Coalface Tech: a podcast produced by IT pros for IT pros

This content is 16 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 Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Coalface Tech podcast graphicWay back in June, I wrote that James Bannan and I were thinking of launching a podcast – the theory being that we are both full-time IT guys who write about IT in our spare time, rather than professional journalists who write about IT but don’t need to worry about keeping the lights on.

Well, last month, we finally recorded the pilot episode for what has become known as “Coalface Tech”, and APC Mag has kindly given us a home on the web (multimedia downloads would blow my bandwidth allowance for this site very quickly!) – please do check it out and let us know what you think.

Please bear in mind that this is a pilot and we still have some work to do on the audio production (next time I will use a headset!) and the RSS feeds (for MP3 and AAC versions of the podcast) are not live yet so you can’t subscribe via iTunes (we’re working on it!). James and I are looking to schedule another recording soon but, in the meantime, check out the pilot episode – and please do leave a comment if you have any constructive feedback about podcast length, frequency, potential topics or anything else that seems relevant!

Some more useful Hyper-V links

This content is 16 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 Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Regular readers will have realised by now that the frequency of posts on this blog is almost inversely proportional to the amount of my spare time that the day job eats up and, after a period of intense blogging when I had a fairly light workload, the last couple of weeks have left little time for writing (although James Bannan and I did finally record the pilot episode of our new podcast last night… watch this space for more information).

In the absence of my planned post continuing the series on Microsoft Virtualization and looking at application virtualisation (which will make an appearance, just maybe not until next week), here are a few Hyper-V links that might come in useful (supplementing the original list of Hyper-V links I published back in July):

We’ve been thinking about launching a podcast…

This content is 16 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.

One of the things I’ve learnt over the last few years is that blogging takes time. Time is not something I have a lot of right now and, rather than reducing my workload, I’m thinking of increasing it by adding a podcast to the mix!

Actually, it was the Australian-based tech-writer James Bannan, whose work has appeared in APC Magazine (amongst other places), who dropped me a line to suggest we create a podcast and I figured it could be fun. James and I met at last year’s Windows Server 2008 Worldwide Technical Workshop and are slightly unusual in that we are technicians first and “journalists” second whereas the majority of podcasters are the other way around. (I put the J word in quotes because, even though it’s appropriate for James, I don’t use it to describe my writing…)

I listen to (or watch) quite a few podcasts myself and I’ve got a reasonable idea of what works well and what makes me unsubscribe but I thought I’d ask the question here on the blog. If James and I were to start an IT podcast (perhaps monthly – as weekly would have too big an impact on our other activities), would you listen to it? What would you like to get out of it? How long should each episode run for? Where do you like to get your podcasts from (e.g. iTunes, or somewhere else)? And in what format (MP3, AAC, etc.)? Are there any topics you like us to cover?

Leave a comment on this post and we’ll try and incorporate some of your suggestions if possible.

Podcasts I listen to/watch

This content is 16 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.

After three years of listening to podcasts, I’ve recently been reviewing my selections. Some have been culled as a result so I made a list of what I consider to be hot – and what’s not.

I did write something about this a year or so back and I guess the list will be updated fairly frequently, so I’ve made it a page outside the normal blog structure

Podcasts I listen to/watch (revisited)

This content is 16 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.

It’s certainly not a directory, but here’s a list of what I consider to be good for keeping up with tech news and general geekiness and what’s been chopped from my iTunes because it went downhill…

What’s hot?

  • The Archers – the only soap opera worth bothing with!
  • Friday Night Comedy from the BBC. Taking over the Now Show’s feed, I get the News Quiz or the Now Show (whichever is in season), delivered to me automatically. Just a shame that licencing restrictions mean any commercial music is removed from the podcast version…
  • Guardian Tech Weekly – as the title suggest, a weekly technology update from The Gruniad. Definitely worth a listen.
  • Tekzilla. 1 minute daily tips with an end-of week tech magazine show.
  • Wired UK Podcast – a bit geeky at times and a bit too consumer-focused, but I like it.

And what’s not?

  • The Anderson Tapes. Clive Anderson’s weekly podcast for the Telegraph. Only ran for one series and sometimes the humour was a little too predictable.
  • The Digital Story. Derek Story has a lot of advice but I also have a stack of unlistened episodes… I never did manage to get into this one.
  • FLOSS Weekly. Interesting interviews with pioneers and leaders from the world of open source software. Unfortunately Leo Laporte butts in a little too often.
  • FT Digital Business podcast. This one’s a new one on me… could turn out to be an interesting insight into the world of business IT. Probably really interesting but I have too many podcasts to listen to and so little time.
  • iLifeZone. Podcast about the iApps on the Mac. Too many of Scott Bourne’s Mac fanboy views. Too much Mac elitism.
  • In Business. Interesting insight into global business issues. Interesting, but another podcast that I never found enough time to listen to regularly.
  • Inside the Net. Amber MacArthur and Leo Laporte used to interview lots of interesting Web 2.0 people. Then it went over to a live format (Net at Night) and I stopped listening.
  • MacBreak Tech. Sometimes interesting. Sometimes dull. Sometimes displaying complete ignorance for anything not developed in Cupertino and given a fancy UI. Changed names to Inside the Black Box and then stopped.
  • MacBreak. Pretty cool video podcast with lots of tips and tricks. I prefer Tekzilla though…
  • MacBreak Weekly. This one nearly got the chop for getting too long and being too fanboyish. Still there for the time being but on probation… Would be cool if it was just Merlin Mann, Alex Lindsay and Andy Ihnatko.
  • MacFormat – This Week. A bi-weekly podcast with news, reviews and tech tips from the world of the Macintosh. Saved me from reading the print magazine, which is probably why they stopped producing it!
  • MAKE Magazine podcast. Still waiting for me to find the time to watch some episodes…
  • Pad Addicts. British iPad podcast. Terrible production and presenters lacked any kind of authority. Imagine Chris Moyles ranting on about the iPad, but worse.
  • PixelPerfect. Still waiting for me to find the time to watch some episodes…
  • Podgrunt. It promised to tell us how to create podcasts but sadly it never got past the first episode.
  • Red Hat Magazine. A bi-monthly podcast that promised much from the world of open source but stopped being updated in November 2006.
  • Security Now. Interesting reviews of security issues. Sometimes a bit ignorant to enterprise IT issues – but certainly worth a listen for Steve Gibson‘s view on security. Leo Laporte drove me mad – I had to stop listening to this.
  • Slashdot Review. A roundup of the day’s news from Slashdot but it sent me to sleep… (not good whilst driving!)
  • Systm. A cool video podcast featuring loads of tech DIY projects. Originally started by Kevin Rose (of Digg fame), then off air for a while but came back to our screens in May 2007. Disappeared again.
  • This Week In Photography. Great digital photography podcast with some interesting guests. Even Scott Bourne’s not too annoying on this one and lots of interesting videos in the feed between the weekly audio shows. Too bad they spend so much time bragging about top-end Nikon and Canon DSLRs that most of us can only dream about… The episodes started getting a little too long, Frederick Van Johnson seemed to always ask the same question of all the guests, and I tuned out…
  • This Week In Tech. Started out as a great review of the week’s news. Then got too big for it’s boots – too much “personality” and not enough news. Culled from my iTunes after 3 years of listening…
  • Videogrunt. Could have been so good but suddenly stopped broadcasting after just 5 episodes of (very high quality) content.
  • Windows Weekly. Microsoft-focused Podcast with Paul Thurrott and Leo Laporte. Slightly too consumer-focused for my liking but that’s the way it is. Luckily they stopped doing phone-in episodes but I fear they may well start again now that the TWiT network is going “live”. This was the last of the TWiT podcasts to drop out of my list, but I couldn’t stand any more of Leo.
  • You and Yours Environment. Topical “Green” consumer issues. The BBC changed the way they distribute this and I stopped listening.

[Last updated 3 June 2008]
[Updated 21 September 2008]
[Updated 17 January 2009]
[Updated 5 April 2011]
[Updated 7 October 2011: converted from page to post; no longer “sticky”]

Keeping up with developments in photography

This content is 16 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.

I love to take photographs – and friends and family tell me I’m good at it – but it’s been a much maligned hobby in recent years, which is part of the reason the planned photo gallery has never made it onto this website (it will one day). I do dream though of making a living one day from creating fantastic images – making photographs rather than taking them (combining the art of creating a pleasing image that tells a story with the science of a technically perfect exposure) – and so I like to take in other people’s work for inspiration.

For many years, I have read photographic magazines like Practical Photography but, over time, I grew tired of the features (except for the odd two-page pages of commentary accompanied with a stunning image from professionals like David Noton) and found it all a little bit repetitive.

More recently I found alternative titles that catered to my needs like Digital SLR Photography but I just don’t have enough time to read photography magazines, computer magazines, IT trade publications, RSS feeds, and still fit in the odd interesting book, so I’ve started to listen to a new photography podcast when I’m in the car – This Week In Photography (TWIP).

I’ve not always been a fan of Scott Bourne’s work but Alex Lindsay really knows his stuff and, so far, TWIP has managed to avoid some of the pitfalls that have resulted in other podcasts (notably This Week In Tech – TWIT) from being removed from my iTunes subscription list, by keeping the show times down to around an hour, largely staying on topic (sticking with the content, rather than indulging in the “personalities”) and having interesting and varied content – covering the news. It’s also great that they use the chapter markings and enhanced functionality available in an AAC audio file (it’s really helpful to have an audio feature about photography that can actually show some images) as well as mixing video content into the feed to demonstrate some of the concepts.

The TWIP podcast also has a great blog – but, whilst there are other excellent resources on the ‘net (like ShutterBug and DP Review), it’s the podcast format that works for me – an hour of audio whilst I’m in the car or out walking, interjected with the odd short video. In the past I’ve tried other podcasts – like The Digital Story (audio) and PixelPerfect (video) but I’m surprised to find that the mixture of audio and video in the same feed has really worked for me.

In the last few weeks I’ve learnt a whole load of new stuff – like creating high dynamic range images (remembering to shoot using a tripod to keep the camera steady and aperture priority to control the focus); that not all megapixels are equal; that the rules of composition are different for panoramic images; how to stitch photos together in Adobe Photoshop (and that it may be necessary to adjust a stitched image as the exposure may vary slightly between the edge and the centre); how to create a Photoshop Action to emulate the saturation of Fuji Velvia film; and that Lexar cards are optimised for Nikon cameras (that’s lucky as that’s what I use, although I’ve not been able to find any evidence to back up that claim).

Definitely recommended.

Catching up on events by listening to podcasts

This content is 18 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.

Maybe it’s a sign of getting older but, along with new tastes for full-bodied red wine and extra mature cheddar cheese, talk radio (mostly BBC Radio 4) has joined my list of preferences; and as I regularly spend approximately 12 to 15 hours of my working week driving around south-east England this is a perfect opportunity to catch up on the modern equivalent of talk radio – podcasts.

Podcasting (and the various derivatives thereof) have really caught on over the last year or so (helped by Apple’s bundling of podcatching capabilities within iTunes) and were the main reason I bought an iPod last year, although it’s probably worth mentioning that you don’t need an iPod – any digital media player will do – the main requirement is to be able to receive new podcasts via an RSS feed and synchronise with the digital media player. My iPod is connected to the car stereo via a 3.5mm headphone jack but other options include the Griffin iTrip and burning MP3 CDs to listen to via the normal CD player.

Much of the available content originates from the United States but there is some British content too – many “old media” companies have jumped on the podcasting bandwagon and even the BBC has some content available for download. I highly recommend The Now Show but many popular radio shows now have podcast derivatives and even BBC News has got in on the event with audio and video podcasts.

It’s not just broadcast media that is using podcasting to reach new audiences though – forward-thinking organisations have recognised the power of the corporate podcast (e.g. First Direct); and when Microsoft launched Visual Studio 2005, SQL Server 2005 and the .NET Framework 2.0 last November they released a 45 minute audio download to complement the launch events, featuring information from their developer and platform group experts.

As a techie, podcasting is a great way to keep up-to-date with industry news and the UK trade weekly IT Week now has a short podcast discussing two or three of the week’s top stories. The TWiT network also has several podcasts that I listen to routinely – including This Week in Tech, Inside the Net and MacBreak Weekly – and last week this list was extended with a new Windows Weekly podcast featuring well-known Microsoft commentator Paul Thurrott. Other tech podcasts that I listen to include The iLifeZone.

If, like me, you are suffering from e-mail, blog and paper-based information overload, then I recommend podcasting as an alternative method for catching up on events.

MacBreak Weekly rant

This content is 18 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.

Leo Laporte’s TWiT Podcast Network has some really good podcasts including This Week in Tech (TWiT). More recently, the network has launched MacBreak Weekly and (I understand) will soon launch a Windows Podcast hosted by Paul Thurrott. Of course, some of the information is subjective and must be taken with pinch of salt – it can also be very US-centric (this is helped when there are European guests, e.g. Wil Harris from Bit-Tech); however MacBreak Weekly annoyed me greatly as I caught up on a few podcasts over the last couple of days.

  • Whilst discussing the Mac Pro (in episode 3) there was comment about a lot of software not being optimised for multi-processor configurations and the reply came back (and I quote) “you mean that Apple actually built a computer that’s ahead of its time?”. No! I can accept that Apple may well have built a computer that offers more processing power than many users could use; and in Apple’s credit all Macs now have at least two processor cores (except any Core Solo Mac Minis that are still being sold – I think even they have hyperthreading) but both the other major PC operating system platforms (Linux and Windows) have supported multi-processor machines for some time now – if Mac OS X is not able to make full use of the machines then that’s a fault of the operating system designers at Apple and they need to get up to speed – quickly. I’m no developer but the need to rewrite applications to run on an Intel platform instead of the older PowerPC architecture was given as the reason for the distraction preventing writing applications to use the available processing power. That doesn’t stack up to me. I am casting my mind back 15 years now but I seem to remember from the operating systems internals module that made up a part of my degree that it is the task of the operating system scheduler to assign processor time to execution threads – so that’s Mac OS X then, not the applications. Of course if the applications aren’t threaded then there’s not much that the operating system can do about it, but even applications for a single processor should be multithreaded. Shouldn’t they?
  • They then went on to talk about striping four 750GB SATA drives to give 3TB of “super fast storage performance”. Hmm… it sounds very risky to me. SATA drives are okay for PC use but not designed for 24×7 operation; however, regardless of the disk hardware in use, RAID 0 (striping) offers no fault tolerance at all. Zero. Nada. RAID 5 and 6 would work (but are a bit slow for writing) and would reduce the available disk space to about 2.25TB. If the Mac Pro’s RAID controller supports it, the safest solution (whilst remaining performant) would be RAID 1+0 giving 1.5TB of usable space, mirrored across two disks and then striped. RAID 0 might be fast but you’d better hope it’s being backed up somewhere else and 3TB backups are not very easy to manage!
  • In another section, the panel was amused that PC Magazine would cover a story about why 91% of Mac users are satisfied with their product (as Apple tops a user satisfaction survey). Get over it – Mac OS X is just an operating system and Macs are personal computers (they always have been). If that’s a bit literal then Intel Macs are definitely just PCs! Now, if Windows XP Magazine or Linux Format had covered this story then I could understand the amusement, but PC Magazine and Personal Computer World should be covering Linux, Mac OS and Windows stories (in my experience Personal Computer World magazine certainly does) as well as those relating to any other operating systems that run on PC hardware.
  • In one episode the guys were suggesting that there is no reason to buy a PC as a Mac can do it all, making it a better PC than a PC… but hang on guys – previously you were making a distinction between Macs and PCs – you can’t have it both ways! And as much as I love Apple hardware, a black MacBook sounds pretty expensive to me. Even the MacPress has commented that other PC manufacturers have been making black notebook PCs for many years now (and they don’t charge a £90 premium to have it in black). I’d love a MacBook but my IBM ThinkPad is still my favourite (and best built) notebook PC.
  • Another item that riled me was a comment that Macs have 5% of the PC market share but not 5% of the viruses – duh! Hackers, virus writers, and other miscreants like kudos. No-one gets kudos for writing a virus on something obscure, but as the Mac gains a greater market share it will be the target for more malware – especially as the MacPress continues to stress that Windows on a Mac is subject to the same security concerns as Windows on any other PC (true) whilst stressing that running OS X on a Mac is safe (misleading… and unlikely to remain true indefinitely). All PC users should practice safe computing, regardless of the operating system.

In all, MacBreak Weekly disappointed me with a general Mac-elitist view. Sure, I recently switched to using a Mac, but I run other OSs too (I’m writing this on my Fedora notebook). Mac OS X is good at some things, Linux is good at others and, believe it or not, Windows is good at some things too; Windows Vista and Windows Longhorn Server may be running late but Windows Server 2003 is still a great server OS. The trouble is that there are still too many “my OS is better than your OS” discussions.

Still, at least (in episode 5) I learnt about availability heuristics!