Author: Adam Fowler

Google Nest Mini Won’t Connect to 5Ghz Network

I received a Google Nest Mini as part of Google’s promotion to subscribers of YouTube Premium. A nice gesture, and I hadn’t actually jumpted into having a smart speaker at home myself. Beyond wondering what use I could actually get from it – it was free, so I ordered.

A few weeks later it arrived, and setup should have been simple. Power it on, get the Google Home app on a mobile device, and follow the bouncing ball to set up. I’d done this before for a Chromecast I have, which I could see in the Home setup and have connected to the home 5Ghz network – no issues there at all.

However, when going through the same setup for the Google Nest Mini, I couldn’t even see my 5Ghz home Wi-Fi network listed on my phone. Weird, I tried several things including adding the details of the network in manually. Nothing I tried would work. I also couldn’t get it connected to my 2.4Ghz home network, unless I picked my guest network. I’d had the same issue on a printer that wouldn’t connect and only supported 2.4Ghz; the cuplrit was the AiMesh ASUS setup I had (side note – I personally would recommend to avoid ASUS AiMesh as there’s multiple problems I experienced, it’s not user friendly and solutions that are half done in it such as menu options that display but aren’t supported, as I eventually had confirmed by ASUS support. That’s not to say you should avoid all ASUS solutions.).

That really wasn’t where I wanted to end up though – the Nest Mini streaming data from my 2.4Ghz non-meshed guest network. After a bunch of Googling on the issue, I saw a comment somewhere that said to try band 36. As a refresher on this – 2.4Ghz Wi-Fi has bands or channels from 1 to 11 – but there’s overlap between the bands and they interfere with each other, so you really only wan to use 1, 6 or 11. 5Ghz however, has many more. My 5Ghz network at home was set to ‘Auto’ – which should pick the least noisiest band. That resulted in band 149.

I changed my band from 149 to 36 – the lowest option available, and went through the Google Nest Mini setup yet again. This time, I could see my network! It went through the entire setup process seamlessly. For my own sanity, I tried jumping up to a band 165, higher than 149, reset the Mini, and tried setting it up again but without success. Jumped to band 44 this time, and again it worked perfectly.

5Ghz Wi-Fi Band Options

It seemed the lower channels were fine – from 36 to 48, but the higher bands the device just couldn’t see. Again, weirdly the Chromecast would successfully set up on any of these and was a much older device than my brand new Nest Mini.

I also know it’s not just me that has this problem, as @AjTechs also confirmed he had the same experience – no 5Ghz network visible on band 149, but was visible when he used band 44.

I tweeted about it of course because that’s what I do. The first fail was the frustrating plug design, that wouldn’t fit with any other standard plug I had next to it. It’s also not a USB charger, but a round connector of some sort.

@GoogleNest swooped in to attempt to save the day. They couldn’t answer that question, and after 1 1/2 hours of back and forth over DM, they really didn’t know what was going on still. They still couldn’t answer my original question, and didn’t get me any closer to proving the problem was any different to what I’d found myself.

If I get any more details I’ll update this post – but otherwise, if you’re having the same problem as me, then try a different band, and when that works, have fun reconnecting everything in your house back to Wi-Fi again :)

OneDrive PC Folder Backup and Desktop Shortcut Duplicates

PC Folder Backup (which was previously known as Known Folder Redirect) is a rather useful feature that’s been added into OneDrive. It allows the redirection of users Desktop, Documents and Pictures folder for a user to live in a folder in OneDrive under the user’s profile (e.g. C:\Users\bgates\OneDrive – Contoso\Desktop ). This in turn causes OneDrive to automatically sync the data to the user’s OneDrive cloud based storage, and works a bit like having a roaming profile, without the many issues that plague actual roaming profiles.

Stephen Rose wrote a great post on how it all works with screenshots, check that out if you’re still looking at testing this solution.

An issue that I’ve come across while rolling out, was the duplication of desktop shortcuts. The problem is that OneDrive won’t match files that are ‘identical’ unless they’re Office documents; a local file called test.lnk on your desktop, and another file in OneDrive in the Desktop folder called test.lnk from a previous sync on a different computer will result in the new one being called test – Copy.lnk, and the older one synced back – you now have a test.lnk and test – Copy.lnk file on your desktop.

This wouldn’t normally happen when you log onto a computer for the first time, but many companies deploy shortcuts (usually through Group Policy). What happens is, you log onto a PC for the first time, Group Policy deploys the shortcuts to the desktop you need, then OneDrive kicks in and starts its PC Folder Backup process. I had 4 copies of each shortcut we were deploying before I noticed the mess that my desktop had become!

I’m definitely not alone in this problem. People on answers.microsoft.com were complaining about it, and there’s a user voice idea with 212 votes at the time of posting on this same problem.

I asked around and was determined to work out a reasonable solution:

You can’t just block .lnk files from OneDrive without causing end user errors for everyone trying to automatically sync those.

You can run a script at startup to delete any “* – Copy*.lnk” file on the user’s desktop after logon, but that’s really a hack solution and an absolute last resort.

You can use Group Policy Preferences to delete any “* – Copy*.lnk” from the user’s desktop which is slightly better than a script, but it won’t run at the right time – the user will see duplicates for ~90 minutes after logging in before they get cleaned up, each time they log onto a new PC (which shouldn’t happen THAT often).

You can’t deploy shortcuts once through Group Policy, because the setting to ‘Run once and don’t reapply’ is a per user/per PC setting (unless you have roaming profiles, but you can’t do roaming profiles and PC Folder Backup at the same time unless the folders are excluded from one or the other) – so each time a user logs onto a PC for the first time, it’ll still trigger the shortcut deploys.

The best solution I came up with (and by that, I mean I asked in the Windows Admins Discord and someone said ‘just do it this way’), was to use the Public desktop rather than the user’s desktop.

The Public desktop (located by default in C:\Users\Public\Desktop) are files that everyone who logs onto a PC gets, and because they’re not part of the actual user’s desktop, they’re untouched by PC Folder Backup.

Because I had live shortcuts to clean up too, I first created and tested deleting copies as mentioned above through Group Policy Preferences. I then:

  • Replaced any global shortcut a user needed to %CommonDesktopDir%\file.lnk – not in logged-on user’s context
  • Deleted any existing shortcut deployed from %DesktopDir%\file.lnk in the logged-on user’s context
  • Replaced any shortcut a specific user group needed to %CommonDesktopDir%\file.lnk – not in logged-on user’s context, with item level targeting
  • Deleted any shortcut that was only being deployed to a specific user group, but out of the scope of the above item level targeting from %CommonDesktopDir%\file.lnk

This slightly messy but workable method means the shortcuts will get juggled around if only certain users should see them, and they’ll all live in the Public folder.

I’ll update this if things change with PC Folder Backup, but for the time being this lets the project continue, and users won’t be impacted with shortcut duplicates.

How to Automate FTP Uploads with PSFTP

Many vendors and companies still transfer data via FTP. It could be transactional data, user data, or a myriad of other things. Hopefully they’re using SFTP or FTPS (which are different ways of achieving secure FTP transmissions) rather than FTP, for similar data transfer security reasons on HTTP vs HTTPS.

A common use case I come across, is user management. Uploading basic user data like names, email addresses and employee numbers so a vendor can update records in their cloud based product for your staff to use. If you’re using a cloud service and don’t have user automation sorted – then ask them how you can achieve it – it’s much more enjoyable to set up automation, than do repeating mindless tasks.

Assuming you have details on what to send and where, you’ll need to work out how to automate FTP uploads. Note that this is a much less secure method – you’re saving the password in plain text. Alternatives do exist such as what’s demonstrated in this YouTube video below using a Public Key and Private Key Pair, but require the ability to create a .ssh folder on the FTP server. I’d rather do it this way:

Getting the other end to do what you want isn’t always possible in the real world, so you need to consider the risks if you need to save a password in plain text somewhere (saved in a Scheduled Task as you’ll see below). They’re obtainable if someone can get onto the server (or a backup of the server, or connect to Task Scheduler remotely), which should be heavily locked down anyway, and the password for this might be saved in a password database those same staff members have access to anyway.

If those credentials were obtained by another party, what could they do? If the FTP site cleans up the data instantly that’s uploaded, then they could potentially upload whatever they wanted. Look at a worst case and decide if you’re comfortable with having the account credentials saved this way, or need to find another approach.

Again, consider these risks, try to implement the most secure method you can, and raise any concerns with management/your boss. Assuming this is a scenario where you can’t do it more securely:

Instructions

First, you’ll need software. I use PSFTP – part of PuTTY, a free and open source solution. Download the full installer, as there’s a few components of PuTTY we need.

Next, you’ll need the login details of the FTP site:
Host: e.g. sftp.contoso.com
Username
Password

Open a Command Prompt, navigate to the location that contains sftp.exe and type:

sftp username@host -pw password

You’ll probably first be prompted with a message saying ‘The server’s host key is not cached in the registry’ with some details on the fingerprint. If you’re sure you’re connecting to the right server, you can say ‘y’ to ‘Store key in cache’. Once saved, you won’t be prompted for this on the same computer/user.

At this stage, we’re just making sure you can sign in and get past the key stage. If this works, you’ll now need to work on a batch file to pass through all the commands you want to do.

In this example, I’ll be going into a folder and uploading a file. Open notepad and type your commands, which you can first test in your active connection:

cd inbound
mput filename.csv
quit

Pretty simple stuff. Save your notepad file (we’ll call it batchfile.txt), and if you haven’t already disconnected from your SFTP session, do so with the ‘quit’ command.

Connect back to the SFTP site, but this time we’ll specify the batch file to rin after connecting:

sftp username@host -pw password -b batchfile.txt -batch

I’ve also added -batch on the end to specify it’s an automated batch job – this will cause SFTP to exit on a prompt, rather than be running forever waiting for an input. You can try without -batch first if you want to test and see the prompts, but you’ll need to run this command manually rather than triggering from a Scheduled Task.

If this works as expected, great! You can automate the SFTP task – the final step is to schedule it to run, which I usually use the native Scheduled Tasks in Windows to do.

If your scheduled task is running under a different account than what you tested with, then you’ll need to do that initial host key saving – easiest way is to launch Command Prompt as that user, and connect to the FTP site.

Poly Elara 60 Series Review

Poly offered to send me their Poly Elara 60 Series device to review. As I’m stuck on On-Premises Skype for Business with Enterprise Voice for the time being, but also use Microsoft Teams a lot, it was a product I was interested to try and accepted the opportunity; so here’s the review.

Poly Elara 60 Series, still with it’s protective plastic on.

Poly (who was formally known as Polycom, bought out by Plantronics, then rebranded to the ‘Poly’ name) has only been around for a short time in it’s new name, but those two companies have high regards in the general community on the quality of hardware they make. Both companies who’s devices with their previous names are on my desk, (namely a Polycom CX600 Lync Desk Phone and a Plantronics Savi 440 headset) are there because they’re products we piloted, tested, and have used for several years. We keep buying them because they do just work, and fit our use case really well.

This isn’t to discount other brands of course, but sticking with these products since deploying Lync 2010 back in 2012 says a lot. If they didn’t work well, we’d be using something different.

Back to the device this review’s acually about, the Poly Elara 60 Series. It’s a different use case to the above products I mentioned, and was an interesting process to use. I’m still using it right now as the earphones are perched on my head. I like the device, but it took me a bit to see what it was capable of and make it work for what I wanted.

The Poly Elara 60 Series is advertised as a “Mobile phone station that enhances smartphone collaboration”. The standard way you’d use this device is by first optionally placing your phone on the rubber stand on the right hand side that doubles as a wireless charging plate. I tested this with a Google Pixel XL 4 and a iPhone 8, both wirelessly charged.

The wireless charging mobile stand has 4 angles it can sit on, and just as a pure ‘when I’m working I put my phone here’ stand I’m quite happy with it. I can see what’s happening on my mobile, and I’m also charging the rather average Google Pixel 4 XL battery during the day.

If you don’t have a wireless charging mobile, there’s a gap in the plastic to allow a charging cable to be plugged into the bottom of the phone, while still lying flat against the charging pad.

Mobile phone holder aside, the Elara 60 Series can be paired to the mobile using Bluetooth. Standard stuff here to set up, but there’s also the Poly Elara 60 Series app for Android and iOS. This is how firmware updates are delivered to the Elara, but also adds the Microsoft Teams control functions from the Elara to the mobile phone.

Seperately, the Elara can be used as a media player. Whatever’s ready to go on your phone can be controlled from the Elara screen, and come out either from the downward facing speaker on the Poly, or the headset once it detects that it’s on your head.

And yes, the Elara has a dedicated Microsoft Teams button on it. It’ll flash if there’s a Teams notification to tell you about, and pressing it will… not launch Teams. At least from my testing it doesn’t. Maybe it’s an Android 10 thing, but I couldn’t get it to work properly, until I realised it just doesn’t work when on the home screen. From having any other app open it’s fine. Regardless this didn’t really fuss me, I’m find with using the phone to get to Teams when I want it than having a hot button, and I’m sure they’ll fine tune this in future updates to to the product. (Update – Poly have confirmed they’re waiting for a fix, but the workaround is to change the Teams App permissions under Phone Settings > Apps > Teams > Permissions – and make sure all are allowed)

The other buttons work as expected; mute, speaker volume. If my mobile rang through the carrier or a Teams call, I could put on the headphones to answer the call. I wouldn’t even have to press a button, it’d detect when the headset was on and then pick up the call (rather than when the headphones are undocked). When docked, the headset would charge. Docking and undocking the headset was easy, it just slid on and was a nice motion to do – no getting stuck or putting the headset in at the wrong angle.

The headset itself that came with my unit, was the Voyager Focus. You can purchase the Poly Elara 60 Series with or without a headset, which is great if you’ve already bought a compatible headset and don’t need another. Blackwire headsets are also supported.

The Voyager Focus I found to be very comfortable. It’s light, has several nice-to-have’s such as ANC, music playback control buttons and a mute button – but most importantly, it was comfortable to wear. I usually don’t like an on the ear style headset, but this is soft enough that it’s not squeezing into my ear. The design of the rubber and padded band that goes over your head also has a very light feel. The ANC worked well too – handy for someone who has noisy people around, or just wants to dull out background noise to focus on the task they’re doing.

So, this device acts as an extension to your mobile phone for it’s phone call functions, media player, and Microsoft Teams. Great if you’re doing it all off your mobile, but what about a computer?

I usually work off a desktop which has no Bluetooth, so the first thing I did was buy a USB dongle and plug it in. Then, I paired the Poly Elara 60 Series to my desktop running Windows 10. No extra apps required. The device shows up like any other audio device, a headest for both speakers and Microphone.

That’s great, I can use the headphones and mic from my PC. On my PC though, I’m using Skype for Business and I want to use the Elara 60 Series as my device. It doesn’t show up in Skype for Business as a device, but that’s OK. It still works fine when I use the ‘PC Mic and Speakers’ option to use whatever my Windows defaults are.

Once selected, it then knows about the device that Windows is using and lets you set volume levels if required.

I’ve been using it for a few weeks now on Skype for Business, and it works fine. Haven’t had an issue with audio quality or people hearing me. I do lose the ability to answer my mobile calls via the headset with this method – I could just run Skype for Business on my mobile, but what I’ve ended up doing is using the Poly as my mobile phone holder/charger, and the headset as my Skype for Business and PC microphone/speakers.

The Poly Elara 60 series remembers 8 different devices, but you can only be connected to one at a time. Switching between devices is fairly quick – I wouldn’t want to do it when trying to answer a call, but from the main screen it’s less than 5 seconds to press Devices > down arrow to the device I want > Connect, and be on the device I want.

I’m quite happy with this device overall, and I’ll continue to use it over the Plantronics Savi 440 (which shows as the D100-M in the above screenshots). I’m probably not using it the way it was initially designed, but that’s a credit to it that it’s flexible enough to be used in different ways.

For those who run Teams off their desktop or laptop and want a device to talk to the Teams client on their PC with extra controls; this may not be the solution you want. Dial controls don’t work on this device when plugged into a PC, it’s purely an audio device. But it does function in several ways that could still tick the boxes you’re after – a speaker phone, headset, phone charger and holder in a device that takes up a fairly small footprint on the desk.

If you were moving away from desk phones and had a soft phone client, with plans to move to Microsoft Teams later for a more mobile workforce, it also fits quite well. Your users need to be comfortable enough with phone pairing (which isn’t a big ask!) to set it up themselves. You might also have users who do just want a mobile phone controlling device – you don’t need to use Teams to use this, as it’ll use the keypad to make normal mobile calls once paired.

However, for someone who does live off their mobile, it’s a solid solution that would provide a professional desk setup.

It took me a while to get my head around the possible use cases and where the Poly Elara 60 Series works and doesn’t work – hopefully this helps others decide what they want. Feel free to ask any questions below!

Lenovo Tech World – Days 5 & 6

See my other posts on:
Lenovo Tech World Day 1
Lenovo Tech World Day 2
Lenovo Tech World Day 3
Lenovo Tech World Day 4

This is the final chapter of my trip to Beijing, China thanks to Lenovo. The main Tech World component was done, but we still had exciting tourist things to do ahead of us.

Day 5 started with another buffet breakfast and a bus trip headed towards the one thing every tourist to China does – visit the Great Wall.

A rather uneventful ride took us to our destination. When we arrived, they’d of course built the wall on top of mountains which is less convenient for us to get to. Instead of trekking up the mountain thankfully, we had the modern luxury of catching a chairlift up. Carrying my backpack up like an infant attached to my front, the ascent took us right up to the wall. There’s roughly 8 kilometres left of the once 10 kilometre wall, and different parts have been repaired at different times so it’s hard to know if you’re looking at something new or old – but either way, it still felt ancient.

I’m not a selfies person, but since I’d wandered off by myself I gave it a shot. I couldn’t find the ‘beautify’ setting, apologies for that.

The Great Wall itself (for me at least) felt more overwhelming than the other ancient sites I’d visited – probably because I knew the most about it -and in my own head, I’m imagining Chinese soldiers patrolling the wall, watching out for the Mongols… probably incredibly inaccurately compared to the reality of what happened, but it was still a great experience and place to put myself into.

I took a moment to have chocolate bars and an iced coffee at the side of the wall, and bartered to buy a Great Wall shirt.

The way down from the Great Wall sounded a lot more fun – via toboggan! Except it was a little less fun than I’d hoped – not really built for an inflexible 6 foot person, with other tourists going incredibly slow or just stopping for a while. Still, it was an experience I won’t forget. Also at the bottom was the “Great Wall Supermarket” – a name that matches my own creativity when naming something (like this blog). Subway and Baskin Robbins ice-cream was also available – I can see why the Mongols wanted to get over that wall.

We headed back on the bus, and took the long trip all the way back to where we started, and to the Forbidden City. It was about to close it’s entry gates, so we had to run farther and faster than I’ve run for a very long time to make it in. The almost-heart-attack was worth it though, to get an idea how important and historical this aptly named City was, start diving into the rabbit hole that is Wikipedia.

It was then time for our final dinner together, at another fancy restraunt and lazy susan driven experience at ‘DaDong’. This was the first time on the trip we actually got to have Peking Duck, and was the most impressively presented meal of the trip. The photos will do a lot more than my words:

One strange dish we had was of Geoduck clam – which sounds fairly innocent, until you perform a Google Images search of what one actually looks like. I personally wasn’t a fan of it before seeing these images, and after seeing what I’d eaten, my opinion had definitely not altered.

AFter dinner and heading back to the hotel for a final round of drinks, we our goodbyes – not knowing if we’d ever have the pleasure of seeing each other again, but hopeful that another Lenovo event would bring us together. Thankfully that thing called the ‘internet’ lets us continue to be in contact with ease.

Day 6 – My final day in China was the first time I didn’t have someone telling me where to go and what to do – a bit daunting in a country full of people that much more often than not, can’t speak English. Inconvenient for someone who only speaks English, I still headed off with Arthur and Onica to the Beijing Zoo.

Yes we saw Pandas, Monkeys and Cheetas, along with many other animals – the zoo was fairly spacious and there seemed to be a lot of room for the inhabitants which was good to see.

We found the Beijing Aquarium inside the zoo, at a much higher price – but after going in, I could see why. The single highlight by far were the Beluga whales. They spent their time playing with some floating objects they’d been given, dragging them down to the bottom of the exhibit and playfully letting them go back up to the surface of the water again. Plenty of other aquatic animals were on display too – so many jellyfish – definitely worth a visit.

Arthur and Onica had to catch their flights home, so I was left by myself. I’d decided I was going to try shopping and had several choices of where to go. I didn’t go to the bartering markets (which I sort of regret – but it leaves something if I go back again and I was limited on time) but instead went to an upper end shopping street in the Xicheng District. A bunch of department stores with snickered pricing; no bartering. I found most of it was brand name clothing, with pricing more expensive than what I could get in Australia! I did find a small tech area in one of the many department buildings (which are much harder to navigate when you can’t read any signs, and have multi-level buildings that aren’t open and laid out in ways I’m used to) – and had a peek at the Lenovo offerings.

With a few hours to go before my flight, there was one shopping area I wanted to go to that I’d seen mentioned online, and was even on the map the hotel provided named “Zhong Guan Chun Electronics”. I hailed a taxi and showed the driver on the map where I wanted to go. He seemed to study it for a while confused, but eventually settled on putting something into his GPS and getting there.

He seemed friendly and tried to talk to me, but the language barrier was too much. I thought this was a good opportunity to try a translation app – Google Translate I had ready to go, and after a few attempts we were talking back and forth using it’s ‘live’ option. It seemed sketchy, as it claimed he said that he knew the family that owned the shop we were going to and they were good people, which wasn’t really a fitting response to whatever I’d asked.

The driver ended up dropping me off and pointing me at a large building. I went in, but it was another department store. Having a slight headache, I took the opportunity to have Starbuck’s seasonally flavoured Toffee Nut Molten Latte with some ibruprofen and work out where I was actually headed. After some searching, I worked out I need to be 1 kilometre down the road – so off I set, with very little idea on what I was looking for.

Google Maps lead me to an enterance of the corner of a building that looked shut down – but I saw some other people enter, so confidently followed them. Once in, they walked up some inoperational escalators, where someone asked me something in Chinese. Out came the translator app again, and they pointed me up the stairs. At the top was a long corridor of people fixing laptops in a reasonably run down looking area – I had little idea where to go. The man pointed me around a corner, and before me all I could see was booth after booth of computer parts:

I wandered around for a while – found a phone cover store where I bought my wife a cover for about $7AU. It looked like a lot of families lived here. Each shop had it’s speciality – some had strangely plastic sealed but open laptops – but most were PC parts. I went up and down about 4 floors that all looked the same. I think the place I ended up was called ‘Hailong Electronics City’ and I found this YouTube walkthrough video which I’m pretty sure is where I was:

I didn’t buy much else, but found a couple of shops on the bottom floor and bought a few more items to take home, along with a supermarket where I stocked up on Chinese food – like Lychee flavoured Hershey’s chocolate bars.

It was time to head to the airport for the long tip home. I wandered around a bit, and came across karaoke booths in the airport – I guess a good way to pass the time while waiting for your plane.

And that was it, the trip was over. It was truly an experience I won’t forget both technologically, culturally and socially. I’m very grateful for the people I had the fortune of experiencing this with, Lenovo for sending us and letting us share the experience with others, and of course my family for letting me go for a week!

Again, here’s my Twitter feed for the last of the trip which should contain things I forgot about!: