Saturday, August 4, 2018

My EDC

In the spirit of all those What's in your pockets? videos and articles, this is my Everyday Carry.

I work in IT, which often requires me to carry tools to work on Computers and other pieces of Machinery.

My left front pocket, I carry my wallet.  This is because having my wallet in the my back pocket caused me some lower back pain when I sit.  My chosen wallet is a Brown Leather Colombia trifold wallet.

In my right front pocket, I carry my Gerber folding knife with 1/4 serrated edge and a Ballistic Pen.  I carry the pen because I often have to write one any number of labels or paperwork and this pen is a handy tool.  I also carry my car keys.

On my belt, I have chosen the 5.11 1.75" Tactical Reversible Pistol Belt.  This holds up my pants and acts as a utility belt to my other tools.  I carry a Gerber Multiplyer in the original black belt sheath, my iPhone6 in a Coyote MOLLE phone pouch, and my workphone Iphone 8 in an Otterbox Defender belt case.

I also have room on my pelt for other tools, a removable holster and magazine pouch, if needed.  And a small MOLLE pouch to carry a Surefire G2.

I will occasionally carry a Mini Maglite when needed.

That's it!  I don't usually carry a firearm because my workplace does not allow it and I don't feel compelled to carry a firearm.  In the even of a shooting, I will retreat to my car for defense, where I carry some defense tools in my trunk.

HP ZBook - Engineering Workstation and so much more...

Back in late May, I was told by HR we were to bring on two new people in the Engineering Department and that they would require laptops.  Laptops!

No, no no no no!  The current machine for the Engineering Department were XEON-based Desktop Workstations.  These machines were a custom build HP Z Workstation, 8-core XEON Processors, 32+ GB of DDR4 RAM, a 1TB HDD, and a Nvidia Quadro Graphics Card.  These machines ran Mastercam, AutoDesk Inventor, SolidWorks, and needed plenty of RAM and Processing Power for CAD and CAM Rendering.  Suffice it to say, they require Processing Power to do the job.

NO.  That's right, HR said "Laptop."

All the cool kids want a laptop until its time to do Workstation shit and then its "Wharz' mah Performanz'?"

Now, I have spent several years of my IT career building machines for Video rendering, Graphic Design, Gaming, Media Playback, Server Operations, Site Security and even Industrial Environmental Operations.  This requires me to work closely with vendors and hardware manufacturers.

When you spend 3 grand or more on a workstation, you need to expect at least 3 years of investment return.  At the 4 year mark, the computer has depreciated by nearly 75%, and by year 5, it has become obsolete and will begin to cost money to maintain.  This is when the machine should be retired and replaced.  When you purchase a Workstation, you should expect a 4 year return on your investment and by year 5, should expect to replace the machine.

When I took on a new build project, I would go over Blueprints and equipment specs, consult with Vendor Hardware Specialists, and pour over OEM technical whitepapers to get an accurate and no BS assessment of hardware so that I can build an mostly off-the shelf machine that will fit the task it is being built for all the while having a comfortable margin of future-proofing to get 5-6 years of work out of the machine, while giving it room to accommodate 5-6 years of program and product updates.

In some cases, I would go over electrical diagrams with the company Electricians and Maintenance, with the Manufactures and Vendors in Conference call to make sure the system had the power needed to drive its given function, but also the correct Electrical and Power Considerations to drive the damned thing.

This process required research, hitting up multiple experts in the field, reading industry and personal product reviews, and comparing them to similar and competing products.  This could take days and weeks in some cases.  And it was not uncommon to consult with OEM vendors in Germany, Holland, and Mexico in addition to local and regional OEM sources, and local vendors.

That was part of my job, and I took it very seriously.  The reward was I was able to design and build a superior machine that fulfilled most if not all its requirements.  There were times when I would find hardware components were incompatible, due largely to products not delivering as advertised and promised results being realized to be a marketing gimmick, or outdated.  But this was largely a rare occurrence and only added to my Parts Bin.

I had consulted good people that knew their product and could give me accurate, real-time data.  They wee rewarded with repeat business, word of mouth marketing to others, and praise to their superiors.

When I spoke to co-workers that had used the Zbook for Engineering, a common complaint arose of inadequate processing power, insufficient Memory, and an overall flawed user experience. 

This was, of course, expected with the given compromises to hardware the company had made.  You can't replace a three thousand dollar workstation with a half-priced budget laptop.  You could not use a dual-core processor to run applications that had previously been run with an 8-core XEON processor.  And you could not expect 32GB performance from a mere 8GB of Ram.

Expectations had to be adjusted for the compromises in hardware, price, and form factor being made.  And reality had to be embraced.  To maintain a level of user experience, you must give them a certain level of quality and in electronics, quality cost money.

The company, then, decided to update its machine offerings Standardization.  My department was consulted to decide on the new Standards.  And we insisted that Processor, memory, and performance be a consideration.

The G3 Zbooks we first chose, had to have at least 16GB of RAM.  This was because Autodesk required a 8GB minimum to even launch.  16GB were needed for Rendering, without slowing the computer to a crawl.  And a FirePro Graphics card was required to drive not only the Rendering, but to support the high resolution 1080+ and larger 24" monitors being used.

My plan was to upgrade ZBook users to 32GB of RAM within the fist 6 months.  The 16GB DDR4 upgrades were $140 each, making the initial investment per machine come in at $1600 per ZBook, $300 for  monitors, and $150 for Docking station.  The end tally was $2200 per Workstation.  This came in at nearly $1000 less than the HP ZG4 Series Desktop Workstations, leaving room for additional system upgrades or better keyboard and monitor expansion.

Not only did these systems need to have the power to run CAD and CAM Rendering, but they required the power to run VM Applications in Windows XP and DOS.  The was accomplished by utilizing Virtual Box and building XP Appliances to run legacy software applications.

These machines needed to sing and fly, while being portable enough to take home and on business trips.

My first two builds succeeding in these areas.  First, I upgraded the older existing Workstations and then I purchased two Zbooks, deploying them shortly afterwards.  Success!  These machines performed as advertised.  The user's were pleased with this solution and I moved to replace the head Engineer's antiquated Workstation.

This third build had me searching the Vendor Catalog for an additional build.  Another G3 fit the bill, but in my haste to locate a third Zbook, I stumbled across a lower-priced machine.  This machine proved to be a mistake.

Upon deployment, it was found to possess a failed battery and charger.  The machine began to die almost immediately, resulting in an immediate need to replace it.

The company, again, changed standardization, bringing new variants tot he Engineering catalog.  The G5 was the newest offering in the ZBook family and the company chose it as the new standard.

Unfortunately, as this was a new machine that took close to a month to obtain.  New machines were not yet in distribution by this vendor.  New technical documentation largely cited G4 specs and G3 offerings.  And support meant I would not have an accurate idea of expectations until it was in my hands.

To resolve issues with a failed G3, it was decided to purchase a second Solid State Drive and clone the original Hard Drive.  This was succssful, but the new G5 15" Zbooks did not offer a readily available Sata III port to use and simply came with a 256GB M2 Solid State Drive.

Upon opening the G5, it was learned thee would be no moving to the cloned Samsung 960 and that we were, again, stuck with an out of box solution.

To make matters worse, in my absence, my MDT Server had become non-operational, meaning I would have to utilize the factory HP image and installation to build the Engineering Workstation.  I would find this to be a blessing, rather than the curse, but it also meant I would be engaged in a time-consuming build over the course of three days as opposed to a 3 hour automated build from my MDT Serve.

Things were shaping up to be an utter failure.  My Engineer client, was also eager to begin work on this newer G5.  I had my work cut out for me.

The reality of the situation was, the new G5 is a vastly superior piece of hardware tot he G3s.  The new brushed aluminum chassis, enhanced full chic let style, back-lit keyboard, thinner profile, and overall better product proved to be a much better solution.  Build-time was almost pleasurable as each piece of software effortlessly installed.  The final Autodesk Inventor installation took less than an hour to complete, while copying the old XP VM into Virtual Box took less than 5 minutes.

My 4-day build was complete by day 2, leaving the client the rst of the day to move files and transfer to the new machine.  The Engineer giggled with Engineering Delight as he docked the new machine and was greeted with Microsoft's "Hello" and the musings of Cortana.

This gave me the rst of the afternoon to open a support ticket with HP and bluster my way through obtaining onsite repairs for the failing G3.  I even had time to update three installations of Java 8 Update 171 and install Office 365 on a co-worker's machine.

I am seriously impressed by the new Zbook G5.  The smaller and thinner profile, better screen quality, better keyboard, and better i7 processor, made every step of the build a sheer delight.  And I often contemplated exchanging my Elitebook Folio for the larger Engineering machine.  Surely, if I had this machine at my desk, I would never have to worry about processor or ram problems again.

I even began to shop for my own machine to use at home.  This would be a worthy successor to my Optiplex, being more than capable of running Far Cry 5 and Fallout 4.  And an enhanced dock would be an excellent way to drive my own 24" monitor while still being small enough to give room for the cat's sits on warms.

The ZBook G5 is a workstation class portable desktop.  It was recently ranked number 1 of currently available workstation-class laptops.  You have Xeon and i7 offerings to bring the power to your application needs, and available Ram expansion to 64GB via two DDR4 SD slots.  The brushed aluminum shell offers captive Phillips head stainless steel screws to access the drive bay.  While offering 2x USB 3.0 ports and a single Thunderbolt USB 3 port for docking station needs.  AMD Firepro Workstation class Graphics brings support to your media and graphical playback, while an 6-8 hour internal battery gives you  life away from your power cord.

This machine exceeds expectation I had for the G3 and Elitebook offerings, while being an more affordable option to MacBook Pro Offerings.  At $1600, it gives you a Workstation Entry to Profession Video and Rendering, while doing so with grace and style.

A quick search of Amazon has this machine offered at below MSRP, approaching the $800 mark.  At this price, it is poised to compete with mid-grade machines while giving you an edge in performance.

The only drawback being included Solid State Drive would benefit from a 500GB or larger capacity drive.  And the touchpad, out of box, being too sensitive.  I told my clients of the ability to disable the touchpad when using a USB enabled wireless mouse.  This benefits typing and general use simply by checking a single box.  The Zbook G5 is my choice for machine.


Friday, July 13, 2018

Why I don't consider James Cameron's Aliens to be the best movie in the series and Why I am against Neil Blomkemp from making a sequel.

First off, I am huge Alien fan and have been since I was a kid.  It is because I am a fan that I am going to discuss these movies.

I first watched Ridley Scott's Alien during a bad wind storm in a small West Texas town when I was 6 years old.  The movie scared the hell out of me and still has me double checking shadows at night over 30 years later.

James Cameron's Aliens came out a few years later, and every kid on my block got to see it on HBO.  My father saw it in the theater whilst my sisters and I saw Flight of the Navigator.  The summer it hit HBO, my friends and I watched it in horror as Marines attempted to fight monsters and lost.  Ripley became a hero of mine and I was sure I would be a lifelong fan.

A few years later, Alien 3 trailers hit the theatre for the showing of Predator 2.  I was in Junior High and the promise of the aliens getting to Earth seemed amazing.  How would Ripley and Hicks survive a planet of monsters?

Alien 3 hit the theater and the story changed.  No longer were the men armed to the teeth, but rather, they had to fight the monster with kitchen utensils and simple hand tools.  Ripley died fighting to keep the alien out of the hands of the company and I felt a sense of relief that she would finally get a sense of peace.  We'll talk more on this point later, but I feel it is important.

Alien Resurrection came out when I was in college and it was just good old popcorn-eating entertainment.  I didn't take it seriously, it was just a way for Josh Whedon to cut his Writing Chops and the studio to make more money.

As a young adult, I began to notice something that bothered me about Aliens and the nature of James Cameron's changes to the species.  The original Alien novel by Allen Dean Foster noted how the Alien would take its victims and cocoon them to the wall.  They would then morph back into eggs.  I have since found out that this was a very large criticism of Aliens fans dating back to an article in a magazine where James Cameron would answer criticism of the movie and questions people may not have understood.

I had a problem with the fact James Cameron took the Alien and made it Terrestrial by introducing the caste system and the queen.  It took the unknown and explained it away.  Ever since, I have had a grudge against fans who demand everything be explained and categorized.  Some of the mystery of the movie being the unknown.

Don't get me wrong, I think Aliens is a brilliant piece of Military Science Fiction which has gone on to inspire countless movies, video games and books.  Not to mention a slew of Aliens books and comic books.  At the heart of Aliens, is Starship Troopers, which I have read and re-read as an adult.

I don't think Ripley is particularly well-written as a character.  And many of the traits hailed as groundbreaking feminism, really fit more of the psyche of a man. 

My preferred Alien sequel will always be the Assembly Cut of Alien 3, which wraps up the story as a trilogy while giving the viewer time to say goodbye to Ripley with her eventual self-imposed demise.  The movie has a very strong cast of British Male Actors, giving the movie, at times, an almost Shakespearean appeal.

That said, lets move on to why I am against a Neil Blomkemp sequel.

First off, his movies have been thought-provoking, but very shallow attempts at creating and resolving themes.  They all seem like missed chances at a truly good story simply by further developing the characters.

Second, the movies have an unfinished quality to them where it is almost hinted there will be sequels that never come to fruition.

Third, his subject material heavily borrows from Robocop, Terminator, Aliens, Blade Runner and other movies while going back to the question "What does it mean to be human?"  This is a question he gets bored with through out the movie and never resolves and that these other movies are able to answer at some point in their story.  That just amounts to poor writing.

Lastly, and this is my main gripe about another Ripley Alien Sequel.  Sigorney Weaver is 70 years old and a heroine of mine.  I don't want to see a beautiful actress still fighting these monsters in the twilight years of her life.  Nothing of value will be added to her story.  Id rather not see nearly-nursing home-aged heroes trying to fight the good fight.   At this point, they have paid their dues and deserve some peace.  Also, I've already watched Bubba Hotep.

At this point, the only thing that would be served is a mindless sequel directed by a person who has a history of making unfinished movies.  Its time to move on and explore new characters and new stories.

So what do you think?  I'm interested in hearing your thoughts with the understanding I'm looking for debate and not angry fan ranting.

Monday, April 30, 2018

HP ElitePad 1000 G2 is Missing Sound after Windows 10 installation

This one is short and sweet!  The Elitepad 1000 G2 is HP's line of Business class Intel Atom-based tablets that would best compete with Microsoft Surface 3 and other similar Atom-based Windows tablets.  That said, I have a couple of these machine at work that required a refresh from Windows 8 to Windows 10.

If you have completed a Windows 10 installation on this device, you will find that Device Manager is missing the Sound card and several other device drivers.  If you check out the Sound Control Panel, it lists output as unknown.  Some hardware components do not show up at all.

The reason for this is Windows 10 will install generic drivers during the installation as it identifies you computer's hardware.  Some of these drivers are just temporary to allow hardware to function while others may be missed entirely.

HP bundled the Graphics, Sound, Cameras and part of the IO into one driver - SP78311.  You can find this driver on the HP Support Drive Site for the HP ElitePad 1000 G2.  Once you install the driver, sound should come back.  You may need to reboot after the installation.

I recommend downloading all of the HP driver packages for this machine as Windows 10 will typically download and install generic drivers for each device.  While this does help during the build process, it can cause hardware function issues and, occasionally, cause hardware to not show up at all.

Have a keyboard and mouse handy for the re-installation because you will also lose the touch screen functionality.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Fixing the Orange light Mute Button Issue on HP ProBook and Elitebook Models in Windows

This is a bug I've run across on HP Probook 6XXX, 6XX, 8XX and HP Elitebook 8XXX, 9XXX, 8XX, and 1XXX laptops.  This is mostly an annoyance and usually the volume works, the mute button works, but the orange "mute" indicator light is stuck on orange.

If you look through HP forums, you will see HP Support claim this is a BIOS issue.  I've run across this issue several dozen times and each time I do a fresh installation of Windows on the machine.

The problem is usually caused when Windows Update installs the Audio Driver during the OS Install Process.  Windows Update will install a generic driver that works fine for the audio, but does nothing to control the mute indicator light.

The solution is to download the actual HP driver from the HP Diver Support site.  If you are installing Windows 10 on the machine, you will need to download the Windows 8 or Windows 7 driver.  While the installation process claims you will need to the reboot the computer after the driver install but this is not always necessary. 

In Windows 10, you can use the Windows 8 driver.  Upon completion of the install, the light changes white immediately.

HP Elitebook 8470P
Windows 8/10 64bit: Use IDT High Definition (HD) Audio Driver SP63916.exe
Windows 7 64bit:  Use IDT High Definition (HD) Audio Driver SP60317.exe

For some models, there are no Windows 8 or 10 drivers available.  You can use the Windows 7 drivers instead.