Problems connecting to a Windows Server cluster

A few weeks back, I was at a Microsoft event where the presenter was struggling to connect to a Windows Server cluster using the Cluster Administrator tool. It turned out that the problem was down to having started devices in the wrong order (it should be storage, then network, then cluster nodes) but when one member of the audience suggested entering . as the cluster name in the Cluster Administrator dropdown he was able to connect to the cluster (with much relief!)… may be worth remembering for the future.

Programmer’s Bladder

I saw this on Hacking Hat (an interesting blog written by Steve Knight – an old mate from Uni’ who I haven’t seen in years) and it seemed to ring true somehow (even though I’m not a programmer):

Main Entry: pro·gram·mers blad·der
Pronunciation: \ˈprō-ˌgra-mərs ˈbla-dər\
Function: noun phrase
Etymology: Birmingham, Richard Pinchin
Date: circa 1994

1 : A condition that requires the victim to sit at their terminal for extended periods. The condition denies the victim their normal bodily functions until: that [f***ing] thing compiles, or more caffeine is required.

UK time WordPress plugin

Probably the only gripe that I have with my hosting provider is that the clock on their server is permanently set to UTC (i.e. no timezone changes for daylight saving – I’m told that’s normal practice for web hosting but it’s not something I’ve come across in my experience of corporate computing). Until recently that’s meant that, twice a year, I’ve had to tell WordPress to update the timezone offset but not any longer. You see, my buddy Alex (who also runs the company that provides my hosting) has written a WordPress plugin to handle UK time changes:

The UK Time plugin for WordPress checks the time of each post that’s being displayed, and if it falls inside the British Summer Time window the post time is incremented by 1 hour and you no longer need to change the UTC offset every March and October.

Of course, you may already have hundreds of posts spanning several years and you switched the UTC offset at the right time, so they already show the right time. That’s okay, they will still show the correct time.

I tested Alex’s plugin last weekend when the clocks changed and everything seems to be working just as I expected. UK-based WordPress users might want to give it a try.

A plea for Apple to update the MacBook Pro

I really would like to buy a 17″ Apple MacBook Pro but if I’m going to spend all that cash then I need to know that it’s the right thing to do. I’ve been waiting for OS X Leopard (not that I can see much advantage in upgrading to Leopard but it seemed daft to buy a new computer with Tiger on it) and now I hear rumours that there will be a new MacBook Pro announced in the New Year. So, if anyone from Apple is reading this, please, please, please, consider the following for the next update:

  • Why is there all that wasted space to the side of the keyboard (which is the same size on both the 15″ and 17″ models)? With a 17″ unit, surely you can fit a larger (even full-size) keyboard on there instead of larger speaker covers?
  • Why is the wrist rest so huge, with the keyboard set so far back? (it’s fine on the 15″ model but with the larger chassis of the 17″ I’m really not sure that it will be comfortable…)
  • Please, can I have a two button trackpad?
  • Oh yes, and if you really want to justify all the extra cash (after all, it’s really not an inexpensive purchase), how about a docking station too?

The MacBook Pro has plenty of features that make it better for me than a standard MacBook but if I have to keep on plugging in an external mouse and keyboard, then that really defeats the object of buying a desktop replacement notebook PC.

A quick look around the Microsoft RoundTable

Earlier this week, I blogged about some of the gadgets I’ve been using whilst I’ve been learning about Exchange Unified Messaging and Office Communciations Server (OCS) 2007 and today I got to experience one of Microsoft’s showpiece web conferencing devices – the RoundTable.

Microsoft RoundTableBasically, it looks like a normal conference phone, but with a 30cm pole at the top of which are mounted a number of mirrors reflecting a 360-degree view from the room back onto cameras.

This means that Live meeting can display a panoramic view of the room and (this is the really cool part), the RoundTable recognises who is speaking and displays the appropriate part of the image. It really has to be seen to be believed – so here’s a screen grab from the PC that had the RoundTable connected, showing the panoramic view, the currently selected view (with picture in picture from the remote caller’s webcam). Other LiveMeeting content could also be shown (e.g. a presentation, or a shared desktop), but the point here is the camera.

Microsoft RoundTable images viewed in LiveMeeting

(Incidentally, the guy in the blue shirt is Peter O’Dowd – an Exchange and OCS MVP whose claim to fame includes playing guitar under the pseudonym of Pete Petrol for the punk band Spizzenergi, who were most famous for the song where is Captain Kirk?)

Some might feel that the RoundTable is a solution looking for a problem but I’ve been dialled into enough conference calls where I haven’t a clue who is speaking because as soon as there are more than three people on the conference it becomes unclear who is speaking at any one moment.

With the RoundTable and Live Meeting, remote attendees can have their individual webcams running and people back in the office meeting room can use the RoundTable to project an image of whoever is speaking at that time. Or multiple RoundTables can be used for conferences between multiple groups of people.

I’m sure that Cisco, Polycom and the others who have been doing this stuff for years have devices that are just as exciting but this really rocks.

Does the T in T-Mobile stand for “Trouble staying connected”?

It’s getting on for midnight and I’m here in a hotel room in Prague, after fighting to get my Internet connection working (again). There’s a T-Mobile hotspot here but I’ve been having problems with it all week. A few nights back I couldn’t successfully login after buying a 24-hour pass from the hotel, so I returned the pass for a refund. Then, later in the day it seemed to be working again, so I paid 595Kč (about £15, or $30) for another 24-hour pass and was able to browse the ‘net and connect to work over the VPN. Sorted. Or at least I was until I went out for the evening and returned to my room to do some more work only to find that the connection was so slow as to be unusable.

The Google homepage took about 90 seconds to load and everything else timed out – either as unreachable, or coming back as a google search on the domain name.

As Google seemed to be the only site responding (pinging the gateway came back with Reply from gatewayipaddress: Destination net unreachable), I ran a ping test using ping -t and after a while I could see that I was losing about half the packets on the wire:

Ping statistics for ipaddress:
Packets: Sent = 157, Received = 74, Lost = 83 (52% loss),
Approximate round trip times in milli-seconds:
Minimum = 45ms, Maximum = 69ms, Average = 49ms

Restarting the computer didn’t seem to help. Neither did disconnecting and and reconnecting the wireless network connection. So I called (T-Mobile’s English helpline for the Czech Republic) but after 35 minutes on hold at international mobile rates (goodness knows how much that cost), I gave up.

Thanks for nothing T-Mobile.

After a week of fighting with this (and a successful call to T-Mobile, during which they admitted that I could have held on all night because there were no English-speaking staff working…), I’ve discovered that logging out manually (from the link on the page displayed after a successful login, or by typing logout. in the browser address bar) works fine; however if T-Mobile log me out for inactivity, and occasionally when the connection suddenly drops of its own accord, the only remedy is to shut down the computer, wait a while (the shortest I’ve tried was about half an hour) and then start up again, after which everything seems to work as expected.

According to the receptionist at the hotel where the hotspot is, only the people in my group (all attending Microsoft training) have reported any problems. Hopefully this information is useful to some other poor soul who’s trying to get their T-Mobile Wi-Fi connection to work.

(For reference, I’m using Windows Vista Enterprise Edition, 32-bit, with an Intel Centrino 2200BG chipset and Internet Explorer 7.0.6000.16546.)

Gadgets for audio-visual interaction with Microsoft’s unified communications products

18 months ago, I attended one the Exchange “12” Ignite training courses – basically Exchange Server 2007 training for early technology adopters. This week I’m refreshing my Exchange knowledge for the release version product but in train-the-trainer style with the intention that I will be training a number of colleagues across the UK and Europe in the coming months to bring them up to speed. I’m also doing the same for Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007.

One of the nice things about this training is that it’s being held in Prague. Our hotel is a few miles out to the east of the city centre but it’s a great place to visit in the evening (and I get to do very little international travel in my job and even less sightseeing, so I’m making the most of it).

The other great thing is that we have each been given a webcam and headset for use with Exchange unified messaging (using the Exchange UM test phone and headset for voice access to Exchange) and Office Communicator (with audio and video from the headset and webcam). I already have a desktop webcam at home (the Microsoft LifeCam VX-6000), as well as the iSight on the Mac, but this is a great portable setup – a Microsoft LifeCam NX-6000 webcam and the geeky but surprisingly comfortable Microsoft LifeChat ZX-6000 wireless headset (which includes the XBox 360 wireless gaming receiver for wireless communications).

Later in the week we should be playing with one of the Microsoft RoundTable conference phones/webcams too.

Oh, I do love my toys!

Checking which version of Java is installed

I just came across a handy way of checking the version of Java that’s installed on a computer. Try typing:

java -version

This seems to work for me on Windows, MacOS and Linux, regardless of the Java vendor (i.e. my RHEL5 box has a GNU version of Java rather than Sun Java, although I’m not sure what happens for the Microsoft Java VM). Of course, if the command is not found, that probably means that you don’t have Java installed (or at least not on your path).

Canon Digital Ixus 70

I’ve just got home to find that Amazon has delivered my new toy – a Canon Digital Ixus 70. Whilst I still take the majority of my photos on my Nikon D70, carrying a body and a couple of lenses (as well as the paraphernalia that going anywhere with two small children involves) is sometimes a bit of a bind – it would be nice to have a good camera that I can slip in a pocket and take anywhere. Perhaps a mobile phone camera would fit the bill, but most of them have pretty poor lenses (necessarily so in a device that size) and when Vodafone
wanted over £300 for me to upgrade to the Nokia N95, I decided that I’d be better off buying a separate camera.

I’ve always liked Canon’s Ixus range of compact cameras – even when they used film – and the Digital Ixus 70 looks great to me. Basically it’s a 7.1MP camera with a nice large screen (and a viewfinder for when the sun makes using the screen impractical) for just over £120. I’ll probably struggle a bit at first with camera shake (as I’m used to holding a nice weighty body and lens) but I have a couple of overseas trips coming up and it will save me a lot of space in my suitcase.

One thing that’s good to see is that Windows Vista recognised and supported the camera without any intervention from me. Less helpful was the fact that Canon only includes a 32MB SD card in the box so I’ve ordered a 2GB Sandisk Extreme III which will provide fast (133x or 20MB/sec) read and write times. That’s coming from and is unlikely to be with me before I fly out to Prague on Sunday so, until that arrives, I picked up a cheap SD card from Tesco (1GB for just under a tenner) which can then be used as a spare.

Backing up and restoring a WordPress database

Last year, Alex and I redeveloped the website for a campaign group close to the town where I live. Even though the design was pretty plain (neither of us are designers), from a web development standpoint the site was pretty good – written in semantically correct XHTML and CSS, using PHP for server-side scripting. Alex even wrote a neat navigation bar system and all in all it was a pretty good site.

Unfortunately, I ran out of time for updating the site content and handing it over to a non-technical person to produce new content was never going to be straightforward. I needed something with a user-friendly content management system and so I rewrote the site to use WordPress with pages for the static content and blog posts for the front page news.

Moving all of the content to WordPress didn’t take too long – I still need to sort out a few dead links and develop a decent template, but one of the beauty of WordPress is the ability to customise a site on-the-fly so I can keep on working on those after making the site live – the important thing for me was to let other people create new content without needing any code.

Even so, when the time came to launch the new site, I did need to move my WordPress database from the /dev subdirectory to the root (it is possible to install WordPress in a subdirectory and still let it be accessed from the site root; however I chose not to take that path).

Although WordPress includes an export/import function that would let me export all of the posts via an XML file, then import them to a new WordPress installation, it doesn’t handle all of the database changes (new users, configuration, etc.) and it seems that the best way is to back up the database and then restore it to a new location. Whilst the WordPress Codex provides various methods for backing up a database, the clearest instructions are actually found in a link at the bottom of the Codex article to the Clearpoint Systems blog post on how to backup and restore a WordPress database (using phpMyAdmin). Then, because the database tables will refer to the old location, it is necessary to update the siteurl and home entries in the wp_options table.

It took just a few seconds to backup the database, restore it to a new WordPress installation, and make the changes necessary to make the site accessible again. Finally, all that was required then was to upload any edited theme files and plugins to the appropriate locations in the WordPress folder structure.