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Downed by a network cable

My web server fell off the network today. I assumed the onboard network card had died, because all the standard troubleshooting got me nowhere. I couldn’t ping it, it couldn’t ping anything else, and ifconfig eth0 showed it was transmitting, but not receiving anything. And restarting all of my network equipment didn’t help.

So I dug around for a network card and struggled to remember how to configure a NIC in Linux, seeing as that’s something I haven’t had to do in six or seven years. But first I hoped I could just plug in a NIC and it would work, like magic. It happens sometimes.

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On troubleshooting

My Windows 7 upgrade was supposed to be a one-hour project on a Saturday afternoon. It dragged on until Wednesday. I’m at the point now where I probably have an hour’s work left on the machine–it’s Thursday now–but it’s late and I’m not sure I feel like it.

The answers–loading the BIOS defaults and changing the parallel port settings–seem obvious. Now. But when I look for my keys, where I finally find them seems obvious too, even though it sometimes takes a long time to find them.

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You network guys…

One of my clients has a problem. We’ll call him Melvin, because I like changing names when I tell stories.

Melvin doesn’t like network guys, and takes every possible opportunity to tell anyone within earshot. “You network guys don’t understand what’s going on over that wire, and you don’t want to.”

We do understand, but not the way he thinks network guys should. Melvin is wrong.

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Lionel Fastrack review

How Lionel Fastrack compares to traditional tubular track and competing O gauge track is a common question. I own both, so I can probably make a comparison. Here is my Lionel Fastrack review.

For the most part, it’s not bad. But it’s not perfect. For some people, the drawbacks are easy enough to overlook. For others, they could be showstoppers. You’ll have to decide for yourself.

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Christmas Eve, a train that wouldn’t run, and a happy ending

It was Christmas Eve. I finished playing Santa, then I plopped down in front of the computer to unwind and signed into Facebook. Internet pal John Dominik posted a status update about buying a Bachmann N-scale train set and it not working, and how he knew he should have tried it out before Christmas Eve. I offered to help. He related the epic troubleshooting he went through–OK, perhaps it wasn’t epic, but his account of the things he tried was longer than the Book of Jude and several other books of the Bible–and, frankly, there wasn’t anything I would have thought of that he hadn’t already tried. He went beyond that and even tried things I wouldn’t have tried. Or recommend, for that matter, but that’s OK. He mentioned he’d had a set of HO trains when he was younger, and that gave me an idea. I asked if he still had that power pack, because, if he was willing to do a little creative and sloppy wiring, he’d be able to get that new Bachmann set working with it. He said he did.

The temporary fix worked, and Christmas Eve was salvaged. John said he hoped Bachmann would be cooperative about the bad power pack.

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Computer won’t boot? Check your USB ports

A friend called me in panic. A brand-new computer, freshly reinstalled with Windows 7, suddenly wouldn’t boot.

I couldn’t figure it out. I looked up the manufacturer’s 800 number and suggested she call. Sure, I could fix the problem eventually, but the manufacturer would know the quirks of the motherboard they used better than I would. I’ve given up on trying to give anything but the most basic, superficial support of anything I don’t own myself–especially when it’s not sitting in front of me.

He had her change the boot order. For some reason the system was trying to boot off its RAID array before the SSD. That explained why the system took a couple of minutes to get through POST, then spend a few seconds booting. But that didn’t fix the problem.Read More »Computer won’t boot? Check your USB ports

Integrated components vs discrete

Integrated components vs discrete is an old argument. I distinctly remember setting up a server for a new big-shot in 2004. I opened the server up to put memory in, and found its PCI slots filled with cards that duplicated all of the on-board components.

I asked my boss about this, and he said the guy had insisted on doing this, because “discrete components are better.”

I’ve been making jokes at the guy’s expense ever since.

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Keeping a Lionel 1122 switch from buzzing

The other day I helped someone troubleshoot a Lionel 1122 switch that was buzzing and not operating. I don’t have time to take pictures or anything but hopefully this brief rundown will be helpful for someone.First, some background information: The Lionel 1122 and later switches are designed to switch automatically for an incoming train, because a train approaching the curved section of the switch when the switch is set straight will derail.

The buzzing generally is caused by a short circuit making the switch think a train is approaching when it isn’t.

This same procedure will aid in the troubleshooting of Lionel O22 switches as well as later non-derailing switches made by Lionel and K-Line.

First, remove the troublesome switch from the track. Connect two wires directly to the transformer, and touch one of the wires to any center rail. Touch the other wire to one of the outer rails of the curved leg. If the switch doesn’t snap, touch the wire to the other outer rail. The switch should operate. Whichever rail causes the switch to operate when touched with a wire needs an insulating O27 track pin, rather than a standard metal track pin. These pins, which used to be made of fiber but are now made of plastic, are available online and possibly from your local hobby shop.

Now that you’ve confirmed the curved leg works, repeat for the straight leg, and insert an insulating pin into that rail if one isn’t already present. If the switch operates on both legs in this fashion, the switch is operable and you just have a short circuit somewhere.

If the activating rails already had insulating pins and the switch still buzzes, you have a short circuit somewhere and you probably need to add more insulating pins. The center rail should never be insulated. But you may need to add insulating pins to several of the other rails. The easiest way to do this is to set up a simple loop on the floor with two switches, connect a transformer, put a locomotive on the track, and apply a little bit of power. If one or more switches still buzz, add insulating pins until the buzz goes away. This solution worked for us and got a layout that had two buzzing 1122s (out of three total) working again.

Basic Windows printer troubleshooting

I “fixed” a printer this weekend. It took me about a minute. That’s because I know Windows printer troubleshooting.

Chances are I can teach you how to fix printers in minutes too–assuming the problem is more software than hardware, like it was in this case.

The first step should always be to turn the printer off. Many printer problems are caused by a job being hung in memory, and cycling the power clears that.

Next, before you turn the printer back on, clear the print queue. Go to Control Panel and into printers, double-click on the printer being affected, then click on Printer, and select Cancel all Documents. Or if you’re in a real hurry, you can do it from a command line, which is always faster.

Now turn the printer back on and try printing something. In extreme cases you may have to turn the printer back off, reboot, and turn the printer back on.

Chances are, after doing this, the printer will print fine. Try printing whatever it was that hung you up again. Failing that, try printing something else. If that works, the problem is whatever you’re trying to print.

At this point, look for an updated driver. Or try making a subtle change to whatever you’re trying to print. By subtle change, adding a space somewhere may be enough. Even to the end of a line, where it won’t be visible. Adding a space and then immediately taking it back out may be enough too, for that matter.

Troubleshooting Packagefortheweb packages

Under some circumstances when installing an app from a Packagefortheweb archive, such as Sun’s JRE, I get a goofy error message like “Cannot run 16-bit Windows Program” or a message about a failure to find a path with long filenames in it.

It’s a bit of a pain but you can fix it.The trick is to extract the file rather than run it. I found PowerArchiver can do it. Winzip may also be able to. I wish I had a command-line utility to do it but I don’t.

Extract it to a short directory name, then move it to the root drive. Then run your setup.exe. That should be the end of your problems. Clean up afterward to eliminate directory clutter.