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Yes, I’m a geek that works on computers

I primarily work with people who have clients that need digital magic to happen. The tag line on my business card is "I solve problems". For the longest time, I was drawn to projects that started off with descriptions like "We’ve had 3 other developers fail to get this done" or "That expert in Florida says this can’t be done." I liked these projects. I liked the challenge and I could usually get it done. However, they are high risk and often not very profitable. Usually the reason three other developers fail to accomplish the task has less to do with a programming problem and more to do with a management problem. It is hard to pay the mortgage with "man that felt good!"

I still work with people who have clients that need things done. Effectively I build web applications for businesses but I usually go through a middle (wo)man. In the past this middle person has been a venture capitalist trying to launch his clients with the greatest of success. It has been other developers with too much on their plates. Most often, designers/artists that need functionality programmed into the website. Imagine you had a bookstore and wanted to sell your books online. I’d be the person who writes the shopping system that allows your customers to browse books online, add them to a shopping cart, and make the purchase online. The part of a website like that which most people never see is the inventory control part. That’s where the employees log in to add or remove books from the system. It’s just a big a project as the front end where the shoppers go but instead of thousands of people seeing it, 2, 3 or 10 people use it. Of course, you cannot sell books online without a tracking system for shipping so I would write the code that generates shipping labels, ties into UPS or Fedex or the post office, and tracks the packages. Then if your bookstore decided that it wanted to manage it’s human resources through the web with a punchcard system for managing when employees clocked in and clocked out, scheduling of employees, and payroll (tying the system into Quickbooks), I’d write that. Next if you decided the punchcard system wasn’t efficient enough and you wanted the employees to wear RFID id badges and used those for clocking in and clocking out, I’d write that.

Now there isn’t a computer person alive before the time of the Geek Squad who didn’t say, "wow! I need to create a business repairing people’s computers." The Geek Squad was not an original idea. I know I had the vision of teams of nerds running to people’s homes fixing computers. I did it for awhile. I know I have friends who had the same vision. But Best Buy had the resources that we lacked to launch. Tthere is not profit in repairing computers. Computers have become disposable. What holds value is data. If people would move their work primarily to The Cloud or create and understand a backup system that removed the dependence upon a particular machine, then instead of paying a geek to repair your computer, you could just buy a new one! The Geek Squad doesn’t make money on repairs. It makes money on upsales. When you get a repair and they sell you an Antivirus program or a new hard drive or another memory stick then they make money.

I do fix computers for friends and family. I charge a flat rate of $135 which is less than what you will pay the Geek Squad. I don’t know if it is true but I’ve read that the Geek Squad will also put in a limited number of hours and then declare that the computer needs reformatting. I won’t do that. Usually I put 5 hours into a machine plus I run some diagnostic software overnight and dust out the computer. It’s a nice thing to do on a weekend. My effort amounts to substantially less than I charge hourly for programming but there is a good karma to making sure someone’s computer is functioning correctly.

However, sometimes I get bitten. I took in a friend’s laptop because it was hanging/locking up. I was thinking some malware had a hold of it. A week later the computer is still with me and starting to get in the way of my real work and my friend is becoming frustrated. It may have some defective hardware but the diagnostics I have run have not found any physical problems. It might be a driver problem but downloading the latest drivers from the manufacturer’s website didn’t help. This is a Dell Inspiron 1525 running Vista with service pack 1. Any attempt to install service pack 2 takes an hour to install and at the very end of the process, the installer announces "failed" and reverts back to sp1. Right now I’m sitting on a BSOD:

A problem has been detected and Windows has been shut down to prevent damage to your computer.


If this is the first time you’ve seen this Stop error screen, restart your computer. If this screen appears again, follow these steps:

Check to make sure any new hardware or software is properly installed. If this is a new installation, ask your hardware or sofware manufacturer for any Windows updates you might need.

If problems continue, disable or remove any newly installed hardware or sofware. Disable BIOS memory options such as caching or shadowing. If you need to use Safe Mode to remove components, restart your computer, press F8 to select Advanced Startup Options, and then select Safe Mode.

Technical information:
*** STOP: 0x0000000A (0x00000018, 0x00000002, 0x00000000, 0x81C590FC)

This screams bad hardware or a bad driver. However, I’ve read that this goes away by installing service pack 2. That would be the thing that installs 100% then reverts back to service pack 1. Oh the irony!

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Today’s Technical Challenge

This one is aside from the normal programming endeavors. Tommy’s laptop, Vista installed, is refusing to logoff the current user. It has been saying "Logging Off.." for hours. Various forums have suggestions about an IE update to fix the problem, driver updates, unsigned drivers, blah blah blah. None of that matters if you cannot get the machine to some kind of command prompt or other useable interface. I’m going to try pulling the battery out and removing all power.

Update: Removing the battery and power cable, then waiting a few minutes before reconnecting power fixed the problem.

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Vista Fails to Connect to Samba

I was (still am) a huge fan of the e-smith gateway server (now SME Server see also which was a very simplistic way to take almost any computer and have it up and running as a email, web, database server and more in under 2 hours. It has reliably been my development server of choice for years although my next nix server is likely to be Ubuntu.

I am having a problem getting Vista to authenticate across the network to allow me to browse directories and work on my development files. As it turns out, the default Vista security is set to use only NTLMv2 authentication. Samba can’t handle this. One solution is:

To solve the problem run secpol.msc to get into the Local Security Policy screen. Goto "Security Options" then find "Network Security: LAN Manager authentcation level." Change it from "NTVLM2 responses only" to "LM and NTLM – use NTLMv2 session security if negociated”.

Now, to exasperate the problem, Vista Home Premium does not have secpol.msc. Instead you must manually edit the registry. Use caution when editing the registry! Run regedit. Navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Lsa. Look for the key LmCompatibilityLevel, right click, choose modify, and change the number to the appropriate value of 0 to 5.

0 – Clients use LM and NTLM authentication, but they never use NTLMv2 session security. Domain controllers accept LM, NTLM, and NTLMv2 authentication.

1 – Clients use LM and NTLM authentication, and they use NTLMv2 session security if the server supports it. Domain controllers accept LM, NTLM, and NTLMv2 authentication.

2 – Clients use only NTLM authentication, and they use NTLMv2 session security if the server supports it. Domain controller accepts LM, NTLM, and NTLMv2 authentication.

3 – Clients use only NTLMv2 authentication, and they use NTLMv2 session security if the server supports it. Domain controllers accept LM, NTLM, and NTLMv2 authentication.

4 – Clients use only NTLMv2 authentication, and they use NTLMv2 session security if the server supports it. Domain controller refuses LM authentication responses, but it accepts NTLM and NTLMv2.

5 – Clients use only NTLMv2 authentication, and they use NTLMv2 session security if the server supports it. Domain controller refuses LM and NTLM authentication responses, but it accepts NTLMv2.

[Source, Microsoft TechNet, LmCompatibilityLevel]

In this case, to support Samba, I want the value to change from the default of 3 to 1.

After doing this, reboot for the change to take affect. Next, read Security Watch The Most Misunderstood Windows Security Setting of All Time.

See also.