Category Archives: Networking

Phone Only App Manages Spectrum Networks

Man! I am NOT a happy camper right now. I just figured out that my DHCP leases have changed, but DNS isn’t tracking same. Thus, my “fixed” correlation between machine name X12Hybrid and 192.168.1.20 is no longer valid. The last digits of the IPv4 have changed. But NSlookup still sees the aforementioned address. And in attempting to troubleshoot the issue, I’ve just learned I can’t login to my router from a PC on my LAN. Because a phone only app manages spectrum networks, I must go through my iPhone.

Why Phone Only App Manages Spectrum Networks Is a Drag

I’m used to getting up close and personal with the Spectrum router through a web-based login. I know that interface, and can use it well. Now I not only have to learn a new interface instead, I must also:

  • run it through a smartphone with a ~3″x6″ display
  • try to figure out how (or perhaps even if) what I already know how to do inside one utility still works in another

It’s frustrating to be FORCED to use a cellphone when I have large screens at my disposal. I’ve shared my sentiments with the Spectrum tech support crew — a nice and genuinely helpful bunch of folks — but it seems to make little difference.

That’s progress, I guess. I can’t say I see this as a step forward. I can approve of using the phone app as an alternative to the old way. I can’t approve of using it as an out-and-out replacement. Sigh.

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Use NSlookup for Machine Name Checks

Certain recent Dev Channel builds have played intermittent hob with RDP. Thus, for example, I had to switch from using the machine name to its IP address to RDP into one particular PC. In troubleshooting that issue, I quickly realize it makes sense to use NSlookup for machine name checks. Indeed as you can see in the lead-in graphic, when NSlookup resolves that name correctly, RDP will also accept that name to establish a connection.

Why Use NSlookup for Machine Name Checks?

Because it will tell you if RDP can recognize the machine name. Under the hood, both RDP and NSlookup rely on access to local DNS records to resolve the name into an IP address (see lead-in graphic). When the command line works, RDP should also be able to rely on the same underlying service — namely, DNS — to do its thing as well.

Of course, this raises the question as to why my local DNS server — which runs on the boundary device from Spectrum that sits between my LAN and the cable Internet connection — sometimes fails to resolve valid machine names. Feature upgrades can cancel existing IP address leases, and require the DNS cache to be rebuilt. And apparently, recent lightning storms can also mess with that device’s DNS cache when the power fails. So, I’m learning to flush and rebuild that cache as part of local device hygiene.

At least I now know what’s going on and why I must sometimes switch from machine names to IP addresses to access certain devices. Good thing it’s easy to log into and handle the reset over the LAN. It’s always something, right?

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Overcoming RDP Access Hurdles

Here at Chez Tittel, I’ve got 9 PCs in my office. 2 Desktops and 7 laptops, to be more specific. I like to access most of them from my primary desktop. That’s because it sports a couple of aging but still decent Dell 2717 Ultrasharp monitors. Over the years, I’ve encountered interesting issues in making RDP (remote desktop protocol) connections to my “Other PCs.” For me, overcoming RDP access hurdles usually involves one or more of three workarounds.

Three Workarounds to Overcome RDP Access Hurdles

These workarounds help to address a list of problems that include:

  • Can’t find remote PC
  • Can’t authenticate login credentials
  • Password error despite known, good working account/pwd pair

Workaround #1: Try the device IPv4 address

When the Remote Desktop Connection (or Remote Desktop app) simply can’t find a machine name, it’s always a good idea to try the target PC’s IPv4 address instead. As shown in the lead-in graphic for this story, it worked to get me into a Lenovo X380 Yoga I just put through a bunch of Windows 11 upgrades.

Workaround #2: Try a Different MSA

On occasion, when I try to login to a remote PC using my current Microsoft Account (MSA) it just won’t get past authentication. This is often a symptom of difficulty in getting MS authentication to work properly. When that happens, I will try another one of my known, good working MSAs (I have three, as I write this story). That does occasionally work, especially if I’ve already used that MSA on the target machine already. Go figure!

Workaround #3: Try a Local Account Instead of MSA

Sometimes, RDP will strenuously resist allowing you to establish an RDP connection over the LAN using a Microsoft Account (via its associated email address). In fact, it generates an account name/password error, even though I’m using a known, good working MSA account name and its associated password to try to login.

When that happens I’ve found that setting up a local admin account — one named, LocalU, for example — will get me right into the target PC. That’s also on display in the lead-in graphic where I had to use both workarounds at once to get into that PC. Sigh.

Remember: Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way

If you need to establish an RDP session on a remote PC, you can usually figure out a way to make such a connection work. If the preceding workarounds don’t do the trick, try the other tips in this 2021 WindowsReport story: it offers pretty good tips, tricks and advice.

 

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Manual OneDrive Update

Late last week, SUMo (Software Update Monitor) informed me that the version of OneDrive on the home-from-school PC was outdated. It didn’t update itself, nor did any of my usual update tools handle this item either. Thus, I found myself asking: “How do I perform a manual OneDrive Update?” The answer, quite fortunately, is: “Easy!”

Working Through Manual OneDrive Update

If you right-click the OneDrive cloud symbol in the taskbar notification area, a menu appears. Click “Settings” from that menu (shown in the lead-in graphic for this story).

Next, click the “About” tab at the upper left of the resulting OneDrive window. If you the click on the version number in the “About Microsoft OneDrive” pane (boxed in red below), it takes you to the OneDrive release notes page.

The Build number clues you into what’s running on the target PC.

From there, you can compare the version number for the installed version (shown in your UI) and the “Last released build” under  the “Production ring” heading on the web page. If the numbers agree, you’re up to date. If the on-web version is higher numbered than the local one, click the link to download the OneDriveSetup.exe file. You need only double-click that file to bring your OneDrive version current. Easy-peasey!

Ordinarily, OneDrive takes care of itself just fine. But if you find a PC with an out-of-date version — even a way out-of-date as on the former school laptop — this technique will catch you up quickly and easily. Cheers!

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Lightning Storm Prompts Network Rework

My son, Gregory, graduated from high school on Tuesday night. After we got home a big line of thunderstorms rolled through, and we experienced a quick half-dozen power interruptions. It wasn’t enough to toast anything, thank goodness. But that lightning storm prompts network rework here at Chez Tittel. Long story short, I’ve added a new GbE switch. I’m also keeping an eagle eye on my Asus AX6000, currently serving purely as a Wi-Fi Access Point (WAP) on my LAN.

Why the sudden vigilance and rework? Because the network starting crashing constantly the day after the T-storms rolled through. I think I’ve got things under control now, but only time will tell. For a while, though, I grew increasingly convinced the AX6000 had been damaged: the network stayed up with it out of the loop, and started crashing when it was added back in. After a factory reset and a recopy of the old configuration, though, it seems to be back in the pink. Perhaps the firmware got discombobulated?

If Lightning Storm Prompts Network Rework, Then What?

As I said before, I’m watching my network more closely than usual right now. My attempted cure — a factory reset on the WAP — seems to be holding up so far. I’m thinking about adding a second UPS to my office, so I can plug my networking gear in. This will not only let it run for a while on battery power, it will also provide added circuit protection.

What with family activities and a fast press at work right now, I’m definitely not down for extended, ongoing network troubleshooting. Hopefully my fix will hold. If not, I will purchase a new WAP. I may also swap out my two 8-port GbE switches for a 16-port model with more professional features. Given that time is money, I’d rather spend a little extra in exchange for improved reliability and availability.

And, that’s the way things go here in Windows-World, especially when the T-storms start rolling through…

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RDP Goes MIA Following KB4014650 Update

Yesterday (May 10) was Patch Tuesday. A plethora of updates hit for Windows 10 and 11 across most versions. Right now, various Windows news outlets are reporting issues with some of the updates just released. Naturally, I wanted to check to see if any of my PCs were affected, In reaching out to my various systems, I noticed RDP goes MIA following KB4014650 update to at least one of my Windows 11 Dev Channel PCs.

FWIW, that’s different from issues reported elsewhere (see this WindowsLatest story for an example). Most revolve around issues related to .NET Framework 3.5 problems.

Fixing RDP Goes MIA Following KB4014650 Update

On my Lenovo X12 Hybrid, the symptoms of trouble were easy to spot. Even though the Belkin Thunderbolt 3 dock remained plugged in, the system saw neither its GbE connection, nor the nominal 5TB HDD plugged into one of its USB-C ports. Thus I knew something was up with peripheral connections. Fortunately, an unplug/re-plug operation brought both the dock and the drive back into service.

One of my X380 Yogas was unaffected by the update, and RDP kept working as always. Amusingly, the second instance (both machines are identical except that one has a Toshiba/Kioxa SSD, while the other has a Samsung, of which both are OEM varieties) did not come up right away. A visit to Settings → System → Remote Desktop to turn Remote Desktop off, then turn it back on, did the trick for this machine.

Neither fix was a big deal: each was obvious and thus easily identified, and likewise easy to fix. I can only wish all my Windows problems were this lacking in subtlety and amenable to repair. Long experience teaches me otherwise.

Shades of Other Days & Other Fixes

I can remember days when Windows 10 updates would routinely mess with my Network and Sharing Center settings. Advanced sharing settings for Private, Guest or Public, and All Network elements would routinely revert to their defaults. So then, I would have to re-set them to the way I wanted them to be. This latest set of issues strikes me as something in that vein. Hopefully, it will be just a one-time blip rather than a new continuing gotcha. Time will tell: I’ll keep watching, and report what I find. Stay tuned!

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911 Works Even With Low/No Coverage

In case you’ve wondered, I’ve been on a family vacation to points west. Our itinerary included great visits to White Sands (Las Cruces, NM), the Petrified Forest (Holbrook, AZ) and Tucson. While driving home on Friday, we found ourselves with a flat tire in a remote  area as night was falling. Our splendid E250 Bluetech is a great car, but does not sport a spare tire. Fortunately, I learned 911 works even with low/no coverage.

That’s extremely fortunate. Alas, I was unable to call out for local help. Mercedes roadside assistance needed to be dispatched from San Antonio, over two hours away from our then-present location. But dialing 911 on my iPhone 12, I was able to reach the local emergency response center.

Thank God: 911 Works Even With Low/No Coverage

At first, I was concerned that our situation didn’t count as a real “emergency.” Then my wife made several trenchant observations. We were nearly 20 miles from the nearest small town (the other, next closest was nearly 30 miles away). Night was falling. We were stuck on a narrow shoulder. Cars were zooming by, and our downhill stretch was a popular spot for faster vehicles to pass slower-moving ones. OK then: it was a bad spot to be in.

Her opinion: lack of local services, a bad location, and no outgoing cell or data connections meant it WAS an emergency. In less than a minute I was talking to a very friendly and helpful 911 operator. He agreed we needed help, and dispatched a tow truck from Brady, TX (about 40 miles away from our location).

Call Me Back, If You Hear Nothing…

Because the local signal was so weak, he asked me to call him back in an hour. When I did so, he said he’d tried to call me himself but couldn’t get through. A car carrier was on the way, and should be arriving in another half hour or so. Indeed, I’m glad 911 works to carry outgoing messages when other cellular traffic is impossible. Here’s an interesting explanation of what’s involved: How Can Mobile Phones Make ‘Emergency Calls’ When There’s No Network Coverage?

And indeed, about 90 minutes after my initial call to 911, a car carrier (my favorite brand: Jerr-Dan) appeared on the scene. Shameless plug: Henry, the helpful and skilled operator from Brady-based Back on Your Feet Towing had us loaded and back on the road in under 15 minutes. We would wind up negotiating a price to take our car to a tire repair center near our Round Rock home, over 200 miles away. It was infinitely preferable to spending the night in Brady, and waiting for repairs the next morning. As the ensuing repairs would prove, that was the right decision…

The Morning After

We wound up getting home after 1 AM that morning. Our flat occurred just before 8PM, with about 2.5 hours of driving time left to get home, But with several stops to refuel Henry’s truck, to check the tie-downs on our wounded car, and for bio-breaks, it ended up taking 3.5 hours to make the rest of the trek home.

At the tire repair place the next morning, I learned that the tread and the sidewall had started to separate on the passenger side front tire. I also figured out they were just over their 50,000 mile lifetime warranties. A new tire was immediately installed, and I’ll be ordering a new set this week. I have to imagine that in Brady we’d have waited hours for a replacement tire to come from Austin or San Antonio. In Round Rock, the whole repair took under half an hour!

We’re very lucky the tire didn’t fail more catastrophically. We’re also lucky that 911 works even with low/no coverage, even in the Texas boonies. That was an adventure I’d not wish to repeat any time soon.

Needless to say, we’re very, very glad to be home, safe and sound. A typical sentiment at any vacation’s conclusion, but more heartfelt than usual this time. And remember, when all else is unavailable, 911 is worth a try. Thank goodness it worked for us on Friday!

Note Added 1 Day Later: Worth Reading (and Remembering)

By default, the iPhone turns off Data Roaming (which lets a cellphone access other providers’ networks). Settings → Cellular Data → Cellular Data Options → Turn Data Roaming on. Had I done that on the deserted roadside, I’d have been able to tap into the same AT&T network my tow truck driver used to call from that location. Sigh: after talking to a friend who lives in Mullin, TX (also out in the boonies, not too far from our breakdown location, in fact) I learned that AT&T’s coverage in that part of Texas is much better than Verizon’s (the provider from whom Spectrum purchases their nationwide coverage). Good to know! Now you know, too…

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2021 Road Trip Technology Bag Contents

As I reported in my previous post, our family took a Texas-to-Florida road trip from December 18 through 30. It occurs to me readers might be interested in what came along for that ride, technology-wise. Thus, I’ll inventory our 2021 road trip technology bag contents, to show what the Tittel family used to stay in touch while traveling. I’ll also explain — briefly — how we used all that stuff.

Enumerating Road Trip Technology Bag Contents

To begin, I’ll simply list what we carried with us on the road by category and kind:

1. Laptops (2): Lenovo X1 Extreme (8th Gen i7, 32 GB RAM, 1.5 TB NVMe SSDs: 1 + 0.5 TB); Lenovo Yoga 7 14ITL5 (11th Gen i5, 16 GB RAM. 0.5 TB SSD), each with its own power brick and power cord.

2. iPad Air 2: 128GB storage, Wi-Fi + LTE

3. External battery packs: an older freebie (WIMVP 2018) 4,000 mAh, plus a newer RAVPower 26,800 mAh

4. Cable bag with 2xUSB/LIghtning cables for iDevices, 2xUSB A/USB-C cables, 2xUSB A/mini-USB cables for battery chargers, 2x iClever USB-A chargers with dual 2.4A charging ports

The cable bag was a convenience, a $17 ProCase Travel Gadget Organizer bag I purchased in 2020, and it appears as the lead-in graphic for this story. In fact, it proved its worth every day on the road. This organizer made it easy to store (and find) chargers and cables when and as they were needed in the 6 hotels we patronized on our trip.

Typical In-Hotel Usage Scenarios

The iClever chargers were vital for keeping our smartphones and iPad charged. We used them every day, without fail, along with the appropriate cables. The battery packs came in handiest on the long driving days (2 each way) to and from Florida. That’s because time in the car routinely outlasted battery life on at least 3 of those 4 days.

In the hotel room, I used the iPad for recreational reading and map checking. We also used the two laptops, both of which run the production version of Windows 11 (Build 22000.376). My wife and I shared the X1 Extreme. Indeed, I actually had to do about 6-7 hours of legal work on the trip as various questions and document drafts required my input.

My son took over the Yoga 7 as his exclusive PC, and reported that it met his needs for streaming video, email, light gaming, and managing his social contacts quite nicely. He also used it to work on a short 2-minute film he’s planning to shoot this weekend as part of his college application process (he wants to major in film).

Stowing the Gear

All of this stuff fit well into a standard “schoolbook” back pack we keep around for travel. Its large internal pouch easily accommo-dated both laptops inside a padded  sub-area with Velcro closure. The iPad, cable bag and battery packs went into the forward section of that same internal pouch. And finally, both laptop bricks lived in a half-height zippered pouch at the very front of the backpack.

We maintained this organization for the whole trip because it made unpacking and packing easy. Ditto for ensuring that everything was present and loaded during pre-departure checks.

The Bottom Line

As I look over my Amazon Order history, I see we spent under US$300 for the bag and its contents, not including laptops and iPad. All together, cables accounted for under $50, the chargers for about the same amount, and the bags the same again. The RAVPower charger was the big-ticket item, at about US$120. But it can recharge all three of our smartphones and the iPad, or extend battery life for either laptop by 2-4 hours. Well worth the cost, methinks. All this gear helped us stay informed and in touch — and organized — on the road. Good stuff!

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Bringing Offline Printers Back Online

Something odd is still fiddling with my local switch domain. Fortunately, it only affects my office here at Chez Tittel. The usual symptom is that my LAN-attached Samsung ML-2850 shows up in Devices and Printers. But it is grayed out and shows status as offline (see lead-in graphic, middle right and bottom). When that happens bringing offline printers back online requires a specific drill.

How-to: Bringing Offline Printers Back Online

I use Nir Sofer’s great little NetBScanner tool to confirm or establish the IPv4 address the Samsung uses. (Lately, it uses192.168.1.133.) I right-click the offline printer (labeled Samsung ML-2850 in the lead-in graphic). Then I select “Remove device” from the resulting pop-up menu. After that, I must confirm that removal by responding “Yes” to a prompt window that reads “Are you sure you want to remove this device.” Done!

Next, what has been removed gets reinstated. This means clicking “Add a printer” from the top-line menu, then clicking “The printer that I want isn’t listed” when the automated search fails to find the Samsung ML-2850. Next, I click the radio button next to “Add a printer using a TCP/IP address or hostname.” Then I double-check NetBScanner to confirm that the ML-2850’s IP address remains unchanged (aha! It’s moved to …134, so that’s what I enter).

I leave the default “use currently installed driver” option selected and click “Next” again. Then I shorten the printer name  to SamML-2850. Because the printer is network-attached, there’s no need to share it (this is required only for USB or other purely device-specific printer connections).

And when I print a test page, Presto! The printer is once again back online. Good stuff!

Bringing Offline Printers Back Online.restored

After removing and re-installing (after double-checking IP address) the Samsung networked printer is back online. Goody!
[Click image for full-sized view]

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Switch Replacement Fixes Network Woes

A few months ago, I found a failing NIC that knocked the network down. Before that, one of my ISP-provided boundary devices started failing. Yesterday, I lost the Ethernet side of my network. That is, the Wi-Fi from the boundary device kept working while the rest of the network crashed. Fortunately, I had a pretty good idea that my primary GbE switch might need replacement and had already ordered one through Dell in July. Even more fortunately, a quick switch replacement fixes network woes, and brings Ethernet back to life.

Literal Switch Replacement Fixes Network Woes

The funny thing is, I’ve been using the same switch in my office since we moved into this house in April 2006. And when I went to re-order, the same switch remains available at a knock-out price of US$40. It’s the venerable Netgear GS-108 unmanaged 8-port GbE switch and it works like a charm. I guess 15-plus years of uninterrupted, heavy-duty service ain’t bad. In fact, I’ve used all 8 ports all the time and that device is as close to a network backbone as the 12-15 devices around our house can access.

The blurb on the NetGear site reads “Set it and forget it, energy-efficient switches are built like tanks and last for decades.” In fact, I can’t remember when I bought the original. I know it must’ve been some time around 1998, when I moved into my previous house. Thus, I’d have to agree with that seeming hyperbole.

Dead-Simple Replacement

I unplugged power jack from the old switch. Then I removed all 8 of the RJ-45 cables plugged into its face (see lead-in graphic). I unpacked the new device, plugged in its power supply, and plugged in the RJ-45 cables. The power light came up, after which the activity LEDs started blinking. Problem solved.

There’s another GS-108 of about the same vintage upstairs under my wife’s desk, where it serves to distribute Ethernet to that floor of the house. I have another replacement in my spares closet, ready to take over for the old one should it fail, too.

How I Knew It Was the Switch, Stupid!

When the Ethernet side of things goes down, it has to be a device that makes the side work. That means it could have been a switch, of which I have 4 on my network. One is in the recently-replaced router/wi-fi/switch device from Spectrum, replaced in June. Another is in my Asus AX6000 wi-fi/switch/router: it’s Wi-Fi was still working so I guessed that meant the switch portion was still working, too. Thus, it was likely one of the two GS-108s. Logic dictated the heavily-used one in my office would be the one to fail first. This time, logic prevailed — or so it seemed.

i’m just glad I had a spare on hand. I’m even gladder that the switch  swap was as simple and painless as I hoped it would be. Sometimes, here in Windows-World one does catch a break. With plenty of real work to do yesterday, I was appropriately grateful.

Or Maybe Not, But Real Cause Emerges Quickly

About two hours after I posted this, my problems returned in full force. That left only one other possible cause: some element in the Ethernet network had to be failing intermittently. I had two prime candidates:

  1. My 8-year-old Surface Pro 3 dock, whose GbE port has been flaky in the past. That wasn’t it.
  2. The cable from my switch to the filing cabinet by the window in my office goes under my desk, where I can’t help but kick that cable occasionally. Apparently, I’ve kicked it often enough to introduce an intermittent short. Now that it’s removed from the network all is once again good.

I guess I can keep my ancient GS-108 Switch around as a spare, because it obviously was NOT the cause. And that’s how it goes when troubleshooting intermittent Ethernet gotchas. Live and learn!

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