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  • Book Review–Little Brother

    Little BrotherThis is the first book I read entirely on my Kindle and I stumbled across it totally by accident. I was browsing around the GoodReads site (which if you’re a reader it’s worth signing up for – it’s like the worlds largest book club!) and I was looking at lists that some of my favourite books are on to see if there was anything else that caught my eye. I found Little Brother and noticed there was a “read book” link. When I clicked it I was given the opportunity to save the book in a variety of formats. I initially wondered if GoodReads were doing something naughty but once I’d read the foreword in the book I realised this wasn’t the case.

    The book is released under a creative commons license. You can still by a physical copy but if you want the digital version you can download it and pass it around as much you like. The foreword of the book explains the reasoning behind it is thought provoking in itself. You can read about the reasons for giving the book away for free here.

    So onto the book.

    The story is based around Marcus, or “win5ton” as he’s known online who is a seventeen year old who likes to fool around with technology and considers himself a bit of a cracker. His friends skip school one afternoon and are in the wrong place at the wrong time as they are caught up in a terrorist attack. They are whisked away and heavily interrogated by the “authorities”. Once Marcus and his friends are released they find their home town has become increasing paranoid where everyone is treated with suspicion and everyone’s freedoms are stepped on in the name of “protecting against the terrorist threat”. The story follows Marcus as he vows to fight back.

    I really enjoyed this, it’s based around a scenario which when explained as it is in the story sounds very plausible as well as raising many questions about privacy and security which are applicable to everyone in the modern world. The book also has some really good tech angles which was what drew me to the book in the first place.

    The author, Cory Doctorow has got several other books under a creative commons license – I didn’t put the link together straight away but I’ve actually already got some of his books on my Amazon wish list so I’ll be checking these out sooner than I originally planned!       

    You can download the book yourself in just about any format you can think of here or get the traditional dead tree version here on Amazon.

    It also prompted me to see what other books are available under a creative commons license and was surprised at home many I actually found! It’ll probably warrant a post of it’s own. Smile

  • SBS 2011–Most important SBS release ever?

    Microsoft announced about a week ago that SBS 2011 standard is now fully available from volume licensing through to OEM. I think this latest release of Small Business Server is a significant one for many reasons.

    Lets go back a few years and a couple of versions and you’ll find working with Small Business Server 2003 was great. Aimed at between 5 and 75 user small businesses the standard and premium editions of the software were affordable and would run on pretty much on any decent bit of server kit you could find making them really easy to sell.

    Microsoft recommended hardware requirements for SBS Premium (if you want a shock follow that link – and look at the minimum requirements)

        • A Pentium III 550-MHz-or-compatible processor
        • 512 MB of RAM (maximum RAM supported is 4 GB)
        • Two or more mirrored 5-GB hard disks

    Even though we all know these recommended requirements generally need bumping up a bit, a server with a dual or quad core processor, 4GB of RAM and at least one RAID array was still generally affordable for just about any small business.

    SBS 2008 was released and the hardware bar jumped up.

    • Processor: 2 GHz 64-bit (x64)
    • RAM: Minimum: 4 GB Recommended: 6 to 8 GB
    • Disk space: 60 GB

    Again these specs generally need bumping up and it’s not uncommon to see a dual core processor, 8-10GB RAM and a couple of RAID arrays as a starting point for reasonable performance.

    At this stage we started to the see the price start to get out of the reach of businesses in the 5-10 user range as the hardware costs began to rise. You could run SBS 2008 on lesser hardware but performance wouldn’t be great.

    If you were putting together a hardware specification for a “cheaper” server such as a HP ML110 by the time you’d put enough RAM and disks in to get decent performance you weren’t that far off the price for a one of the servers higher up in the range such as the ML350. All this made the price creep up.

    To get around this lots of IT providers started to get creative with things like Home Server and Foundation Server and SBS 2008 shifted to start at around 10-15 users. (I know I’m generalising quiet a bit here though)

    Which brings us up to the latest release and these are the hardware requirements for SBS 2011 Standard.

    • Processor: Minimum Quad core 2 GHz 64-bit (x64) or faster for 1 socket
    • Memory: Minimum: 8 GB Recommended: 10 GB
    • Disk Space: Minimum: 120 GB

    See those processor requirements? That’s a quad core as a minimum and if it’s anything like SBS 2008 that recommended amount of RAM is probably better as your minimum amount meaning a larger outlay on server hardware again.

    So as well as SBS 2011 Standard we now have SBS 2011 Essentials.

    Built around the home server technology this brings most of the benefits of SBS 2011 Standard but without Exchange server (as one of the main standout differences), which is a part of the high hardware requirements, as well as no need for client access licenses.

    What does Essentials need in terms of hardware?

    • Processor: One 1.4 GHz (x64 processor)  Or, one 1.3 GHz dual-core
    • Memory: Minimum: 2 GB  Recommended: 4 GB
    • Disk Space: Minimum: 160 GB

    Nothing too taxing and would work really well on a something like the HP Proliant Microserver that I mentioned recently.

    You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned the cloud at all here. Everything I’ve mentioned above is still applicable whether you’re moving applications to the cloud or not. Whether you should is another discussion altogether and a lively one based on sessions I’ve been a part of at AMITPRO. Smile

    So what’s my point? Well right at the start I said this that is an important release for the SBS range.

    Now that we have a two very distinctively different editions in the Standard Edition and the Essentials Edition I imagine the sales figures will determine the future of the product range.

    It may very well be that we’ll eventually see Exchange server disappear from the SBS range and we could quite possibly go back down to just a single edition of the server.

    The only other thing that I’ve been thinking about is the migration path as a small business grows.

    It used to be really simple. Start with SBS (2003/2008) and you could stay with it until you grew past 75 users and you moved onto the “regular” server range.

    Now there is a bit of a weird overlap.

    A small business can start with SBS 2011 Essentials. If they outgrow Essentials where do they move to?

    You’d expect the natural answer to be SBS 2011 Standard which allows up to 75 users but what about email?

    Since Essentials doesn’t have Exchange server, email will be provided by a hosted/cloud service.

    If you then move to SBS 2011 Standard you’ll be bringing e-mail back in-house. What if you’re quite happy with your hosted email service? Sure you could just not use the Exchange part of SBS 2011 but look at the hardware muscle you’ll need to pay for just to run an Exchange server you’re not going to use.

    Does that mean you’d just jump over SBS Standard to the “regular” range (including the need for client access licenses – that’ll scare them Winking smile)

    If this happens, SBS Standard suddenly only fits a specific niche at the higher end of the market which is unlikely to need a server to work in the 25-75 user range as their first server…..doesn’t that sound a little like EBS? (on a massively over simplified basis)

    This post isn’t intended to give SBS a hard time, I’m still a huge SBS fanboy and I’m really looking forward to working with both editions of the product. I’m just interested in where we’re be going over the next few years and the conversations I’ll be having with clients and other SBSC partners. 

    Really very interested on any thoughts you might have on this.

  • HP Proliant Microserver– First Impressions

    Even though they’ve been around a while now I’ve only recently got my hands on one of these boxes.

    With space for up to 4 hard disks and 8GB RAM it’s aimed at the lower end of the SMB market and is generally intended to run Windows 2008 Foundation or Small Business 2011 Essentials (when it finally arrives)

    That’s not to say it won’t run Windows Server 2008 and it makes an ideal server for small branch offices.

    As long as you are aware of what it’s intended to be used for it’s an interesting piece of kit.

    It worth knowing that doesn’t come with an optical drive by default, you can add one but that’ll obviously drive the cost up so it pays to have a USB DVD drive or be comfortable booting from a USB drive.

    Once it’s setup it runs quietly in the corner and if you run it headless and without a keyboard and mouse people will generally not even notice it’s there!

    The four USB ports on the front are useful for plugging USB hard disks in for backups and the lockable front door means the internal disks are safe from casual curiosity.

    The only things which were a little disappointing were to do with setup software which I was surprised at as it’s not the usual experience I’ve had with HP servers.

    This page on the HP support site lists all the software for the Microserver. So far so good right? The one thing that isn’t on here is software for managing the RAID array. What if a drive fails? How will I be alerted? Fortunately it didn’t take long to find out I needed AMDs “RAIDXpert” (this post was particularly helpful) and you can get the software directly from the AMD site.

    On the subject of the RAID array. When you first boot the system you’ll notice there isn’t anything in the BIOS to configure the array. It’s pretty easy to sort though.

    Press F10 during the POST to jump into the ROM Based Setup Utility (RBSU)

    Navigate to the advanced menu and select “IDE Configuration”

    Change the SATA controller mode option to “RAID”

    Save and exit and once the server reboots you can press CTRL+F when prompted to gain access to the RAID config tool

    Other than that it’s an interesting piece of hardware which I can see us selling lots of in the coming months, especially because of the price it comes in at.

    Philip Elder has a great post with pictures detailing the insides of the box which is worth a look. 

  • Book Review: Aliens Genocide

    I picked this up ages ago on market stall selling old books.

    Aliens is pretty standard geek fare and as a teenager I was obsessed with both Aliens and Predator. I haven’t read any Aliens fiction for ages so thought I’d change that since book has been sat on the shelf for a while.

    The plot is focussed around a pharmaceutical company who make drugs from Alien “royal jelly” (gunk from the eggs). Their main product “Xeon Zip” is a little but like Red Bull but it starts to have weird effects on certain people, turning them overly aggressive and giving them superhuman strength and speed – they call this product offshoot “Fire” and naturally this gets the attention of the military and a mission is put together to visit the Alien “hiveworld” and collect some more of this royal jelly. The story follows two main characters, Daniel Grant – the owner of the pharmaceutical company who tags along on the mission to get away from his “business problems” on Earth and Colonel Alexandra Kozlowski who heads up the team of soldiers that are visit the planet.

    They don’t actually get to the planet until the last third of the book which is a bit of a shame as it meant the action on the planet was actually quite short.

    When they get to the planet they discover the Aliens have split into two different variations, the regular black Aliens and these new red Aliens and the ship lands right in the middle of a war between the two factions which gives them plenty more to contend with on what was already a seemingly impossible mission.

    On the whole it was a good read but it would have been nice if the red/black Alien concept had been explored further.

    If you’re a fan of the Aliens universe it’s worth a read.

    You can get it on Amazon here.

  • Amazon Kindle–First Impressions

    Yeah ok I did it.

    The day after I posted about how I couldn’t decide whether a Kindle would work for me I went and got one.

    First up thank you to everyone who commented on that post – it was great to get all the different points of view.

    What really swung if for me though was something AMITPRO member Matt Barton tweeted.

    Do you have a Kindle? Use this great tip to use Google Reader through the browser. http://ow.ly/4dS9V

    I use Google Reader extensively. The tip above explains that through the use of keyboard shortcuts you can place Google Reader into full screen mode and then navigate between the posts. Since you get free 3g access on the Kindle it means I can keep up with my feeds from anywhere. I do this with my mobile phone but the larger screen works much better.

    As an extension of this – I also found that the mobile optimised version of google reader works quite well too.

    Anyway – now I’ve had it for a few days what do I think?

    Well as I said in my previous post I had no doubt from a technical perspective that I’d love the device and it’s actually even better than expected on that front.

    It’s size and weight work really well. The screen and the text it displays are crisp and easy on the eye and the connectivity is good.3G access everywhere is great to have and it flies on a wireless collection. I’m even impressed with the experimental web browser and while it’s not a substitute for a device designed for web browsing it’ll be ok for quick lookups.

    I’ve found some of the mobile optimised sites work quite well too.

    The keyboard takes a little while to get used to and symbol entry is a little fiddly but this is a reading device so it’s not something to complain about and once you’ve used it a few times it’s easy enough to work with.

    I also like how they have added the navigation buttons on both sides of the Kindle. Initially I thought it was a bit of waste but now I’ve been using it switching pages is so easy because it doesn’t matter how I hold it I can always get at a button. This may sound odd but it actually means i can read faster because pressing the button and getting the next page displayed is quicker than physically turning a page.

    It’s even got games!

    From the home screen press ALT + SHIFT M for minesweeper and then press G for GoMoku (five in a row).

    All of this is before you even read any books!

    I think the Amazon store could do with some improvements. If you know what you’re looking for or have a specific things to search for it’s fine. But if you just to browse you can only do so by category and sub-category which isn’t helpful if a category has a couple of thousand books in it. I imagine this is by design though as most browsing would be done on a PC.

    That said the details on the store that are displayed on the Kindle are good. A summary page is initially displayed and drilling into more information such as reviews is really easy.

    The purchase process is very good. Pick what you want and the books appears on your device seconds later!

    I’m also very impressed with the ability to view sample chapters. I can see me very easily taking a look at a book and having to press the “Buy Now” button so I can carry on reading.

    So am I happy with it?

    Resoundingly yes.

    I’ve still got a bit of weird feeling about switching from physical books. Some of the comments in the last post made some good points about the Kindle not totally replacing my physical books but I guess my problem is despite that it will replace some of them. But this is something I need to adjust to and as someone who reads a lot the benefits far outweigh the downsides.

    My only wish is that I could change the standby images without jailbreaking it Smile

  • Remember Windows Mobile 6.5–Unfortunately I do

    Having just read Richard Tubb’s post called Remember Windows Mobile 6.5? I felt compelled to write this. You should probably go and read Richard’s post first….go on, I’ll still be here when you’re done. Winking smile

    In summary, Richard has a HTC HD2 running Windows Mobile 6.5. He loves the device and HTC use their HTC Sense software to hide a lot of the Windows Mobile 6.5 side of things, so much so that when his contract runs out he has no plans to upgrade it yet.

    I remember feeling very envious of Richard’s HTC HD2 when he first showed it to me. I’d only had my HTC Touch 2 a few weeks and when I spoke to my operator (T-Mobile) for my handset upgrade I was told the HTC Touch 2 was the only Windows Mobile 6.5 they had and there were no plans in the pipeline for any more in the near future…the HTC HD2 was announced by T-Mobile a few weeks later – how annoyed was I?

    image

    My contract is also coming around to upgrade time and I’ll be honest I can’t wait.

    See my phone doesn’t come with HTC Sense. It has something called HTC TouchFlo which is basically a today screen plugin which is useful in some respects but lacks the integration of Facebook, Twitter, mail, texts and contacts that HTC Sense has.

    This means I have to interact with Windows Mobile 6.5 a lot more which I’ve just had enough of.

    6.5 was very much an upgrade from 6 meaning there are some areas of the operating system which really are still suited to a stylus and while the phone comes with one I don’t want to keep switching between that and my finger so generally end up selecting the wrong option and spending ten minutes on a text message trying to use the on screen keyboard.

     

    If I steal copy use Richard’s list for inspiration

    • My Touch2 isn’t particularly fast and it frequently will grid to a halt. Whether is down to the device or the software is probably open to debate.
    • The camera is ok, but not good enough that I use it a lot.
    • Battery life is one of the plus sides. I can get a day’s heavy use out of it quite easily and if i turn off wireless, bluetooth and direct push when I’m not using them I’ll get three or four days use easily.
    • E-Mail works great with Exchange and GoogleMail and Hotmail (with an additional Microsoft application installed)
    • GPS – The specs list an internal GPS antenna but it’s never worked when I’ve needed it.
    • Social Media is only available through apps or a web browser. I’ve not found a Facebook app that works well. m.twitter.com was my default option until recently but something has changed which means my browser frequently locks up on the site so I’m now using the excellent moTweets.
    • You can’t switch from portrait to landscape mode easily (that I can tell!). Sometimes when I’m reading some text it would be easier to have it in landscape.

    I’ve also had some weird things going on with the phone recently.

    The big one is that it’s been losing time. I noticed that it was about ten minutes slow so reset the clock. Within a couple of days it had fallen behind again and it’s been a feature ever since. This is a pain in the neck, especially since I rely on it for the time (I haven’t worn a watch on a daily basis since I started carrying a mobile phone)

    Text messages have been arriving in batches. My phone will beep and I’ll notice two or three that have been sent over the last hour. I had a situation recently why Mrs P sent me a text while I was still in the office asking me to pick something up on the way home. I didn’t actually get the text until I’d arrived home. This isn’t helpful when your married to someone who relies on text messages.

    When opening a text sometimes it will half open and then lock up and I end up frustratingly stabbing at screen with my finger and when i finally catches

    Sometimes if I miss a call the phone doesn’t become useable for a few minutes as the caller display seems to hang.

    You probably get the point….

    Based on experiences with my previous Windows Mobile I probably need to reload and start from scratch.

    So which handset should I go for?

    I really don’t know if I’m honest.

    I don’t particularly want an iPhone (the reasons for which are long enough for their own blog post). As Richard also said I’m also not that interested in a Blackberry which means the choice is either an Android or Windows Mobile 7.

    The other thing is that I find it really hard to get excited about mobile phones in the same way as I would other gadgets. I remember when Windows Phone 7 was launched, one of their Facebook status updates asked who’d be queuing up to get one. Straight away I thought “not me, I’ve got another twelve months left on my contract!”

    I don’t know how it works in other countries but the norm here is that your handset is subsidised by the network so we’re just not used to buying devices. This means if I sign up for a contract (which has gone up from 12 month to 18 months to 2 years now) that’s the device I’ve got work with unless I want to buy another device myself. Some people do this by selling their first device to fund the new device but I can’t be bothered with that!

    This means when Apple, or Nokia or Microsoft or whoever release their latest and greatest I just can’t get excited as it’s only applicable to me for a very short period of time. It means I can only be interested in what’s available when I’m in a position to upgrade.

    imageI mentioned on Facebook earlier about one my favourite phones from years gone by…the Nokia 7110.

    I’ve still got it, maybe I should just use that instead? Smile

  • Book Review: Feed

    Feed (Newsflesh, #1)

    They say never judge a book by it’s cover but I’m glad I did with this one! I was in a bookshop looking for something else when the RSS symbol on the cover jumped out at me. I had a quick read of the overview which mentioned bloggers so as there was a "3 for 2” offer in the shop I added to the other books I had in my hand and it’s sat on my bookshelf for months since.

    I finally picked it up Friday night and I’d finished within 24 hours as I was so engrossed!

     

    The basic concept of the story is that sometime in the near future we’ll develop a cure for both cancer and the common cold but these two things combined will create something new that turns allows the dead to reanimate (zombies!) Because of how the story is handled by the press, mainstream media lose a lot of trust and credibility so bloggers become a key part of news services. The story follows three bloggers, a brother and sister and their friend,  who hit the big time when they are invited to follow a US senator on the campaign trial as he runs for the presidency.

    The zombie angle was why this had initially stayed on the shelf for so long as it’s usually not my sort of thing so my expectations were quite low when I finally decided to give it a whirl….how wrong was I?!

    The story is written in such a way that’s it’s very believable and you side with the main characters from the very beginning which is why i found putting it down really difficult.

    I don’t like spoiling stories so I won’t say anything else about the story other than you should check it out!

    I also found out today this is the first in a trilogy of books so I’m looking forward to getting the next one.

  • Amazon Kindle–Should I? Shouldn’t I?

    I mentioned recently about how much I like to read. Surely for a techie, getting an Amazon Kindle is a no-brainer?

    Things is I’m really torn.

    With my technical head on it makes perfect sense. An entire library in my pocket. Books available on demand, no waiting for deliveries, shelf space at home reclaimed!

    The technical side of the device is also really cool. Wi-Fi, optional 3g with coverage in over 100 countries, automatic backup, sync across multiple devices so you can pick up where you left off, massive battery life, text to speech, Facebook and Twitter integration, easy to read e-ink which works in sunlight!

    Really, what isn’t there to like?! Honestly I’m completely sold. So why haven’t I got one yet?

    The thing is I love books, as in real, actual, physical, books.

    I have tons of them and while I understand I’d save a ton of space by switching to digital books I like having them around and I still get a massive kick out of receiving a book as a gift. 

    Also, while the instant buying experience of the Kindle is really appealing I love going into a book shop and just browsing. I’ve picked up lots of books purely by accident that I don’t think I would get just by browsing the Amazon site.

    Take this book for example.

    star trek book

    I spotted this while when I popped into a book shop whilst in town today.

    I wasn’t looking for anything specific. I was just looking at the shelves to see what jumped out at me and I grabbed this straightaway.

    This sort of thinking must have also happened to lots of people when the MP3 became popular and I’ll be honest I don’t miss music CDs and the switch to obtaining music digitally was really easy for me.

     

    Everyone I’ve spoken to who owns a Kindle has nothing but great things to say about them and as I’ve already mentioned I’m totally sold so why am I having such a hard time getting over the fact I’d never need to physically own a book again. All those books I’ve read once and not picked up for years would instead just sit in memory on the device.

    Am I subconsciously trying to keep score of the amount of books I’ve read by the the amount of shelves I’ve managed fill? 

    I’d be really interested to hear other opinions on this.

    I’m so indecisive if I do decide to get one then I’ll torn over whether the 3g version is worth the extra money. Smile

  • Live events and subtitles–a breakthrough?

    Just wanted to write about something I saw at the weekend.

    I’ve posted plenty of times in the past about the lack of accessibility for people with hearing problems.

    People take a lot for granted such as TV, DVD, cinema but if you have hard time hearing it can be a battle to get involved.

    Electronic and digital forms of entertainment should be really easy to provide subtitles for. If you watch a film multiple times the dialog always appears at the same time, every time so setting up subtitles shouldn’t be too difficult as it’s just a matter of displaying text at the correct timings.

    What about live entertainment? The theatre for example?

    There is already a solution for theatre called StageText.

    The idea is that a screen is placed near the stage and text is displayed during the performance.

    There are some downsides though. As you can imagine this needs specialist equipment and the number of shows are quite small, looking at the StageText “what’s on” list has 15 shows in March for the ENTIRE country.

    But what about other types of live entertainment? What about smaller events that can’t afford the cost of owning or hiring something like StageText? How many times have you been to a museum or similar where they have recorded audio to go with the exhibits? You can’t subtitle these surely?

    What I saw at the weekend has the potential to change this.

    On Saturday I went to an event run by Talking Birds,

    From their website,

    Talking Birds is a Coventry-based company of artists that specialises in acts of transformation. Often these are theatre works and structures which transform the experience of buildings or sites. Other times, they are smaller, more intimate artworks which transform a computer screen, or a telephone call. Our projects allow residents of a town, or a city, to explore a particular place of interest in a mediated way, making accessible a neglected or forgotten space and allowing people to examine it in a new light.

    They had taken over an unused building in Coventry and turned it into a Royal Mail sorting office to mark the closure of the actual sorting office just up the road.

    This sort of thing would ordinarily be off limits to a deaf or hard of hearing person as you just wouldn’t be able to following anything that was being said. Especially because performances were happening in various parts of the venue as opposed to a fixed stage. 

    However, we were able to test something called “The Difference Engine”.

    There was a wireless hotspot that Mrs P was able to connect to using her phone, she connected to a web server on the network using her mobile browser and subtitles were displayed directly onto the screen of her phone!

    It worked really well and a key part of this for me is that it’s something that is relativity inexpensive to run as it’s software running from a laptop!

    This means the system is portable and flexible. Anyone who wants to see the subtitles just needs a reasonably modern phone, tablet or netbook and if you needed to display subtitles for an audience in general all you’d need is another laptop and a screen to connect it to!

    I really think this has a lot of potential and could bring subtitles to ANY event with very little expense to the organisers.

    The system is still at version one stage so they are looking to improve for their next release and I’ve got my fingers crossed the system goes further!

    Just wanted to say a quick thank you to @Vornster for letting me know about this and inviting us to try it out.