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Showing posts from 2012

Windows 8 isn't so bad, but the damage has been done

I have used Windows 8 for a couple of weeks now on a desktop PC, and I have to say that I don't know what all the fuss is about. The start menu has been been replaced with a start screen, but once you get past the fact that it now takes up the whole screen, the functionality is pretty much the same: you organise your apps, search for them, and launch them. The charm bar is a little awkward on a multi-monitor setup, but I only use it to shutdown the PC, so it's not a big problem. The selection of Windows 8 apps is uninspiring to say the least, but since so many of these apps are just pretty wrappers around web pages that work fine with a large monitor, keyboard and mouse, I don't really feel like I am missing out on anything.

The real problem for Microsoft is not that Windows 8 is bad at what it does, but that the rise of Apple and Android have dispelled the notion that Microsoft is the PC.

For the majority of people, there was no distinction between the PC and Windows. Mac…

Increasing Ubuntu Wubi disk image

If you have tried Ubuntu using Wubi, you may have noticed that the maximum disk size you can specify is 30GB. There are a number of ways around this limitation, but the easiest is to resize the disk within Windows using the resize2fs application that is bundled with the Wubi executable.

Open up the wubi.exe file with 7ZIP, and extract the resize2fs.exe and cygwin1.dll files from the bin directory to a convenient directory. Then run the command

resize2fs.exe -f d:\ubuntu\disks\root.disk 70G

Substitute d:\ubuntu\disks\root.disk with the location of your disk, and change the 70G to the size that you want.

Free yourself...

The network is the computer. It was a visionary statement, but one that is yet to really play out.

If the network is the computer, then the computer has been a slow and unreliable device that can only be used inside metropolitan areas. It wasn't that long ago that dial up was the standard way to connect to the internet, and even now high speed mobile internet access is spotty at best. You can't even expect to get a reasonable connections at major inner city hotels. I remember spending 10 minutes trying to establish a VPN and download my emails from a business oriented hotel.

However, things are getting better. 4G is finally offering the kind of bandwidth and latency that you need to run real time network applications. ADSL and cable internet access is now common place, and rollouts of high speed fibre networks are slowly spreading across various countries (unless you happen to live in South Korea, which has led the way for high speed internet access).

The incremental improveme…

Two power outlets per room? Are you from the 1950's?

One of the benefits of building a new house is that you get to address all those things that annoy you in houses built over the last 50 years.

One pet hate of mine is having to use power boards. And with good reason too: talk to any electrician, and they will tell you that power boards are a huge problem (although presumably not for them, since they are also the source of a lot of work). Although I hate them simply because they are a pain in the ass, and should absolutely unnecessary in any house built in the last ten years.

And yet, surprisingly, not only did I have to explicitly request a reasonable amount of power outlets when designing a new house, but I also got a lot of strange looks when I told the builder that I wanted 8 power outlets in the main bedroom.

The standard was 4 outlets: 2 on each side of the bed. But now think about how easily those two power outlets would be used. A clock radio and a bedside lamp is all that it would take to max out the two outlets available on y…

Work life balance... And no, a BBQ on Friday doesn't count

I recently had a conversation with a manager within a white collar company who mentioned that "work/life balance is something that we strive for". It was interesting to see exactly what this term of "work/life balance" (WLB) actually meant to the company.

It meant things like a BBQ on Fridays, casual dress, team building exercises that allowed even non-creative people to pitch their ideas, and a general emphasis on hiring people who would fit in with the existing employees.

All of which is great, and none of which has anything to do with work life balance. These employee benefits are all about creating a great corporate culture, but do nothing to help balance the demands of life and work.

In my opinion, WLB has become the new "great communication skills" of corporate lingo.

How many job advertisements have you seen requiring applicants to have "great communication skills"? I'd hazard a guess that the majority of job descriptions list communi…

Fixing VMWare Workstation on Linux Kernel 3.4.x

Download http://dl.dropbox.com/u/1526979/vmblock.tar and copy into /usr/lib/vmware/modules/source/.


This tar file has been updated with the instructions form http://weltall.heliohost.org/wordpress/2012/04/01/vmware-workstation-8-0-2player-4-0-2-and-7-1-x3-1-x-fix-for-linux-kernel-3-4-0/.


You may also want to fix the vmnet.tar file as well with the instructions here.

The Surface Just Made Tablets Useful

I have owned a tablet for quite some time now. And it does everything that a tablet should be able to do: play games that can be picked up and put down in 5 to 10 minutes, check email, watch videos, browse the web, and consume news and social feeds.

I even tried to do some useful work on a tablet once or twice, and never attempted it again. Every attempt to use an (Android) tablet app for simple word processing was a painful demonstration that not even the people developing the apps were using them seriously. Text would get lost behind an on screen keyboard that would pop up and disappear at the most inconvenient of times. Key strokes would fail to be registered as the tablet froze while processing some background operation. There was no such thing as a spell checker. Trying to insert or edit text in previous paragraphs required a divine level of patience trying to place the cursor at the correct position.

It occurred to me that the reimagination of the day to day apps that you might …

Time to rethink bookmarks?

Realising that I wanted to dig up a search query that I had done that morning, I opened up my history and began searching. The list of sites I had visited in just one day was quite astounding. Most of the sites were either Google searches or the sites found from those searches.As an information worker this is actually a fairly common browsing pattern. I spend a lot of time researching and problem solving, and taking little snippets of information from various sources.Lately I have found myself wishing that I had a better way to track those sites and pages that I have found useful. The Google plus one extension in Chrome does provide a rudimentary way to identify sites that have been useful, but those results are then buried. Subsequent searches don't put sites that I have plused one at the top of  any new search (although "Search Your World" was apparently supposed to do that), and I have found no convenient way to search through the list of sites that I have previously …

VMWare Workstation 8.03 fix for Fedora 16 (and possibly other kernel 3.2 and 3.3 distros)

Download http://dl.dropbox.com/u/1526979/vmnet.tar into /usr/lib/vmware/modules/source/

This updated vmnet.tar file comes from the patch that was posted for VMWare 8.02 at http://weltall.heliohost.org/wordpress/2012/01/26/vmware-workstation-8-0-2-player-4-0-2-fix-for-linux-kernel-3-2-and-3-3/.

Accepting piracy and moving to a better system?

There was a time, not so long ago, when I was a prolific blogger. I even considering trying to make a living from it. I made some serious strides in that direction, having created a reasonable reader base on Brighthub and publishing a book.

I really quite enjoyed tinkering with open source multimedia libraries and sharing my experiences. The best thing about blogging on these technologies is that you got to enjoy the "ah-hah" moment of getting something to work without having to deal with the last 95% of work which usually involves tweaking, refining, marketing, supporting and publishing a product.

Unfortunately, neither venture really worked out on a financial level. Brighthub ended up taking all contributions made to the main web site and stopped paying any revenue to the writers, and my book is now making only a handful of sales. So while I consider both experiences to have been valuable, I can't consider either of them to have been financially rewarding. Which is a s…

Fixing VMWare Unity after kernel upgrade

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I run Fedora 16 in a VMWare VM, making use of the Unity feature to run my Linux applications on my regular desktop. After a kernel update I found that I couldn't enter Unity mode.

I tried reinstalling the VMWare tools, but that didn't help. In the end running the vmware-config-tools.pl command and then running /usr/bin/vmware-user once the installation was complete allowed me to enter into Unity mode. I have no idea why running the vmware-config-tools.pl command on its own would make any difference, but it does.

WSX turns any browser into a PC

I really like the idea of being able to work on the go. For those of us whose jobs can be performed entirely through a computer, it seems only logical with the advances in mobile computing and networking that we should be able to do that work wherever there is a half decent network connection and a tablet, ultrabook or even a smartphone.

This dream has yet to become a reality. Despite their popularity and obvious potential as work devices, tablet operating systems just don't support the apps most businesses need. And even with all the remote desktop solutions out there, it is still not easy to get a decent remote solution for all of your devices.

Remote desktops were fine when you were connecting from one single monitor system to another, but the concept of a desktop in a window really breaks down when you start mixing the number of monitors available on a system, or try to display a PC desktop on a touch screen.

There are surprisingly few ways to deliver single applications to re…

Fix "svn: access to 'whatever' forbidden" errors

I work with a few projects hosted on Sourceforge, and found myself in a situation where a project that I imported through Subclipse would not commit back to the SVN repo, and gave me the following error:


URL access forbidden for unknown reason
svn: Commit failed (details follow):
svn: access to 'whatever' forbidden


As it turns out I had imported the repo using a HTTP URL, but you can only commit back using the HTTPS URL. (As a side note, it also appears that case inconsistencies can cause errors, even on Windows machines).

The solution was a quick find and edit command:

find . -name "entries" -print | xargs sed -i 's/http:/https:/g'

After second thought, this is why Ubuntu for Android will fail

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I was initially quite excited to hear about Ubuntu for Android. At first glance it seemed to be the perfect meld of mobile and desktop. At least until it became clear that a) Ubuntu for Android was only available to manufactures and b) the desktop was only available when the phone was docked.

Both are quite reasonable decisions by Canonical.

At the end of the day, hobbyists were not going to make Ubuntu for Android a profitable product, so making it available to the general public was not going to be a high priority. Real dollars could only be made from the support contracts entered into by corporations looking to streamline their disparate mobile and desktop infrastructure.

And traditional desktop apps have only ever sucked on touch based devices, let alone something as small as a  phone screen. Accessing the Ubuntu desktop from the phone was going to ensure that Ubuntu for Android was a frustrating experience.

Unfortunately, both decisions have also doomed the project to failure.

T…

Did my Android tablet just become useful?

Ubuntu for Android has just been announced by Canonical, and if it is done right, it has the potential to revolutionise the mobile computing landscape.

If you have read my previous blog posts, you will know that I have no love for the tablet form factor.  Tablets provide a slightly better way to use your phone apps in a form factor that is significantly less convenient than a phone.

I've also dabbled with webtop, which tried to provide a desktop like experience with a phone, but doesn't quite get there.

But Ubuntu for Android could provide the solution that I (and I imagine many others) have been looking for.

The truth is that the argument between Android, iOS, Windows and whatever "we don't provide a way to read emails" (ok, they do now, but you get my point) rubbish OS that Blackberry puts out almost always comes down to apps.

The ability to touch, swipe and pinch is no longer a selling point. Your basic apps like email, calendar, maps and social networks are a…

Rooting your Xoom with Ice Cream Sandwitch (ICS)

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These steps will wipe all your data, and possibly destroy your tablet, so proceed with caution. Install the Android SDK tools from http://developer.android.com/sdk/index.htmlBoot your Xoom, and press the volume down button repeatedly until you get a menu pop up in the top left hand corner.Press the volume down button to select Fastboot,and press the volume up button to load it. You should get a message saying Starting Fastboot protocol support.Open up the Command Prompt, and go to C:\Program Files\Android\android-sdk\platform-toolsEnter the command fastboot oem unlockFollow the prompts on your Xoom screen to unlock the device. This will take a minute or two, and the Xoom will then reboot.Press the volume down button repeatedly again, and load the Fastboot option again.Download the ClockworkMod Recovery image from http://dc364.4shared.com/download/CvYJG7uO/recovery-clockwork-4004-stingr.img, and rename it to recovery.imgGo back to your Command Prompt (still in the  C:\Program Files\And…

I don't think newspapers will survive the iPad generation

I'm the kind of guy who likes to go out for breakfast on the weekend, buy a newspaper, and flip through it over a cup of coffee. So, in a recent attempt to justify the existence of my tablet, I decided to sign up to a free 3 month trial of an online newspaper.

In theory this was only going to make my news consumption experience more pleasurable and practical. Because there are three things that I really, really hate about reading a newspaper:

The actual size of the damn thing. I quite often find the table I am sitting at can only hold half the newspaper.Throwing away such a large amount of paper when I am done.Not being able to quickly scan the headlines. Reading an electronic copy solves all three issues. And yet, after trying the subscription for a few months, I realised that not only will I not sign up, but that I probably won't be reading the print version either.
The first problem is that so little of the content of a newspaper actually interests me. Sure, different newspa…

Listen up gen X'ers

From Wikipedia:
Studies predict that Generation Y will switch jobs frequently, holding far more than Generation X due to their great expectations.As a proud member of Generation Y I have to say that this prediction holds up. I myself have had at least 8 jobs in the last 10 years (although some were concurrent), and I am not an edge case.


What I don't agree with is the notion that Gen Y will flip between jobs because they are fickle or have "great expectations". The reason is actually quite simple: it's because 99% of employers make absolutely no effort to create an environment that I, and most of Gen Y, want to work in for the rest eternity.


Let's look at some of the common features of the modern workplace:



A cupboard full of International Roast, paid for by a social club funded by the employeesThe opportunity to work unpaid and unrecognised overtimeFlexibility to arrive at work +/- 90 seconds of 8:30 amThe ability to take annual leave in order to complete study dire…

New Web Site is Live!

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I'd like to announce the official opening of Make Indie Games.

Chances are that you have come to this blog looking for tutorials on game development. I'd also be willing to be that if you have ever tried to create a game by your self you have run into a wall where you need to find an artist, programmer or music composer to make your creation look and play like you originally envisaged.

The best solution I have seen to this issue to date are help wanted forums. But these forums are, quite frankly, a pain in the ass. They are almost always tied to a specific engine or platform, you have to read through a million posts just to find out what opportunities are still available, and they do little to bring together all the creative fields that are required to make a kick ass indie game.

This is where Make Indie Games comes in. You can create a project and specify the kind of skills that you are need, and you can create a profile and specify the kind of skills that you have. Then, wi…

The value of qualifications

I had an epiphany the other day.

I have always been someone that believed that real world experience was far more valuable than academic training and certification. If I was ever put in the position of hiring someone, I told myself that I would pick someone who "has done" over someone who has been "trained to do".

This philosophy has also defined my opinion of I.T. certifications. It hasn't stopped me getting them, but I have always felt that, at the end of the day, these certifications tend to be fairly artificial representations of my skill set.

Then I was given the opportunity to see things from the employers point of view, and the real value of certifications and qualifications was made clear.

No manager worth their salt really believes that a I.T. certification or qualification means that an applicant is unconditionally skilled to do the job. I think we have all come across MCSEs who don't know which end of the network cable to plug in or university I.…

Almost the perfect computing combination

My low end mobile phone died the other day, so I decided to treat myself to a shiny new Motorola Droid Razr. It's a speedy phone, light weight with a generously sized screen, which is all well and good, but its is not hard to get fast, light phones these days. What did impress me was the WebTop functionality.

WebTop is basically a desktop environment that you can display on an external monitor when you plug in a HDMI cable. (Actually, to be clear, without a rooted phone you can only use WebTop when you mount the phone in a Motorola docking station, but using a little app called Nebtop on a rooted phone will allow you to run WebTop with any old HDMI cable.)

WebTop allows you to browse the web in a full version of Firefox (I think it is version 6, but I can't remember exactly). Surprisingly you can install most of the addons available for Firefox in this WebTop version, which was a life saver for me since I can not live without Xmarks and LastPass. Flash 10 is also provided.

Add…

My tech news years resolutions

The start of a new year provides the perfect, if a little arbitrary, opportunity to reflect on the mistakes and milestones made over the last 12 months. I made plenty of both last year, which leads me to the following tech news years resolutions.

1. I'm done with stats


Last year saw the publishing of my first book, and the tail end of my freelance blogging efforts. While both projects made a meaningful contribution to my life in their own subtle ways, I can't help but feel that I spent an incredible amount of time and effort trying to earn that next $10. When I think about the scheming and plotting and analysing that went into making enough money for a bus fare, I can't help but come to the conclusion that I was prospecting for fools gold.

So I'm done watching graphs. This year I will only post content that interests me, and not create something for the sake of a few page views.

2. I will develop services first, applications second


I spent most of last year in charge of …