Working From Home – Pi Camera as Windows Webcam

Hopefully the mad dash for home working is over, and now everyone who can has settled in to a comfortable home setup with new knowledge of what a VPN and remote desktops are all about.

I thought my established home setup was great, however I didn’t envisage words like Teams and Zoom to become the buzzwords of companies the world over.

This posed an issue for myself. Even though my 2017 Dell XPS has a webcam ready to go, it spends its home office days docked with the lid closed. When opening the 4K screen combined with the Full HD monitors, Windows implementation of scaling rears is appalling head and just looks terrible. Combined with the Dell’s decision to locate the webcam below the screen to give maximum nostril-cam angle, its not something I like to use.

Buying a USB webcam didn’t seem worth it for what is (hopefully at time of writing) a temporary solution.

So in comes another Pi project, this time using a spare Raspberry Pi Camera module connected to an aptly placed Pi, that can be used on a Windows machine for the software likes of Zoom, Skype and Teams…

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Taking Things for Granted – The RDP Attack.

Before we start, a story. When I created my first web server, I’d found a copy of Windows NT Server 4.0, upgraded it to Service Pack 6a to get IIS enabled, opened port 80 on the router and viola, working webserver. This was 2001 and unfortunately my creation of a webserver coincided with the spread of the Code Red virus, and it reached my server within days of it being online.

Not knowing at the time, and thinking it was a one off, formatted the hard drive and completed the whole setup again. A day passed before the virus was back. Now with the knowledge of what was happening and wary of it happening again. I rebuilt the server and this time put the website behind port 8080, this time the virus never returned.

I thought to myself that this was security through obscurity, and with the victory over Code Red, was something I held onto for many years.

I applied this method when it came to opening RDP access to the outside world, choosing a seemingly obscure port 8021 on each network setup. However, I’ve been dealt a wakeup call following what I’ve just seen…

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VMWare: No Keyboard on Newly Virtualised Machine

As the years pass by we find ourselves moving on from an old computer to making a clean start with something more relevant, and when migrating to a new PC or laptop its always a worry that you may leave something behind. Luckily these days, instead of having a laptop laying about in its last used state for fear of losing that once forgotten file or program, the whole system can be virtualised on a server or donor machine for such eventualities, paving the way for the physical machine to be reused or recycled.

My method is to use VMware Standalone Convertor Wizard to convert physical machines to an ESXI 6.5 host. All previous conversions have been seamless however the latest conversion of a Fujitsu U904 laptop didn’t go as so, the conversion process completed without a hitch, but when starting the newly created VM I found that keyboard input was unresponsive.
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Windows 7: Startup Repair Loop

An interesting call came in this week; I say interesting but in reality it is a call we all dread. A user that is reporting that the computer keeps displaying “Trying to recover Windows” followed by the inevitable “Unable to recover Windows”. Unable to remote on and look, there was no choice to bring it into the office.

On first inspection it was indeed booting to the recovery console, and displaying recovery choices including 4 restore points. These were the first port of call but were all unsuccessful. This machine has been in use by the user for many years, and so had many years of settings and obscure software installed, so there was a lot to gain from repairing the issue instead of a full Windows re-install.

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Fujitsu U904 – Temperamental Touchpad

I use a Fujitsu U904 as my job’s daily driver. It’s approaching three years old and was subject to a few hand-me-downs along the way but it’s still a very capable Ultrabook and with the QWUXGA touch screens its perfect for onsite visits.

One remnant of its hard life was the temperamental touchpad, that would work on a level flat surface but moving it to a lap or similar and the “pinch to zoom” would kick in when trying to move the mouse.

Usual troubleshooting commenced with the latest drivers being installed, as this issue co-incised with a fresh install of Windows 10. Suspecting a grounding issue of the capacitive touchpad, off came the underside cover and checked to see any missing covers/captain tape that could have caused a short, without success.

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Windows 7, Office 2013/2016 and the print bug

Something that I’ve noticed to be cropping up more recently is an issue where Office applications hang when a users attempt to print, failing at the Print Preview stage. When this occurs there seemingly is no return for the program and has to be closed from the Task Manager.

From the experiences I’ve had with this error there have been a few constants. All machines are running Windows 7 Pro 64bit with Office 2013 or later installed. Also a factor is the use of Konica Minolta Bizhub printers as the default device but after research this is less of a contributing factor.

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Realtek HD Audio – Left Channel Only

Something that’s been bugging me since starting my new role was that I could only listen to audio through the left channel. I initially chalked this up to using Apple earphones with integrated mic not being compatible with the audio out port of the PC.

Despair set in after investing a whole £3 on a dedicated set of headphones that turned out to exhibit the same issue. This narrowed it down to 2 main issues, hardware or drivers.

I found a hardware issue hard to justify, as audio through the working channel was fine, and considering how integrated a sound card is on a modern motherboard these days sound would be all or nothing. Moving on to drivers, the simple trouble shooting was fine, with the balance centred on both the Realtek software and the Windows sound manager.

Getting frustrated I methodically went through every obscure setting on the Realtek manager, choosing that as its usually undeveloped manufacturer software rather than the OS at fault. Then finally I found it:

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Windows 2012 Server Backup 0x80780119 Error

While setting up a backup solution for my home network, I had an issue where my Windows Server 2012 R2 backup task would fail, with the following status:

“There is not enough disk space to create the volume shadow copy on the storage location. Make sure that, for all volumes to be backed up, the minimum required disk space for shadow copy creation is available. This applies to both the backup storage destination and the volumes included in the backup.

Minimum Requirement: For volumes less than 500 megabytes, the minimum is 50 megabytes of free space. For volumes more than 500 megabytes, the minimum is 320 megabytes of free space.

Recommended: At least 1 gigabyte of free disk space on each volume if volume size is more than 1 gigabyte.

Detailed error: Insufficient storage available to create either the shadow copy storage file or other shadow copy data.”

This doesn’t really explain the issue, as setting up a schedule with Windows Server Backup in 2012 involves the utility checking available storage before creating the backup task, and a manual check showed there was ample storage on the destination volume, with the source volume having 86% free space.

Delving into the Event Viewer for more detailed error message, I get this:

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2 Servers 1 UPS, Windows 2012 Edition

In a previous post I showed how to shutdown two servers safely using just one UPS with a single communications port. It was pretty straight forward with the comms port connected to a Windows Server 2003 machine.

But doing the same with Windows Server 2012 is much more difficult, since Microsoft decided to remove the ability to run a program on a low battery event from its power management settings. To make things worse I discovered that a bug in Server 2008 and later meant that issuing a Shutdown command from the native power settings would not perform a clean shut down, instead killing the power in a few seconds. This is not good news for RAID arrays and data integrity.

Time for a new solution, and since Microsoft are of no use, help would need to come from a 3rd party. After research and testing answer came from Shutter, a small program that runs as a trigger and event type program for a variety of different scenarios, with battery discharging status being one. Luckily two instances of the program could be run, one to shut down the remote servers and another for the host machine. Importantly the program can also be run as a Windows service, but more on this in the walk through.  here is how it is done:

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Review: Asus X205TA

It’s not often that I post a review about a product on this blog, but on this occasion I want to showcase an item that does not have a lot of exposure on the web, nor the reviews do it justice.

I’m talking about the Asus X205TA, essentially a low cost, low weight, basic Windows laptop that does the basics. At a retail price of £179 (less with the offers it seems to attract) its price point puts it among lower end Android tablets and Chromebooks. But here the big attraction is its ability to run full versions of Windows, making it a contender as an ultra-portable daily driver.

Asus X205TA
Asus X205TA

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