Monthly Archives: March 2011

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Useful Links: March 2011

A list of items I’ve come across recently that I found potentially useful, interesting, or just plain funny:

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Solving the mystery of my drowsy PC

One of the many annoyances resulting from my company laptop being rebuilt onto a corporate standard build has been that it keeps on shutting down overnight. That might sound very green, but it’s actually not very useful – for example when certain processes are running – and there’s the added complication that I need to supply a username and password to the hard disk encryption software, using the built-in keyboard hidden under a document stand, because my Bluetooth keyboard is not available pre-boot.

After checking the Windows Power Options, my next assumption was that my employer’s administrators had installed something on my machine that was what was switching it off at night. After a little digging, I found the answer and it wasn’t some piece of systems management software – it’s a bit of poor user interface design by Microsoft.

In their quest to simplify the Windows UI, Microsoft has presented a very simple Power Options interface to “Change when the computer sleeps”.

Windows 7 Power Options

My computer is set to never sleep, when plugged in – but that’s not the whole story. It seems that, by clicking the link to change advanced power settings, there are many more settings I can change – including when the computer hibernates (hidden under a sleep heading).

Windows 7 Power Options Advanced

It turned out that my computer was set to hibernate after 360 minutes (6 hours) – since changing this to 0 (never), my PC has happily spun down its disks and turned off its display but, crucially, kept running overnight.

I know the difference between hibernate and standby – but does the average Windows user? I’d argue not! I’ve criticised Apple before for over-simplifying tasks in OS X and it seems that Microsoft has fallen into the same trap with Windows too.

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Google Analytics: Honing in on the visits that count

Every week I create a report that looks at a variety of social media metrics, including visits to the Fujitsu UK and Ireland CTO Blog.  It’s developing over time – I’m also working on a parallel activity with some of my marketing colleagues to create a social media listening dashboard – but my Excel spreadsheet with metrics cobbled together from a variety of sources and measuring against some defined KPIs seems to be doing the trick for now.

One thing that’s been frustrating me is that I know a percentage of our visits are from employees and, frankly, I don’t care about their visits to our blog.  Nor for that matter do I want my own visits (mostly administrative) to show in the stats that I take from Google Analytics.

I knew it should be possible to filter internal users and, earlier this week, I had a major breakthrough.

I created an advanced segment that checked the page (to filter out one blog from the rest of the content on the site) and the source (to filter anyone whose referral source contained certain keywords – for example our company name!).  I then tested the segment and, hey presto – I can see how many results apply to each of the queries and the overall result – now I can concentrate on those visits that really matter.

Google Analytics advanced segment settings to remove internal referrals

Of course, this only relates to referrals, so it doesn’t help me where internal users access the content from an email link (even if I could successfully filter out all the traffic via the company proxy servers, which I haven’t managed so far, some users access the content directly whilst working from home), but it’s a start.

The other change was one I made a few months ago, by defining a number of filters to adjust the reporting:

Unfortunately filters do not apply retrospectively, so it’s worth defining these early in the life of a website.

Technology

How George Lucas might describe the consumerisation of IT

Last week, I spent a morning at an IDC briefing on the consumerisation of IT.  It was a good session, but I can’t really blog about it as the information was copyright (although I am writing a white paper on the topic, and I’m sure there will be at least one blog post out of that…)

One of David Bradshaw‘s slides amused me though, and I asked him if I could reproduce the contents here (my anotations are in [ ] ).

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

…an evil empire that used an army of star-troopers to impose CRM systems that oppressed the users

Actually, it was an army of suit-troopers… [called the IT department]

Then a rebel army invented a CRM system that people actually enjoyed using [let's say... salesforce.com]

Maybe it was just the administrators that enjoyed it… but they really, really did like it. Perhaps the users just didn’t hate it…

How could this possibly get past all the meanies in corporate IT who fiendishly made users work on systems they hated?

A cunning plan – use the Internet!

Our rebel heroes deployed it on the web so anyone could try it and buy a subscription!

They also avoided the corporate meanies! [and eventually the army of suit-troopers had to embrace their decision]

Does this sound familiar?

Technology

Sometimes, simplicity is the best answer

I have an iPhone that I use for work, but I also have a separate SIM with my personal (private) number – the one I give to friends and family (and the one you’ll catch me on at the weekend). For a while now I’ve been using that in an old Nokia 6730 that used to be my work handset but I hate that phone. It’s got some awful, unintuitive Symbian interface and I spend a lot of time swearing at it.

I’ve been looking for a new handset for my personal SIM – nothing flash, just a simple phone, with Bluetooth (to connect to the car) and I thought I could get something inexpensive on a pay-as-you-go deal until I realised that the PAYG handsets are all locked to their networks. Then I found an old Nokia 6021 in my office (actually, I have two – the kids play with one of them…) – it’s got all the functionality I want, a classic, simple Nokia interface (the sort that works really well) – and the battery life is OK too (even though my handset is now 6 years old). The trouble was, it looked a bit tatty.

No worries, I spent £2.79 on eBay, and a couple of days later a new faceplate arrived. Now I have a smart “new” featurephone that suits my needs perfectly.

Exercise

Update on my Fit at 40 challenge

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my Fit at 40 challenge including some of the personal reasons that are driving me to lose weight, keep fit and raise money for The Prostate Cancer Charity.

I said I’d keep people informed on my progress and I’m pleased to say that, this weekend, the scales finally tipped in at 106kg, which is just under 16st 10lb, meaning I’ve lost my first stone!

As for the running, I’m consistently getting out 2 or 3 times a week (usually 3) and adding some cycling in between – I’ve had some problems over recent weeks as I’m running in the evenings when I’m tired/run-down but I am making some progress – my times for the loop around town (about 2.65 miles/4.25 km) have been dropping (although I’d like them to drop a bit more!), and I’m pushing a little further on the weekends too with a run around the local country park (about 3.4 miles/5.5 km).

I have to say that the support I’ve received so far has been amazing – and that support has taken a number of forms – financial, practical, and motivational:

  • Lots of people have donated at my JustGiving page and many more have promised support when I write to tell them how I’m doing – after all, this is a long term challenge and it’s great motivation when people add a little more to the pot each time I take a (metaphorical) step forward.
  • Some of of the guys in the street have provided physical support by accompanying me on my runs – it’s good exercise for all of us, and it’s great motivation to make me run (and the light evenings should help more).
  • There’s also been some great financial support from my family and friends (who would all like to see a fitter, healthier Mark), including one friend and former colleague who surprised me by showing just how well he knows me. Garry Martin has generously offered to match donations from anyone who knows us both, up to a ceiling of £500. There’s a catch though – if I don’t complete the challenge, Garry pays out nothing. That’s because he figured it’s too easy for me to go part way, congratulate myself and say “that’s enough”. He’s right too – so we’ve agreed some realistic and challenging targets that I need to meet. I need to get down to 14st 7lb by my 40th birthday next year, and run at least 3 races of 10km or above.  That’s going to be hard, but it’s also realistic – and achievable… although I’d like to hope that I might exceed these targets too.

The next challenge is the Harrold Pit Run, on 30 April, before my big push for the BUPA London 10K on 30 May – I’m hoping that I can shed at least another half stone over that period too, as lugging my not-inconsiderable bulk around must be making things harder!

If you’d like to support me in my quest, either as a one-off sponsorship, or as a “micro-donation” of £1 or £2 each time I lose a chunk of weight or run a race, please visit my JustGiving page. If you’re a UK tax payer, please check the option to add gift aid (which means your £1 is worth £1.28 to charity). If you know Garry too, then remember that your donation counts twice (your £1 plus gift aid, is effectively £2.56 when Garry matches it).

Thanks to everyone who has supported me so far – and thanks for your continued support.

Technology

Finding your Twitter RSS feed

Unlike many people, I quite like “new” Twitter (although it doesn’t seem that new any more!) – compared with “old” Twitter, the website is far more usable but it did lose one item of functionality – that of finding the RSS feed for your Twitterstream.

For those who think RSS is dead – it’s not dead – it’s just not something we have to think about too often (like HTTP) and (just like HTTP) it’s still a very useful technology. I think I once saw a response from Twitter that suggested browsers can identify RSS feeds in pages now, but all that seems to turn up is a feed of my favourites.

Anyway, Twitter came to my rescue on this one – not the website/API people, but the people who follow me (thanks guys).  And then I saw the same question asked again today, so I thought I should blog the answer.

Your Twitter stream is available at http://twitter.com/statuses/user_timeline/twitteruserid.rss.

So how do you get your Twitter user ID? Well, there’s a website that will help to get a Twitter ID from a username and your Twitter user number is also available in the properties displayed for your user on many Twitter clients. For me it’s 56967616 so my Twitter stream is at http://twitter.com/statuses/user_timeline/56967616.rss.

Technology

It’s worth hunting around for updated software for mobile data devices

Back in 2007, I wrote about the fun and games I had getting a Vodafone PC card working with Windows Vista and I revisited the topic in 2009 with Mac OS X. Thankfully, things have moved on since then but, a few weeks ago, I was issued with a replacement modem for mobile data, as part of a change of mobile operator. The new device is an O2 Business USB Modem 889 and the fact that it’s a USB device rather than a PC card is great (it means it works with more of my computers) but the software it ships with is awful, presenting a Windows XP-like skin, even on my Windows 7 system!

Since my computer was rebuilt to corporate standards a few weeks ago, I’ve been making a concerted effort to avoid installing any unnecessary components (although somebody has put an in house “display manager” on the build, despite there being a perfectly good one that’s just a Windows+P keypress away, and HP’s printer driver for my company-supplied OfficeJet 6310 at home installed a pile of crapware). My intention was to simply install drivers for my USB modem, then follow a colleague’s advice to create a dial-up connection with the HSPA modem as follows:

  • Modem initialisation to +cgdcont=1,"IP","mobile.o2.co.uk"
  • Dial-up number to *99#
  • Username and password for the dial-up connection set to o2web and password

The problem with this is that my colleague was setting his environment up inside a virtual machine, using virtual network drivers to map to the underlying host’s hardware.  I’m running directly on the hardware (non-virtualised) and I couldn’t find the drivers for my device.

Using the USB ID Repository, I was able to check that my device was a Sierra Wireless (1199) device (actually, the label on the device would have helped there too) and I was also able to see from the markings on the device that it is a Compass 889.  After checking out the Sierra Wireless website, I found updated software for my modem, even a version for my carrier (O2) but nothing that seemed to offer naked drivers without any additional applications.  As it happens, the latest version of the Sierra Wireless Aircard Watcher installed without any issues and it seems much better than the software that O2 originally shipped with the device – although it’s interesting to note that this device is now officially end of life, despite mine only having been shipped in recent weeks.

I guess the main point of this post is to say “hunt around” – you may find that there is updated software for your device, from either the OEM or the carrier, that provides a better experience than the version shipped out-of-the-box.

[Update: I had cause to download the Sierra Wireless Aircard Watcher again tonight and it seems the download location has changed in the last couple of years]

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Rescheduled: Connecting on-premise applications with the Windows Azure platform (Windows Server User Group)

Last week, I wrote about a Live Meeting I was running for the Windows Server User Group (WSUG), looking at using Windows Azure Connect to connect on-premise server infrastructure with Microsoft’s public cloud offering.

If you tried to attend that meeting, I’m sorry, but due to some logistical difficulties that were outside my control, the meeting was unable to go ahead at the advertised time and, although we e-mailed everyone who had registered, I’m sorry if you didn’t get the message until it was too late.

I’m pleased to say that this event has now been rescheduled for the same time (19:00 – although by then we’ll be on BST not GMT) next Monday (28 March 2011).

Please accept my apologies for the short notice we gave last night, and please do register for the rescheduled meeting.

[A version of this post also appears on the Windows Server User Group blog]

Technology

Why the consumerisation of IT is nothing to do with iPads

Last week, I wrote a post on the Fujitsu UK and Ireland CTO Blog about the need to adapt and evolve, or face extinction (in an IT context).  IT consumerisation was a key theme of that post and, the next evening, at my first London Cloud Camp, I found myself watching Joe Baguley (EMEA CTO at Quest Software) giving a superb 5 minute presentation on “‘How the public cloud is exciting CEOs and scaring CIOs; IT Consumerisation is here to stay’” – and I’ve taken the liberty (actually, I did ask first) of reciting the key points in this post

Joe started out by highlighting that, despite what you might read elsewhere (and I have to admit I’ve concentrated a little to heavily on this) the consumerisation of IT is not about iPads, iPhones or other such devices – it’s a lot bigger than that.

In the “old days” (pre-1995) companies had entities owned called “users” and, from an IT perspective, those users did as they were told to – making use of the hardware and software that the IT department provided. Anything outside this tended to fall foul of the “culture of no” as it was generally either too expensive, or against security.

Today, things have moved along and those same users are now “consumers”. They have stepped outside the organisation and the IT department is a provider of “stuff”, just like Dropbox, GMail, Facebook, Twitter, Betfair and their bank.

Dropbox is a great example – it’s tremendously easy to use to share files with other people, especially when compared with a file server or SharePoint site with their various security restrictions, browser complexities and plugins.

If you’re not convinced about the number of systems we use, think back to the early 1990s, when we each had credentials for just a handful of systems. but now we use password managers to manage our logons (I use LastPass) for systems that may be for work, or not. For many of us, the most useful services that the company provides are email, calendaring, and free printing when we’re in the office!

So, how does a CIO cope with this?  Soon there will be no more corporate LANs and where does that leave the internal IT department? Sure, we can all cite cloud security issues but, as Joe highlighted in his talk, if Dropbox had a security breach it would be all over Twitter in a few minutes and they would be left with a dead business model so actually it’s the external providers that have the most to lose.

CIOs have to compete with external providers. Effectively they have a choice: to embrace cloud applications; or to build their own internal services (with the main advantage being that, when they break, you can get people in room and work to get them fixed).

Ultimately, CIOs just want platforms upon which to build services. And that’s why we need to stop worrying about infrastructure, and work out how we can adopt Platform as a Service (PaaS) models to best suit the needs of our users. Ah yes, users, which brings me back to where I started.

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