Americans on Vacation in Europe – Adventure, Pitfalls and Observations

We recently returned from a quick, one week vacation.  I say quick because we didn’t visit one country; we visited three – England, France and Italy.  Specifically, we spent 2 days in the cities of London, Paris and Rome with a travel day before and after.  At least on paper that was the case. We found getting from arrival point to each hotel in its respective city a challenge, riddled with mistakes on our part and things you just wouldn’t know as a tourist.

We did a fair amount of research with respect to places we wanted to see in each city we visited. We thought we had a pretty good idea of the navigation necessary to get to the places we were going.  But never underestimate the tourist factor, and don’t apply American logic to how you think things should/will operate.  In most cases, my instincts were wrong and this caused some frustration.

London – Arriving in London, we purchased train tickets and were pointed in the direction of the train leaving the airport.  This was fairly easy.  Arriving at Paddington station, we suddenly realized we had no idea how to get a connecting train to the Barbican area of London.  Perhaps if we lived in a large city and were used to riding metro trains, the task would have been less daunting.  But let me tell you, Paddington station is massive and just because someone lives in London doesn’t mean they know the part of town you are trying to find.  Looking back on the trip, London was by far the easiest of the three and we eventually got to the right platform and figured out how to purchase a few tickets with the £s we had exchanged at the airport.

People were super friendly and helpful in London and after a few missteps, we wandered into the hotel lobby with luggage in tow.  We always felt pretty safe in London and we walked everywhere the first day; that may have been a mistake because the amount of walking we did in the British Museum was exercise enough.  Due to jet lag, this was the only thing we did the first day.  On day two, we again did some heavy walking.  Window shopping on Oxford Street, Westminster, and Buckingham Palace were all achievable on foot from Barbican.  To escape the crowd at the conclusion of the Changing of the Guard, however, we found a taxi the perfect way to get to South London to do the Bermondsey Mile.

As craft beer enthusiasts, we were fortunate to find out about the “Bermondsey Mile”.  This is a craft beer crawl from one brewery to the next.  A total of 6 breweries and The Bottle Shop, a fabulous craft beer store/tasting room.  Due to time constraints, we only made it to 5 of the breweries, which ended up being enough!  Finishing at a nearby pub, some food and then a taxi ride was necessary.  This concluded our fun in London.
Here’s what was good about London:

  1. Friendly people with no language barrier.
  2. Awesome craft beer scene
  3. Central location for shopping, historical landmarks and museums.

Here’s what was might give you a problem:

  1. Navigating trains from the airport.  Visit – This website has maps, scheduling and a lot of other information that I wish we had known prior to arriving in London.
  2. Typical pub beers will be disappointing if you are a craft beer lover.  Do the Bermondsey Mile or find a list of pubs that serve good beer like this one.

Paris – The French have a reputation for being arrogant and impatient with American tourists.  I can see how this perception exists, but I would also say that we met several Parisians that were both friendly and helpful.  I believe that the language barrier between Americans and the French is mostly responsible for this perception.  However, they definitely march to the beat of a different drum than we do.  Transportation and scheduling is perhaps the most frustrating thing I can say about Paris.  We arrived by train from London and one snafu after another burnt half of the day in getting to our hotel.  The manned ticket booths all closed without warning, leaving me and many other people standing in line only to find out they weren’t reopening.  The ticket machines didn’t take paper Euros, only coin and credit cards.  None of our credit cards worked (nor did any Parisian’s).  We got on the right line, but it skipped our stop and we had to jump the turnstile to get out of the station!  Sorry France – the Euro’s in the mail.

The next morning we asked the hotel lobby to call a taxi to avoid any more train “issues”.  They responded that all taxi drivers in Paris were on strike today; back to the train station we go.  After cramming in a train car during morning commute, everyone was ordered off the train as it was suddenly taken out of service.  I felt sorry for the people that were going to be late for work, but as one young man told us, this happens from time to time and his boss would understand.  Apparently these kinds of things are just taken in stride.

Of course everything we saw in Paris was beautiful – The Eiffel Tower, The Louvre and all the sites we saw during our bus tour.  The dinner cruise on the Seine River was another great way to see the city lights, but again they were quite late based on boarding time and the cold December rain did not make the wait a pleasant one.  Americans seem to be more preoccupied with punctuality than do the French.  Nevertheless, the sites and lights made Paris an experience to remember  and a positive one at that.
Here’s what was good about Paris:

  1. Beauty.  I don’t know how else to describe it.  The buildings, the artwork, the lights – all of it was just beautiful
  2. Christmas might be a cold time of year, but the lights and Christmas night life is worth considering a winter visit.
  3. The Louvre could be a destination all by itself.  Truly an awesome place that would probably take several days to see all three wings and all the exhibits.  We visited only the wing with the Mona Lisa and the art is simply breathtaking.

Here’s what might give you problems in Paris:

  1. Language barrier – Hey it’s not their fault you speak English and they speak French, but unless you had some French in school, this is going to give you some problems.
  2. Transportation – Sudden train terminations, ticket booth closings, strikes (I’m told none of these are unusual) is not something we Americans are used to dealing with.  I suggest patience and roll with it like a Parisian.
  3. I’m sure there is some excellent food in Paris, but I didn’t find it.  It was OK, but my theory is that French food is overrated and the rest of the world caught up to what gave it the reputation.

Rome – Roma as it is referred to in Italy is such an interesting mix of the ancient and modern. Circular roads running through Roman arches and meandering around ruins and landmarks create traffic patterns that are interesting, to say the least.  Rewind to the airport.  Due to our transportation challenges in Paris, we used some good old fashioned American logic.  Let’s rent a car, we said.  It will give us less problems, we said. So we did rent a car; it was a cute little Fiat.  I jumped in and turned the key, causing the car to start lurching forward.  Oops, it was a stick shift.  Now, I can drive a stick shift, but I certainly wasn’t expecting my rental car to be one.  I was still trying to use American logic in another part of the world.

Google maps was a huge help driving to the hotel.  I think we would have been hopelessly lost without it.  To describe driving in Rome, picture Nintendo Mario Kart.  People zoom from lane to lane; they drive in the emergency lane, and they create lanes where no lanes exist. While police seem to be everywhere, there doesn’t seem to be any traffic enforcement whatsoever.  Arriving at the hotel, we found out that there is no such thing as free parking anywhere and it is expensive and cumbersome the way you have to purchase multiple parking “scratch offs” and line your dash with them.

If you ask me what the first thing that comes to mind about Rome, it is an emphatic GOOD FOOD.  I’m convinced you can’t buy a bad meal in Rome.  From the alley diners to the more upscale restaurants, everything is delicious.  We ate four meals per day to experience the cuisine.  In addition to the food, there is just so much to see.  Segway rentals are inexpensive and fun.  Vatican City is just amazing; we toured the excavation below St. Peter’s Basilica and the cathedral itself.  There is no description that would do justice to the experience.  The people are wonderful in Rome, but crime is a problem, so be careful. You will be constantly solicited to buy tours and souvenirs.
Here’s what’s good about Rome:

  1. The Food – pick a place; you can’t go wrong.
  2. Vatican City
  3. Easy to use Metro train system* (see below)

Here’s what might give you problems in Rome:

  1. Traffic – Do not rent a car.  It will be more trouble than it’s worth.
  2. The Metro is easy to use.  It’s also the place you’re most likely to get pick pocketed.  My wife had her phone stolen there and I’ve heard of other travelers with similar experiences.
  3. Allow plenty of time to get back to the airport.  You can’t easily estimate the drive time due to grid lock on the highway.

I hope people reading this will realize that I am highlighting the pitfalls to help others avoid some of the frustrations that we experienced.  The enjoyment of our vacation far outweighed the other issues we experienced along the way and I would highly recommend the trip.  Being aware of potential issues certainly alleviates some of the stress involved.  All the problems we experienced worked themselves out and we had a great time.

Windows 7, Server 2008r2 and Server 2012 network switching to public

How many end users or techs have had issues with their PCs and workgroup servers suddenly jumping from home/work to public, blocking access to data, printers, apps, etc?  Often times, this is caused by a router change (which if you are an AT&T U-verse subscriber, could be once every few months).

But in many other instances, this phenomena occurs without warning and for no obvious reason. What’s even more interesting is in an environment of, say, 8 computers, 5 might change to public while the other 3 remain set to private business.

I write this with no solution offered, merely the observation that this problem seems to be fairly frequent and I’ve only really seen it in the last year or so; and never saw it years ago on Windows 7.  Have Windows updates caused this to be more common?  Are hack attempts through the network responsible?

The security policy can be manually set on a single machine to cause it to default to a private network, but I’m more interested in what has been causing this more frequently than before.  I probably get a few calls per week that are directly related to the public network jump on peer-to-peer networks.

I’d love to hear feedback from others in IT that have also experienced an increase in this issue.

Apple iOS 7.1 Accused of Draining Batteries in iPhones and iPads

It has been reported that the iOS 7.1 update has been draining batteries compared to previous builds.  My iPhone 5 is working great.  In fact, I thought it was working better with certain apps opened.  I believe apps that haven’t been updated are often the cause of this phenomenon. If the update alone was the culprit, I would think 100% of the devices would be affected.

There must be some commonality affecting specific devices.  Anyone having issues since upgrading?

Bye Bye Intel Motherboards – Discontinued – What is Intel thinking?

As an IT guy and hardware reseller, I guess I should have been paying better attention to what Intel has been doing. But a few years ago, we had a falling out as an Intel Channel Partner and no longer participate. The dispute was over Intel’s refusal to give us credit towards our yearly quota unless we purchased from one of their “approved” vendors.

Newegg isn’t, or at least wasn’t, on that list; and quite frankly, I grew tired of paying higher prices and navigating the more cumbersome websites of those other vendors. As the channel partner program became less personable and more outsourced, I saw no value in trying to comply with the program.

Fast forward to February 2014. A lot of people have been buying custom made PCs lately. The biggest reasons are XP is becoming obsolete and it’s hard to walk into a big box store and purchase something other than Windows 8.x- no need to elaborate. However, custom computers can still be built with Windows 7.

I recently noticed that Newegg began to experience Intel branded motherboard shortages. I had been able to substitute a mATX for an ATX board or select a more expensive one, but that became a problem too. Soon, I was scrambling for an alternative manufacturer using the same Intel chipsets. The whole time, I was thinking this was just a blip on the radar and supply would catch up with my demand for Intel motherboards.

But when that didn’t happen, I reached out to Newegg on both Facebook and Twitter. That’s when I was given the bad news. Newegg’s twitter response was:

“Intel announced in 2013 that they’ll transition out of the MB business by 2014. You can try ASUS or Gigabyte as an alternative.”

Say it ain’t so, Intel. Say it ain’t so! Intel may not be known for the best gaming boards in the industry, but their workstation motherboards have been rock solid for over a decade, barring a few unfortunate firmware issues. I’m no fan of Gigabyte and while I used ASUS exclusively 15 years ago, I became troubled by their hit and miss quality at various price points.

I’d love to hear from other techs, who’ve had to switch from Intel boards and find out what they are using now. I’m using Asrock and hoping for the best. If Intel replies to my Twitter post, I’ll add it later. But for now, all I can say is Why Why Why?

When Will Email Providers Quit Blaming Their Users For Security Breaches?

February 23, 2014 –

If you have an email account managed by Yahoo!, (eg. Bellsouth, AT&T, Prodigy, etc.) or AOL, then I bet the majority of you have had to change your password at least once in the last 3 years.  The problem starts when you start getting calls or reply emails from the people in your address book describing strange emails they are receiving from you.

The emails in question either have a virus attached, links to infected websites or spam.  Sometimes they are emails begging your friends for money because “you” are stranded somewhere and have had your wallet stolen.  Whatever the case may be, you now have an email account that has been breached.  I get several calls a month by customers who say, “I have a virus on my computer that is sending email…”  Actually, they are wrong, probably 98% of the time.

In almost all cases, their passwords have been compromised – not by a virus – but by a hacker.  And the hackers haven’t accessed the user’s computer; they have hacked their email provider’s servers directly.  The solution is to simply change your password, but the root issue remains.  The email provider has one or more vulnerabilities and thousands of their customer’s accounts are getting hijacked – all at once.

The biggest problem is the email providers lie to their customers and blame things like weak passwords as the culprit.  Sure a hacker can brute force or guess a weak password, but why would they bother when they can hack authentication servers and get thousands of email accounts all at one time?  Both Yahoo! and AOL have had this problem for years now, with no resolution.  It doesn’t matter if your password is “password” or “Sup3rc@l1fr@G1l1st1c3Xp1@l1D0c10us”, if the hackers get into the server and steal your information, the account will be compromised.

I’m writing this today because I have seen another wave of attacks, specifically with AOL.  I have received multiple emails from different AOL accounts, all hacked within the same 24 hour period.  I’m also seeing a rise in “mom and pop” web and email hosting being targeted by sophisticated overseas hackers.  Yahoo! recently admitted to a breach.  I laughed as they acted like it was the first time.  Of course, they still didn’t take responsibility for the problem, blaming it on a 3rd party vendor.

I wonder how much longer these companies will continue to make up lame excuses to their customers before the truth is finally publicized.  If you have had your email account hijacked, I encourage you to share your story.

iTunes update causing MSVCR80.dll error – SOLVED

I have compiled information that I found on different websites that ultimately allowed me to fix the msvcr80.dll error on both Windows 7 and Windows XP.  I have yet to figure out what underlying issue is common on all the computers getting this error, but one of my hunches is that some computers with old versions of MobileMe may run into a problem when iTunes tries to update itself.

Using system restore made no difference with the existing issue.  A simple reinstall from download didn’t either.  Note that I always disable the antivirus during installs and uninstalls with programs of this complexity.    The best advice I found wasn’t on Apple’s forums, it was by a guy named Tim Fisher at  I followed his instructions:

“Uninstall from Windows the following programs in this order: iTunes, Apple Software Update, Apple Mobile Device Support, Bonjour, Apple Application Support, iCloud, and finally MobileMe.”  On Windows 7, I ran into a problem when I got to Apple Mobile Device Support.  Whether I tried to uninstall or change (and then uninstall), it would always roll back on me and fail.

A forum suggestion recommended getting the Microsoft uninstall Fixit utility, found at  I launched this utility and selected the Apple Mobile Device Support to be uninstalled and let the utility start.  This program ran and ran and ran.  I was beginning to wonder if it was doing anything, and started monitoring it in task manager.  At times, it would utilize over 7GB or physical memory on a computer that had 8GB with CPU utilization over 25%.

I finally got tired of waiting and went to the control panel while the Fixit utility continued to run.  I clicked on Apple Mobile Device Support and attempted to uninstall again.  This time it reported that it had already been uninstalled and the entry was removed from the program list.  I took this as a good sign.  I continued uninstalling the programs in the order recommended, all while the Fixit utility continued to run in the background.  I know that might have been a gamble, but I didn’t have all day to see if it would finish.

After everything else was uninstalled, I rebooted the computer and downloaded iTunes again and proceeded to do the clean install.  I prayed to the gods of Zeros and Ones when it got to the point where it needed to start services.  You may have noted that this is where reinstall previously went south.  Voilà! Success.

I hope the above information helps someone, especially if they run into a few hiccups like I did.  Good luck.

Install Failed – OS X could not be installed on your computer. The OS X upgrade couldn’t be started because the disk Macintosh HD is damaged and can’t be repaired. SOLVED

Mavericks upgrade failureLet me start by saying DON’T replace your hard drive until you read this.  Here is my story:

Just another routine upgrade on a customer’s computer; or so it seemed.  I have upgraded many Mac computers.  It is usually one of the most mundane tasks. I noticed the customer had a stalled Mavericks upgrade download that would not unpause.  I rebooted, and was able to resume the download.  When the install started, it asked for Admin password.  There was no password, so I just clicked OK, which worked for all other installs.  The password box continued to pop up, so I went to user and groups in preferences and created a temporary password; the Mavericks upgrade accepted the new password and continued, prompting for restart.  It was all downhill from there.

After rebooting, the install resumed and within a few seconds, got the “Install Failed”.  I followed the recommendation and ran disk utility from the current Mountain Lion recovery partition.  Verification immediately reported errors and recommended repairing.  Unfortunately repair didn’t work and stated it couldn’t be repaired.

If you don’t feel like reading the whole story, here’s the short version:

  1. Boot in recovery mode and install Original OS to External Drive.
  2. Tell the install to transfer data from other drive which will copy from “bad” internal drive.
  3. Use disk utility to delete partition on internal drive.
  4. Used Super Duper to clone external drive to internal drive.

I found it hard to believe that the drive suddenly had unrepairable errors given the computer was running flawlessly on Mountain Lion immediately before the restart.  I was convinced Mavericks had hosed the file system.  Searching the web, the advice was to replace the hard drive – that it was bad, blah blah blah.  I didn’t accept that as true  and was determined to get the data off the drive, and prove the disk was fine by erasing the partition and installing back on the same drive.

My theory was correct.  I connected an external hard drive to the iMac and used the recovery partition to download and install Mountain Lion to it.  When the installation was successful and offered to transfer data, I chose “from disk”.  And what do you know?  I was able to migrate the data and settings from the Macintosh HD.  Interesting, considering the disk was supposed to be bad and unrepairable.

After successfully transferring all the customer data and successfully booting, I launched disk utility and erased the Macintosh HD.  I downloaded the free Super Duper Mac cloning software on the external drive and cloned back to the internal.  I can’t say enough about this piece of free software.  It just works!  Once this tasks was completed, I simply removed the external drive and booted normally.  Just for confirmation, I verified the disk and it checked out OK.

Suspecting, that the first (interrupted and then resumed) download of Mavericks was corrupt, I deleted it and downloaded a fresh Mavericks package.  After downloading Mavericks again, it updated perfectly.  My conclusion:  Don’t listen to people telling you need a new hard drive if your Mavericks (or future upgrades) fail and report hard drive problems. The chances of going from a perfectly running system to a hard drive crash after reboot is very slight.   Follow the above steps and you will probably be up and running in no time.

Verizon Voicemail Callback Problems

I have yet to find an acknowledgment by Verizon that a problem does indeed exist with the callback feature with Verizon voicemail.  The scenario is as follows:  You are checking your voicemail and you press 88# which directs voicemail to call back the number from which the person left the message.

The service used to work with 100% reliability. For the past several months, however, the service fails to dial the number and you wait listening to dead air until you finally realize that it is not going to work.  Often, if you hangup and dial *86 to access voicemail again, you will be told that your account has no access to the system.  This forces you to hang up and try again.

I would estimate that on any given day, the callback service works between 33-50% of the time.  If you do not have unlimited minutes on your plan, this can result in several minutes of lost time per month, as you must listen back through previously heard messages again.  Others with whom I have spoken, report similar experiences for those using the service.  Verizon help desk will act like they have never heard of this problem, but there is no doubt that a systematic problem exists.

Fraud Alert – sells fake Frontline® for cats and dogs

You come home to find Rover or Whiskers scratching fleas.  You know you should get some Frontline® from your local vet, but you just can’t afford it.  But a quick search on the internet delivers several websites with discount products. is one of those sites.  They advertise Frontline® for a medium dog for only $29 – what a deal!  It seemed to take a long time to get there, and when it finally arrived, you realize why.  You notice it had to go through US customs – 1st red flag.

Upon closer inspection, you will see directions in both English and some backward language – literally, the words go right to left – 2nd red flag.  At this point, you could dowse your pet with the suspect liquid and hope it kills fleas instead of your pet.  Personally, I wouldn’t chance it.  What you have, my friend, is genuinely COUNTERFEIT Frontline®!

Here are the facts, folks:

  1. Frontline does not have an expiration date.  If your Frontline® has an expiration date, then it ain’t Frontline®.
  2. If there are stickers from Africa, Australia or your product was shipped from some other country across the great pond, be suspicious.
  3. Go to, or visit your vet for more information.