An August Re-organization

After the struggle last month to rebuild the gateway/proxy/mail server and get the network up and running again, it seemed like I could settle down and do some serious work. The rather large, quite old and very unwieldy Dell 2300 server that was the old gateway machine had now appeared upstairs in the office with a new disk and working again. Seemed an ideal machine to use as a test-bed and staging server - just tuck it away in the corner of my rather "compact" home office, install Win2K and .NET, and away I go.

That was until I turned it on. I thought I'd walked out of the terminal buildings at Heathrow airport just as a Jumbo jet went past. I'd forgotten how noisy these "proper" server beasts are - especially as they "mature". The noise was soon driving me mad, and when I turned it off after a day's work I thought I'd gone deaf because it was so quiet again.

So, a new plan was required. Use the old Dell 450 tower that serves as internal domain controller as the testbed/staging box in the office, and turn the big 2300 into the domain controller and hide it in the server cabinet downstairs. Shouldn't be a problem - OK so I really should reinstall the OS. Then set it up the same as the existing one, swap them over, install .NET on the old domain controller, job done.

Yeah, right. Ever optimistic, and rarely with any real reason to be so. As a domain controller, the 2300 needed Active Directory installing first. But it wouldn't go on without talking to the network. Of course, that meant the FQDN had to be different from the existing domain (I wanted it to be the same). Which means that I had loads of reconfig to do afterwards on the domain generally. And, as usual, I forgot lots of the peripheral settings until I'd installed it downstairs. So, I spent the rest of the week running up and down stairs sharing drives, setting up the Time service, installing the latest patches and fixes, etc. I reckon I worked off 10 pounds in weight - though anyone who knows me would say that was no bad thing...

Next, shuffle the rest of the stuff round in the office, reinstall Win2K on the 450 that was to become the new test box, and get it all working sweetly again. I like to think that the office is a well-oiled machine that just works - so I can just sit in the middle of all the kit and "be creative". In fact I spent a whole day on my hands and knees trying to get wires to go to the right places.

Part of the project was to wire up the whole office for USB at the same time. It's so good just being able to plug stuff in and have it work. I bought a cheap DLink powered USB hub - now that I've got a CD Writer, camera, scanner, sound system and printer that use USB I am running out of ports. So, have you tried this? Did it work for you? Maybe I should have bought a more expensive USB hub. The scanner and camera work fine. If I have used either first, however, I have to reboot to get the computer to find the CD Writer.

Interestingly, the printer manual (an Epson 750 Photo) says about USB: "if you use a powered USB hub, plug the printer into the first port". OK, so I can do that. Then it follows with "if the printer still does not work..." (I love to see confidence from manufacturers) "... plug it directly into your computer's USB port". Well it didn't work in port 1 of the hub so I though I'd first try installing the drivers from the Epson CD instead of relying on Windows own drivers.

Which brings us to the "don't try this at home" bit. On Windows 2000 the drivers installed fine. Including the printer monitor software (which I didn't want, but it gave me no choice). And it still didn't work - it couldn't find the printer. Also, every time I booted I got the dreaded "One or more services failed to start" message. So, I uninstall it ... or try. No chance. The next day I spent many happy hours trawling the registry trying to get rid of it and the error message - it's amazing how hard it is to find those last scraps. And afterwards I couldn't get the OS to connect my old Epson EPL 5500 laser printer to LPT1. Obviously I got too carried away with the registry pruning. Still, they say we're now in the world of the "paperless office", so why do I need a printer anyway?

And, of course, as soon as I joined the existing office machines to the new domain controller, I'd lost all my Profile settings (different FDQN remember) so the next few hours were spent copying them around and getting it all looking familiar again. By Friday I was ready for a day off...

But it was worth the effort. I treated myself to a new box for everyday work (a shiny new Dell Dimension 8100) and specified a 17" LCD screen. I also bought an Iiyama 4311 LCD screen for the existing "daily use" system. This means that I can now put them on the desk in front of the window and still be far enough away from them so I don't get dizzy (the reason I originally moved to a big desk facing the wall was that the 17" CRTs are so deep I was working with my nose touching the screen). Now I can while away those "in between creative spurts" moments by gazing lazily at the world outside. Just don't tell my publisher that I have "in between creative spurts" moments.

Of course, going to LCD flat panel monitors is a perfect opportunity to switch to DVI at the same time. I've been hanging back waiting for it to become standardized and widely available. Interesting then that Dell don't automatically put a DVI-enabled card in the machine when you specify a DVI-enabled screen. Mind you, with the prices they are having to sell the machines for to be able to shift them at all at the moment, I'm not surprised. I managed to get a good deal on an upgrade to a DVI-enabled video card, however, and the Dell 1701FP screen did come with both a VGA and a DVI cable included.

The Iiyama 4311 flat screen I'm now using on the other box is actually very nice. I've never seen a lump of kit with so many sockets on it - VGA and DVI input, USB input and four USB output, sound input and headphone output, S-Video and S-Video sound inputs, composite video and composite video sound inputs. Shame it's such a boring design!

However, I really only went for this one as it can be rotated, which is extremely useful for working on books and documents (such as when using MS Word). The native resolution of 1024 x 1280 in portrait mode means that I can easily display (and read!) a full page in one go. The productivity boost should be amazing (it might even cover for those "in between creative spurts" moments).

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