Tag Archives: Mac

Test PowerShell scripts with VirtualBox

I’m at the point where I am going to deploy some PowerShell scripts to my end-users, and I want to test the scripts on a fresh installation of Windows before trying them on the user’s workstations.

I use VirtualBox to create virtual machines for Powershell testing. Virtual box works on Linux, Mac and Windows host machines. My 8 gig Win 7 box works fine with one or two “guest OS’s”. On my 4 gig (ancient) iMac, it works, but its pretty slow.

One thing that I find amazing, is you have to run updates on all those Windows Virtual machines. Don’t expect to be fully productive on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, when Microsoft sends out Windows updates. It isn’t unusual for updates to run for an hour or more.

Be sure to install the VirtualBox “guest additions” within your Windows VM, once you’ve got your Windows VM up and running. You may also want to change the network settings to “bridged”, so that your VM is on the same network subnet as your host machine.

One other disconcerting thing; your Windows 7 desktop may come up with a black background depending on whether you are running the aero interface and other such fripperies. You can turn all this stuff on if you want; but it will slow down the performance.

More details on setting up VirtualBox are located  here and here.

winvm

If you have installed Windows 7, you may find that it has come with Powershell V.2 out of the box. You can test that by starting a PowerShell session from the command box (just type Powershell.exe).  Once Powershell is up, issue the following command at the prompt:

get-host | select-object version 

If it isn’t 4.0 or later, download the latest version of the Windows Management Framework from Microsoft.

A Database for Grant Research

I put together a grants database screen (click to view full size) to consolidate information for funding sources, and to track dates and interactions.

It is definitely an evolving project, but contains the basic information need to contact the funder, the deadline dates involved, the funder’s areas of interest, and the typical range of a grant award.

So far, I’ve been concentrating on foundation funding. Many foundations typically ask for a letter of interest before you put together a full proposal. So, I’ve included multiple date fields, a deadline for a letter of interest, a deadline for a full proposal, and a date when they announce their award.

Originally I thought that this database would be mostly for research, but after working with the online grants database, Grantstation, I think I will reserve this database for funders that I really expect to submit to. Some ideas for future enhancements include:

  • Links to standard “boilerplate” paragraphs that are used in an application. 
  • Links to edit the proposal or letter directly in Word. 
  • Links to the PDFs of the proposal. 
  • Reports that create a grants calendar. 
Before anyone comments that “you should really use X software” for this purpose, I just want to say that I’ve used several in the past, including DonorPerfect and Blackbaud, and evaluated many others. Right now, I’m in the process of rethinking my entire workflow automation from the ground up, and this very lightweight approach is just what I’m looking for. Plus its in FileMaker, so I can run it on my Windows machines at work, or my Macs at home.     

Alabama Eye Bank runs on FileMaker Pro.

Over at  Tech for Home Healtcare,  I’ve described how the Alabama Eye Bank uses FileMaker Pro to manage the process of receiving donated corneas thorough finding a recipient and scheduling the surgery. It is an amazing application that shows the cross-platform versatility of FileMaker, hosted on Windows servers, and deployed to Mac workstations, iPads, and iPhones.  

Refurbished Desktop Computers

Refurbs are for when you have more time than money. I’m not sure about the exact figure, but in many cases, I think I’ve ended up spending several hours per unit getting a refurbished computer back online after a hard drive failure, or just having to spend hours updating Windows and Office so that I’m confident getting the machine on the network.

We got several “really good deals” from NewEgg, for refurbished Lenovo desktop computers at $214.00. These appeared to be of “office quality”, included Windows 7 Pro, and were nicely finished. Unfortunately, we have had 2/3 of the Western Digital Blue hard drives start to fail at some point. This has created no end of extra heartache for the users and an enormous amount of work for the IT staff.

NewEgg has been fine on returns, however, providing UPS shipping labels, and RMA procedures over the web.

OK….so much for NewEgg.  We’re looking at alternatives.  (we have more time than money).

Techsoup has Dell refurbished computers that are prepared by a third party. For example:


Dell OptiPlex 755 Core 2 Duo Windows 7 Desktop 2.0 Ghz – 2.6 Ghz 
$286.00 
Min of 160Gb drive
Min of 2Gs RAM 
Windows 7 Professional 64 bit. 
Also includes: 
Office 2010
Adobe Flash,Reader 

One advantage here is that if you need licenses for Windows 7 and Office, they are included in the price. You would spend the $286.00 on those if you bought at retail, and maybe quite a lot less if you have a Microsoft Open, agreement. But, it like getting the hardware free.

The Dell Outlet looks promising with several machines in the $315-$390 range which still include Windows 7 as opposed to Windows 8, and have at least 500Gb drives, and 4 Gigs of RAM. These have more up-to-date processors than the Techsoup machines, and are certainly not as old. Most Dell Outlet machines were either not delivered, or were taken back within the warrenty period.

I’ve had solid results with Dell Outlet computers at the workstation and server level; mixed results with standard desktop machines, and a real disaster with older SX-series Optiplexes.  The best seem to be the larger ones; towers or mini-towers. Smaller machines, “mini-desktops” may have suffer from the suboptimal cooling, and the older components may have reached their design end-of-life earlier than those installed in a larger case.

One thing we have often found is that dual monitors are wonderful, and this is something that I would recommend for anyone as a matter of course. If you need an extra monitor card, these can be found from NewEgg starting at around $35.00. Best to wait until you have received the machine, because there can be variations in the slots, and the available adapter space that aren’t evident from the web page.

On the Mac side, I’ve purchased several Macbooks, iPods, iPads, from the Apple Store. These have always worked flawlessly. The Refurb store has a 21.5 inch iMac for $1099, which is the model from September 2013. The cost is only $200 or so less that of a new, similar iMac. It includes 8 gigs of RAM, and 1 terabyte hard drive, and of course the Mavrick OS, and iWork. If you’ve got more money than time, and just want to get to work, this might be the way to go.

Vista to Windows 7 upgrade on Mac Parallels


Earlier, I did a couple of fresh installations of Windows 7 and found it agreeable, so now I’m upgrading the Vista VM running on my iMac with Parallels 4.0. This has presented various points of interest .

1. You can do an in-place upgrade from Vista to Windows 7, but not from Windows XP.

2. I had to increase the size of the Parallels Vista VM disk from 30 gigs to 48 gigs to accommodate the installation files for Windows 7. You do this in Parallels through the Parallels Image Tool which expands the disk partition size. Before doing this is will merge any snapshots that you’ve taken. I had only a single snapshot that I had created when first installing Parallels a year ago. Rather than allow this merge, which would have taken several hours, I exited out of the program, deleted the snapshot through the snapshot manager, then reentered the Image Tool and performed the expansion in a about 30 seconds.

3. I increased the available RAM from 1 gig to 2 gigs, at least for the installation, since it was a stated requirement to have more than 1 gig. I may crank it back to 1 afterwards.

4. Among the steps during an upgrade, there is “Gathering files, settings and programs” The count of these was 414,061. That is not a misprint. Amazing, after less than a year of running this particular Vista workstation how much crap you accumulate. I’m also wondering at how they calculate the percentage in the upgrade status screen (above) which doesn’t seem to correspond with the numbers.

My guess is one reason XP isn’t supported for an upgrade is that XP still runs nicely on smaller, older machines, and these are probably not good candidates for a Windows 7 upgrade… notwithstanding the fact that Win7 is supposed to have a smaller footprint both in disk space and memory requirements than Vista. Accordingly, any machine that can run Vista should be able to accommodate Windows 7.

Rosetta Stone Language Learning Software

You’ve probably seen the silly ads in those upscale magazines… “she was an Italian supermodel, he was a farm boy from Omaha”… or something similar. Very weird ad campaign, perhaps, but the consensus among many foreign language educators, and teachers of English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) is that Rosetta Stone is a powerful program for teaching a second (third, fourth… ) language.

One of my clients, a provider of literacy and workforce development education has been happily using the standalone version of Rosetta Stone for some years. A couple years ago they somehow got talked into buying a network version which requires installation on a network server, and some hours of configuration and installation. This was probably not a good choice for them; they don’t really have the wherewithal or the need for this. After several weeks of phone calls and eMails attempting to exchange the licenses for single-user copies, we gave up and are now attempting to install the network version. (To be fair, their exchange policy states that there is a 180 day period after purchase in which to return their products…and we’re actually attempting this project 18 months or more after they purchased the program).

Rosetta Stone is available in several different configurations, including an online subscription which can be used via a web browser. Either this or single user copies would have been ideal. Instead, what they were sold appears to be the Rosetta Stone Enterprise version which includes a management server which tracks student progress.

One ironic twist is that this network edition includes the open source MySQL database and the Apache web server. Yet the Rosetta Stone server requires a Windows machine to run. So, instead of the server running under Linux, you have to have some kind of Windows box to host the server applications. The server installer then installs MySQL and Apache for Windows running as services and also installs Ruby. The server requires a static IP.

This was not something we wanted on our organization administration file server which is a a Windows 2003 Server. Hence the Dell T105 mentioned previously, running Windows XP.

Once the server applications are installed, you install the languages. In our case we have three levels of English, each on a its own CD. There is an installation program which prompts for the language CDs, and then gives you the option to activate them.

Activation is rather like activating Windows over the internet. For each language/level you’ve purchased, you can have one student running the program at a time. The license keys are similar to windows…. four groups of six letters and numbers. If you have already activated a language license elsewhere, then activation will fail…you have to go back to the computer on which you originally performed the activation, and “remove a language”. How this would be resolved if a hard drive had crashed or the computer was otherwise unavailable, I’m not sure.

The Rosetta Stone Manager is the management interface that allows managers to create user accounts for Rosetta Stone. This program is installed separatly from the server and is available in a Windows or a Mac version. The Mac version appeared to work OK, even on Snow Leopard.

Before going further, I called Rosetta Stone Tech support to inquire about updates. I figured that since the software was 2 years old, they probably had updated it within that time and there were no obvious links in the screens to obtain updates. Oh, yes… they would send new disks, and I need to do a complete reinstall. (Sigh), another three hours out the window. As Jerry Pournelle says….”we do these things so you don’t have to”.

After preparing the server. and adding myself as a user, I then attempted to install the workstation version of the software onto my Vista machine. This runs an Installshield installation. It worked great on an XP box. I was able to log in to the account that I set up in the Rosetta Stone server, and run the program. Seemed to work fine in a Vista session on my Mac with Parallels.

There is also a native Mac installer; this seemed unusual as I don’t recall ANY Mac software, no matter how complex, which actually requires an installation process on the Mac other than copying the application file to the Apps folder. This installer, “powered by Vise X” so far seems to be doing a search of all my hard drives. Once it does the search however, it then installs over 2000 files (!) including a Flash Player and a ton of JPG and Gif graphics files. Still, the application came up fine.

So, we’ve now got Rosetta Stone running on a Mac machine, a Vista virtual machine within Parallels on the Mac, and on an XP machine. I’m feeling confident enough to bring the server in tomorrow for a trial run.

Time Management Tools

  • Print out a checklist

    Printable CheckList is a good spot to print out a daily task list. It has been free and ad-free for many months, but I see recently they display Google ads at the bottom. But it is still free, and is great way to focus yourself on the next couple of hours.

  • Get off the Internet

    The program Macfreedom will disable your internet connection for up to eight hours. It can be configured to still allow access to the local area network (like your printers and file shares), while denying access to the wider world.

  • Track your time

    Harvest. You can print beautiful time sheets and reports, track multiple projects and tasks, and hourly billable time.

OK, now I really, really have to get back to work.