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  • Top 5 Books From 2015

    Posted on January 29th, 2016 Andy Parkes No comments

    I’ve been asked for book recommendations a few times recently so thought I’d share them here too.

    I read some really great books last year but here are 5 that really stood out for me.

    In no particular order…

    Masters Of Doom: How two guys created an empire and transformed pop culture – David Kushner

    I’ve read quite a few books recently about the back story of classic games but was the best of the lot.

    Doom is the most definitely a classic and hearing how the team that put it together came into being as well as the highs and the lows and their eventual split was fascinating. I received this as a gift and could not put it down.

    This was also a real trip down memory lane as like a lot people my age I sunk a lot of hours into playing ID games! If you’ve spent any period of time playing Doom this is certainly a recommendation.

     

     

    Nexus (The Nexus Trilogy Book 1)  – Ramez Naam

    In this story taking a pill can install an operating system into the super computer that is your brain! Imagine the applications you could run, especially if you could network with other people.

    All of this could also be used for much more sinister purposes by shady government agencies and the like.

    What I loved about this is that the story is based on actual research. Technology that may be in the not too distant future.

    The end of book also has a nice section on some of the research that provided the author with inspiration.

    This is the first of the three books and I raced through all of them.

     

    Static Push (The Push Series Book 1) – Richard Horsley

    A decent British Sci-Fi book!

    With a story that covers aliens destroying the earth with some great comedic writing it’d be easy to mistake this as a Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy clone but it’s certainly more than that.

    It also has a great set of characters who really come off the page. I can’t wait for the next one!

     

     

     

     

    Beacon 23 – Hugh Howey

    I think this was my favourite thing from last year. It’s a basically a lighthouse story in space. It’s only short as it was originally released as series of Kindle Singles but it packs so much into it and goes over a whole range of emotions. I loved reading it and when I got to the end I was really disappointed there was no more!

    I recommended it to anyone asked me if I’d read anything decent recently and it’s highly likely I’m go back and read it again.

    I’m a big Hugh Howey fan and can also recommend pretty much everything else he writes!

    Check it out.

     

    The Girl With All The Gifts – M.R. Carey

    A Zombie road trip story.

    It’s difficult to talk about this one without spoiling it but underneath it’s a fascinating story about people and relationships and how their moral viewpoints may or may not change when it’s the end of the world.

    The ending also wasn’t quite what you’d normally expect to see either but it made a refreshing change to do something different.

    It’s pretty brutal in parts but this is zombie-fiction so kind of needs to be.

  • 2015, So Long And Thanks For All The Fish

    Posted on January 16th, 2016 Andy Parkes 1 comment

    We’re a couple of weeks into the new year and as with previous years (2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011) looking back on the previous 12 months is something I really enjoy doing.

    Especially when you have a memory as terrible as mine!

    As always spending as much time as possible with these three girls is my biggest priority!

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    As with last year we tried to make sure we filled it with plently of fun and spending time with people who are really important.

    Some of the highlights included…

    Starting the year at Centre Parcs

    Center Parcs

    Eating chocolate!

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    Trying something new

    10958171_990232511006879_1733490016_n10948765_334745273378716_1162343633_n

    Got a certificate in something or other . (move along…nothing to see here)

    Apple

    Got muddy

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    Went to a cup final (it’s the taking part that counts right?)

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    Visited Harry Potter World (again..)

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    Evie won a prize for writing a poem!

    Evie Poem

    Alice won a singing competiion!

    Alice

    Doctor Who Symphony Orchesta

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    Visited Arbury Hall

    arbury

    Got covered in paint

    Colour Run

    Wolf Run with this lot

    wolf

    School Talent Show

    talent

    Trip to Copenhagen

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    Introduced the girls to Mud Runs!

    mini

    The Just So Festival

    just

    Summer Holiday in Portugal

    port

    More mud runs…

    Finish1

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    wild

    Finish Photo Halloween

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    Walk Off The Earth in Nottingham

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    Catch up with these guys!

    karl

    Retro gaming (swiped from Richard!)

    retro

    A very brief visit to Centre Parcs…again!ALice and Evie

    Seeing the new year in

    new

    You get the idea Smile

    2015 was pretty awesome and I’m really fortunate to have some great people in my life.

    2016 has just started and there is loads to look forward to.

    Bring it on!

  • The Martian–Movie

    Posted on October 1st, 2015 Andy Parkes No comments

    the_martian_movie_posterA movie review! Whatever next…

    One of my favourites books I read last year finally has arrived on the big screen so I was very excited to go see it last night.

    ** Note this will be a little “spoilery”  – the book was released in 2011 though! It would also take a seriously sadistic author to give this one sad ending so it’s not hard to figure out the basic plot of the story**

    So the short version

    It’s a really great film!

    There is some really great visuals and they’ve done a great job of making all the tech believable. The book is frequently described as a cross between Apollo 13 and Castaway and it’s pretty accurate. 

    It’s a really good cast and it’s all pretty solid acting wise.

    If you’ve never read the book it’s an enjoyable film that while it’s not going to be in the must-see classic bracket it’s still a good watch.

    If you have read the book…

    It’s a decent adaptation.

    One of the worries when you love a book is how it well translates to the big screen. There is stuff that has to be cut out for a variety of reasons but it can be very frustrating when it doesn’t get anywhere near what you were expecting (I’m looking at you World War Z!)

    It follows the basic structure of the story about 95% of the way and there is actually quite a lot of dialog that is lifted straight from the book.

    If I’m being super critical though here are my gripes

    Some of the  characters didn’t get enough attention

    Mindy Park was a totally marginal character which is a shame, the crew on the Hermes weren’t fleshed out anywhere near enough.

    The rest of the other earth based cast, were great. Specifically Teddy Sanders, Mitch Henderson and Vincent Kapoor were brilliantly played by Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

    This is me being a little selfish though. I loved so many of the characters in the book I wanted them all to get their time on screen. In reality though it worked well enough in the context of a movie. The story wasn’t held back by the reduced roles.

    Cuts Cuts Cuts,

    There were some pretty big parts cut.

    The sandstorm while on the way to Hermes IV, rolling the rover on the final approach to the MAV, rolling the airlock and burning out PathFinder with the drill were some of the most notable omissions.

    Speed!

    For me it felt like the story flew along. Maybe it was because of the cuts and again I can understand this in the context of movie story telling but it didn’t feel like we got a total sense of the amount of time Mark was actually stranded for.

    The rover drill scene is one example of this. In the book this is actually a mammoth task that took many hours as Mark has to drill hundreds of little holes to then chip out. This was condensed into 30 seconds on screen.   

    Likewise the trips out to Pathfinder and later Aries IV were huge amounts of time all cooped up in the little Rover filled with tedium and lots of thinking time. 

    Still happy though!

    Please don’t misunderstand though, I really did enjoy the film but in the context of a book I’d loved and re-read in the days before the seeing the film always meant there were going to be things I’d be wished were slightly different.

    The End

    Having Lewis make the final rescue in the end was a little annoying. From a screenwriting perspective I can understand why that change made though

    That said I was glad of the final ending. The book basically ends as soon as Mark is rescued so having it all wrapped up with everyone back on Earth and being shown what they did next was a great addition.

    That might make it sound like I’m down on the film. I’m honestly not. I’d happily go and see it again.

    If you haven’t read the book you’ll enjoy it.

    if you have read the book you’ll also enjoy, even though you’ll be left wishing it had been a bit more!

    Go see it Smile

  • Linx 8 Tablet

    Posted on July 22nd, 2015 Andy Parkes No comments

    I was recently fortunate enough to win a Linx 8 tablet in a competition the Microsoft UK partner team were running. image

    Up until this point my tablet of choice was an original Surface RT.

    Unfortunately, in recent months I’ve used that tablet more and more just for Office.

    It’s immensely useful for OneNote and Outlook on the go but I’m not really using many apps from the store and the apps I do use aren’t great. The Facebook app for example is so slow and unwieldy I frequently give up on it and just use Facebook in the browser.

    I’ve also had some performance problems with it recently too that made it unusable for extended periods of time.

    So having heard about various low cost tablets running a regular version of Windows 8.1 I was intrigued to see how it performs.

    First off, what is it?

    8 inch screen

    Quad Core Intel Atom Processor.

    32GB Hard disk (with an SD slot to add up to another 64GB)

    1GB RAM

    1 year of Office 365 Personal

    800 x 1280 resolution

    Front and rear facing 2MP cameras

    Micro USB and HDMI ports

    Bluetooth and 801.11 N WiFi

     

    You can pick them up for around £80 so on the face of it that’s a pretty decent package.

    Especially when you consider Office 365 Personal (with 1TB of storage!) itself is worth £59.99

    After a couple of days usage I was pleasantly surprised. I honestly didn’t think 1GB would be usable but as long as you’re not trying to do too much at once it’s nice and responsive. You do need to be realistic though. Running a few demanding apps all at once will become noticeable pretty quickly.

    Also it’s pretty light and I can’t complain on the battery life.

    This doesn’t mean there aren’t any downsides. It’s not really powerful enough for HD video, the screen resolution should make that obvious but as test I installed the BBC iPlayer app and tried to play some HD programs offline. That’s half an hour of life I won’t get back.

    It’s been fine with standard definition stuff though and I’ve had no problems with regular content on YouTube and Netflix.

    I miss the kickstand my Surface has for propping it up. It’s easily rectified with a case but it nice was having it as part of the package.

    You’ll also need an USB OTG cable for connecting USB drives, keyboard, mice, etc.

    None of this is to show stopping though if you’re looking for something relatively cheap for doing some basic tasks.

    All in all as long as you make sure you’re using for what it’s intended for, one or two apps at a time, light web browsing, some Office work, then it’s value for money. Anything more than that and you should be looking at something like a Surface Pro. 

    With a Windows 10 upgrade due in the coming weeks it’ll be interesting to see how this works out too.

  • The Difference Engine–Help Needed!

    Posted on June 8th, 2015 Andy Parkes 2 comments

    imageWay back in 2011 I wrote about the Difference Engine.

    It’s a simple but effective way of adding captions to live performances created by Coventry based Talking Birds.

    In short, a laptop runs the software and over a local wireless network it allows any device with a web browser to view subtitles.

    i.e your mobile phone, tablet or laptop.

    A really simple idea to an age old problem for anyone who wouldn’t be able to hear what was being said.

    It’s intended for live performance but the simplicity of the system means it could be easily and cheaply re-purposed to anything.

    School assembly? Conference? Training Courses? Museum? Art Gallery?

    I could go on and on…

    If it has a script that needs to be followed it wouldn’t take much to plug it into this.

    So many events are run without any thought for the deaf and hard of hearing purely because adding that sort of thing is normally expensive.

    With this system you need a laptop. That’s it.

    Anyone that needs to use the system can use a device they’ll likely have already. You could hook the laptop up to a screen or projector you’d probably be using at the event anyway too. 

    Talking Birds have been working hard to improve the system but as with most small organisations like this they struggle for funding.

    I honestly think they could really make a difference if they can get to the next level.

    So I need your help.

    They have reached the finals of this years Tech4Good Awards.

    To be in with a chance of winning the “People’s Award” they need votes.

    Go here

    http://www.tech4goodawards.com/vote-now/ 

    Enter your email address

    Click on the Talking Birds image

    image

    Put something in the “where you found us” box (maybe mention me!)

    Click the button to submit the vote.

    That’s it!

    It’ll then give you some options for sharing on social media…If you do that too that would be cool.

    If you could take two minutes from your time to do that I’d be ever so grateful!

  • Microsoft Setup Bootstrapper Has Stopped Working

    Posted on May 26th, 2015 Andy Parkes No comments

    I was trying to install Office 2013 Pro Plus recently and was getting this error message

    “Microsoft Setup Bootstrapper has stopped working”

    bootstrap

    If you put that error message into your favourite search engine there are a variety of suggested solutions, the most popular ones seemed to be.

    Use Microsoft Fixit Tools to completely remove Office 2013.

    Backup and then delete the AppCompatFlag registry key

    HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\AppCompatFlags

    In my case it wasn’t any of those.

    Looking at the application log in event viewer showed what the problem was straight away.

    We have a software restriction policy in place that’s used as part of some prevention measures for malware such as Cryptolocker.

    OfficeError2

    In this scenario the options are to either create an exception on the policy or to temporarily stop the Group Policy that applies the restrictions from applying.

    It’s also possible some anti-virus could do this too.

    Once I’d taken the policy into account Office installed without issue.

  • IBIT Solutions–10 Years

    Posted on May 20th, 2015 Andy Parkes 6 comments

    This week marks 10 years since IBIT Solutions was first registered as a business.

    I very rarely use the company name here. It’s usually referred to as “work” or “the business”. That’s mainly because this is my personal blog. While the things I do at IBIT are a big influence on some of the content I create (when I create it!) I always intended to keep them separate.

    10 years ago, along with my business partner Kevin we had the bright idea of giving up our jobs and going it alone.

    When I look back it was a rather bonkers decision at the time.

    Bryony and I hadn’t long moved into our first house (with our first mortgage!) and Bryony was pregnant with Alice so of course I was going to leave my stable job and risk starting a business.

    What was I thinking! 

    10 years on I’m glad to say it was the right decision.

    It hasn’t all been plain sailing. We’ve had scary moments, have made plenty of mistakes and have lots of stress to deal with but there is a lot of satisfaction in being the master of your own destiny.

    The good moment have certainly outweighed the bad though and being on this ride for the last ten years has taken me lots of places I couldn’t have imagined 10 years ago.

    I’ve also met lots amazing people who I would never have come into contact with if I’d played it safe and stayed in my old job and I’m grateful to everyone who has had an influence on IBIT in that time.

    Like a lot of small businesses we’re not perfect. I’ve got a ton of things I need to change, fix, improve or build but we’re going in the right direction.

    I’m very lucky to be in position where I enjoy going into the office. It makes the hard work hardly seem like that.

    If you’ve had anything to do with IBIT over the last 10 years, in any form, thank you.

    Here’s to the next 10! 

     

     

    .

  • Sonicwall SRA Java Bookmarks Stop Working In Chrome

    Posted on May 12th, 2015 Andy Parkes 2 comments

    Another eye catching headline there!

    We have a couple of clients who use Sonicwall SRA appliances for remote access to internal resources.

    The bookmarks that were setup to gain access to file shares stopped working.

    On some PCs we were seeing a blank page.

    On others it was pretty clear where the problem lay.

    The java plugin wasn’t playing nicely.

    image

    Switching to the HTML version worked fine though. The java version is more feature rich at the moment so ideally we wanted to know why.

    We also realised this was specific to Chrome. Internet Explorer and Firefox were fine.

    That was when the penny dropped as to what the cause was here.

    Google have dropped support for browser plugins.

    They announced this back in September 2013 and as of Chrome version 42 NPAPI plugins are disabled by default. Java and Silverlight are two of the biggest plugins this will impact

    You override the behaviour.

    browse to chrome://flags/

    image

    Look for the NPAPI options and click the enable option

    You’ll need to restart Chrome after doing so

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    That will get you around the immediate problem if you want to keep using Chrome.

    it’s the recommendation Sonicwall make at the moment.

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    It’s worth knowing that Chrome 45 will do away with NPAPI plugins altogether.

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    Full details are here

    Going forward Sonicwall will either have to improve the HTML version, or they’ll drop support for Chrome.

    Seeing as Microsoft’s new browser (Spartan) doesn’t support Active-X controls (not directly, it uses an IE11 engine for compatibility) Sonicwall will have to make some changes to their setup.

    Update:

    Probably worth noting that Chrome still supports PPAPI plugins. There doesn’t appear to be any effort on the part of Oracle to create a PPAPI Java plugin any point soon. Will be interesting to see what happens if/when all the major browsers drop NPAPI plugins!

    * Thanks Dekay *

  • Adding Roles and Features To an Offline Virtual Machine

    Posted on March 25th, 2015 Andy Parkes 6 comments

    A few days ago I restarted a virtual machine and was presented with the message.

    We couldn’t complete the updates

    Undoing changes

    Don’t turn off your computer 

    chnages

    Very helpful.

    The server just sat there for ages, apparently doing nothing.

    After a brief search I came across a post on the Microsoft forums that indicated an update was giving some problems (KB2920189)

    One of the suggested actions was to disable secure boot, start the virtual machine, allow the update to install and then re-enable secure boot.

    It’s a Windows 2012 R2 Gen2 virtual machine so it had that option.

    I turned it off but this didn’t doing anything.

    A further post on the forum pointed to a known issue with that update. The fix for that is to install the BitLocker features as the update is looking it. You don’t need to encrypt any drives, just have the feature installed. My specific problem wasn’t exactly described in that article but it wouldn’t hurt to add the feature and find out.

    But how to do that if the server won’t even boot?

    Well as the title probably already suggests you can do this with a virtual machine when it’s offline.

    Shut the virtual machine down

    Start server manager and select the “Add roles and features” option

    image

    Click through the first couple of pages on the wizard until you get the server selection page.

    From here you need the “Select a virtual hard” option at the top of the screen

    Then choose the virtual hard disk that has your operating system at the bottom of the screen.

    image

    From here it’s exactly the same as method to add a role or feature as normal.

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    After that i started the machine, the update installed and all was good.

  • Sync Text Messages To Your Mailbox

    Posted on March 20th, 2015 Andy Parkes 2 comments

    File this under “I didn’t know it could do that”

    Using your smartphone to connect to your work email is a pretty standard thing nowadays.

    They just about all support ActiveSync so your iPhone, Android, Windows Phone and Blackberry will all do email, calendars and contacts to an Exchange server without much fuss.

    However, the bit makes all this work, i.e ActiveSync, has some features that aren’t implemented on all devices. Some features will also be reliant on the version of Exchange server the mailbox is on.

    One of those is the ability to have your phone sync your text messages with your mailbox.

    Screenshot_2015-03-18-17-14-15

    I spotted the option for this a little while back and initially didn’t see the point of it but I thought I’d turn it on and see how it worked out.

    I’ve been using it for a few months now and there are two main things I’ve found useful

    Sending text messages directly from Outlook

    When a text message comes into your phone it’s copied to your mailbox.

    image

    This means that if your phone is your pocket/bag or on silent you can read it on your PC without having to get the phone out. More importantly you can reply from Outlook too. Hit reply, type your message and when you press send the message is sync’d back to your phone where it sends the messages on your behalf.

    Yes that’s the “magic”. Your phone is still sending the message.

    You even get little smiley icons to use and it’ll tell you how many text messages will be needed.

    image

    It’s something I found useful as I can type much quicker on my keyboard than on my touch screen!

    I also find it less disruptive when I’m at work to not have to go to my mobile to view and reply to any messages.

    Having a deaf wife does mean I send a lot of text messages so this is one of the things I’ve particularly found useful.

    Backing up your messages

    Depends on how much importance you place on your SMS I guess but because a copy is added to your mailbox if your phone dies, falls in a toilet or is crushed/smashed/whatever then your text messages are easily retrievable.

    You can file them exactly the same way as you would any other email.

    I’ve got an Outlook quick step I use to drop any want to keep into a “text messages” folder once I’ve read them.

    image

    As mentioned above not all clients support all features so most notably this doesn’t work on iPhone.

    Also as already mentioned it’s reliant on Exchange server so if you’re using Google Apps/Gmail, POP or IMAP for email this specific method isn’t applicable.

    There a good list of features and what is and isn’t supported on this Wikipedia article.

    Can you think of any other uses for this?

    it’s also probably worth knowing about for the inevitable support call where someone has setup their own phone and want to know when their text messages have turned into emails.