Category Archives: Tech Notes

Technical notes and workarounds

Computer Failure With Spinning Fan

Case FanA most perplexing problem occurred with my Windows Server computer. This computer was built about 2 years ago and is my primary server for the home network. It has a SuperMicro Workstation Class motherboard with ECC RAM. I built this box, after getting annoyed with inexpensive Dell Tower Servers. The Dell Servers performed well and are a good deal for most people, but my server is in my home office and I prefer a quieter box. The Dell Servers have noisy fans and even trying a few different replacement aftermarket fans, they still produced enough noise for me to invest in a custom system. I also found myself replacing the Dell Servers more often than I cared to. They were cheap enough, that I would end up upgrading the entire box every two years. The server I ended up building was very quiet and ran 24/7. It was connected to an APC UPS and so it ran almost without interruption. At least it did this until rather recently.

After running for two years, the box was completely silent one day. Pressing the power button on the case would do nothing. There were no lights or any other signs of life (in this case electricity). I unplugged the computer from the UPS and into the wall outlet directly. Pressing the power button on the case would make the case fan and cpu cooler fan spin for about a second or two. The motherboard would never light up. It would only do this once. I had to unplug the power cord and try it again to get the fans to spin. I then unplugged the power supply connectors from the mother board and then tried the paper clip test with the power supply and it would power the fans again for a couple of seconds.

Alas, I could not resurrect the computer. My next step was to order a new power supply from Newegg.com and hope that it was my fancy power supply and not my fancy workstation motherboard that died. The new 1050W power supply was an upgrade from the 850W it was replacing. Other than the wattage difference, the new power supply had a switch to cycle on and off the power supply fan as needed. Once I swapped out the power supply, the box came back to life. The good thing about buying good components is that they are warrantied. I submitted an RMA request through the manufacturer website and a few days later, it was approved. After a week or so, they sent me back another power supply. I expected them to send me back a repaired unit, but instead they sent me back a brand new sealed box!

Before I sent my power supply, I inspected it without opening it. The only thing I detected was that on the top of the unit, there was a sharp indentation, where it seemed as something pushed up against metal from inside. I am pretty sure that was not there when I installed it originally. Other than that the unit looked normal.

The Windows Server has been running now normally for weeks.

Zoho Email For Domains Setup

Zoho EmailIn this post, I discuss how to setup your own domain with Zoho Mail, a hosted email solution from Zoho. Similar to Google Apps, Zoho provides a set of online business tools including office apps, project management, and contact management. At the time of this post the hosted email package has a free option as well as higher tiers for users who need more options. The biggest selling point for Zoho is that none of their apps have advertisements, and so if you are bothered by other webmail solutions that feature ads, Zoho seems to be a good alternative solution. Other than webmail access, the other reasons to use Zoho is that it works with desktop email clients, smartphones, and tablets.

My Requirements For An Email Solution

In order of importance, here is what I was looking for in an email solution.

Integrates with your Domain name

  • I wanted an email solution that would work with my current personal domain that my family uses.

iPhone and iPad Support

  • Everyone in the family has an iPhone, iPod, or iPad that they can use for email.

Apple Mail Support

  • Oh, we do use our Mac computers every now and then, so we need desktop mail.

IMAP

  • I want to keep email on the server, and not worry about losing it. I can also manage my email from my smartphone when I have time. This is really convenient.

Cost

  • Free if possible, but am willing to pay for a good solution on a yearly basis.

Ad-free

  • Not having my kids bombarded with advertisements is a good thing.

Zoho’s Instructions

Step 1: Verify domain ownership
Please verify your domain ownership. This is required to prevent imposters from using domains to send malicious messages. You can follow either the CNAME method or HTML method for verification.

Step 2: Add / import users to your organization
As the administrator of your organization, you have a Control Panel link in your user interface. In the Control panel, click User Details on the left list of options and click Add User option on the top. You can also import a list of users by selecting the Import User option.

Step 3: Migrating data to Zoho Mail
We recommend you to test migration for 2 users before pointing MX records.

Step 4: Point MX records to Zoho
Point the Mail Exchanger (MX) records to Zoho to start receiving mails to your inbox.

Changing My eMail

Steps 1 and 2 were pretty easy. Since I only have 4 users accounts, it took a few minutes to setup my four users in the Control panel. I skipped Step 3, I don’t really keep a lot of personal email. My current email was stored in Apple Mail and I was fine leaving it there. The interesting step is number 4. The Internet works via DNS. The domain naming system allows everyone and everything to find each other on the network. This is accomplished by DNS having different types of records to point requests to the right place. In the case of most personal domains, you have two different parties involved. The first is a domain registrar who takes care of your domain registration. The second is your hosting provider, usually for shared hosting this is a cPanel type hosting provider. When someone tries to email you at user@some_domain_name.net, a lookup is made to the root DNS authority for the .net domains, your registrar is what adds your domain to the DNS authority servers. The root server then sends you to your nameservers specified. Your nameservers are at your cPanel hosting provider. The final step in the lookup is to see what your cPanel nameserver has for what is called the MX records. The MX records have the server that processes your email and ideally where the email is going to go.

Zoho Email For Domains

Your current hosting provider has MX records for its own email processing. What needs to be done, is to remove the current MX records and replace them with MX records that point to Zoho’s servers. This way only your email, emails sent to user@some_domain_name.net, will route to Zoho, but everything else will still be at your current hosting provider. To do this most cPanel hosts make it easy to do this now. Log into your cPanel control panel and scroll down to the Email section. You want to click open the MX Entry icon.

cPanel Email MX Entry

You will first choose your domain name that you want to change the MX records for. This is your main domain. First add the MX entries as Zoho instructs, then remove your current record for your host. When the changes are complete, it should look similar to this:

Zoho MX Records

The DNS changes take a matter of minutes to a couple of hours to propagate to the rest of the internet.

Poor Technology Decisions

One of the most frustrating situations that I run into as a technology evangelist is observing people make poor technology decisions. As a tech guy, I want to advocate for the best technology solution possible, but you always have to consider who will ultimately use the technology, how much will it cost to implement, and over time how will it perform. In truth there is no perfect technology solution, all solutions have their negatives and positives; the best that you can do is choose something which satisfies all the requirements and that people are comfortable with. However, before you run out and spend your budget, consider the following to see if your technology choices are the right ones for you.

Technology Solutions For People Problems

Ironically, technology cannot fix everything, but that does not stop people from trying to use it in situations where it does not fit. The prime example of this is when you have a group of people that need to communicate but choose not to. You usually find that for personal reasons people do not get along and this causes the process to breakdown. All problems break down into two categories: you either have a broken process or you have a people problem. Most decision makers tend to ignore the people problem and focus on the broken process and this is a big mistake. In this scenario, any technology decision will fail because the people problem was never resolved. If people do not get along and stand in the way of a great process, the process will still break down. The best thing to do is to focus on the people problem first and allow the people that will work the process to be part of the solution. Involve everyone and communicate, communicate, eventually the solution will become obvious to everyone.

The Perfect Technology

When choosing a solution from a vendor, you will always get a sales pitch about how wonderful this solution will be for you and how it is so customizable that you cannot afford not to choose it. No technology just works. Everything is designed to work a certain way, and it takes time to learn new technology no matter how awesome it is. Do not buy the sales pitch, instead be prepared to spend significant amount of time when adopting new technology and balance it against how productive or how profitable it will make your process and business.

Single Vision

All of our advances in society have come about because someone had the great vision and determination to create something, even if it was by accident. It is those achievements that propel us forward. When it comes to technology we stand on the shoulders of these great visionaries and we sometimes lose perspective because of our admiration for such and such person. As much as I love all things made by Apple, I need to retain some perspective. Just because I love Mac OS X, does not mean everyone has to love it the same way. The right technology solutions are not always the ones that I want. Ask yourself, does it make sense to buy an entire rack server or will something smaller work just as well? As technology advocates we love our toys, but you want to be careful that not all your technology choices are your technology choices.

Avoiding The Status Quo

The tech world runs in cycles. At one time, the network server was cool, then all of a sudden it is not as trendy, and now it is back. As a decision maker, you have to study the trends and know when it is time to jump off and adopt something outside the status quo. Sometimes the new trend is not going to end well, I’m thinking mostly about those cheap netbooks that everyone was so enamored with a few years ago. On the other side, the tablet is something that just works and you will need to include them in your strategic plans. You want to be an early adaptor who picks sound and effective technologies and yes that is a lot harder than it sounds.