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Real World Computing

How Google Glass ruined my lunch hour

Monday, July 21st, 2014

TimGlass

Lunch with Tim Danton is normally a jolly affair, but today he has decided to wear his Google Glass headset. Things get off to a bad start before we’ve even left the building, as I explain that I need to go via a cashpoint. “OK Glass!” barks Tim abruptly. “Directions to a cashpoint.” There is an awkward pause: I don’t know whether he’s waiting for me to speak, or has been distracted by some terribly important message that I can’t see. His face falls slightly. “It’s giving me directions to an attachment,” he explains, apologetically.

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Smartphone battery packs: can a USB power pack beat the festival battery blues?

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

20140629_152204Until recently, there wasn’t much point taking your smartphone to a summer festival. With tens of thousands of people converging in the middle of the countryside, it was impossible to get a signal, and your battery was likely to expire on the first day anyway.

But things are changing. Coverage has improved markedly in recent years, and event organisers are starting to embrace mobile technology with official festival apps and onsite charging facilities – a more popular attraction than many of the bands, judging by the size of the queues. (more…)

Formula 1: what a difference virtualisation makes

Friday, July 4th, 2014

Dell CaterhamHere at Silverstone the preparations for the British Formula 1 Grand Prix are well under way. While the weekend will be full of headlines surrounding Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and the various other British hopefuls, it’s intriguing to see how important the background technology is; and in particular, how virtualisation is giving Caterham Racing a time-saving edge. (more…)

I went to Glastonbury and the only thing that got high was my smartphone

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

20140629_154932

I hadn’t previously heard of such a thing as a “selfie stick”, but that’s essentially what the XS Me-Shot Deluxe is: an extensible pole onto which you can mount a smartphone to take photos of your beautiful self (with the aid of the included Bluetooth controller).

Cleverly, it’s also being marketed as a summer festival accessory: angle it upwards rather than outwards and you can use it to take photos of the stage, or whatever you’re looking at, over the heads of your festival-going companions.

The Bluetooth controller is quite natty, including a recessed keyboard (needed for entering a PIN so you can pair it with the phone) and various media-player controls as well as a shutter release. The key part of it, though – the pole – is not, as technology goes, a particularly sophisticated bit of kit, as you can see from the picture above.

Does it work?

The extra height certainly does help you get a good perspective across crowded scenes. Here’s a picture I took at Glastonbury using the Me-Shot Deluxe:

20140629_215231

However, although shooting in this way can give you a clearer view of your subject, you’ll notice that it doesn’t get you any closer. It also puts you several feet away from your phone’s display, so you can’t easily check your results between shots, nor adjust the shooting settings should you need to.

I have doubts too as to the device’s suitability to the rough and tumble of a festival. The phone is held in place by a single screw-clamp; I didn’t like to do this up too tightly, for fear of cracking the plastic casing of my Galaxy S4. So instead I found myself constantly worrying that I had left it too loose, and that it may take only an unexpected collision with an enthusiastic Kasabian fan to cause my phone to fall off and be instantly trampled underfoot.

Without a doubt, shooting over people’s heads at a festival can pay off if you persevere (click for a larger image):

Knight

But even though the Me-Shot Deluxe does come with a cute little Bluetooth controller, I’d have to say that standing on tiptoes and holding your phone up by hand is rather less stressful in a bustling crowd – and also rather cheaper.

eBay hack: Are tech giants above the law?

Friday, May 23rd, 2014

Fine

Earlier today, the information commissioner admitted that doling out a fine to eBay for losing 145 million customer records will make little difference to the company.

While in theory a breach like this means that “your brand is trashed”, many tech companies are too big and too successful for any monetary penalty to make a real dent in them. That’s especially so for a company like eBay that has no real competitor. Any damage to the brand will be minimal and transient.

It doesn’t help that data breaches are hardly exceptional events. As consumers we’re all too accustomed to hearing that one of our tech providers has suffered a data breach. We read the news reports, sigh, change our passwords and move on.

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CeBit 2014 diary: Cameron comes to town

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

IMG_1539

How can one link together rural broadband, Big Data and enterprise resource-planning software? By including a pair of EU leaders in the mix, of course. An early start on the stand of sponsor Software AG at this year’s CeBIT put me in a very unaccustomed position among the scrum of paparazzi, as German chancellor Angela Merkel and British prime minister David Cameron walked up behind a fearlessly simplistic diorama of Smart Big Data at work.

As you may be able to tell from my wobbly picture, the perfectly sensible explanation of how cargo-tagging and inventory management makes shipping more efficient may not have exactly kindled the perfect spirit of European allegiance that both Merkel and Cameron would have preferred as a takeaway message for the assembled press-pack. It certainly fired up Software AG’s Karl-Heinz Streibich, whose German flowed much faster than my talent for translation; I got the idea, in as much as an appraisal of the use of Big Data in an Internet of Things around a container port can be made in a three-minute speech with two impatient heads of state waiting their turn with the microphone.

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How to (unofficially) upgrade in place from Windows 8.1 Preview to final code

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

Win8.1

Windows 8.1 is here at last, and all Windows 8 users can upgrade for free by visiting the Windows Store. Even users who are currently running the Preview code that was released in June can get the official update – something we’re very pleased to see, as it had been expected that they’d have to wipe their systems and perform a clean installation of the final code.

However, things aren’t quite as peachy as they may seem for Preview users. According to Microsoft’s own advice, if you installed the preview from the Windows Store, you’ll lose your applications when you move to the final code, and will have to reinstall them all. That’s a pain, and staying on the preview code isn’t a long-term option as it expires in January.

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VMworld: I like Gelsinger when he’s angry

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

Pat Gelsinger VMware

I’ve said before that people’s experiences with virtualisation vary wildly. I get on with the whole concept very comfortably, but I know people who still suck their teeth and shake their heads every time it comes up.

The most blogworthy moment of this year’s VMworld conference in Barcelona came when one of the greatly expanded corps of European press came out as a fundamental virtualisation sceptic. One of the problems of being a long-term techie in events that cross several language barriers at once is that the “footprint” of the invites can be spread remarkably wide: I didn’t catch the nationality or publication of the (evidently, lone) sceptic, but there was no mistaking VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger’s reaction.

The sceptic’s perspective was that virtualisation – the whole thing – was just another layer of inefficiency: a software stack that keeps people away from the basic performance of the hardware, which should really be avoided. Surely, he argued, network virtualisation was merely a case of more of the same?

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Windows Server 2012 R2: what businesses have been waiting for

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

Microsoft cloud computing briefing

Apparently it rains a lot in Seattle. I wouldn’t really be able to verify that, because I was inside a training suite for the entirety of my visit last week, sitting with the Microsoft Windows Server 2012 R2 development & marketing teams, working through the new features in Server 2012 R2 which, as you will see in Satya Nadella’s blog post qualifies as the Swiss Army Knife of business server operating systems.

It’s worth a read, because Nadella is the head of the Enterprise and Cloud division at Microsoft. In the past everyone’s been used to thinking “Gates said” or “Ballmer announced”, but this is the new Microsoft, and the degree of autonomy in the Server group is easily measurable by the increased confidence of their presentation.

As always, the weight of the tutorial sessions wasn’t quite the same as the emphasis of the press releases. You may be unsurprised to hear that we didn’t spend very long looking at the new Azure US Government Cloud. Conversely, we spent plenty of time discovering how the new features in Windows Intune combine with non-Microsoft devices to let corporate administrators set up their own, tame App Store-like lists of applications, remote desktop sessions and approved resources.

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Why your MP probably isn’t an internet porn addict

Thursday, September 5th, 2013

Porn

The minute I read the BBC article on the newly-released figures for porn site accesses from computers within the Houses of Parliament, I smelled a rat.

Looked at from the perspective of a long-standing network administrator, what does this report actually tell us about the state of IT inside the mother of Parliaments? The key revelation is that the statistics for porn site access vary hugely, month on month: in November of the period they looked at there were over 110,000 accesses. In February, there were only 15.

Let’s take those numbers apart. The report says that there is no direct accusation of specific individuals, and that the total headcount in the House is around 5,000 people, including MPs, the Lords, security and support staff, and the tribes of lobbyists, researchers, etc. So what does 110,000 porn accesses in a month really mean given that level of staffing?

(more…)

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