McAfee, Internet Explorer and a lack of quality control at Toshiba

This content is 11 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Last week, I wrote about helping my father-in-law to ensure that the insurance company wasn’t fleecing him whilst replacing his stolen laptop.  His new machine (a Toshiba Satellite C855-12G) arrived this week (although it appears to be a discontinued model, which is presumably the reason it was discounted…) and I’ve spent part of the evening on family IT support duty getting it set up for him.

Unfortunately, I also found that the webcam is faulty (at least, neither Toshiba’s webcam application, Windows Device Manager nor Skype can see it, despite having downloaded the latest drivers from the Toshiba website), suggesting that Toshiba’s quality control is pretty shoddy (this doesn’t appear to be an isolated incident – see link 1, link 2, link 3). Back in the day, Toshiba was a respected notebook PC brand but I guess I should have insisted on Lenovo, Samsung or Dell…

Anyway, the real purpose of this post was to record some of the issues (and resolutions) that I found whilst removing the “crapware” from this new PC. To be fair, I’ve seen worse and the main thing to remove (apart from a non-English version of Windows Live Essentials) was McAfee Internet Security.  It never ceases to amaze me how many people will shell out cash for this type of application when there are perfectly good free alternatives, so I replaced it with Microsoft Security Essentials.

Unfortunately the McAfee uninstaller wouldn’t run, displaying an Internet Explorer-esque “Navigation was cancelled” screen (but without any chrome).  As Skype was also having problems adding contacts, I started to suspect something was blocking web traffic and that hunch turned out to be valid. Disabling Internet Exploder 9’s Content Advisor did the trick. How anybody can use it is beyond me (I had to enter a password four times  just to switch from Windows Update to Microsoft Update) but, once Content Advisor was disabled, both Skype and the McAfee uninstaller worked as they should.



Selective sharpening of an image using the high pass filter

This content is 11 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

With a few notable exceptions, I dislike photos of myself. I like to be behind the camera, taking pictures not starring in them, but sometimes it’s necessary to have the camera turned in my direction.

For instance, over the last few months, it became increasingly obvious to me that I needed a new profile picture. The last one was taken in 2008 when I was a) younger and b) heavier, but I’ve been struggling to find the right image.  I was going to ask one of my many photographer friends to take one for me but then, whilst at the recent B2B Huddle, I found myself in the company of John Cassidy, who was creating fantastic headshots of attendees for a very competitive price.

In just a few minutes (John normally spends more time with his clients), shooting tethered into Adobe Lightroom with a Nikon D3, 85mm f1.4 lens and a collection of lights and reflectors, John managed to create the proverbial silk purse from a sow’s ear in that he made me look quite presentable! In fact, I was amazed at what he had done with me*. One of the resulting images is now my profile picture on most of the websites that I use (I keep finding odd ones with old pics that need to be mopped up, and I still use an image for my Flickr profile that Benjamin Ellis took of me, “caught in the act” of photography, although he’s since removed the image from his photostream).

I also wanted a higher-resolution image for my page but, to my eyes, the image I’d selected seemed just a little soft around the eyes. It was taken at a reasonably narrow aperture (f5) but I wanted to sharpen up my face (just the face – as sharpening my suit created some strange results due to the weave of the fabric). A few minutes in Photoshop was all it took to create the effect I required for a punchy on-screen image, although it would be inappropriately sharp for a printed version:

These are before and after images, at 25%:


It’s a useful tip, and I’m not the first to write about the high pass filter – it’s all over the ‘net – but it’s a technique that’s worth knowing about if you really like a shot but are finding it just a little too soft for your taste. In addition, the eyes may be sharper now but it does have the side-effect of enhancing wrinkles, etc. in my skin. That’s probably OK for a 40-year-old man but not too flattering for a woman so more selective editing may be required.

* My wife used the word “handsome” but I wouldn’t go quite that far.

Journey through the Amazon Web Services cloud

This content is 11 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Working for a large system integrator, I tend to find myself focused on our own offerings and somewhat isolated from what’s going on in the outside world. It’s always good to understand the competitive landscape though and I’ve spent some time recently brushing up my knowledge of Amazon Web Services (AWS), which may come in useful as I’m thinking of moving some of my computing workloads to AWS.  Amazon’s EMEA team are running a series of “Journey to the Cloud” webcasts at the moment and the first two sessions covered:

The next webcast in the series is focused on Storage and Archiving and it takes place next week (23 October). Based on the content of the first two, it should be worth an hour of my time, and maybe yours too?


Comparing PC specifications for average family use

This content is 11 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

A couple of weeks ago, my parents-in-law were unlucky enough to be burgled. Thankfully they were not at home at the time and the thieves didn’t manage to take too much.  One thing they did take though, was their laptop computer.

The insurance company made an offer for a comparable PC to replace the stolen one (new for old) but, as four years is a long time in computing, I wanted to be sure that they really were getting a similar specification in 2012 terms. I’d been careful when I bought the original for them to get something that was OK for standard web surfing, email, etc. but not too expensive. Similarly I didn’t want anything bargain basement as it would only cause me “family IT support issues” later.

My normal answer, when asked for advice on buying new PCs, etc. is to look at the PC Pro A List to see what’s currently rated. Unfortunately that doesn’t help so much when taking a bottom-up view (i.e. starting out with a proposed model and seeing if it offers everything you need, rather than a top-down approach with a purpose in mind and choosing the model to match).

So I turned to the ‘net for advice. As helpful as my Twitter followers were, “what is a decent PC spec for the average home user?” is a pretty subjective question and the answers ranged from “I love my Core i7-powered beast” to “Core i3 should be fine”, with some suggesting that i3 might not have enough grunt and I should get an i5 instead. As it happened, there was a similar Core i5 model at the same price as the i3, but with 4GB RAM instead of 6GB, so I got the insurance company to plump for the faster processor (I can add RAM later).

Wikipedia was also useful, for reading up on graphics chipsets (to work out why the Intel HD Graphics 3000 chipset was an improvement on the Intel GMA X3100 in the old PC – don’t be fooled by the smaller number, it seems), and to confirm that I wasn’t getting a modern version of a budget Celeron processor.

One website really stood out though with great advice on the various processors and how they compared to each other. That site was (I was looking at the Intel Core i3-2350M and Core i5-2450M) and I’m pretty sure I’ll be revisiting when I need to compare specs again in future…

Innovation abuse

This content is 11 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Last week I was attending some product awareness training where claims were being made that a particular vendor’s servers were “innovative”. “Really?”, I thought, “how’s that then?”. I decided not to ask as I’d already been quite disruptive about the presenter’s use of out-of-date analyst reports on CIO priorities but they may well be – I just want to know how.

A day later, I was presented with a pop-up ad for the latest version of Microsoft Windows Server, with a big neon sign that says “Insert Innovation Here”. Sounds interesting – but a click through leads me to a standard marketing web page about the product’s capabilities – nothing obvious about how it will help me be innovative.

Let’s be clear – innovation is far more than just a buzzword on a website or a slide deck.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve worked alongside the guys in our organisation that run services and networks (communities) around open innovation within our organisation and with our partners and customers. I haven’t been directly involved, but one message has hit home pretty hard.

Innovation is about:

Problem + Solution = Value.

In other words, I have a problem (generally a business problem) to which I would like to apply an (innovative) solution to increase the value. Innovation is not to be confused with invention but it is about finding new and better ways to do things.

Marketing materials promoting innovation are generally just that – marketing. Maybe next time you see someone claiming to be innovative, you might ask them how they are – what is it about the way they work that captures innovative ideas to apply to business problems and derive additional value – at the very least it will be an interesting discussion.

Could not read the calendar. Outlook cannot open this item. The item may be damaged!

This content is 11 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Somtimes, I could cheerfully dump my corporate laptop* and this week has been no exception with abysmally slow performance, new software installs that require reboots and then, after working well (so nothing to do with the Cisco unified communications integration components that I installed yesterday), Outlook decided that it didn’t like my calendar any more. Other people’s calendars were fine; other folders (Inbox, etc.) were fine; and the calendar data was fine, as long as I didn’t want a day/week/month view.

Could not read the calendar. Outlook cannot open this item. The item may be damaged.

OK, but which item? I could take a guess that this was something to do with a corrupted offline folders (.OST) file but a bit of Googling turned up a fix.  In a TechNet Forum post Exchange MVP Rich Matheisen suggests deleting the OST file (the location of this can be found from Outlook’s Account Settings), then running outlook /cleanfreebusy to create a new .OST and pull down the free/busy calendar information.

One slight snag was that I couldn’t rename/delete the existing Outlook.OST file because it was in use. This time, Windows was a little more helpful with its error reporting, telling me that the Microsoft Windows Search Protocol Host had the file open. The answer was to open services.msc, stop the Windows Search service, then work on the Outlook.OST file, before restarting the Windows Search service.

Outlook is now happy again, but I’m not convinced it would have been any quicker to go via the official support channels (probably would have necessitated a visit to the office for the deskside support guys to take a look) than to self-support… which makes me wonder if corporate IT budgets would be better spent on providing cross-platform technology services, rather than maintaining and supporting standard PC builds?

* I make no secret that I’m not a fan of standard operating environments (“gold brick” PC builds) with layers and layers of “security” software. Even though I spent many years implementing such solutions (and reaping the rewards in terms of reduced support costs, etc.), it’s an outdated model that has no place in an age of consumerisation (for many knowledge workers at least – of course, there are exceptions, e.g. in heavily regulated environments). There are many who will say, “so what do you suggest instead?”, to which my response is: a) read this post; b) think about how to secure your data, not your devices; c) empower users to choose their own devices/apps where they wish (accepting that a bring your own model is not for all, but it’s time to move away from a device/operating system centric model to one that focuses on data and applications).

Re-imagination and business: Antony Mayfield at #SMWB2B

This content is 11 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Last week, I wrote about the first keynote speech at the fifth B2B Huddle, from Microsoft’s Dave Coplin. It’s taken me a few days to get this post up but the next “act” was Antony Mayfield (@AMayfield), who spoke about advanced persistent opportunities: re-imagination and business (in other words, looking for new ways of working that are not from past business models).

[slideshare id=14428574&doc=dellb2bhuddle-aptbybrilliantnoise-120924064815-phpapp02]

One of the early points that Antony made in his presentation is that there are no real case studies for this topic (everyone is at the start of a journey – there is nothing definitive) which is an interesting observation. He did suggest though, that there are some useful resources out there in the form of Mary Meeker’s [and Liang Wu’s] State of the Internet report and Kevin Kelly (former editor of Wired)’s What Technology Wants.  Another interesting quote that Antony used was attributed to Marc Andreessen (web browser pioneer turned venture capitalist) who was cited as saying that “the future is six months away” or, in other words, the limit for any sure-fire bets in the world of the Internet and social media is much shorter than the business and marketing plans that we use, so we need to find a new way of working…

One area where people constantly have to re-imagine models is that of security – with constant threats and risks. One particular form is that of the advanced persistent threat (APT). These are not one-off attacks but are very serious and often related to organised crime although hacktivists and governments also represent APTs.

Applying the same thoughts to social business, there is no such thing as the definitive social business strategy – strategy is seen as something distant. Strategy should be thought of as an advanced persistent opportunity. Strategy is fluid and social media is the context. Social media is a proxy for change but it is an approach, not a technology.

Antony then went on to talk about social marketing and its relationship with social brands and social businesses, building up to “six brilliant things” for successful brands to follow [in their social media marketing].

  1. Leadership: Mandate and licence for change is clear. Antony cited Burberry as a case study where the CEO ambition was one of a digital brand. Following successful pilots, Burberry built an in-house content team and a social media approach based around a community that, once built, drives the brand.
  2. Vision and values: They know what and who they are for. In place of the recognised purchase funnel (awareness, consideration, decision, buy [, loyalty]), today’s decision journey is one of a “loyalty loop”  (as described by McKinsey and Company as far back as 2009). Brands like Nokia are embracing this cycle of consideration, evaluation, purchase but then building enjoyment, advocacy and bonding with the brand and a Harvard Business Review article looks at branding in the digital age and how many organisations are spending their money in the wrong places.
  3. Principles: How they will operate with social/digital. Again, Nokia was the case study cited by Mayfield (Brilliant Noise has a paper on Nokia’s global social media strategy), with six principles for digital engagement – effectively “the right ways to behave”: 1. Consider the social opportunity in everything we do; engage in better conversations with more consumers; deliver personal experiences, be authentic, and earn trust; sharing is more important than control; define clear objectives from the outset; invest and commit to social presences.  These are a great starting point for developing a set of principles for an organisation but, to give another example, the UK Government Digital Service sets out its own seven  digital principles to follow:
    The 7 GDS digital principles
  4. Pilot and scale: [Have the] Will to try things, [and the] will to scale things that work. Nike was the quoted case study here, building relationships and viewing campaigns as an investment, rather than straight spending.
  5. Frameworks and governance: Systems to guide pioneers and connect key stakeholders. IBM’s investment model has moved from a traditional campaign model of spend, followed by attention to one of consistent spending targetted on building a community (creating an “S curve” of attention, rather than peaks) – but this is hard work and requires a continued focus.
  6. Digital literacy: investing in skills across the organisation. Examples here are the Nokia Socializer and the Dell Social Media University.

Antony Mayfield believes that social business is a journey and, just as we embark on personal journeys to move from reading, to marking favourites, sharing, commenting, posting, creation, and [perhaps] starting a group in an ever-more-steep curve there are Business models such as Red Ant’s 5 stages of: traditional  experimental, operational  measurable and  fully engaged social business.  Some organisations might want more detail

Some organisations want detailed ideas but ultimately, says Antony, we need to re-imagine everything (or someone will do it for you…).


For those who would like to watch Antony Mayfield’s B2B Huddle presentation, a copy is embedded below:

Tour of Britain photo shoot

This content is 11 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

The rest of Team Sky (3)

Today, I’m not at work. In fact, as you read this, I should be starting to make my way back from North Yorkshire after a long weekend of photography (heavy rain/floods permitting).  It all started a few years ago when my long-suffering wife suggested that, instead of hijacking our family holidays and leaving her on her own in a cottage (without power on one memorable occasion) whilst I go out to take pictures, I should have a couple of dedicated weekends a year instead. So, that’s what I’ve be doing this weekend!

Getting read for my jaunt to Whitby, the surrounding coast and the North Yorkshire Moors reminded me of my last photography outing – a trip to watch the Welsh stage of the Tour of Britain a couple of weeks ago.  I contemplated trying to catch the race in two places but, in the end, decided that Welsh roads, traffic and weather were likely to conspire against me getting ahead of the peloton so, after a quick location scout on an already-crowded Caerphilly Mountain, I took up position back in the town, sitting on a street sign, on the last corner before the finish line, in a spot where I should see the riders come past me twice.

"This is the line..."I was amazed at how close to the action it’s possible to get with the Tour of Britain. Back in the mid-90s I went to watch some stages of the Network Q RAC Rally and could literally stand on the side of a forest track half way up a mountain as cars shot past at very high speed but I imagine these days “health and safety” have taken over and it must be a lot more controlled. The last kilometre of the cycling has barriers for crowd control but with two loops of Caerphilly Mountain inside towards the end of the race the crowds were up there, rather than in town. I later saw from the television pictures that the mountain spectators were all over the road, right up to the riders, shouting encouragement, just like on a stage of the Tour de France or Vuelta a España – very un-British and fantastic to see.

I know we’ve had an amazingly successful summer of cycling here in the UK with the Team Sky/Bradley Wiggins Tour de France success, followed by the Olympics (road and track) and even a fourth place for Chris Froome in the Vuelta but it was great to see so many people out for the Tour of Britain. Sadly, Wiggo pulled out of the Tour that day and mountains were never going to lead to a strong finish for Cav (his last few days in the rainbow Jersey) but it was great to see another Brit in the shape of Jonathan Tiernan-Locke take the Gold jersey (before he went on to win the Tour two days later).Matt Stephens  After the presentations, I could (almost) get to the Team Sky bus (the “Death Star”), could definitely get close to the other teams, and even managed to say hello to Matt Stephens (Race Controller and TV Presenter). Unlike some sports, it seems that the stars of professional road race cycling are still (reasonably) accessible for the fans.

My #ToB2012 in numbers: stage 6; 405m/8h15 travel; 3h wait; 2 cameras; 621 images/1 video to edit; 1 autograph :-) Thanks @
Mark Wilson

Although my wife thought I was mad to drive to Wales and wait around for hours to take some pics of blokes on bikes zooming past, I had a great day out.  Here are a selection of the images from that day – and I’ll be back at my desk and blogging again later in the week, hopefully with a load more pictures to share.