System Administrivia

by bob on January 17, 2010

My son is a crack sysadmin, but it’s never been my area of interest.  I’m a software developer.  I like that if something goes wrong with software I wrote, I know exactly who to blame (me) and who can do something about it (me).   With operating systems and hardware — I’m at the mercy of someone else’s design and may be prevented from taking steps I need to take by obtuse and broken interfaces.

I maintain a home network for a friend and they’ve got an HP color LaserJet that would print fine for awhile, and then print jobs would stack up in the print queue.  If you’d stop and restart the spooler service, your jobs would get printed for awhile, then they’d stop.

If you Google this kind of issue out in the ether you will find much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.  Permission issues.  Driver corruption issues.  Network configuration issues.  Solutions that work for some people and not others.

In this case, it was a matter of disabling bidirectional printing on the USB port the printer was installed on, but it took a couple hours of trial and error to figure it out.  And of course now, six months later when we upgrade the computer the printer is attached to, the problem resurfaced but I couldn’t quite tease out of my brain the magic incantation I’d tracked down months earlier.  Moral of the story: keep a journal of this stuff.  Or blog it.  Hence this post.

Meantime I’d purchased a Hawking receiver to grab wireless signals out of the air and convert them to cabled Ethernet to feed to my desktop computer.  Worked fine in one location.  A few weeks ago I moved my office and it became unreliable.  My son suggested a workaround — keep a command window open and whenever I’d lose Internet connectivity, issue a series of ipconfig commands (/flushdns, /release, /renew).  It worked, but it was annoying to have to do it several times a day.

Tech support from Hawking suggested that the access point I’m using is switching broadcast channels on me, but that smelled like grasping at straws.  Besides, when scanning for WiFi signals I could see that the access point I was using wasn’t switching channels.

Finally I gave up and bought a Belkin USB wireless dongle that I’d had good success with elsewhere.  It was better, but still would drop and reconnect on its own from time to time, and the connect speed would vary from 54 mbps down to just 1 mbps.  Finally after Googling for just the right keywords, I found the answer: disable the Windows Zero Configuration Service, as it will interfere with some wireless receivers.  Why it wasn’t getting in the way at my other location, who knows.  Why a laptop running the same version of Windows sitting three feet away has no issue with it, who knows.  Why my Mac Pro is happy with the old Hawking receiver, who knows.  Anyway, all is now sweetness and light.

And I can get back to debugging my own code, where I have some control over my destiny and a reliable throat to choke, even if it’s only my own.

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