Useful Links: December 2010

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

Blog Recap: 2010 in review

A couple of days ago, SQL Server MVP, Brent Ozar took a look back at what he’d been posting on his blog in 2010. I thought that was a good idea, so I’m shamelessly stealing his idea to highlight some of the key posts from the last twelve months on this blog. There were many more, technically-focused, ones but these are a good summary of the year’s events:








  • Move along folks, nothing to see here (well, there were a couple of posts, but nothing really worth shouting about)…






  • Tumbleweed (and some geekery) – although there are plenty of posts in the pipeline for next year.

Even though 2010 was a quiet year on the blog (120 posts this year is a record low – especially when considering I averaged almost one a day in 2008!), I did win a Computer Weekly Blog Award, and I have been busy elsewhere:

As for 2011, well, expect this blog to remain one of my main online activities but, as I spend less time working directly with technology and more working on strategic IT issues, the focus is changing.  Indeed, some people think blogging is dead (it’s not) – others say it is now more about content marketing! Whatever the semantics, I’ll be here for a while yet. Thanks to everyone who reads my “stuff” and engages with me – whether it’s as a blog comment, an e-mail or a tweet – and have a happy and prosperous 2011.

How to take stunning pictures: Holidays

Continuing the series of posts based on Channel 5 Broadcasting’s “How To Take Stunning Pictures” series, this one looks at photographing scenes on holiday (previous posts have covered portraiture, celebrations, landscapes, sport and animals). The expert photographer in this episode was Martin Parr and, whilst Channel 5′s website has some tips to go with each programme, they don’t exactly match up to the advice in the programme itself so, here are the tips from the sixth episode:

Pictures of people can tell a lot about their characters, their stories and their relationship with the world. When you know you’re onto something, explore the scene fully and try work out how to best capture it. Use people and places together to tell a story: decide what the picture is about and then how you compose it will tell the viewer what you’re trying to say.

  • Take a fresh look – find out what people are thinking, saying and doing.
  • Take lots of pictures – take the bad ones to get the good ones – experiment and shoot lots – they can succeed or fail and success is great!
  • Try to avoid clichés – often people photograph timeless things on holiday – sometimes it’s good to pull away and think about what is being photographed and why. The relationship between people and places forms the basis of this type of photographic work.
  • Engage with subjects – observe the quirks, observe the people and it suddenly becomes more interesting. Engagement is a key element to drive photography forward so keep the dialogue going – even if everything is all right, say this is great, look at me, don’t smile – let the subject know that you’re still interested in them. When get that engagement, you can bring your work alive.
  • Be bold to really get the moment you are after – get in close, look for surreal moments – collect stories about the world and try to distill them into a few pictures.

“I guess, as a photographer, one of the things you hope to do is to create an iconic picture but of course you can never quite predict how and when it’s going to happen. In the end it often comes down to luck but the thing about luck is that it is always earnt so you need that perseverance and suddenly things will happen, it will flow in front of you and you’ve got your moment.


I think what we can see here is that by concentrating on one thing, coming in closer, exploring it better, making sure it’s something you can identify with – that’s when you can really reap the benefits of going to a place and trying to take away photographs that tell you something about your relationship to that place.”

[Martin Parr]

This was the final programme in the series and I have mixed feelings. In the comments on the first post, I defended the programme but, even though I went on to write up the key points from all six episodes, on reflection, some of them have been a bit lightweight. Even so, with a 22 minute programme, there is only so much information that the producers can put across and, for purely commercial reasons, it is pitched for a broad appeal. I’ve probably learned something in each one – and hopefully you have too!

Using DHCP reserved client options for certain devices

I’ve been struggling with poor Internet connectivity for a while now – the speed is fine (any speed tests I conduct indicate a perfectly healthy 3-5Mbps on on “up to 8Mbps” ADSL line) but I frequently suffer from timeout, only to find that a refresh a few moments later brings the page back quickly.

Suspecting a DNS issue (my core infrastructure server only has a Atom processor and is a little light on memory), I decided to bypass my local DNS server for those devices that don’t really need it because all the services they access are on the Internet (e.g. my iPad).

I wasn’t sure how to do this – all of my devices pick up their TCP/IP settings (and more) via DHCP – but then I realised that the Windows Server 2008 R2 DHCP service (and possibly earlier versions too) allows me to configure reserved client options.

I worked out which IP address my iPad was using, then converted the lease to a reservation. Once I had a reservation set for the device, I could configure the reserved client options (i.e. updating the DNS server addresses to only use my ISP servers, OpenDNS, or Google’s DNS servers).

Unfortunately I’m still experiencing the timeouts and it may just be that my elderly Solwise ADSL modem/router needs replacing… oh well, I guess it’s time to go back to the drawing board!

Seasonal greetings and festive fun!

So, it’s Christmas Eve, and my backlog of technical blog posts is no shorter than ever… even so, I thought I’d share some of the more humorous items I’ve seen recently. You’ve probably seen them before (both of the videos have gone viral) but the first is an idea of how the Nativity may have been, had we been using social media at that time:

The second is a clip from The One Ronnie show – due to be aired over Christmas on the BBC. Those of you in the UK will almost certainly remember The Two Ronnies as part of the Christmas TV schedule and, although Ronnie Barker passed away, Ronnie Corbett teams up with Harry Enfield in this IT-related sketch:

It might not quite be up to the standard of Four Candles but I still think it’s funny, in a very British kind of way (judging my the number of times I’ve seen it tweeted this week, I’m not alone!).

My last festive offerings come from Liz Male Consulting (@LizMale), whose Christmas cards always provide much amusement in my house. Two years ago we had new building regulations for Christmas (Liz’s work is largely in the construction sector) and last year she was tweeting the Christmas story (a whole year ahead of the video above). For 2010 Liz has produced the Ministry of Austerity Ration Card which features such delights as the ConDem Christmas Cake and a special Seasonal Carol reflecting the times in which we live.

Thanks to everyone who’s supported my blogging/tweeting/other online ramblings this year. In a short while, I’ll be signing off for a few days with my family (and my new Xbox!) but I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you all an enjoyable festive season and all the best for 2011.

Hardware specific application targeting with MDT 2010

Guest Post
[Editor’s note: this post was originally published on Garry Martin’s blog on 28 October 2009. As Garry’s closing down his own site but the content is still valid, he asked me if I’d like to post it here and I gratefully accepted!]

I’m running a Proof of Concept (PoC) at work at the moment which is making use of Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) 2010. Whilst most of the drivers we need can be managed by using the Out-of-Box Drivers Import function, some are delivered by the OEM as .EXE or .MSI packages. Whilst we could use multiple Task Sequences to manage these, or even select the applications individually at build time, our preference was to use some sort of hardware specific targeting.


First of all, we needed to uniquely identify the hardware, and for this purpose we used the Plug and Play (PnP) Device ID, or hardware ID as it is sometimes called.

To determine the hardware IDs for a device by using Device Manager:

  1. Install the device on a test computer
  2. Open DeviceManager
  3. Find your device in the list
  4. Right-click the entry for your device, and then click Properties
  5. In the Device Properties dialog box, click the Details tab
  6. In the Property list, click Hardware Ids
  7. Under Value, make a note of the characters displayed. They are arranged with the most specific at the top to the most general at the bottom. You can select one or more items in the list, and then press CTRL+C to copy them to the clipboard.

In our case, the Sierra Wireless MC8755 Device gave us USB\VID_1199&PID_6802&REV_0001 as the most specific value and USB\VID_1199&PID_6802 as the least specific, so we made a note of these before continuing.

Next, we downloaded the Sierra Wireless MC87xx 3G Watcher .MSI package from our notebook OEM support site. Sierra Wireless have instructions for performing a silent install of the 3G Watcher package, so we used those to understand the installation command we would need to use.

So, we had a unique ID for targeting, the installation package, and the installation command line we would need to use. Now we needed to configure MDT to deploy it. First, we create a New Application.

  1. In the MDT 2010 Deployment Workbench console tree, right-click Applications, and click New Application
  2. On the Application Type page, click Next to install an application and copy its source files to the deployment share
  3. On the Details page, type the application’s name in the Application Name box, and click Next
  4. On the Source page, type the path or browse to the folder containing the application’s source files, and click Next
  5. On the Destination page, click Next to use the default name for the application in the deployment share
  6. On the Command Details page, type the command you want to use to install the application, and click Next. We used the following
    msiexec.exe /i 3GWatcher.msi /qn
  7. On the Summary page, review the application’s details, and click Next
  8. On the Confirmation page, click Finish to close the New Application Wizard.

Next we modify the Task Sequence and create our query.

  1. In the MDT 2010 Deployment Workbench console tree, click Task Sequences
  2. In the details pane, right-click the name of the Task Sequence you want to add the Application to, and then click Properties
  3. In the Task Sequence Properties dialog box, click the Task Sequence tab
  4. Expand State Restore and click on Install Applications
  5. Click the Add button, and select General, then Install Application
  6. On the Properties tab for Install Application, type the application’s name in the Name box, and click the Options tab
  7. On the Options tab, click the Add button and select If statement
  8. On the Source page, type the path or browse to the folder containing the application’s source files, and click Next
  9. In the If Statement Properties dialog box, ensure All Conditions is selected and click OK
  10. On the Options tab, click the Add button and select Query WMI

This is where we’ll now use a WMI query that will provide our Hardware Specific Application Targeting. You’ll need to modify this for your particular hardware, but we previously discovered that our least specific Device ID value was USB\VID_1199&PID_6802 so we will use this to help form our query.

  1. In the Task Sequence WMI Condition dialog box, ensure the WMI namespace is root\cimv2 and type the following in the WQI Query text box, clicking OK when finished:
    SELECT * FROM Win32_PNPEntity WHERE DeviceID LIKE '%VID_1199&PID_6802%'
  2. Click OK to exit the Task Sequences dialog box

And that’s it. When you deploy a computer using the modified Task Sequence, the WMI query will run and, if matched, install the application. If a match can’t be found, the application won’t be installed. Hardware Specific Application Targeting in a nutshell.

Connecting an Xbox 360 S to a wireless network with MAC address filtering enabled

My new Xbox 360 S (with Kinect sensor) arrived today and I’m very excited. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to set it up until quite late at night and it took me a while to connect to my home Wi-Fi network, even using the Windows Connect feature, because I use MAC address filtering (in addition to WPA2 encyption). Adding a new MAC address to the Wi-Fi access point is simple enough – except that I had a few problems finding the MAC address for my Xbox 360s.

Once I’d gone through the initial setup (unfortunately I had to complete that before I could access the dashboard), I could examine the network settings in the system blade but, strangely, the MAC address I needed was labelled as the wired MAC address, even though it’s on the Wi-Fi connection (See solution 7 in Microsoft knowledge base article 978945). Just to confuse me further, there was also a MAC address listed in the wireless information (but I think that relates to the connection to the controller…).

Xbox 360 Advanced network settings - the wired MAC address is wireless on the 360 S

Now that I’ve connected to the Internet and installed a couple of system updates, the interface is much less confusing (it now says MAC Address, rather than Wired MAC Address, and gives me the correct one!)

How to force recovery when an iPhone reset fails

A couple of years ago, I sold my original iPhone.  At that time, O2 was the exclusive iPhone carrier in the UK and so I needed to jump through various hoops to unlock it and prepare it for resale. Now the time has come to dispose of my iPhone 3G as I have a 3GS for work use (I can get by with a simple phone and my iPad in my personal life).

My iPhone 3G was “officially” unlocked by O2 so it should be a simple case of securely wiping the data from the device.  I say should, but it wasn’t (possibly because I’d previously jailbroken the phone in order to run background tasks without updating to iOS 4, which is unbearably slow on a 3G).

Resetting the iPhone to wipe all the data is straightforward enough (select Settings, General, Reset, Erase All Content and Settings, Erase iPhone) but after the iPhone had been erased (Apple says this can take up to 2 hours but it was only around an hour for me) the phone kept on rebooting, before freezing with the display showing the Apple logo and a frozen progress “ring”.  After a while it timed out and rebooted, only to get stuck at the same stage.

Fearing that I’d somehow “bricked” my iPhone, I turned to Google and found a MacRumors forum post which provided the answer:

  1. Hard reset the iPhone by holding the sleep/wake button and the home button together.  Release the buttons before the device turns on.
  2. Launch iTunes.
  3. Hold the home button on the iPhone at the same time as plugging in the USB dock connector from your PC/Mac. Eventually you should see the Connect to iTunes display.
  4. Follow the restoration process in iTunes to download and install the latest iOS release.
  5. Once the iPhone has been recovered, it can be activated if required and then either restored from backup (I didn’t want to do this as I’m selling the device) or set up as a new iPhone.

Now the phone is securely wiped, reloaded and ready for resale, it’s time for me to recycle it…

Recycling mobile phones is really simple to do and it helps the environment too. So go on, dig out that old phone and recycle it now! (Sponsored link)

Microsoft’s Kinect is “awesome”

Microsoft recently hosted an open day for UK and Ireland MVPs.  Despite the work that went into organising the event, it was mostly a huge disappointment - we don’t really get told much that’s not in the public domain already – but it did give me a chance to have a go with the new Xbox Kinect and, even as a non-gamer, I was pretty much blown away (indeed, there may even be some video floating around of me “doing a Lady Gaga” to Dance Central…)

Microsoft Xbox 360sKinect was codenamed Protect Natal and is a natural user interface (NUI) that works with any Xbox. Microsoft’s Andrew Lee explained that Kinect is a sensor using with three cameras: one RGB that is used for facial recognition (once it’s initially told who you are); and two motion depth sensors that create a three-dimensional mapping zone to allow physical gestures to become controls.  The initial games track 20 main body points but Kinect has the capability to be more accurate.  It also has a microphone to access voice commands [correction July 2011: there are actually four microphones in order to recognise the noise direction] and a tilt motor in the base so that Kinect can be adjusted/calibrated according to the size of the play space and the player.

There’s little doubt that Kinect makes games incredibly immersive and involving. Anyone can step up and have a go with no previous skill level required (as we proved, playing Kinect Sports in the hotel…).

Microsoft is supporting controller-based games but Kinect complements them. There are some Kinect-specific titles at launch with more “synergy titles” in future (offering a fuller experience with Kinect – Harry Potter will allow spell casting, mixing potions, etc.).

Kinect adventures is bundled with Kinect and is a great showcase for the technology. Other launch titles (RRP £39.99) are:

  • Dance Central
  • Kinect Joyride
  • Kinectimals
  • Kinect Sports

Microsoft hopes that Kinect will take the Xbox out of bedroom and into the living room. Other Xbox features such as Live, Zune movies, Sky TV and Last.FM all become Kinect-enabled. I’m still hoping that we get BBC iPlayer and LoveFilm on the Xbox (NetFlix is available in the states). There’s an online arcade service too.

When Kinect is present, a room preview is shown in the Xbox dashboard and all that’s required to operate it is to hold up a hand and swipe left. There’s no need to train Kinect to recognise your voice for audio commands but there is no “Xbox off” yet… Also, some Live services are not Kinect enabled and the standard controller may be better for navigation.

The Kinect sensor’s RRP is £129.99 and it’s possible to pick up combinations with an Xbox and a sensor from around £249.99. One thing’s for sure… there will be a 250GB Xbox 360 with Kinect heading to the Wilson household soon…