. Thank You”

So, kudos to the MTBA (or their partner) for providing an “answer” so quickly! Generally, at best I’d expect a response about a day later, telling me that the company had received my inquiry, and telling me how important I am to them, etc., etc. And then I may or may not hear back in a reasonable timeframe. However, the MBTA (and/or their partner) get a failing grade for the content of the response.

Guess I will be picking up a stack of cards next time…

Virtually Impossible

I received a new laptop at work, which is always a treat, but also always a pain trying to get the necessary programs and data migrated from the old one to the new one. My usual crutch is to create a “virtual” copy of the old laptop to run on the new one for the transition period. I end up using the virtual copy less and less as time goes on. Then eventually, I run short on space on the “new” laptop and have to delete the old copy.

I’ve done this through my 2 most recent laptop transitions, and also used the same technique when we got Susan a MacBook to replace an old Dell laptop. The biggest problem I’d had to date was a licensing issue with Susan’s — the Windows license on it was an OEM license, and when going to authorize it, it wouldn’t take my semi-legitimate MSDN license. I finally wore someone down on the phone until they let the registration go through.

With this laptop, though, I’ve had nothing but trouble. And it has nothing to do with the new hardware, AFAIK. I started with my favorite Virtualization engine, VMware. They offer a free “Player” application and also a free “P2V” application for taking a Physical computer and creating a Virtual copy of it. Even getting the P2V process going was challenging, though, as it required software running on both systems, and dealing with Windows permissions, with the old laptop being a member of the work domain, and the new one not yet. And then copying 62 GB over the wireless network wasn’t going very quickly, so I cancelled the process then connected the two systems to the wired network. At that point, name resolution stopped working in one direction, making other things that much more difficult. The process, once I was able to get it started, did go much quicker over the wired network, though. Starting up the newly created VM in Player, though, did not go well. It started with a BSoD related to some supposedly missing file. A little web searching led me to running a “repair” from the install disc, which got me to the next error, which was a different BSoD. That one seemed to have to do with the VM being configured with one kind of storage, and the installed system expecting another kind. You might think the P2V process would manage all of this appropriately, or at least I would, but you’d be wrong, or at least I was wrong. Anyway, after many fruitless hours of web searches, regedits from the repair console, extracting VMware disk metadata from the virtual disk file, modifying it, and re-inserting it, I gave up. I’ve never had such a miserable experience with VMware.

On to Microsoft. Sure to be a slam dunk. Well, the new version of Virtual PC is weird, and is implemented as some shell extensions so it doesn’t even really look like an app. I first tried an application that converts virtual disks from one format to another. I can’t really remember the failure mode of that attempt, but the VM wouldn’t boot. I was willing to accept this, given the heritage of the virtual disk file, and the myriad of changes I’d made to it since first making the image. I then moved on to creating a virtual disk with a Microsoft (sysinternals) tool. I figured I’d try a “simpler” wired network this time, with both nodes on a small hub, but the throughput was terrible. I then remembered that it really was a hub, and not a switch, and I disconnected the other system I had plugged in there, and disconnected the internet connection, and then things really moved along quickly. When I came back a few hours later, though, the app complained that the network connection was lost. Didn’t look it to me, but what do I know. I re-configured the two computers’ network interfaces to have static IP addresses, and I addressed the shared folder for storing the newly created virtual disk with the IP address of the target instead of its name. But that new copy ended up having an even weirder failure mode. The VM would begin to boot, but then simply power down. No BSoD, no error message, no nothing. I did some searching but my GoogleFu failed me, and I could find no similar reports.

At this point I was feeling pretty beat up, but in doing some research on the VHD file format (Microsoft’s virtual disk format), I read that VirtualBox also supported it. So I figured, what the heck. Since it doesn’t require making a new virtual disk, but was just a quick download, the cost to try was low. But of course that failed to boot as well — just gave me a blank screen. However, I was able to go into the settings and figure out by myself some changes to try (mainly the bus on which the virtual disk was configured), and was able to get the VM to boot. It certainly took a lot of doing to get to that point. Even so, the story doesn’t end there. The VM would boot OK, but I couldn’t access the network. The error in Device Manager was that not enough resources were available for the device. And there were a handful of devices in that state, not just the network interface. I tried deleting old hardware drivers, etc., but never got those errors to go away. Some internet research later, I learned that installing their “Guest Additions” solved many errors. So I did this, but still no luck. Some more searching (my GoogleFu had returned!) later, I came across someone who had the same problem, and his solution was to change the PCI bus driver. I did this, and voila! All was well.

All in all, it was a surprisingly miserable experience to get to this point. But thank you, Virtual Box, for coming through in the end!

Enough Already!

So apparently, this past month, we recorded the 3rd highest snowfall total for a January in Boston. Impressive. I am not generally a winter whiner — I put up with the cold, and the snow. I shovel, I snowblow; I sand and salt; I dress warmly. My 4-wheel drive pickup gets me through most conditions. Part of me misses our old Audi wagon, as the Honda Odyssey definitely isn’t as sure footed.

But this year, we’ve had storm after storm, usually on Wednesdays which complicates clearing the snow and commuting. I spent a good part of late Friday afternoon shoveling snow off our third floor deck. There was between 2 and 3 feet of snow all over the 9’x12′ surface. It was a lot of work to shovel all that snow and chuck it over the railing way into the back yard. Thankfully, the snow storm that was anticipated for Saturday devolved into a small rain storm. We ended up having a weekend of mostly snow melt, which was sorely needed.

When I went out to get muffins this morning (a Sunday tradition), I brought my camera along and took some pictures. These are after some melting, so imagine the piles a foot higher or so, and no pavement visible, etc. Note how far out into the street the banks are.
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Whapped WAP

As I mentioned earlier, my pictures were uploading to flickr very slowly last night, and when I woke up, I was not surprised to see that the upload had failed. I started it up again, and it failed on the second picture. After a couple more iterations, I decided to take another tack, and connect to a different SSID, as there were many available and provided by the hotel. That seemed to fix it — the remaining few photos uploaded in minutes rather than hours, and the rest of the web sites I was using worked much more smoothly.

The problem felt like the LAN connection to that particular WAP must have been dropping packets (and lots!), either due to a bad cable or a bad interface. So if you’re ever at the Comfort Inn on Elm Hill Pike in Nashville, avoid BBHWIRELESS_18.

Overall, our experience with hotel wifi has been good. Performance hasn’t always been the best, but the availability has been ubiquitous, and as opposed to a few years ago, always free. The only exception was the non-national-chain sportsman-oriented motel we stayed in outside of DeSmett, South Dakota.

It Looked Innocent Enough…

The ice cream cone sign, visible from the interstate, drew us in.

There was also a fresh food market inside, with produce and everything. Very nice! Who would have dreamed that this placid exterior hid a fast food restaurant inside?

Well, there we were, and it wasn’t McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Arby’s, Hardees, etc. It was Braum’s. So we ate.

Camping Redux

Tonight we are in Green River State Park, Utah. We made it out of Colorado (sadly), and on to our first night of four consecutive camping nights. We will be here one night only, then two nights at the next site, between Bryce and Zion, then a fourth night on the north rim of the Grand Canyon. After that, a night in a lodge on the south rim, then on to Flagstaff, Arizona to visit with Susan’s cousins and aunt.

By the way…

While our main goal on this trip is to have fun and see many amazing wonders, which we certainly have been doing, we had a few personal guidelines to help us make decisions along the way:

1. No fast food – Subway is allowed but we haven’t been there yet and Dairy Queen is allowed for ice cream only. Unfortunately some of the food at tourist places like Niagara was not much better than fast food – we have been having lots of picnics. So far, so good.

2. No Wal-Mart – we were directed to Wal-mart when we asked about the nearest grocery store – but we declined and waited for a better opportunity. So far, so good.

3. Return in better shape than when we left (parents mostly) – no great progress to report on this one, but we are plenty active when we get out of the car, so I think we are holding steady. There will be more hiking in the 2nd part of the trip.

Just a little insight into the strange workings of our minds.

More about our fun day at the Rockies game in another post!!!