Migrating Firefox

June 18, 2012

This is the procedure I use when migrating someone who uses Firefox to a new computer or rebuilding their computer. This works on both Windows and Mac. There is now an alternative, to create a Firefox account and set it to sync what you want.

  1. Backup their bookmarks. There used to be a bookmarks.html file you could copy from the Firefox profile, but now they’re in a database so you need to export them.
    1. From the Bookmarks menu, select Show All Bookmarks. This pops up a Library window.
    2. In the Library window, from the rightmost pulldown menu (with a star on it), select Backup and put the file on a network drive or removable drive. This backs up the bookmarks to a “JSON” file.
  2. Backup their saved login/passwords.
    1. From the Tools menu, select Add-ons.
    2. On the left, click Get Add-ons. In the “Search all add-ons” box in the upper-right, type “password exporter”.
    3. Find Password Exporter in the list of search results and click the Install button next to it.
    4. Go to Preferences (Mac) or Tools>Options (Windows), Security tab.
    5. Click the “Import/Export Passwords” button added by the Password Exporter add-on.
    6. Click the “Export Passwords” button and put the file on a network drive or removable drive. This backs up their logins and passwords to an XML file.
  3. Then, on their new computer, use similar procedures, except select Restore in the Library window menu and “Import Passwords” in the Import/Export window.

How Not to Build a Fence

April 1, 2012

Three years ago, we hired Capital Fence to replace the deteriorating old fence around our yard. They’re a popular fence company here in the DC/MD/VA area, so I assumed they’d do a reasonable job. It wasn’t until they were building the fence that I learned that

  1. They just stick the posts in the ground, with no concrete or other means of keeping them from heaving seasonally, and
  2. They use nail guns, not screws, to put the fence together.

The result? Within a year, I was having to make repairs to our new fence because of warping boards pulling out the nails and heaving gate posts pulling the gate so far out of alignment that the lock wouldn’t open. Buyer beware: ask detailed questions before signing a contract. Even if they are a big name. I couldn’t imagine that professionals would use such poor construction methods, but by the time I found out it was too late.

Here are some closeups of our three year old fence. I’ve got some work ahead of me driving in deck screws to pull it back together.

Here are some examples of warping boards pulling the nails out.
Warping board pulling out on top
Warping top board

Boards pulling apart

Boards warping at the bottom

Here is a closeup of the gate lock showing the original top screw hole above the lock. I had to drill new holes because the post sank so much that the lock no longer lined up.
Gate lock misalignment due to sinking

Here’s their sign on this shoddy work.
Logo of fence company to avoid

Protecting Cable Service from Surges

February 9, 2012

I found out a few months ago that cable TV/Internet service is supposed to be grounded at the entrance to the building. I learned the hard way, when during two storms, the Comcast Business cable at my office was hit by surges (I suppose from lightning strikes somewhere exposed upstream). The surges killed our cable modem, which Comcast had to send a technician out to replace and reconfigure each time. That part cost us a day or so of downtime in each storm. Worse, the surges traveled down the Ethernet cable from the modem and destroyed other equipment. The first storm fried one Ethernet port in our firewall appliance, and the second strike killed all the Ethernet ports in our firewall appliance and a packet shaper rate limiter attached to it, equipment worth around $8,000 which we had to replace and make an insurance claim for.

After that, I did some research about what could be done. It appears that the National Electrical Code requires communications cable lines to be grounded at the building service entrance, as referenced in this Q&A from the New York State government and this Q&A from the Electrical Contractor Network. I am not an expert in the topic.

I came up with a two-pronged defense. The first was, we had Comcast send another technician out to ground the cable to an electrical panel where it enters our server room. He affirmed what I had read on the net, that the cable is supposed to be grounded at the building service entrance. He said that Comcast used to do it by driving a rod in the earth, but that now grounding to an electrical panel is preferred. He demonstrated the constant voltage differential between the two by touching the grounding wire against the splitter lug while the other end was screwed to the breaker panel; we saw little sparks arc.

The second prong of defense was to install an Ethernet surge protector on the CAT5 run between the cable modem and the new firewall, so even if a surge did hit the cable modem, it wouldn’t continue up the line to damage other equipment. We got the APC PNET1GB ProtectNet Standalone Surge Protector for 10/100/1000 Base – T Ethernet Lines for around $24 from Amazon. It uses a grounding wire run to an electrical outlet’s screw.

After getting the office taken care of, I implemented the same measures at home. We happen to have a Comcast-provided splitter where the cable enters our house, with a grounding lug on it, and a corner clamp for grounding already installed on the electrical meter box just above it. So all I needed to do was run a copper wire between them. I also got the Ethernet surge protector noted above to run between our cable modem and firewall/router.

So far, so good; no damage during storms at either place. It’s sad that Comcast doesn’t consistently protect customer lines when they do an install, though. If you have a cable line that isn’t grounded, consider calling your cable provider and asking them to send someone out to do it, and/or install an Ethernet surge protector yourself.

Here are some pictures of the installation at home.

Grounding cable run

Grounding clamp on electrical box

Grounding lug on cable splitter