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  • Reading List 2011

    I thought it’d be worth explaining the slew of book reviews that have been on the blog recently.

    I like to read.

    I read a LOT.

    Whether its a book, a blog, a magazine I’ve always got something on the go.

    My reading habits when it comes to books is a little weird though. Sometimes I’ll read three or four books in a short space of time and then stop for a couple of months then do the same thing again.

    I’m always adding to my book collection and I’ve got lots of books I’ve never read so I wanted to get out of the up/down cycle and be a bit more consistent.

    It’s been mostly fiction so far purely because those are the books I’ve got at the moment but I imagine there will be some non-fiction along the way.

    I’d also like to know how many books I do actually read because I really don’t know.

    I also wanted to help keep me in the blogging habit by writing a book review for each one.

    Last year my blogging pattern was even worse than my book reading pattern and it’s something I intend to change this year and it’s worked so far to a degree. While I’m not posting on a daily basis just the act of writing a post is helping keep me engaged with the blog.

    I’ve added a page with a list of everything I’ve read this year via a GoodReads widget though it’s a little temperamental and doesn’t seem to show everything until I give it a bit of a kick so I’ll need to keep an eye on that I think.

    I have some very specific tastes in fiction but if anyone has any suggestions of what to read next they are more than welcome.

  • Book Review: Assassins Creed Renaissance

    Is there such a thing as reading too many books?

    I’m really into Assassins Creed at the moment. Having ignored the first game I got the second one as gift for my birthday and I was engrossed with it so when I saw this book I grabbed a copy.

    The story follows the events of Assassins Creed 2 so I waited until I’d worked through the game before reading it.

    A big part of the game is that there are lots of side missions and other things to do as well as following the main plotline so it was good to revisit the story and it’s easy to loose track a bit while playing.

    What was a little interesting is that I’ve progressed onto the next game, Assassins Creed Brotherhood and there are some sections in the book that are actually flashbacks in the next game. In a strange bit of coincidence I started the flashback sequences in the game at the same time as I was reading that part in the book so I knew what I was supposed to be doing in the mission straightaway!

    While I enjoyed reading the book it’s no literary masterpiece so probably only worth reading if you’re a fan of the game.

    There is a book to go with the Brotherhood game too so as with this I’ll wait till I’ve worked through the game. The Brotherhood game is vast and I’m struggling to keep track of the story a little so it’ll be useful to go back to the book afterwards.

    You can pick up this book on Amazon.

  • Book Review: Network Your Computers & Devices Step by Step

    I need to stop reading so fast otherwise I’ll need to rename this to Andy’s Reading Blog!

    The Microsoft Press Facebook page were looking for people to review this new book so I put my hand up and I was lucky enough to get a copy of the ebook to take a peek at.

    I’m a big fan of the “Step-by-step” series but I was interested in this book as it’s not actually targeted at me.What I mean by this is the book isn’t intended for IT Pros. It’s generally meant for the home user who wants to do a little bit more with the multiple computers they may have dotted around the house.

    Since it’s not uncommon for a household to have two or more computers it’s understandable that you’d want to share files and printers and work with other devices that may be dotted around the house such as mobile phones.

    As with the other books in the “step by step” series everything is clearly shown as set of instructions to follow and there are lots of screenshots to help along the way.

    Chapters are also task focussed so you don’t need to read the whole thing cover to cover if you have specific goal in mind.

    Each chapter also finishes with a “Key Points” section which summaries what has just been covered.

    The book is heavily Windows 7 focussed which is understandable as it’s the current operating system but it also recognises that not every computer in a household would be running Windows 7 so it also looks at working with Windows XP, Windows Vista, Mac OS X 10 as well Ubuntu Linux which I think is sensible step.

    A quick summary of the chapters,

    The first chapter looks at actually setting up a router and getting on the Internet and helpfully runs through how to configure two different routers (a Belkin and a DLink) beforeing explaining what device stage is and how it can be useful when working with external devices.

    Chapter two covers user accounts. Why you need them, what types of account you can use (standard vs administrator) and to how to setup passwords.

    Chapter three looks at libraries. What the are and how to step them up. It’s a useful Windows 7 feature I think sometimes gets overlooked.

    Chapter four is all about setting up the network itself on the PCs. This means setting up network adapters, connecting to a wireless network and setting the homegroup.

    Chapter five is a short chapter all about customising some of the network sharing settings such as network discovery and encryption.

    Chapter six covers homegroups. This new Windows 7 feature is designed to make sharing between PCs easier to setup and this chapters looks at how these configured.

    Chapter seven talks about sharing files and setting access permissions. What I liked about this chapter is looks at the basics but it also looks at some of the advanced settings if you want to take it a little further.

    Chapter eight is about devices. Sharing printers and removable drives as well as connecting to a mobile phone via bluetooth and moving data between the PC and the phone.

    Chapter nine covers sharing media. One of the best chapters in the book I think as it’s something that is really useful but lots of people don’t even know they can do it!

    Chapters ten, eleven and twelve are all about interoperability and sharing files and printers with Windows XP, Windows Vista, Mac OS X 10 and Ubuntu Linux. It’s great to see this as many househoulds have a mix of computers and there are plenty of screenshots to get you through it. This is a chapter I’d find invaluable as I’m not as familiar with Mac OS and Ubuntu.

    Chapter thirteen is entitled “Keeping the network secure” and covers UAC, managing Windows Updates, working with Windows Defender and Windows Firewall as well as mentioning what options are available when choosing anti-virus software. It intentionally didn’t mention a specific anti-virus product to use. I can understand why it did this and while it’s not massively helpful if you’re a home user it at least gave resources to help make that decision.

    Chapter fourteen looks at parental controls. A very important chapter in my opinion as there are lots of stories about children doing things with computers they shouldn’t be yet many parents don’t realise the ability to setup restrictions and monitor usage is built into the operating system. I wrote a detailed post about Parental Controls when Windows Vista was released which generally applies to Windows 7 too.

    Chapter fifteen is the final chapter and looks at troubleshooting common problems. Many books like this are great when everything is working as it should so it’s good to see some useful pointers when it doesn’t. There are some really good troubleshooting flowcharts to help work through any problems.

    So in closing, it’s good book. As I said at the beginning it’s not really for IT Pros but I’d have no problem recommending it for friends and family.

    I may even test it out on my Dad Smile

    You can find it on Amazon here

  • Networking Events? Why Bother?

    I’ve tried to write this post three or four times and given up as I wasn’t really sure if I was getting my point across, thought I’d have another go at it!

    Vaughan Shayler from Accredit UK posted this on Twitter a while back

    Interested in comments on Alan Sugar’s opinion of networking – http://on.fb.me/fyfNDz

    The article is titled “My Message to Small Businesses for 2011

    I think the specific part Vaughan is referring to is,

    “Consider why you started your business. I assume it was that you have some experience or expertise in your field, and that is the big point – don’t rely upon anyone else. It’s going to be you who defines the way forward. I am sick and tired of hearing people asking what to do, going to networking meetings and seminars expecting to glean some gems of wisdom. These events are money-making exercises and benefit one party and one party only: the organiser.

    They have become an escape for people to justify sitting around wasting a day bullshitting with each other while they should be working. You will learn nothing other than that there are another load of people in the same boat as you.”

    From (http://www.facebook.com/notes/lord-sugar/my-message-to-small-businesses-for-2011/179399492080555)

    As a rallying call to a new business owner or an existing business owner who is losing momentum I can go along with it. It’s very easy to spend time and money on networking events that would be better spent in your business.

    But as a generalisation on networking events I disagree.

    While I can understand the point of view that there are networking events like this it isn’t true of all of them. Not all networking events are there as money making exercises and not all of them are there for the benefit of the organiser.

    I’m able to speak from experience since I’m involved in running AMITPRO. If we’re talking about cold hard cash every month I receive the princely sum of zero pounds, zero pence.

    If you wanted to look at it from a business perspective I actually lose money because I spend a chunk of time every month organising speakers, liaising with the venue, sending meeting invites, updating the website, etc which is time I could be charging to my customers.

    At the last meeting I donated a book to give away at the group. Now while the book wasn’t worth a vast sum of money it still came out of my pocket. Not the business or AMITPRO.

    Why? Because I felt like it would be a good thing to do

    Which is exactly how AMITPRO and tons of similar networking events run every week. Because it benefits everyone involved.

    So what prompted me to finally finish a post I’ve been trying to write since January?

    Two reasons

    Firstly, at the last AMITPRO meeting Matt Barton was stood in front of the room relating his experiences around marketing his business (he drove up from Exmouth by the way and other than a plate of sandwiches and a cup of tea he received nothing in return for doing this, but he did it because, you know  – it benefited the group!)

    As Matt finished his presentation and was taking questions there was lots of lively discussions going on around the room with people sharing their own experiences.

    The meeting wrapped up and while I was packing up the projector I noticed the room was still full of people having conversations and swapping ideas and it reminded me exactly why I and countless others help put together these events.

    This was also a room full of people I know I can rely on if I needed help with my business.

    Secondly, I’m a bit grumpy. I’ve been up since 5am as I was filling in for someone at BNI. Givers Gain and all that Winking smile

  • Book Review–Halo Evolutions (Volume 1 and 2)

    One of the things I really enjoy about the Halo series of games is the back story and for Halo fans there has been plenty of fiction thrown up which I’ve been more than happy to read!

    So when I saw Halo Evolutions and Halo Evolutions Volume 2 on Amazon I ordered them straight away.

    In a nutshell the books are a series of short stories based around the Halo Universe and explore multiple areas from various different characters such as Admiral Cole’s backstory, what happened to Cortana while she was waiting to be rescued from the Gravemind or even following an Elite as he revisits a planet he’d previously helped destroy. There’s a summary of each story on the Halo Wiki

    I’ve not been able to put the first book down and as soon as I’d finished the first I was onto the second, which is where the disappointment set in as what I was reading seemed awfully familiar!

    The pages on Amazon don’t explain this at all but there are actually THREE books.

    Halo Evolutions

    Halo Evolutions: Volume 1

    Halo Evolutions: Volume 2

    Turns out they took one big book and split it into two smaller books so the Volume 2 I paid for contains all the stories I’ve already read, save for one extra story meaning I’ve effectively paid for an extra 16 pages.

    I’m trying not to let this get in the way of the fact I really enjoyed what I did read though, I’m just a little miffed the differences weren’t clear.

  • Community looks great on the CV

    I had a hard time thinking of a title for this post and I’m not entirely sure if it’s applicable…but it’ll do!

    Yesterday I read a post called

    “Dropping my MVP”

    The post from David Woods who was until very recently an MVP in developer security.

    David isn’t happy with his experience of the MVP program and has decided not accept any further awards.

    Now it’s not actually David’s post that prompted my post. It’s some of the comments made.

    1) “As someone who is trying to get into the MVP program but has not succeeded yet I can’t speak to your comments on that.”

    2) “My observation is that there are people who are professional MVPs; it’s not that they are experts who end up being selected, it’s that they are consultants, writers, and trainers who need the credential as a part of their job.”

    3) “Don’t disagree at all about the MVP; from what I’ve seen it’s way too easy to “game the system”. Do the right things to get the MVP, then just coast for years.”

    I’m just curious to know what other IT Pro’s (and MVPs!) think about the program and similar community recognition.

    I always thought MVP status was something that was awarded to you as a recognition of things you were doing in the community, regardless of any rewards.

    How can you getting into the program be a goal? Something you intentionally seek out?

    Surely that would be like me working towards becoming an MBE?

    This isn’t in anyway belittling the MVP program or the people on it as this isn’t what its about. You can swap out MVP for any other community recognition award.

    I’ve met lots of MVPs and they work they do is fantastic. The amount of their own time, money, blood, sweat and tears (etc) they put into community participation just because they want to should be commended.

    I’m very interested to get other peoples thoughts on this. Do you look at any work you do for the IT community with your CV/Status/Image/etc in mind? or is it just a happy consequence of something you’d be doing anyway?

  • 0x0000007b Stop Error When Installing Windows XP

    Yeah you read that right – Windows XP.

    We’ve been installing some new PCs for a client recently and we needed to install Windows XP (the reasoning behind this is best saved for a separate discussion).

    So we inserted the Windows XP installation CD, booted from the disk and waiting while Windows setup loaded. The PC then “blue screened” with the stop error 0x0000007b.

    This particular error is “Inaccessible_Boot_Device” and if you do a quick search this is normally pretty straight forward to sort.

    In the BIOS look for the AHCI settings, switch to IDE/Legacy/Emulated whichever your BIOS allows and try again.

    After saving the settings and trying again all continued as normal.

    Windows XP doesn’t support SATA AHCI out of the box as it requires specific drivers which is why changing the mode works. Once the OS is installed you could then install the correct drivers and re-enable AHCI if needed.

    A couple of days later the same client asked for another PC where we ran into exactly the same problem.

    However, switching from AHCI mode didn’t fix the issue.

    It didn’t take long to figure out the main difference between the two PCs was obvious.

    The first PC was an INTEL based PC whereas the second one was AMD.

    The problem is that Windows setup doesn’t know anything about the AMD chipset. Whereas the generic Intel one provided with the setup routine while running in IDE mode was enough to install Windows.

    I downloaded the drivers from the HP website (the PC manufacturer) but was unable to use them during setup (by pressing F6) as it was the chipset driver I needed to load, not a storage device driver.

    So how to get around this?

    I used a brilliant tool that has been around for ages.

    nLite

    This tool is for slipstreaming items into the installation CD. Generally this means service packs, hotfixes, etc but the tool also has the capability to add drivers.

    image

    You could do all this by hand but the tool makes it very simple and will even burn the CD directly or create an ISO file to use later.

    Using my brand new CD i was able to install Windows XP without further issue.

    This slipstreaming probably would have solved the same problem on the Intel based PC but it’s probably not worth the extra effort to create a custom install CD if temporarily switching modes works ok.