The blogs of Black Marble staff

Microsoft Arc

I am a bit partial to trying out new Microsoft hardware :), Over the weekend I received a Microsoft Arc 

The Arc Mouse’s is a full size mouse which has a brilliant folding back plate its foldable shape allows it to easily half in size and a natty carrying bag . Its micro transceiver clicks into the underside of the mouse using a magnet. The micro transceiver is super small (< 1cm) so it can be left in the laptop while travelling.

Microsoft hardware seems to be using more and more magnets (since the zune earphones) to finish up great designs and adding magnets to the bag just makes it sooo sweet

I however within 24 hours seem to have lost my Arc and my old Notebook 7000 turned up in its place!


Neverwhere but here …

I thought I would take this opportunity to post about what I’ve been reading.

Neil Gaiman seems to be one of those writers that geeks love to love – usually starting with “The Sandman”, but many enjoying his novels too.  Even non-geeks have been exposed through “Stardust”, the movie.  Having only become a fan of Neil Gaiman’s writing (his books, not his comics) in the last few years, I am not surprised to find that I missed the TV Series, “Neverwhere” when it was first shown in 1996. 

Finally got around to reading the book version – the interesting thing is that the TV Series came first, the first edition of the book was written as the series was filmed.  I understand the major difference with the book (based on Neil’s intro in my edition) is that he included everything they didn’t want in the series … as well as including some things he had originally left out for the US publication.  I wouldn’t call it the best book he’s ever written – it’s an interesting twist and commentary on London ‘above’, one that has been used again by others, with some even crediting Gaiman’s book in their own (“UnLunDun”).  The key appears to be that yes, there really is an Angel called Islington, and yes there is an Earl holding Court too and so on.  The story is told through the eyes of Richard, from London ‘above’, having found himself pulled reluctantly (as all good heroes are) into the perils of London ‘below’.

The most interesting characters are the shadier ones (Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar), even on the side of ‘good’(the Marquis) whereas the two main characters appear to spend more time reacting (Door and Richardrichardmayhewdick) than initiating.


A Peek into the Geek Den …

Ever wondered what it takes to keep geeks happy?  Running HR for a company full of hardcore geeks means more than keeping the milk fresh and the lights switched on.

Black Marble is a deeply technical software house, and that means our staff are mostly developers.  And it's one of my responsibilities to ensure that our developers have a comfortable working environment.  It's not easy keeping a geek house - it has needs unlike any other office ... more kinds of pop (soda) than you can imagine (on any given day, you can find 7 different varieties of Coke ... and that's not counting the guest cokes that accompany our conference-hopping staff back to our fridge).  On top of that ... there's the eerie glow coming from many corners of the office at lunchtime ... when the Halo wars break out!  Plus all those gadgets ... contrary to popular opinion, they don’t just appear overnight!

On top of that, some of the younger generation of geeks are lacking an understanding of their cultural beginnings … I mean how could they not have seen “Blade Runner” ??

So I will take this opportunity (and this blog …) to share with you what makes geeks tick.


Windows 7 on the Dell Mini 9


What better way to try Windows 7 then installing it on the Mini 9? Having read all the commentary about the smaller footprint of the new OS I couldn't resist.

If you want to try this yourself, the procedure is exactly as if you were installing Vista. You will need the drivers folder from the Dell, along with the contents of the Program Files\Wireless Select Switch folder from the XP install and the R192569.exe file from the ZIPFILES folder which is on the support CD I believe.

Installing Windows 7 is a pretty quick and easy process - much faster than Vista. Once installed, follow the same procedure as with Vista to install the hardware drivers from the drivers folder you copied, then run the R192569.exe installer to get the battery driver on. Finally, copy the Wireless Select Switch folder into c:\program files and add an icon to your startup group which fires up the WLSS.exe program - that will allow you to toggle Bluetooth and wireless LAN on and off.

Once that's done, follow the steps that Paul Thurrott  has on WinSuperSite about enabling the 'awesome bar' (does anybody else besides me hate that name?).

I then installed AVG AntiVirus. The corporate version we have failed completely to install, so I turned to AVG Free. That installed fine, but complained at first about being unable to start the resident scanner. A couple of reboots and updates sorted that with no intervention from me and it now works fine.

Office and Live Writer are now installed and I have 4Gb free of my 16Gb SSD. I haven't fiddled with performance tuning yet - the OS ticks over using about 550Mb of RAM. With Live Writer and Internet Explorer 8 running I have about 300Mb of RAM free.

First impressions? Great! Quick, easy to install, UAC is improved, like the new Taskbar UI... I now want to try out some of the other features such as Bitlocker To Go. I hope to get a Server 2008 R2 test environment running as well so I can try things like DirectConnect etc. If I make progress, I'll post more.

Bottom line: Windows 7 - the OS the Mini 9 was built for.

Tech Ed 2008 EMEA IT - Day 5 and home time

I’ve been a bit delayed writing this final blog post from Tech Ed EMEA 2008, so I’m back in the UK. The final day at Tech Ed 2008 EMEA IT was not quite as session filled as previous days, mainly because Rik and I had to be heading off to the airport shortly before 3pm to catch our flight home.

The first presentation of the day was on getting the most out of WSUS 3.0 SP1. One of the items that was mentioned was the arrival of WSUS 3.0 SP2; this is currently in the planning phase and aims to fix the top customer and partner issues seen. It will also install on Windows Server 2008 R2. A number of scenarios for WSUS were discussed, including larger numbers of clients, branch offices and disconnected clients (submarines being the example used!) and some best practices discussed. If the video of this talk is available (at the time of writing, it isn’t unfortunately) and you use WSUS, I’d recommend watching it.

The second (and last) talk of the day I went to discussed Exchange 2007 SP1 and Hyper-V. The good news is that Exchange 2007 SP1 is fully supported on any of the x64 hypervisors validated by Microsoft on Windows Server 2008. If you want to virtualise your Exchange 2003 installation, you’ll need to use Virtual Server 2005; note that Exchange 2003 is explicitly not supported on Hyper-V.

Following these talks Rik and I spent some time talking to more of the experts in the ask the experts pavilion and got some answers to some long-standing questions.

Our flight home was uneventful, but it seemed rather cold when we stepped out of the plane at Manchester after the week in Barcelona!

MicroFormats are here to stay with OOMPH

I was looking into Micro Formats earlier in the year and so I was really interested to see that the Mix team have produced a MicroFormats Toolkits to help create , consume and use MicroFormats.

There is a IE component to help identify MicroFormats.

A Live Writer Plugin to help create hCards

CSS styles for MicroFormats

check it out below.



Physical Security just got a bit harder

Normally when I talk about security I am discussing security about developer , IT or personal ( social engineering ). However this article took my fancy about UCSD Scientists furthering the high tech nature of lock picking by producing a system that makes a working copy of a key based solely on a photograph.



TFS Power Toys

I am not a fan of blog posts that are just a repeat of an announcement on other blogs, but in this case I think it is worth noting that the TFS October 2008 Release of the Power Toys are out.

The power toys are always interesting but the point of note here is the new shell integration for TFS. This means you can check in/out from Windows Explorer, thus in effect making it far easier to integrate third party products with TFS, like Dreamweaver or Expression Blend (OK not third party but has no TFS integration until version 3).

XPClub meeting on 12th November

Next weeks meeting is at the Victoria Hotel in Leeds as usual at 7pm. It is going to be group discussion sort of session, the subjects being:

Daniel Drozdzewski is going to present the future of the computing (based on the article read in recent New Scientist about processors built on logic gates utilising the chaos phenomenon)


moderated conversation about design in software projects

plus the usual gossip from the industry.

Hope to see you there, remember the event is free and so it at least the first beer.

NB. Remember next months meeting on the 10th of December is Gary Short’s excellent session on Patterns in software development

Tech Ed EMEA 2008 IT – Day 4

I attended a very interesting presentation this morning by Mikael Nystrom on creating a master image for SCVMM. We’ve been using VPCs for quite a while, in particular when building test systems for the developers to run their code on. Using a master image (or a series of master images) in SCVMM will help us speed up the delivery of these test systems.

Mark Russinovich (of sysinternals fame) gave an excellent presentation titled ‘The case of the unexplained’ which used a lot of examples of problems experienced running a number of applications on Windows to show a series of techniques that could be used to troubleshoot and find the root cause of the issue. Mark is an excellent speaker and I would urge you to see him talk (in particular on this subject) if you can. I can’t wait to get home and try some of the techniques he showed on one or two issues I’ve been seeing for a while.

Jeffrey Snover (the partner architect for PowerShell) ran through some demonstrations of PowerShell V2, which looks like a great leap forward from V1. In addition, V2 now comes with a visual editor, with debugging capability! A CTP of PowerShell V2 is available if you want to give it a go.

Steve Smith gave an excellent demonstration of the steps required to set up a load test against SharePoint using Visual Studio. I’m not a developer, but he gave me the confidence to have a go myself sometime soon.