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AC/DC finally in iTunes Genius Lists

When Apple released their latest version of iTunes 8, they introduced an interesting new feature called “Genius”. Sure, it’s on par with Apple’s pretentiousness to call their features smarter than you – but I have to admit, it makes a great play list.

The genius will build a play list based on the song you selected. It uses a database of your existing music, play habits, and the habits of other users that are using iTunes genius.itunes_genius

It’s a bit of a black box, but it’s confirmed that iTunes sends some of your info up to the mother ship for processing, and can take quite a long time if you have a large library of music.

Anyway, when this was all released – AC/DC and The Beatles were not part of the database. It was obvious that they were left out of the initial genius build.

Apple must be allowing other users’ preferences for music to be included now because in the last few days the genius lists that I generate are now including AC/DC and Beatles music.


Rolling with 64bits

In my current position I have the pleasure of trying out new hardware and software. This is actually quite fun and lets me satiate my technology curiosity without blowing my budget or maxing out my credit cards.


My most recent decadence is Lenovo’s latest laptop the T400. The college is considering (with a little advice from me) of retiring Dell laptops in favor of Lenovo’s offerings if they can meet price and performance criteria.  I have no doubt that performance won’t be an issue and making a laptop meet a specific budget simply requires some tweaking on available options.

The T400 I just received for testing was build to order with 4GB of ram and a 2.5Ghz Core Duo Pentium. So as not to waste memory, I opted for the Vista Business 64bit edition. I also opted for an LED backlit 14" wide screen display with a built-in webcam and an upgraded WiFi radio with three antennae hidden in the screen. The most important option was the 200GB 7200RPM hard drive with hardware encryption.

One of the main concerns of my department is that a faculty laptop will be stolen or lost that contains a student record. Without strong encryption and security you have no way of knowing if the record is in the wild. With current reporting requirements this could have a very negative impact on the college and our department.

One of the concerns with rolling a 64bit workstation or laptop is stability. Lenovo has come through in spades making sure the 64bit OS has stable drivers and all the functionality of its 32bit installation.

It came from the factory with three partitions. The first 1GB partition contained the "ThinkVantage" Rescue and Recovery pre-boot partition which is kind of a life preserver for laptop users if their system ever crashes or becomes infected. They can boot to this partition for access to antivirus, recovery utilities, and basic internet access with Opera.

The second partition (165 GB) contains a factory built OS that was up to date with the latest service pack and last month’s windows updates. A few driver updates were available but easily upgraded using ThinkVantage System Update utility that downloads and installs the latest drivers for your system for you.

The third partition was about 10GB and contained the product recovery data along with promotional videos, help documentation, and other useful items.

The benefit with this layout is that you can use a ThinkVantage utility to create rescue media on CD or DVD, then dump the 10GB partition. With Vista, after the partition is empty and because it falls after the OS partition, you can expand the OS partition to add the new space to the existing partition. Now I have 175GB partition for my data with very little effort and no hacking.

I have to say this laptop is blazing fast and easy on the eyes. The LED backlit screen is wonderful to look at and very crisp. The power management is bar none the best on the market the laptop’s ability to squeeze every component for power or economy is noticable on battery life and responsiveness.

Lenovo took two video cards and made this laptop have the ability to seamlessly switch between a high powered ATI Radeon HD 512MB card and a low powered Intel GMA card. The power savings are very welcome…

I look forward to the next month or two of testing, it may even replace my desktop and become a permanent resident on my desk… unless something better needs testing. :)

Update: I did find one issue, Cisco doesn’t support 64bit Windows with their IPsec VPN Client. I’m currently using a 32bit XP virtual machine for such problems until a workaround can be found.


TrendMicro Appliance Randomly Blocking

I’ve been fighting an odd issue and finally found a resolution with the assistance of TrendMicro’s support.

A few users (six out of 22k) reported that they weren’t getting email from anyone outside of the network. A few test messages from my web mail accounts (Gmail, Hotmail, and my own domain) revealed an interesting issue.

These few accounts were getting this error:


Reporting-MTA: dns;
Received-From-MTA: dns;BLU119-W30
Arrival-Date: Thu, 3 Jul 2008 06:02:56 -0700

Final-Recipient: rfc822;[]
Action: failed
Status: 5.7.1
Diagnostic-Code: smtp;554 5.7.1 : Recipient address rejected: Access denied


This is an automatically generated Delivery Status Notification

Delivery to the following recipient failed permanently:


Technical details of permanent failure:
PERM_FAILURE: Google tried to deliver your message, but it was rejected by the recipient domain. We recommend contacting the other email provider for further information about the cause of this error. The error that the other server returned was: 554 554 5.7.1 < []>: Recipient address rejected: Access denied (state 14).

I tested SMTP connectivity to the Exchange server by telnetting to the device from outside and inside the network to attempt to narrow down the block. Our Exchange server is protected by TrendMicro ScanMail, and we utilize a TrendMicro Interscan Messaging Security Appliance on our DMZ to provide more spam and virus protection.

I narrowed it down to the IMSA appliance but couldn’t locate the problem in the logs. The MTA logs simply stated Access Denied… not very helpful. So after a short wait on hold, TrendMicro support asked me to deactivate the Network Reputation Services, a learning adaptive IP filtering system that blocks spam senders before they finish connecting.

I later found that the NRS is configured on the appliance AND on TrendMicro’s Email Reputation Service website. lets you create an account using your IMSA’s activation code. Then you can log in and configure the “aggressiveness” of the NRS filters.

If you’ve already laid out the cash for the IMSA, get your email servers registered on this site to make sure they don’t get blocked or at least you’ll have a higher rating with other Trend users on the internet.

It was a frustrating problem that I hope nobody else has, but if they do I hope you find this helpful. If this doesn’t fix it, give Trend a call. Enterprise wait time was less than a minute and had me up and running in less than 10 minutes.


Digital Cuba

Circumventing government censorship is nothing new to people in Cuba.  The New York visit-cuba-print-c100197302Times posted a story today about how students in Cuba are challenging the status quo.  It’s interesting to see how people get around the limitations other people put on them.  For example Havana currently has only one Internet cafe, it’s owned by the government, it costs five U.S. dollars of use. This may not seem like a lot of money but according to the New York Times that’s about 1/3 the average Cuban monthly salary.

People in Cuba have gone to great lengths to get the basic Internet access that we take for granted.  The the most popular way to get Internet content is through the use of memory sticks.  A lot of different software has been developed over the last few years that allows for offline browsing.  The software allows one user to select content and have a download from the Internet and stored on the thumb drive for later viewing.  When you think about it anything with a memory stick could actually be a mule for Internet Data.  Digital cameras, iPods, watches, in just about anything else with writable memory.

The story also mentions that some industrious people have smuggled in satellite dishes to use live satellite based Internet connections.  Most if not all of these connections would be paid for by family members living in the United States earning a much higher wage.

Hotels that cater to tourists are expected to provide free wireless access to their guests.  I don’t think I’ve stayed in the hotel and the last five years that hasn’t had this feature.  Anyone with a laptop and a wireless card would be able to use this including the local residents.  And it appears the locals don’t Cuba_2778keep the Internet connection for themselves, they tend to download everything they can and share it with others who don’t have access.


Wii Wireless Woes and Fix

Problems have been plaguing my Wii to the point of being useless.

Symptoms include: intermittent connectivity; no connectivity; random error codes ranging from unable to connect to your router to you have no internet connection; all while being able to easily see the wireless access point and connect to it.

It all started when I upgraded my wireless access point to a Linksys WRT54GS router. My old D-Link would spontaneously reboot itself when more than one wireless device was connected and I was using processor intensive WPA wireless encryption. Now that we have two laptops, a Wii, and a few other devices that can use WPA2 – it seemed the thing to use.

I set the WRT54GS to use WPA2 wireless encryption, changed the admin password, and changed the name of the SSID.

All the laptops connected fine. My smartphone connected fine. The Wii could see the AP (with a green, three bar signal icon) and displayed the proper encryption method… but would intermittently fail connection tests. If it passed a test, it would fail almost every time I launched an online channel.

After further troubleshooting I reset the wireless to:

G only. No change.
B only. No change.
Mixed. No change.

Tried every channel from 1 – 12, no difference. All the while my two laptops with Intel 802.11 a/b/g wireless are working flawlessly.

So I powered up an old 802.11b access point that only has WEP, and I left that disabled. The Wii connected fine, test passed, and I could browse with the internet channel. I wasn’t going to leave an open AP on in my neighborhood.

So now I’ve confirmed something is amiss with the Wii.


I took my 12 character long alphanumeric password and shortened it to 8 characters. Ding! WPA2 and WPA will work just fine.

I have yet to test > 12 or < 8 character passwords, but right now I’m comfortable with WPA2 rotating the encryption keys every 3600 seconds with an 8 character non-dictionary word password. If you’re having the same problem, try an 8 character password using random letters and numbers. Even though it’ll be shorter than I’m usually comfortable using, making it hard to guess will keep you safe.

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