Some SharePoint tips/tricks for editing list forms and hiding standard page elements

Over the last couple of years, I’ve written a few SharePoint-based blog posts as I’ve hacked my way around the company’s infrastructure, trying to get it working the way I’d like it to (creating dashboards, adding the odd bit of workflow and custom columns to pre-populate list data, embedding video, etc.).  There’s a rumour that we might get SharePoint 2013 soon but, for now, all of my hacks/tweaks have been based on 2007.

In the last few weeks, one of the projects I’ve been involved in has taken a major step forward, engaging a real designer and a real web developer, instead of li’l ol’ me.  From my perspective, this has been great news, although there have been some times when I’ve questioned the maintainability of custom code used in situations that have caused problems in the past (e.g. to edit the default forms used for displaying list items).

As you might expect, I’ve also picked up a couple of tips, working alongside some experts – and I thought I’d make a quick note of them here, for future reference.

Editing list forms without using SharePoint Designer

First up, a handy little trick to edit list forms (like DispForm.aspx) without having to resort to using SharePoint Destroyer Designer, which is little more than Microsoft FrontPage (just about OK in it’s day but long past its sell-by date now). Just add ToolPaneView=2 into the query string, for example http://sharepoint.intranet.com/00001/Lists/ListName/DispForm.aspx?ToolPaneView=2.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to work on my Office 365 SharePoint site, so it might be 2007-only but useful nevertheless. In our case, this was used to add a (hidden) Content Editor Web Part with some jQuery and CSS to style up the form.

Hiding page elements

Sometimes, there are standard elements of a page that you don’t want to display and, without access to the templates used on a corporate site, that might be difficult. As it happens, all that’s required is a little in-line CSS, included in a (hidden) Content Editor Web Part:

Just use the Developer Tools in Internet Exploder (or similar in your choice of browser – although, if you’re using SharePoint 2007, it probably will be IE) to find the class of the element to be hidden. In this case, I removed some standard text that was inserted below the breadcrumb trail at the top of the page but I’ve also seen it used to hide the page title and it could be applied to other elements too.

Credits: Thanks to Steve Haxell for sharing these methods with me.

Displaying a widget on a single WordPress post

I’ve used WordPress’ conditional tags in the past, for example to make sure that something only shows on a certain type of page or post but, a few months ago, I wanted to limit some code to only run on a specific post – and that was proving to be a challenge.  Then I found a useful plugin called Widget Logic.  As the name suggests, it adds some logic to widgets such that they only appear according to the rules specified using conditional tags.

All I needed to add was is_single('postnumber') to limit the widget to appearing only on the post I specified.  It’s also been handy to limit my warning that older content may be out of date so that it’s not shown on pages, only on posts (using !is_page()).

Presenting a warning for potentially outdated blog content

My older blog posts still seem to generate the odd bit of interest with people posting and asking for advice on potentially out-of-date topics (although one about Photoshop 7 crashing on startup is still one of my most popular posts!)

Some time ago, I decided to add a warning to these pages, to say something like “This post was originally published in 2011 and its contents may now be out-of-date.”

It’s implemented as a bit of PHP code in a WordPress widget:

1 ) { ?>

Warning

This post was originally published in and its contents may now be out-of-date.

Nothing particularly clever here, but it struck me that this might be useful for other WordPress site owners…

Faster websites, better photography, a better browser, great conferences and a better life (#MKGN)

Last night was the fourth of the tremendously successful MK Geek Nights (MKGN), organised by David Hughes (@DavidHughes) and Richard Wiggins (@RichardWiggins).

And what a night it was.  Interesting and inspiring talks from great speakers, as usual – and I promised I’d write a summary blog post so here it is, albeit a little longer and a little later than planned…

Adventures with Google PageSpeed

Kier Whitaker (@kierwhitaker) kicked off the evening, with a few tips for speeding up websites:

  1. Make fewer HTTP requests:
    • Each JS or CSS file and every image is a round trip across the network. The fewer trips made across a congested network, the faster the page loads.
  2. Use Minify to compress and concatenate CSS and JS files :
    • Codekit is one option for embedding Minify in your workflow; there are command line tools too.
    • Consider using a master file with imports and then minify to compress the output (might not be so useful as an approach when working in teams).
  3. Optimise your images:
    • ImageOptim is one option – and even that 50-60-70% the images can still look great.
    • Apparently, Photoshop’s Export to Web functionality is not so good [damn!].
  4. Only use what you need:
    • When working with libraries, you don’t have to use all of Modernizr, jQuery, etc. – maybe just include the parts that you need (e.g. AJAX and not the whole library).
  5. CSS at the top, JS at the bottom:
    • This is a simplistic rule and you might need to break it sometimes (e.g. to stop a flash of unstyled type when using Typekit).
    • It’s about percieved speed rather than actual page loads [but perception is reality].
  6. HTTP compression:
    • Use GZIP compression on the server. On Apache this can be configured using .htaccess or in httpd.conf.
  7. Browser caching:
    • Make the browser keep a copy of the file – if only a page is only updated infrequently, you can cache for longer. Images, etc. can have long expiry but it’s not so great on dynamic sites!
    • Have a look at the HTML5boilerplate .htaccess file for inspiration – and read up on “cache busting”.
  8. Enable HTTP keep-alive:
    • By keep the connection open for a few more seconds, you can lose the overhead of additional requests.
  9. Cache dynamic content:
    • WordPress is quite heavy and can have 15-16 database queries on a simple home page. If you can cache the output then serve a flat file, this can save time.
    • Rails and many PHP frameworks have similar concepts.
  10. Use a content delivery network:
  11. Beware of boilerplates:
    • Boilerplates can leave behind a lot of unnecessary resources (e.g. favicons) – and these might even be downloading your 404 page if they are not present!
    • Check to see that all the assets you reference actually exist…
  12. Test widely:
    • Try a few sites to help optimise your code (e.g. Google PageSpeed; Yahoo Yslow; WebPageTest.org).
    • Kier likes the detail with WebPageTest.org and it provides two views – one for a fresh request and another to see how effective caching is.
    • Beware that the sites might contradict each other.
    • Also use developer tools in browsers, like the Google Chrome Inspector – look at the network tab and see when resources are loaded from cache, etc. (examine the headers too).

Once you’ve implemented a few tweaks, you might find that the last few percent to get to perfect are difficult – there are some things that you just can’t control. But, on a big website, incremental changes add up to big improvements – you might want a strategy to tray and work things out.

My site scores 84/100 on Google PageSpeed so it looks like I have some work to do…

Better photography by design

I’ve been taking photos for nearly 35 years and I’m still rubbish at it. Well, maybe not rubbish but I maintain there’s two sides to photography: anyone can learn the technical stuff; but, to create great images, you need to have a creative eye…

Al Power (@alpower) gave a great 5 minute talk on taking better pictures – not rocket science but some simple steps that everyone can take to get much better results.

“So, what makes a good photo?” asked Al:

  • Is it camera gear?
    • Not really, you can probably push your existing one. It’s often said that the best camera is the one you have with you… whether that’s a smartphone or a DSLR.
  • Composition plays a big part and Al showed four examples:
    • A skater: moving from left to right, gives a sense of motion. Leave some negative space for the skater to move into. And their legs and arms form triangles.
    • A spiral staircase: the shape and lines of the staircase lead the viewer into the picture. Repeated shapes and patterns work well.
    • A jetty: lead-in lines capture attention and bring the viewer into the image.
    • A beach: using the rule of thirds to divide the image into nine segments, and to place things on grid lines/intersections.
  • Try a different perspective:
    • Take the same shot from different angles, maybe three or four times. High or low, zoomed in or out – see what works.
  • Use the light:
    • Light is probably the most important control for a picture.
    • You can take great pictures in any conditions – but direct sunshine is not always good: perhaps place a subject under a tree in direct shade and use even, reflected light; on cloudy days sky is huge lightbox; the time of day makes a difference too
  • Learn how to process your pictures:
    • With a DSLR – raw images are amazingly powerful.
    • Use Snapseed on iOS and Android.
    • On a PC or Mac, use iPhoto, Picassa, Lightroom or Aperture.
    • Attend a workshop, watch some of Adobe’s videos, or a find a good YouTube channel.
  • Practice and look for inspiration:
    • Henri Cartier-Bresson was quoted as “your first 10,000 photos are your worst”.
    • No-one was born an amazing photographer and we’re on a journey – “give yourself permission to suck”, says Al – and practice.
    • Work out what tricks are employed by those that inspire you – break them down and apply them to your own images.

A web developers guide to Windows 8

Martin Beeby kicked off with a self-deprecating video, for all of us Internet Exploder lovers:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gp-FQN_v3AM]

Then he moved on to tell us about modern.ie – a website to help developers design for Internet Explorer 10 and see if and where the might be problems, if they are using out of date libraries, or vendor prefixes that are no longer required. One example of the tips included is this code to ensure that a responsive site really is responsive, making sure that it displays properly when running on the side of a Windows 8 display:

@-ms-viewport{width: device-width;}

There’s also advice on creating icons that will look good on a Windows 8 desktop – and a 3 month subscription to BrowserStack for cross-browser testing.

Moving past modern.ie, Martin explained that Windows 8 can run HTML and JavaScript apps locally – so web developers can be app developers too – and, of course, because this is Windows 8, we were encouraged to embrace touch…

I only wish that the video Martin wrapped up his talk with was available on the web (I’m told it will be soon)… if I ever see it again, I’ll tweet the link…

The value of conferences

I had high hopes for this talk – I need to convince my new boss’ boss that there is value in conferences. And there is – but Craig Lockwood (@CraigInWales)’s talk started out by talking about the costs…

  • The costs to the organiser: a venue; speakers (fees and expenses); marketing (lanyards, programs, promo codes for discounts, etc.); insurance (weather, speaker sickness, etc.); judgement (you can’t please everyone – someone will be unhappy); refreshments; and time.
  • The costs to the speaker(s): time (to write a talk); judgement (what might others say they think of you?)
  • The costs to the attendee: ticket costs; travel; accommodation; and time

So what does this mean? Why do we need conferences? After all, Craig exclaimed, plumbers don’t get together to discuss latest pipe techniques! Our techniques and even the canvas we work on changes too regularly to keep up so we share information. Freelancing can be a lonely job – so meetups are great to build relationships and share knowledge.

Twitter, suggests Craig, has become the watercooler and conferences are the parties. Of course, some idiots still spoil things and some conferences find that they now need codes of conduct! So be respectful – it’s fine to disagree (respectfully) – but we should air our grievances personally and not publicly [Hmm… I once blogged about a pretty awful vendor event… think I might be guilty there].

But think about this quote too, attributed to Ling Valentine (@LINGsCARS):

“If nobody hates your website, chances are nobody loves it either.”

“I have no idea what I’m doing”

The final talk was from Simon Collison (@colly) and I just can’t do it justice in written form. Listen to the audio and then think about your own life and what you’re doing right now:

[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/84445771″ params=”” width=” 100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

This hit home for me: I’m just starting a new job; it’s going to be a challenge – but that’s exactly what I need. As for keeping up with blogs, tweets, magazines, books – I’m drowning. And don’t get me started on the systems I use at work (admittedly not quite as chaotic as the setup Simon describes at Fictive Kin…)

So when does this happen again?

The next MKGN is on 13 June and all 200 tickets “sold out” in just 2 hours (can a free event sell out?!). There’s a waitlist in operation and it’s definitely worth signing up if you’re in the area and you are interested in webby-creative-designer-digital-makery-slightly-geeky-stuff, washed down with a beer or two and followed by pizza! I’ve even met some people there in real life that I only knew on Twitter before…

HomePlug Ethernet, part 2

For the last week or so, our living room has been out of bounds as we installed a new fireplace, redecorated and are now getting a new carpet fitted. That means all of the furniture has moved out to another room – and that includes our Smart TV.

After months of near-perfect video streaming over the Power Ethernet connection that I wrote about in November, I’ve had to go wireless again, and that means lots of buffering, etc. – despite the TV being right next to the Apple AirPort Express that I’m pretty sure should be repeating the signal.  That’s prompted me to a) do something about it as it will be another week or so before the Xbox and Smart TV are back in the living room and b) write this post about my experiences with my Power Ethernet TP1000 sockets.

Installation

If you can install a 2-gang (double) power socket, you can install a Power Ethernet socket*.  Simply turn off the power at the mains (consumer unit), disconnect the existing socket wiring, connect the TP1000  – and you’ll have a single power socket and four Ethernet ports in place of the two power sockets that were there originally.  Repeat for the second socket (you need a pair to work together) and a mesh network is created automatically. Simple!

A few points to note:

  1. Depending on the depth of the pattress or wall box that your socket uses, you may need a “spacer” to increase the depth to at least 35mm. I found that the wall box for my living room (standard fit for an early-1990s house with dry lined “dot and dab” walls) was too shallow but some spacers were included with my sockets.
  2. Even with the spacer, it’s still a tight fit (the back of the TP1000 is bulkier than a standard switched double socket) and I moved the point at which the ring main entered the wall box by a couple of centimetres to improve access to the wiring connections.
  3. The TP1000 power socket is unswitched. That’s not a problem for me, but may be a concern for some people.
  4. Although the facia plate for the TP1000 is white, the unit itself is grey (and my spacers were white). Also, it has rounded corners, which look nice, but are difficult to match with existing sockets (or the spacer).  Again, not a problem for me (the socket is hidden behind our TV stand) but it would be good to see Power Ethernet devices available in a selection of finishes to match the most commonly used electrical fittings here in the UK.

Use

It’s a power socket, just use it as normal.

And it’s an Ethernet switch with four connections. Just use them as normal. Of course, one end will need to be connected to your Internet connection – for me, this is via the wired LAN in my home office, without any need for cross-over cables.

Performance

For many years, I avoided Ethernet over power line solutions because I was concerned about interoperability between the various standards, and I’d heard stories of poor performance. Of course, this will vary tremendously based on the electrical wiring in use but I’ve been pretty impressed with the Power Ethernet devices. Bear in mind that my primary use is to stream TV from the Internet (BBC iPlayer, for example), so the bottleneck is my “up to 8Mbps” ADSL2 connection, but  I’m having no issues at all, even streaming HD content.

It’s difficult to measure the true throughput of the network but the Power Ethernet Management Software (PEMS) suggests I’m sustaining a connection at around 160Mbps and the initial connection speed often rises over time.  Tests using file transfers (for example, using NetCPS) suggested lower transfer rates but it’s still far better than over Wi-Fi – and seems more reliable.

The TP1000 Ethernet sockets also go into standby mode when not in use, which obviously has an environmental (and fiscal) impact, but they are quick to “resume” when a device is plugged in to one of the RJ45 connections or switched on, taking just a few seconds to establish a connection as normal.

Management

As I mentioned above, Power Ethernet provides management software  for the Ethernet switches inside the TP1000s. I’m not using the advanced functionality (e.g. setting up VLANs or QoS) but those sorts of capabilities will be extremely useful in an office environment and it’s still useful to be able to see the topology of the network, check out the port states, monitor bandwidth and otherwise manage the devices from a single location. Supplied as a Microsoft ClickOnce application, I did initially have some problems installing the software but Power Ethernet were able to take my log files and quickly resolve the issue. Since then, PEMS has automatically updated itself to the latest software release with absolutely no problems and apart from a few display problems (which may be due to the fact I’m running it on a Windows Server 2008 R2 machine, and connecting via RDP), it’s been pretty solid.

Power Ethernet Management Software

Interoperability

I mentioned that my SmartTV is temporarily in a different location (approx 8m from the nearest Ethernet socket) and, faced with an inability to watch iPlayer without buffering, I needed to set something up.  As this is a temporary fix and I don’t think Power Ethernet sockets are available with a brushed metal finish, I picked up a single TP-Link AV200 Nano powerline adapter (TL-PA211). It’s not as neat but it’s no worse than a 12V DC “brick” and it’s fine for a temporary setup. And, because both the TP-Link and the Power Ethernet sockets are HomePlug compatible, it instantly joined the mesh so I was connected to my Internet connection right away with no further configuration required.  What I did find is that the TP-Link connection is slower – which may be down to the the household electrical wiring or the device chipset (the TP-Link device uses the Intellon INT6000 chipset, whilst the TP1000 uses the Qualcomm Atheros INT6400) – but PEMS recognises a third party device and has shown me connection speeds in the range of 85-115 Mbps – which is still pretty decent and far more than my broadband connection!

Summary

I’ve been really pleased with my Power Ethernet TP1000s and I’d certainly recommend them for home or small business use. The management software can be a little clunky but it’s only really needed if you want to manage the embedded Ethernet switch, which is overkill for my simple home setup. And, whilst they may not be the cheapest HomePlug devices on the market, there are some significant advantages in terms of physical security, aesthetics and performance – and there’s always the option to combine with other 200Mbps HomePlug devices where appropriate. If you’re looking for an alternative to Wi-Fi, and running CAT5/6 is not an option, I seriously recommend taking a look at Power Ethernet.

 

* Of course, if you’re not confident in doing this, then consult an electrician. I’m not qualified to give electrical advice – I’m just a “competent DIYer”.

Recommended listening: MK Geek Night recordings on “the high cost of free” and “so you have an app idea?”

Tomorrow night is MK Geek Night and the event continues to gain in popularity, “selling” out in just 8 hours, with a huge waiting list.  Last month I wrote some brief highlights, and hinted that I might like to follow up with more detail on a couple of the talks. Unfortunately, that’s not happened but audio from all five of the “MKGN 3” talks is available on SoundCloud.

I particularly recommend checking out Aral Balkan (@Aral)’s talk on the high cost of free – a talk that seems particularly pertinent each time a “free” product hits the news, whether that’s Google Reader being withdrawn, Facebook changing the terms of use for Instagram or Twitter changing its API…

[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/77380899″ params=”” width=” 100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

Meanwhile, if its mobile application development that floats your boat, Dave Addey (@DaveAddey)’s talk might help you to decide if your app idea really is a good one…

[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/77379487″ params=”” width=” 100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

Watch this space for highlights from tomorrow night’s event.

The conference call productivity drain…

The following script is based on a real conference call. The names and times have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent but, other than that, it’s pretty accurate:

9:45 (15 minutes before the meeting): Reminder pops up, “snooze” it until 5 minutes before.

9:55: I’ll just finish writing this email… I wonder, was there any preparation required for this meeting? I haven’t done any but no-one else will have either…

9:59: Ah yes, that meeting – how long?! An  hour and a half! Dial the conference service. What was the meeting passcode again? Got it, I’m in. Ah, hold music.

10:00 (advertised meeting start time): “The chairperson has not arrived. Please wait…” more hold music.

Just after 10:00: Call is opened, just two people so far. Social chat about what’s going on.

10:01: Someone else joins the call. Say hello, bring them into the chat. More banter.

10:02: Two more attendees join. Roll call. Explain that we’re waiting for a few more.

10:03: More attendees. Almost quorate now. Roll call, just waiting for Michael and Stuart. Michael did say he would join but, in the interests of time, start the meeting.

10:05: Michael joins the call. Apologies for lateness. Quick roll call and bring up to speed on introduction. Start meeting properly.

10:07: Stuart joins the call. He’s in the same building as the meeting organiser and wants to join in person. He’s told the room number and drops off the call.

(call continues for another hour or so…)

This is “normal”?! Several middle-managers, not exactly inexpensive resources, waste time waiting for others to get themselves organised. A few minutes, multiplied by several attendees soon becomes an hour of lost productivity for the company.  I’ve even seen this on calls with hundreds of people (literally) waiting.

I admit, sometimes meetings over-run for good reasons. Only last week I had to delay a meeting and missed another two calls completely because an important issue arose which needed immediate resolution (a personnel issue – and people trump process in my mental rule-book) so I allowed a meeting to over-run. I tried to keep others informed though, rather than leaving them hanging on a conference call waiting for me to arrive.

But, in our organisation, people accept the sort of practice I’ve laid out above as normal (or at least, they tolerate it) and I’ve coined a term to describe the company timezone (which is 3 minutes after the real time).

The thing is, we’re not alone. That’s why I feel comfortable talking about this issue on a public forum – it happens in organisations all over the country – indeed, all over the world, all of the time.

Yesterday, Matt Ballantine published a blog post entitled “clock watching”, in which he suggests it’s not collaboration tools we need, it’s somebody asking “why are we meeting?”. Quoting from Matt’s post:

“Imagine if the workflow for setting up a meeting, rather than being ‘find a slot available for the attendees, book the meeting’, was more like:

– state the objectives and outcomes required for the meeting
– understand who might be active participants
– describe who should be informed, yet not necessarily attend
– validate that this will require a meeting to achieve the necessary outcomes
– plan out the activities for the session
– validate again that a meeting is the best route for the outcomes to be achieved
– work out the correct time for the meeting
– find an appropriate time slot for the meeting
– send out participant briefing notes to everyone concerned”

For a while now, I’ve been asking “Do you need me on this call? I’m not sure what value I’ll be adding”. In future I’ll be more strict. And I’ll be starting the meetings that I control right on time, rather than when we have most people on the call. If people realise that they miss things by turning up late, maybe they will be more punctual? Or maybe I just need to chill out?

Lego: the best value toy that money can buy (and tracking down replacement parts)

Thirty years ago, I was a ten-year old boy who spent a huge amount of time building Lego models, usually to be destroyed by my younger brother*. Today, my sons are playing with that same Lego, supplemented by a growing number of sets of their own (slowly taking over our house in spite of my efforts to contain it to the living room and their bedrooms).

Imitation sets are just not as good

There have been a few sets gifted from others that are not “real” Lego.  It may sound ungrateful but these mostly have been passed on to charity shops as either:

  • They had black and white instructions that were difficult to follow.
  • They needed us to download and print the instructions ourselves (surprisingly expensive and impractical).
  • They just didn’t fit together as well as real Lego (the models are too fragile).

Whether it’s Knex, MegaBlox or one of the plethora of wannabees, it seems that imitation Lego is really just a false economy.

Sourcing replacements for broken parts

One of the properties of Lego bricks is that they are incredibly strong. Anyone who’s every stood on one whilst walking bare-foot can tell you that! But, ever so occasionally, a practically indestructible Lego part gets broken and, faced with an inconsolable eight-year-old who wanted to use a 2×2 plate with ball connector that had snapped off (“it’s really rare and we’ve only got about 2 of them Dad”), I set about locating replacements (super glue had done a better job of sticking my fingers together than it did two pieces of Lego…).

There are various Lego parts databases online, as well as sites specialising in selling second-hand Lego parts (although parts availability can be patchy). I found the BrickSet Lego Brick Guide to be comprehensive, accurate and easy to work with (it ought to be – I’ve just noticed it’s an official Lego site!) and I searched for the part I needed, using a set number that I knew it appeared in.

Lego’s parts replacement service is not available in all countries and I couldn’t find it via the UK website but a friend who used to work at Lego said they often sent out parts to replace broken/missing pieces. So, after locating the exact part, I went to Lego’s replacement parts system and requested a new piece.

This is where Lego excelled. Not only did they replace that part but I also asked for replacements for some others that had become broken over the years and Lego shipped them, free of charge. I would have paid for them, if I could find them but Lego’s customer service is so good and their confidence in the quality of the product so strong that they will replace the broken pieces.

The real value of Lego

I can’t think of any other toy that’s provided as much play value as Lego and it was interesting to read an article about how Lego’s price has changed over the years (it’s not as expensive as it first seems).  Then, last weekend, my sons spent their pocket money on some more.  My 6 year-old plumped for some Lego Star Wars sets (no surprises there) but my 8 year-old bought a battery pack, motor, lights, switch and gears.

Over the next few days, he built a vehicle that drives itself, worked out how best to arrange the gears and motor, how to make it stronger, how to tweak the electrics so that the lights came on separately to the motor. Each iterative change brought improvements, and taught him a little more about making things work. In short, Lego taught him about physics, engineering, electronics (arguably innovation too…) – all with very little input from me.  Whilst my wife is looking for ways to feed his interest (and apparent aptitude) for STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics. I think we might get quite a long way just by buying lots of Lego Technics and Mindstorms!

 

* On one notable occasion I “left home”, aged 7, walking out after my brother broke up a Lego model I’d created… I came home a few hours later in a panda car

Fixing iPass and Virgin Trains Wi-Fi authentication issues

Connected to Virgin Trains Wi-Fi using iPassAlthough I travel on Virgin Trains pretty frequently, it’s usually only from Milton Keynes to London Euston and not worth getting my laptop out of my bag. Now, I’m finding myself travelling to Manchester more often and working on the train is a major advantage over driving.

Virgin has Wi-Fi on its trains, which is complementary in first class but chargable (at the usual extortionate rates) for those of us in the cheap seats. The company I work for provides me with an iPass client though, so I can use that to connect without hefty credit card fees and expense claims (at least on Windows I can, it wasn’t working for me on iOS last time I tried).

Lately though, I’ve found that the iPass client would connect to the VirginTrainsWiFi network and then present a pop-up asking me to pay for access.  That didn’t seem right, so I logged a call with our IT helpdesk… I’ll spare readers the details of that particular experience but I also spoke to Virgin’s Wi-Fi support team, who suggested I download an updated “phonebook” for the iPass client.  The client version that I’m using (2.3, I think) doesn’t have an option for a phonebook download but, with the help of some of the guys in our IT department, I found that the phonebook can get corrupted sometimes and the resolution is to remove and re-install the iPass client.

We don’t have a huge sample but I’m now told my fix (I’m connected on iPass, on the train right now) makes it a 100% success rate from 3 people with the problem.  Maybe it will help someone else out there on the ‘net too…