Thursday, 28 January 2010

Pork Chops on the Bus

They certainly are!

Bus Slogan Generator Have fun.

- Chris

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Live Aircraft Tracking Link-around

Ever looked up into the sky and thought "I wonder where that plane is off to or coming from?"

Or more importantly "I bet they're going somewhere warm.... lucky buggers!"

Or "Ha ha! Heading back to Gatwick?  Heathrow?  Stansted?  Looks like your holiday is over!"

No?  Just me then.... ahem.....

How about "I wonder what time uncle Bob's flight gets in?"

Anyway, thanks to the internet it's simple to find out what's where and where it's going.  Follows is a link-around of online flight tracking websites. 

radarvirtuel - provides tracking and data for pretty much the whole of Europe.  Used for screenshot above.  Top Site!

casper - tracks air traffic around and in or out of Schiphol airport

gmapsflighttracker - Fight data for eight major US airports

radar.zhaw - data on flights around Zurich airport

flightradar24 - details on flights around central and northern Europe

aeroseek - search for and track a single or random flight to track.  (Top site to track uncle Bob!)

Getting as close as possible realtime flight data right to your desktop - done.

Now all you need to decide is how long to leave it until you need to jump in the car to pick uncle Bob up from the airport....

PS - If you know of any other sites, let me know.

- Chris

Monday, 25 January 2010

VMware ESX 4 Update to Build Number

Simple bit of info, often hard to find:

ESX 4.0 = Build 164009 - Released 21 May 2009
ESX 4.0 Update 1 = Build 208167 - Released 19 Nov 2009
ESX 4.0 Update 2 = Build 261974 - Released 10 June 2010
ESX 4.0 Update 3 = Build 398348 - Released 5 May 2011

An easy way to find build numbers without logging into the VI Client is to run:
vmware -v

See here for VMware ESX 3.5 Update to Build Number.

- Chris

Friday, 22 January 2010

Expected Drugging?

Just signed in to facebook.  Sending a quick reply to a comment, you know, no biggie.

Looks like you have to enter some captcha words before you are allow to post...

What the.....?

Is this a comment on my weekend plans?

Does someone know something I don't?

Who's expecting to be drugged?

What drugs?

- Chris

Thursday, 21 January 2010

VMware ESX 3.5, ESX 4 - Reset Lost or Forgotten root Password

It happens to us all eventually.

Just like anything else, appointments, meetings, conference calls, you name it, wedding anniversaries (especially wedding anniversaries) at some point you are going to forget a password or two.

All well and good, most passwords can easily be reset without any real problem.  After all what good is a password system that doesn't allow for this oh so regular occurrence?

But what happens if you forget the root password to one or more of your VMware ESX servers?  Hmm that's not so easy to sort out.  Or is it?

Yes it's easy to reset, but you are going to need an outage.

How To Reset root Password
  1. Shutdown or migrate all Virtual Machines off of the ESX server in question
  2. Reboot ESX server and at the grub boot menu screen press a to modify the kernel arguments:
  3. At the following screen, enter the word single at the end of the kernel arguments line:
  4. Hit Enter.  The ESX server will now boot into a single user environment:
  5. At the # prompt enter passwd This will prompt you to enter a new password for the root user:
  6. Once you have entered your new root password, reboot the ESX server with the reboot command:
  7. Allow the ESX server to reboot as normal.  Double check your new root user password works as expected, bring up any shut down Virtual Machines.
Job Done!

Although I have used ESX 3.5 in the screenshots, this procedure also works for ESX 4.

Isn't this a "back door" into ESX?  Is this procedure really a legitimate way to reset root passwords?  No, it's not a back door!  Honest Guv'nor!

As for legitimacy, see this VMware knowledgebase article

Thanks go to Martin for calling this afternoon and asking how this is done - before you called I always wondered...  Now we know!

- Chris

Friday, 15 January 2010

Chris' Natural Disaster Tracker - Trending

OK, this was a fun little side line project until it got serious.

All our heats and prayers go out to all those affected by the recent earthquake in Haiti.

Please give as much as you can.

I'm not going to say much more in this post other than to say I've found a way to add seven day trending to the Natural Disaster Tracker.

The trending really does speak for itself.

- Chris

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

ChrisControl v2 Beta 2 Released - Get your copy now!

Quick post to mention that I've just released ChrisControl v2 Beta 2.

See all the details on the ChrisControl Google code site here

Download from the ChrisControl Google code site here

What is ChrisControl?  See the history here and a brief overview here

- Chris

Monday, 11 January 2010

Self Updating Realtime Search - Chris' Natural Disaster Tracker

What's happening around the world now?

No, right now - this minute?

By now, I'm sure we are all aware about the magnitude 6.5 earthquake off off the California coast on yesterday (Saturday 9th Jan).

No?  Strange.  Big news in the LA Times here and here.  See this mashable article for some of the on the ground pictures of the Eureka earthquake.

Yet there has been zero coverage on any of the regular UK news media.  Why didn't we hear about it?  Well without being sombre - probably because no one died.

OK, Chris so how did you find out about it? - One word: twitter.

Before you close this page thinking I'm just someone one else banging on about bloomin twitter and how I couldn't live without out it - I'm not.

All I will say is that increasingly these days, twitter is there first with the news and pictures from the source of the story - or those very close to it.   Far sooner than any other news source.

Yea, yea yea - I know, you've heard it all before.

But consider this; turning the whole twitter thing on it's head and using it to track events around the world - as they happen.

With a few selected self updating twitter search feeds and a bit of html to hold it all together, you can find out what's happening in any of the following areas all from one web page:
  • Earthquakes (had to be on there really didn't it!)
  • Hurricanes / Tornadoes / Cyclones
  • Floods
  • Volcanos
  • Heavy Snow / Avalanches (topical at the moment - great pic here)
  • Tsunami
Yes, I'm carrying on the theme of natural disasters, but just think; you could have a page search for pretty much anything of interest to you.

Hmm interested now?  Yea I know, it's worth a quick peak - just to see if anything is happening:

Now, I don't suggest you spend every waking hour in front of this site, just bookmark it and check in now and then.

And if you do hear of some natural disaster going on in the regular news media, you can bet that just visiting the tracker, it will get you more up to date with the real story than any 24 hour news service could...

- Chris

Saturday, 9 January 2010

LogMeIn Free Client with Embedded Credentials

On the two or three occasions I've used LogMeIn 'in anger' to remotely assist in resolving issues with friends computers, I've always had the same issue.  Namely:

Is there a simple way to install a LogMeIn client and have it automatically point to my LogMeIn account?

The problem with the free LogMeIn client is that it's generic.

That is, it prompts the person installing the client for some LogMeIn account credentials.  As we are talking about supporting friends remotely here, I've often resorted giving my LogMeIn account credentials out to so that friends can install the client on my behalf.  At that point I can then access their machines remotely and (hopefully) fix the issues - happy users all round.

Surely there must be a way to embed LogMeIn account credentials into the installer and then make that installer available as needed.

Well it turns out there is, it can be done with free utilities and here is how you do it:

A LogMeIn account.  A free account can be created here

You will need to download the following.  Save all files into a temporary folder EG: C:\Logmein
[Links updated 28/09/2010]
Creating the Custom Client
  1. Install Inno setup quick start pack, ensuring that you also download and install ISTool, Inno setup preprocessor and encryption support (these are downloaded and installed as part of the quick start pack installer)
  2. Launch Inno Setup Compiler and open LogmeInSetupGeneric.iss
  3. Look for #define FilesDir "D:\Download\LogmeinSupport" [line 34] and change the the path to match the folder created above.   EG: #define FilesDir "C:\Logmein" 
  4. Change #define MyEmail "" [line 36] to match your LogMeIn login account email address
  5. Change #define MyPassword "myaccountpwd" [line 37] to match your LogMeIn account password
  6. Change #define UserPassword "userpwd" [line 38] to something you'll remember.  (This password will only apply if the machine and user account session you are accessing remotely doesn't already have a windows logon password)
  7. Change Password=1234 [line 66] to set a password on the installer.  You don't want just anyone installing your custom LogMeIn client do you?  I suggest something simple-ish as the person installing the client on your behalf will have to enter this
  8. Save your modified LogmeInSetupGeneric.iss
  9. Compile;  Click Build and Compile 
  10. If all is OK, the installer will then create a LogmeInSetup.exe installer file in your temporary folder created above and launch the installer for testing
  11. Test the client and ensure that the newly installed client shows up in your LogMeIn account.
Making your Custom LogMeIn Client Easily Available
So you've got a working client that you now need to make easily available.

I suggest you create a free Google site and host it there.  You will need to zip the LogmeInSetup.exe installer file first as you cannot host .exe files on Google sites.

See step 3 here for more on hosting files on Google sites.

Once uploaded, find the direct URL to the file.  Typically the URL's are in the format:[username]/[foldername]/[filename].zip

To make the URL even simpler for friends to type, I suggest you use a URL shortening service such as ('s not just for the twitterarti you know!).  The good thing about is that you can create a custom shortened URL.

Say something like:

So now you have a custom LogMeIn client that even your mate Dave's mother-in-law can locate, download and install with minimal fuss.

- Chris

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

ChrisControl v2 Beta - 06 Jan

OK, OK, It's been a while since I promised to, but I've started development on ChrisControl again.

Decided to host the shebang over at google code.  Link to ChrisControl Project page here Or just use the chriscontrol tab at the top of this page.

I've just posted the very first v2 Beta, for testing.  Release details on the ChrisControl Wiki here

Here's a bit of eye-candy to get you interested:

- Chris

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Cheapest way to faster broadband?!? - Part 2: Going for More

Back in May 2009 (blimey... that long ago?!), I posted this guide on how to get faster ADSL broadband for less than £20.

Recap: the deal is to purchase a DG834GT router, install some custom firmware and tweak the Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR) percentage to as low as possible, thus gaining a higher ADSL sync rate, IP Profile and actual throughput.

See this thinkbroadband FAQ article regarding actual connection speed vs IP profile.

So here we are almost eight months later and time for an update.

The Good News
The good news is that my broadband has now stabilised at a connection speed of somewhere in the region between 3000Kbps to 3200Kbps, giving me an IP Profile and throughput speed of 2.5Mbs.  Not bad at all considering I started at 1Mbs!

The Not So Good News
Unfortunately it's not all been plain sailing.

After some problems with instantly dropping signal to noise ratios and a slow depreciation of line quality in late October and November, something had to give and I logged a call with BT.

Luckily there was nothing major wrong with the line and the problem was tracked down to water penetration problems on the line.  The repair was quite simple and the BT engineer also threw in an BT Openreach master socket I-Plate like this into the bargain:
For further reading on I-Plates, see this thinkbroadband article.

For me, the jury is still out on whether the I-Plate has actually made any difference. I'm not saying that they are no good, an in fact I know of several others that have seen speed increases just by fitting them, I'm just stating that here on my line it's not made any noticeable performance difference.  Has it made my line more stable?  Not sure.  Line stability is very subjective and hard to quantify.

All Tweaked Out?
Looking at the thinkbroadband Line Sync vs IP Profile table once again:
Notice that my sync speed of somewhere between 3000Kbps and 3200Kbps is quite close to the next step up in IP Profile; 3424Kbps = 3Mbps throughput.

In fact, I've already had (albeit fleetingly) an IP Profile of 3Mbps as posted here, so I know that 3Mb is potentially possible on my line.

So, being that some tweaking has already gained me a hefty speed increase, is it possible to squeeze that last drop out of the line to get even more speed?

Going For More - The Warm Up
We need a very quick recap here just so that what follows is not total gobbledygook.
Signal to Noise Ratio
Put simply, Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR) compares the level of a desired signal (in my case the ADSL signal) to the level of background noise on the telephone line.  My line is set at the exchange to provide a 15dB signal to noise ratio.  Therefore, when handshaking with the exchange, my router will always synchronise at a speed that will ensure that there is a 15dB SNR. 

This is achieved at the expense of connection speed.

However with a SNR adjustment at the router end, It is possible to override the exchange's preferred SNR which in turn allows the router to synchronise the broadband connection at a faster rate, gaining a higher IP Profile and higher throughput.
The down side is that as the connection speed increases the line stability decreases.  The art is in trading stability for speed - achieving a higher throughput whilst keeping the line stable.

The action of overriding the exchange preferred SNR achievable on ANY ADSL line.  There really are no smoke and mirrors here, my ADSL line is the same as anyone else's.

First off, lets look at my existing stats:
3264Kbps for a SNR of 8.8dB (taken on a pretty good day!)

The 'million dollar question' is how low can the SNR go?  What's the lowest SNR (and hence the highest Sync speed) I can get?

Looking at Kitz's forum FAQ (SNR /SNR Margin section) they believe that a SNR of 3dB is probably as low as you can go.  In the interests of stability I think I'll double that and go for a SNR of 6dB.

But how can I tweak my SNR down further?  I'm already at 1% on my SNR Slider in the DGTeam firmware running on my router:
Well, it just so happens that some additional tweaking is possible.  LOL You guessed it!

Whilst scouting around trying to find out how to drop my SNR further, I found this thread over at Kitz's forums - Tweaking Broadcom based routers.  It turns out that the DGTeam firmware doesn't drive down the SNR as hard as hoped or first thought.

From the forum:
Broadcom-based routers can be tweaked to change the target noise margin set in the exchange, using the adslctl command in telnet. With Netgear routers, the DGTeam firmware makes it possible to perform the same tweak in the web interface. But in either case the tweak is limited to about - 5.5 dB in the downward direction, so if your target noise margin has been increased to 15 dB you won't be able to get it down to less than about 9.5 dB using documented methods. Note that, without the DGTeam firmware, this tweak doesn't survive a re-boot. So if you power down the router or re-boot you'll have to enter the command again.

The normal form of the adslctl noise margin tweak command is

adslctl configure --snr N
Roseway - Kitz forums.

Values for N are as follows:

Change you want in SNR Value for N
No change/reset to default value 100
Lower by 1.5 dB 75
Lower by 3 dB 50
Lower by 4.5 dB 25
Lower by 6 dB 65550*
Lower by 7.5 dB 65525*
Lower by 9 dB 65500*
Lower by 10.5 dB 65475*
Lower by 12 dB 65450*
Lower by 13.5 dB 65425*
Lower by 15 dB 65400*

* The command does not accept negative numbers.  However the command can be tricked into accepting negative numbers by entering high positive numbers.

Going for More - Making It Happen
As mentioned earlier, it looks like the target SNR set by the exchange on my line is 15dB.
I want to override this and sync at a SNR of 6dB.

15 - 6 = 9dB

Therefore I need to issue this command to my router: 

adslctl configure --snr 65500

In for a penny, in for a pound, I'm going to go for a drop of 9.5dB (setting my SNR at 5.5dB), so that'll be N = 65480.

Here is how to do it:
  1. Enable debug via the web interface by browsing to [remember to change the IP address of you are not using for your router]
  2. Open a command prompt
  3. Enter the following command: telnet
  4. Login using your usual router username (admin) and password
  5. Issue the command adslctl configure --snr N (in my case: adslctl configure --snr 65480)
  6. Connect to router using browser as normal and check your connections statistics.  
Here are mine:
Spot on!  5.5dB SNR with a sync of 3680!

3680Kbps is nicely above the 3424Kbps minimum connection speed for a 3Mbps IP profile.

I now need to wait for my IP Profile and ISP to wake up to my new sync speed.  This Kitz FAQ has the details on how long I roughly need to wait. 

So here we are four days later. ;o)
Looks good.  Also looks like Plusnet are on board:
Looks like a result to me!

Here's some speed test results:
So that's it then.


REMEMBER: The action of overriding the exchange preferred SNR achievable on ANY ADSL line.  There really are no smoke and mirrors here, my ADSL line is the same as anyone else's.

What's stopping you trying this for yourself on your line?

- Chris

According to this digital forums thread, it may be possible to set the adslctl configure --snr value via URL injection.  Using this method, here is the command I would use to configure my router:

I've not tried it, but there looks to be no reason why this shouldn't work.

- Chris

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