Aug

31

By Zen Render

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Categories: General

A long time ago, I made music.

Might do it again some time soon.

Aug

6

By Zen Render

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Categories: General

Posting from my phone.

Cause that’s what little dudes do. Vancouver has been stupidly hot, these last two months. Seriously, deeply, depressingly hot. I’m oh, so very glad I generally work in an air-conditioned environment, or I’d be even more distracted and prone to staring off into space than usual.

Warped the heck outta my front tire a week ago. Rather, RE-warped my wheel.

I keep thinking I have something to say, and that I should post, but I don’t.  I really don’t.  It’s hot.  That’s about all I know these days.

Still like you folks out there, though.  I read your blogs, really, I do.  Keep going, I’ll try to catch up properly when we get back to rainy Sunday afternoons.

May

22

By Zen Render

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Categories: Software

Windows Application Automation 101

Wrote this up today for someone, and decided to clean this up a little and drop it here, since the few technical articles I post seem to get a lot of hits (compared to the rest of the blog). 
MSI (The Easy Way)
 
In the case of MSI, this will almost always be your command line for hands-free installation:
  • Msiexec /i {InstallerFile.msi} /qb
    • (/qb = quiet basic – will show progress bars, but not ask any questions, this is preferable to completely silent /qn, at least to test)
For other applications and installers, they’re either an MSI wrapped in a single executable (like Acrobat Reader), or a different type of installer (like Nullsoft Installer) and will have their own switches.  Below are a few of the tricks and tools I use to find out how best to get these applications into “silent” mode as much as possible.

Tools You Will (Probably) Need
  • Universal Silent Switch Finder (USSF) http://www.msfn.org/board/topic/17940-universal-silent-switch-finder-01/
  • Universal Extractor (install this on your system, it’ll give you the ability to right-click on many executables and extract them into a folder) http://legroom.net/software/uniextract
  • WinRAR (also handy for pulling apart some installers)
  • Procexp.exe Process explorer, great for determining command line of a nested installer after you run the “big” installer http://technet.microsoft.com/en-ca/sysinternals/bb896653.aspx
  • Elevated Shortcut to give the ability to run certain apps without UAC or administrator capabilities on a “per shortcut” basis, can upgrade an existing shortcut to have admin rights, or create a completely new one.
    • Very useful if there’s an executable/installer that only runs with Admin capabilities
    • Some only need admin rights during install or the first time they’re run
    • Can be used for non-admins to install things in a one-off fashion (printer drivers) or VPN client, etc
    • http://topsoftzone.com/program/9686/Elevated_Shortcut.html
  • A disposable Virtual Machine of WinXP or Win7

    • Set to snapshot so you can rollback often, nothing but updates installed so you can install all/one app and then roll it back if it works as expected, leaving a clean machine for further testing.
  • Steve’s Explorer Bar (StExBar) from Tortoise (the same people that make SVN) http://tools.tortoisesvn.net/StExBar.html
    • Once installed, you can enable the new StEx toolbar in the Windows Explorer that will give you the ability to copy either the filename only or the full path of a file without having to ever type it out, very useful when scripting installations
  • Uninstall Cleanly (also known as “UnClean2.0”) which can display all of your installed applications, and with most of the apps, it will also show the UNINSTALL command line, which can be used to remove previous versions if necessary
  • WPIW: Windows Post Installation Wizard
    • Pretty front end for scripted/batched commands
    • http://www.wpiw.net/
Option #1: USSF
  • If you take the installer file and drag/drop it onto the USSF.exe
    • You should be given back the switches that it can find for that type of file (things like /S and /SuppressSilent /NoReboot)
    • Copy/paste those into a command line and test to see if you can install it cleanly while running Silent
Option #2: Extract via WinRar/Universal Extractor
  • If you can, right-click and “WinRar” or “UniExtract to Subdir” the installer into a folder, and find the setup.exe or similar in there, and return to Option #1 to see if you can run a silenced install.
Option #3: Run and Trap the Installer
  • In some cases, you can run the installer, stop at the first “Next” screen, and then open Process Explorer and see what the nested executable is (under the base setup.exe, you might see a child process in a temp or AppData folder somewhere.  Go grab that folder and see what’s in there.)
    • This is especially true for applications like Chrome and Shockwave Player that have small “helper” applications for download, but then pull down the “real” installer and run that.  If a 40MB app has a 300K installer, you know something’s up.
      • Watch out for these, as they will often delete the “helper” app once the full installer’s been downloaded, thus killing your automation by removing the installer’s executable.
    • Once you’ve got that folder, look for executables and drop them on the USSF again, to see what you can find.
Option #4: Is there a portable version?
  • Sometimes there’s no graceful way to install an application, but if you still want to install it quickly to a number of workstations, see if perhaps the developers offer a “portable” version of the app.  One that runs completely out of the installation folder, without any installation necessary.

Note: Portable applications are not listed as installed applications in the registry, so they’re effectively “invisible” to utilities that search systems for installed programs  Keep that in mind if you plan on going portable with something – you probably won’t be able to track it effectively.


Inserting Licenses and Keys:
  • Many applications have the ability to include the installation key in the installation (either in the command line, or in an XML or INI file in the install directory)
  • If you can’t find documentation from the originator of the software, try some of the large installation repositories like http://www.itninja.com (previously appdeploy.com) or Spiceworks databases before googling it
  • Remember that key automation could mean difficulty finding those keys again later, or having many seats with the same key unintentionally

Fonts:
Fonts can be copied into the target system’s “c:\Windows\Fonts\” folder or app by hand if you’re an admin, but if you forcibly copy them in via network access (\\machinename\c$\windows\fonts\), they won’t show up as usable until they’re been imported into the registry too.
  • Install the needed font(s) on your local machine via drag/drop
  • Start>run>regedit
    • Go to: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Fonts
    • R-Click on the fonts folder and select export (export it to your desktop)
  • Open the resultant .reg file with a text editor
  • Delete all of the fonts listed in the exported file, except the ones you want to deploy
    • Also, Do NOT delete these lines:
    • Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00
    • [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Fonts]
  • Copy the font TTF files to target’s Fonts folder, and import the .reg file with REGEDIT /S {Regfile}
  • Reboot the system

Once you have your installer figured out, you can add the executable to the Windows Post Installation tool (WPI) found in the \WindowsUpdates folder.
 
WPI and the collected installations:
  • After launching the WPI, click Config, and find the application you’re replacing, or updating.
    • Make sure the description is reasonable (add version numbers if it makes sense)
    • Check/Add the command line that you’ve found with full path based on the steps you went through above
    • Set which category and configurations need this app (Utilities/Base)
  • Save/Exit to go back to the main WPI screen
  • Select None, and check your new app only
  • Begin installation to test.
“Gotchas” and Things To Watch Out For
  • Always test your installations to find out what happens if there’s already an old/same version installed
    • Eg: New version of Firefox installation that takes 4 seconds to install is good – but one that blows away your saved passwords and settings is bad.
  • Run every app at least once to make sure it really did what you think it did – It may have completed installation successfully, but does it actually launch now?
    • Also check for any first-run weirdness (like checks for updates, or registration, or plugins)
  • For some installers, re-running the setup on a system that already has the app will uninstall it from the machine, or change the installation
    • Example: Office 2007 upgraded to Office 2010 can remove Access 2007, even if Office 2010 didn’t include it.
  • Also watch out for installers/updates that forcibly reboot your system when completed silently.
  • It’s common for apps to quit if they detect that msiexec is already running, so sometimes you need to leave a few seconds pause to let one installation finish before launching the next one
  • Is the application installed for ALL users, or just the currently logged-in user/admin?  Google Chrome is a good example of this.
  • Printers are also not installed globally unless specifically added with the /ga switch
    • Type the following into the command prompt:
      • rundll32 printui.dll,PrintUIEntry /ga /n\\server\printername
    • In other words, to add mylj03, the command line is:
    • rundll32 printui.dll,PrintUIEntry /ga /n\\server\mylj03
  • Try not to leave icons all over your user’s desktop – collect them into a folder under c:\users\public\desktop so they can’t delete them, but can copy them out onto their own desktop or quicklaunch bar if they want to.
    • Quick way is to move all *.lnk files at the end of your installation pass

Nov

7

By Zen Render

1 Comment

Categories: General

Namo’12_11_07: Wait, go back, you’re WHO?

Had this conversation with a server at work today:


Who is it?
I’m your husband, Bob, a human being that lives here.
Never heard of you.
Uh, but I live here. See? These are my keys. They don’t work though.
Nope, you don’t exist. There’s a class of things called humans, but not the group that lives here. No Bobs.
Okay, can I eat the ham and swiss sandwich you have on the 2nd shelf in the fridge?
SURE!
Can I walk back out the front door with it?
I SAID… NEVER HEARD OF YOU!

For an hour today, our users were EITHER stuck on the front porch unable to get in, or in the kitchens and bedrooms of the house.

NO FOYER, though.

Nov

1

By Zen Render

2 Comments

Categories: General, Music, randomness

Namo’12_11_01: Those Aren’t Dust Bunnies, They’re Dust BEARS.

Hi.  Been eleven months.  Any of you still out there? I occasionally post on Twitter now, and maybe post a little more often on Facebook, but mostly I just.

I just what? I work. I cycle. I sleep. I surf. I make stupid jokes at my lovely wife, the doula/writer/teacher/mom, and watch my kids get huge.  17combined years of childhood combine in the house to create one hell of a mess sometimes.  Also, we have rats now. Rats are odd.

I occasionally drive around in other people’s cars. People keep giving me cars, or asking me to drive their car, or park it somewhere. I sound like a mule, but I’m totally not. Just near the airport, and the sort of person not likely to destroy your vehicular baby. Though there was that one time I went WAY too fast through the tunnel, but I was young and foolish, as opposed to now. I’m older.

Holy crap you guys, I’m almost 42 now. I’m not going to ask where the time went, ’cause I know where it went. Away.

There’s some sort of format radio button that’s called Aside, and I suspect if I played with it even once, I would probably want to use it all the time, and wonder why Thunderbird/Facebook/Twitter don’t also all have this wonderous feature.

So I’d better just leave it the heck alone.

Instead, I’ll play you a little of what I’ve been hearing in my head while cycling the 10k to/from work every day this Summer up until, the uh, the third day of Bike-To-Work-Week.  To be fair (to me, not to you) there’s been some reasonably good excuses for driving my dad’s car to work for the last two days, but they’re more about reason (I’m getting a cold? I have to get home faster than 30+ minutes?) and less about anything approaching what I’d normally do.

Ramble bramble scramble, get on with the music.  Alt-J album An Awesome Wave simply blew my mind, and continues to do so, a full two months of heavy rotation later.  I’ll let it speak for itself, but I wanted to say that I’m pretty sure this the most beautiful control and playfulness I’ve ever heard in what is, at best, a very weird voice.

And I’m a big fan of weird vocalists.

Thanks for stopping in and feel free to say hi.

Nov

30

By Zen Render

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Categories: General

NaBloPoM’Over: Day 30

As the years go on, I’m sad to say that I think Bono is looking more and more like Robin Williams.

Had my Dr’s appointment today, and we talked about the Xray, and while they didn’t say “there’s nothing” they DID say “the not-nothing is probably nothing,” so I’m thinking that there’s nothing to worry about, but I’ll either be optimistically correct or willfully ignorant.  At least until I get concrete proof that there’s something to worry about.  My Dr didn’t want to renew my blood thinners, so that’s a good sign, I think.

Gotta head off to bed, but if you’ve been reading over this past month, thanks for dropping by, and I’ll try to post more than once every six months.

Be good to yourself, and if you can’t, be good to someone else.

Nov

29

By Zen Render

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Categories: General

NaBloPoMo: Day 29

Just watched Betty White’s interview on The Daily Show and I think I’m probably not the first to come up with this, but I think Phoebe from Friends is a direct scriptwriting descendant from Betty White’s Rose from Golden Girls, who was, I suspect, based on Georgette from Mary Tyler Moore.  I wonder if that makes Kenzie from Lost Girl Georgette’s great granddaughter?

Intense conversations in the evening lead to silliness in the witching hour.

Who else are proto-characters out there that we can draw lines (and sure, stretch the boundaries of characters to the point where we end up with only eight characters for the eight stories in the world)?  I wonder if you grid out the stories vs the characters into the 64 possibilities, will you end up with at least one season of watchable TV?  Probably a question for XKCD, and people who don’t need to be AT work at 830 tomorrow.

Nov

29

By Zen Render

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Categories: General

NaBloPoMo: Day 28

Dropped the ball last night.  Wasn’t even that I didn’t have anything to say.  I got into bed around 11:45, and was reading my book (the new Stephen King – pretty good, but it’s making me tense with the timeline stuff in a way that Connie Willis has repeatedly NOT done) and did a facepalm because I’d forgotten to post.  Even after sleeping in until NOON-THIRTY, I was still spacey when going back to bed a mere twelve hours later.

Rode to and from work today.  Pretty good rides, but woof, I gotta remember to stretch for a while after riding, ’cause the number of times I literally said “oof” out loud when getting up was bordering on pathetic.  At least I’m still limber enough to stretch when I get into doing it.  My shoulders are pretty blown out (haven’t had a bad dislocation aside from the occasional poing for quite a while, if you don’t count me trying to do a somersault in the pool on the last day of our Disneyland trip.

And boom, just like that, I just bought Endomondo Pro for $3.99  I will now be able to chase my best time in either direction and my headphones will be telling me whether I’m pacing, leading, or trailing.  Oh, maybe

That’s one thing that the folks at the Apple Appstore got right – pricing.  MOST games are $2.99 or less.  Most applications for business are under $10.  Angry birds is less than a Starbucks coffee, and last I heard they had over 500,000 purchases.  Blackberry?  I love you, really I do, but I remember seeing a THEME for $35.00 once.  It’s ICONS and wallpaper, people.  I mean, c’mon.

My only hope for Blackberry now is that Google purchased Motorola, and Motorola makes the Blackberry guts (they, do, right? I’m not just making that up, am I?) so we’ll soon see Blackberry devices running Android.  With LED lights on them that change colours so I can tell from across the room which account that mail was from, or make disco lights if it’s my wife, or go silent when on my hip, and non-vibrate-y when on the table.  PLEASE DO THIS!  BUT!

BUT!

Figure out a way to make central management, control, and policy possible on Blackberry running Android, ’cause it just doesn’t exist on iPhone.  Someone highly-placed in my company calls me and says “omigod, someone just stole my iPhone, and all my data’s on it!” there’s really next to nothing I can do about it.  In my days at EA, I could have immediately locked and erased the device remotely, and left a note on the screen saying where to take the unit for reward.  iPhone?  You better have that “Where’s my iPhone?” application (and a friend with another iPhone to track it with) and be ready to face a desperate thief in a dark alley who thinks they’re holding something that’ll keep them in food/shelter for a week.  You want that fight?  I don’t.

Also, was listening to this thing the other day about “shadow work” and that now everyone with an iPhone has to provide their own technical support for it, because frankly, there’s not a lot an IT person can do to help you get set up with it, because hey, it’s yours, and techies don’t like play “last touchies” with your personal gear.  If I can’t tell you what NOT to do with it, how can it be my problem to fix it if it gets screwed up?  Shadow work is the work that used to be done by someone else, but now, in order to cut costs, you’re being asked to do it yourself.  Y’know, self-checkout and bag-your own groceries, and they were saying that cel phone support is shadow work, because so many people have their OWN phone, but use it for work, so they need to straddle work with home stuff on the same device, and sometimes they collide, and you end up having to fix your gear so it’ll do work stuff again.  Nothing really new, but now the owness (that’s the word, right?) is on you to fix it because it’s YOURS and nobody’s put anything on it, instead of you bringing your laptop in to work because “ever since you guys put that VPN software on my computer, it’s acting weird.”

Also, the Spokelit bike lights I have in my wheels (two in each, for that Tron-esque spinny look)?  They come in colours other than orange now.  SWEET!

Nov

27

By Zen Render

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Categories: General

NaBloPoMo: Day 26

Woke up early today.  Maybe early for me, at least.  6:55 and I was snapped out of a dream in which I was trying to get myself on transit to go somewhere, and was being carried by a throng of people in a way that my Aunt once described from when she was at a Bruce Springsteen concert and got caught in a press, and was moved along without her feet on the floor.  Same thing for me in this dream.  Decided to give up trying to get onto transit, and just ride my bike, because I knew where my bike would take me, even if it took me a long time to get there.

I think my legs are trying to tell me something.  Better than back in March, when my left calf tried to kill me.  I’ve got an appointment with my Dr. on the 30th to talk about my Xray, and the blood thinners, and the whole bit. Here’s hoping this NaBloPoMo ends on a high note.

Also, Born on the Fourth of July is on, so hey, let’s watch something happy.  Usually when Arwen’s out for the evening, I end up watching apocalypse movies.  Zombies, killer virus, nukes, etc.  Tonight though, some Saturday Night Live (rerun) some Almost Famous (amazing how much the camera loves Penny Lane in that film).

The kids and I went for a run to this odd store (two of them, actually) that has all the stuff that didn’t sell at Costco.  It’s so deeply weird in there.  It’s like the clearance table you sometimes see in places like Radio Shack, or Home Depot, only it has an entire warehouse-load of stuff.  The kids always look longingly at the video games for $12, and I have to remind them that yes, $12 is a lot less than the usual $39 for games they’d want to play, but look at what these games ARE, and think about why they didn’t sell the first time around.

Also have to remind them about what As-Is may or may not mean.  To look closely at what the stickers say.  To be fair though, that R2D2 for $65 looks pretty good when they sell for $199 on Hammacher Schlemmer, despite the “does not respond to voice commands” tag on it.  I figure it’d last a week here before the kids accidentally sent it down the stairs.

Nov

25

By Zen Render

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Categories: General

NaBloPoMo: Day 25

Long day, but a good one.  Rode in to work and felt like my legs remembered the hills on the way in.  It’s a bit of a deadhead run from our place on 67th up to the breaking point at somewhere between 41st and 33rd.  Wherever the RCMP offices are, right around there.  From there it’s all downhill.  Not great time, again, ’cause I’m nervous about ice, and haven’t been doing much riding lately, but I felt pretty good when I arrived.  I grabbed a shower at work (love that they have them, it’s really something you get used to when there’s been showers at whatever work for me since 2003.)

Full day at work.  All good stuff.  Not everything I wanted to do, but solved some stuff that clears the path for Monday.

The ride home was bitterly cold when I started out, but nice and warm by the time I’d crossed Chinatown out to Scienceworld.

Bad Behavior has blocked 101 access attempts in the last 7 days.