Sunday, March 26, 2006

Shutdown, lights off

I know this probably seems sudden - but I'm not going to be blogging here any more.

As of now, my blog is moving to - come and find me at the new The lost outpost.

Don't forget to update your RSS reader - my new feed is here.

There will be more about the change over at the new blog in the near future.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Flickr Code

My Flickr Code – F6 l c+(d) f g sc m++ s(e)
Find Your Flickr Code

Renewing car tax online

UK-based readers who haven't had to renew their car tax lately may be interested to know that when you get the renewal notice from the DVLA, it now includes information on how to go about doing so on the Internet - avoiding the queues in the Post Office. In fact it also avoids the need to dig out your insurance and MOT documents.

You simply go over to and enter your reference number. The system checks your insurance and MOT are up-to-date automatically, and you can then pay online.

How well this will work in practice remains to be seen - I suspect it will depend on how long it takes for the new tax disc to arrive in my letter box, since I need a new one by the end of the month. However, this is the first time I've actually been impressed by a so-called "e-Government" / Directgov service, at least in terms of the ease of use. Fingers crossed the disc arrives and doesn't ruin my impression of the service.

Another nice surprise was that under the new VED rules that came out in the Budget on Tuesday, the cost for my car has actually gone down by £5 per year. Not that that would ever be enough for me to vote for Mr "squeeze 'em 'til the pips squeak" Brown, but it was a small bonus.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Fedora Core 5 and nVidia drivers

As of now, to get nVidia drivers working on FC5, you have to jump through hoops. This has partly to do with the FC5 kernel and partly to do with the driver....

[Via Eudyptula minor]

Well, that puts off my upgrade to FC5 for a while.

Technorati tags:

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Information roadmap for WebSphere Message Broker

I've just come across an excellent resource for WMB - the developerWorks Information Roadmap. I don't know how I've never seen this before. It's an excellent resource, bringing together product manuals, Supportpacs, developerWorks articles, tuning and performance information... well worth a visit if you are a broker practitioner. Slightly disappointed that my article on Dynamically updating Web Service interfaces is not listed, I'll have to get in touch with the dW editors.

Technorati tags:

The seive-like qualities of Firefox 1.5

I'm sitting here on a train. No network connection.

I pop open the Windows Task Manager and sort by memory usage.

firefox.exe sits at the top of the list, using 433,312K of memory with a VM size of 445,100K. In the time it took me to type that, Mem Usage grew to 433,372K. CPU is at anywhere up to 10%.

To be fair, I have 33 tabs open (including James Governor's interesting thoughts on Open Source messaging, which I've not got around to responding to).

I've been round this loop before, and people have told me, no, Firefox is fine, must be your extensions. Fair point, I have 34 of them. So a few weeks ago, I disabled about half of them. Hasn't helped. Guess I'll just have to disable the other half, and try again.

Mem Usage now 439,088K and rising. Leaky, leaky, leaky.

Technorati tags:

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Movie time

We had a small and belated family celebration of my advanced age on Sunday. Among the gifts was the DVD of Sin City.

It's a stunningly shot film. Time and time again I found myself wondering just how they'd managed to get the different effects to work. I know a little of Frank Miller's work, and this seemed very true to the style.

Very, very grim to watch, and horribly violent. At first I found that OK, because it was done in a comic book style... but it did become a bit much. I'm not a huge fan of violent imagery, and although the visual style and music were both compelling, I'm not sure how often I could rewatch this.

I also thought the story and format of the film was a bit reminiscent of one of my all-time least favourite films (now there's a controversial statement), Pulp Fiction. Surprise surprise, Tarantino was a "guest director" on Sin City. The way the story split, parts ran out of chronological order, and came back together, reminded me of Tarantino. Or maybe it was the other way around.

Apparently there's an extended version available on DVD, that splits the stories out separately rather than having them intertwined.

Sounds like Sin City 2 and Sin City 3 (and probably more) are on the way. I know one person in our family won't be watching it, as she positively hated this first installment. I'm going to have to think about whether I can cope with the next one...

Monday, March 20, 2006

Review of ESB suites

Network Computing have published their full comparative review of ESB software from a number of different vendors. You may remember that one of the product reviews they ran earlier in the series was for WebSphere Message Broker, which I responded to in a blog post.

Message Broker scores C+, which in my opinion is surprising. I find it remarkable that the product scored relatively low on routing, transformation, and protocol support - especially when the earlier review was pretty positive in these areas. It was marked down on orchestration, which is not so surprising since WebSphere Process Server is the BPEL engine that provides that kind of support. As one of my colleagues has pointed out, the author of the review admits elsewhere that the question of whether an ESB should support BPEL is somewhat contentious, so it is remarkable that orchestration is the single largest weighted factor in the comparison.

It is a shame that there is no score for performance, as my gut feeling is that Message Broker would probably have scored 6 out of 5 on that measure :-)

The other interesting article published a short while ago is Network Computing's market analysis of the ESB.

Update: a colleague just pointed out that the comparison doesn't include MS Biztalk, which is slightly disappointing.

Technorati tags:

Encroaching on freedom

I missed this news item from last week, but it seems that people in London are now under more surveillance than they were previously, via the Oyster card system.

Dead computer

We had a power cut on Saturday. We've had them before, but generally they have been momentary blips of less than a minute. This time the power went off, and it didn't seem to want to come back. I called the power company, and was told that yes, there was a fault, and that if it hadn't come back within 4 hours, to call again. As it happened, everything burst back into life within about 50 minutes.

Unfortunately I don't have an Uninterruptible Power Supply. On this occasion, when the power came on my workhorse P3 server came straight back into life and booted fine. My top-of-the-range Athlon 64 (Gigabyte K8VNXP motherboard) machine went bang, and smoke came out of the power supply.

Off I went to Maplin to buy a new PSU. I opted for a 650W unit with plenty of fans. Having fitted it, I thought all would be happier. However, now when I plug the machine in, it spontaneously starts (I don't need to touch the power button). The graphics card information is displayed on the screen, there's a beep, but the BIOS information is never displayed, and the machine starts again. This happens two or three times, then it seems to decide to take a rest, and may pop back into life again a few minutes later for another attempt or two.

I've tried reseating all the cards... I've tried removing the memory and reseating it (plugging it in without memory resulted in multiple panicky beeps, so I guess the motherboard knows that something is going on). I can't figure what is dead. It could be the board itself has suffered damage, or maybe the CPU, or the memory... or even the power switch on the case, I suppose.

I'm looking at going down the route of a new motherboard, but technology has moved on. I've got a range of PCI cards that I'm happy with, so I don't want a PCI-Express board. Socket 754 is no more, so it's a new CPU, and I would like an Athlon 64 X2. I also want something to support Linux. So I'm thinking about an Abit AV8 Third Eye board, which has been discontinued but is still widely available... and I'm counting on my existing RAM being OK. Not sure what else I can do. I'm annoyed, but it is at least partly my fault. I really must get a UPS.

Update: I've cracked it. It's the power switch. Fortunately this means that I don't have to order a new motherboard when the existing one works fine. It does mean that I have to figure out how to wire a new switch into my case, or buy a new one. Suggestions, anyone?

Friday, March 17, 2006

WMB updates of note

I've already commented on the fact that fixpack 2 for Message Broker File Extender is available... just in case you missed it, I'm mentioning it again :-)

Two interesting SupportPacs have recently been updated:
  • IA0X FTP Server Input Node: I've played with this previously, but not used it in a real situation. As soon as I get some time to have a look at this, I'm going to try out the new version (which now works with v6). Once I've done so, I'll share any interesting discoveries here.

  • IA98 TCP/IP Nodes: now these, I have used for real... they are mentioned in passing in an older blog entry. Although there is some effort involved in understanding the way that TCP/IP itself works, once you have got your head round the basics, I've found that these nodes work well. Great to see that John Reeve has updated them for version 6.

Technorati tags:

More news in brief

Random interesting things from around the web that I've been looking at this week:

Technorati tags:

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Fame, and bananas

As I just posted over on the Hursley blog, Raising the Eight Bar... the local newspaper has picked up the Blue Fusion event, and as a result you can see a picture of yours truly holding an inflatable banana. Such is the price of fame.

News bytes

Not a lot of time this morning, so here are a few random and largely unrelated things from around the blogosphere.

IBM's Edd Brill's blog is rated as one of the best blogs for hidden corporate and product gems. He has also posted new screenshots of Sametime 7.5. I'm also alpha testing the product, and I'll try to blog more on this soon.

Fix Pack 2 for WebSphere Message Broker File Extender is out.

Comedy genius Dave Gorman has discovered Flickr.

Amazon's new S3 storage service has got bloggers thinking.

My friend and colleague Chris Nott has co-authored a developerWorks piece on choosing an ESB to fit your business model.

Technorati tags:

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

New weblogs of note

These will be making it into my sidebar, at some point:

Design Patterns for Modern Life (from the infamous Richard Brown)
Per Henrik Lausten
Gerhard Poul
Philip Hartman

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Genetics of dragons, wisdom of monkeys

I've spent the past two days as an activity host at the Blue Fusion event in Hursley. The title of the post will become clearer if you read on...

For those that don't know, every year (for the past 11 years) IBM participates in the UK's National Science Week, by inviting teams of students from schools from the surrounding area to come into the lab to take part in science-based activities. Each school can bring a team of 6. Throughout the day they are accompanied by an IBMer (a school host), and rotate through a number of different activities (run by activity hosts). They score points according to how well they manage to complete the activity, including points for teamwork, and at the end of the day the top 3 schools win prizes. There are also a number of guest speakers, one at the beginning and one at the end of each day. We try to keep the day varied and interesting.

This is my second year as a helper. Last year I ran an activity called Kids Run e-business - basically a simulation of business process management. It was such an addictive experience that I signed up again this year. Yesterday I hosted Dragonetics, which explored the ideas of genetics and inheritance by using a family tree of dragons. The students seemed to really enjoy it, and once I'd got over the initial "oops how does this work and how do I run it?" Monday morning nerves, I had a great time, too. Today the activity I was hosting was testing communication skills using Morse code, semaphore, and reading Braille.

Probably the most interesting part of the day for me is seeing how different groups from different schools - and different mixes of genders in the groups - behave and work together as a team. Last year the range of behaviours was anything from highly motivated and driven to win, to relatively disinterested. This year's teams have largely been extremely motivated, although not always particularly well organised. One group had a strong leader; another one seemed to be excluding a couple of the brighter individuals through their enthusiasm for getting stuck in. The levels of teamwork and communication can vary tremendously. It's a fascinating study in psychology! The added dimension is that during the day, the scores for each activity and each school are displayed in the main hall in Hursley House, so the teams can see how they are doing compared with the others - towards the end of the day, the top few teams can become ultra-competitive, and some of those at the bottom of the table sometimes lose some of their energy.

So, why do I choose to get involved?

1. It is time out from ordinary activities. For me, this has meant time to recharge, in some ways - although it is hard work, and a long day, it's so totally different from what I normally do, it is very refreshing.
2. It is an opportunity to provide giveback to the community.
3. It involves entirely different skills from my day job. Although I do a lot of mentoring / coaching / skills transfer with our customers, working with children demands an different set of capabilities.
4. It really is enormous fun. I can't wait for tomorrow to come around.

For me, before I came into IT, I was always going to be a teacher - so this is a way for me to explore that kind of experience without having to change careers.

Sunday, March 12, 2006


Well, it happened...

Friday, March 10, 2006

Optimising my route around London

This is one for my colleague Richard Brown... who has stated his intention to start a new blog on efficient commuting. Optimise my daily route from London Waterloo to Old Street (or from Farnborough Main mainline station, if you prefer). The Waterloo and City line is due to close from April to September... which is no big deal, since I intensely dislike the daily scrum at Waterloo to get onto the Waterloo and City line anyway. So far I've tried W&C to Bank, followed by Northern to Old Street... currently my preferred choice is Northern Line Charing X Branch to Euston, and down to Old Steet.

Current travel time is approx 45 mins from Farnborough to Waterloo, and half an hour from Waterloo to Old Street on the Northern - I leave Farnborough at 0745 for a 0900 start. I'd prefer to make no more than two changes (currently from mainline to tube, and then one change on the tube), but I'll allow up to one more change.


Thursday, March 09, 2006

Satnav again - decision made

Following on from my last post on the subject, more information on the new TomTom models is now available. I want a TomTom GO 910... the more I read, the more I know that it must be mine... but it sounds like it won't be available in the UK until May. Two months after my birthday. Blast.

Technorati tags:

Stopping MQExceptions being logged to the console in Java

I've been writing some Java code that uses the WebSphere MQ base Java API. When there is an error, even if the MQException is caught, I've been finding that the exception is logged to the console.

There's a simple way to stop this from happening. Somewhere in your initialization method, you can include this statement:

// by default, MQExceptions are logged on System.err
// this will switch off that behaviour
MQException.log = null;

Of course, you can - and should! - still catch and handle the exceptions as normal, and get at the text of the exception if required. This just prevents them from always being printed on the console (or location of System.err).

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Implementing information as a service

A topic that I've been interested in for some time is the concept of Information as a Service. My Software Services colleague Bobby Woolf[*] has just discussed this idea this on his blog. In summary, you can implement services in your SOA that provide an interface to your data, rather than accessing it directly using, for example, JDBC calls - separating your application from the format and location of that data. I thought I'd add my own spin on this by providing a real-world example, and hopefully demonstrate how easy it can be to implement this kind of model.

Background: four months ago I was working on a project where we had been asked to create a portal interface to a proprietary, legacy backend system. We were implementing SOA, so chose to use WebSphere Message Broker as the Advanced ESB product to build a service facade over the backend system. When a portlet running in WebSphere Portal needed to invoke one of the backend APIs (say, GetCustomerDetails or ReportFault), it would send a JMS message to the ESB. The broker would then reformat the incoming XML message into something more palatable to the backend, initiate a sockets connection to the iSeries system from a JavaCompute node, perform the call, and then return some XML to the invoking portlet over JMS.

(of course, we could have put HTTP nodes on the ends of the message flows instead of JMS queues, and generated WSDL, but for various reasons we chose not to do so on this occasion)

So far, so good. The other thing that we needed to do was to get some information from a backend database. Naturally, we could have done this using JDBC calls from the portlet. Instead, we chose to implement an interface that was consistent with the one that we were using to access the backend system - namely, a service exposed over JMS.

One line of ESQL in the Broker (similar to the following) created an output message that was consistent with the format of the responses from the backend.

SET OutputRoot.XML.Response.Services.Service[] =

What this code does is query the SERVICES table in a database and return the SVCCODE and SVCDESC columns as an array, which is used to populate an XML structure - we end up with a set of Service elements in our Response message.

Results of the ESQL code example

When we later needed to query a second database table as part of the same operation, we were able to use the broker to do this - it merged the two sets of data, and returned a single JMS message containing the response. All in a single line of code.

This example only shows a read operation - but we could implement create, update or delete just as easily, and touch multiple datasources if we chose to do so.

So, what were the key advantages of implementing the Information as a Service pattern here?

  1. Very simple to code in broker - I'd even use the word, "trivial".

  2. No mixing of APIs on the portal side; JMS (or SOAP/HTTP) only, no JDBC.

  3. XML data returned to the portal is ready for use by the same XML parser used to get data out of the responses from the backend, in the same format as it came from other services.

  4. The ESB can insulate the presentation layer from database changes... if the database schema changes then it can still return messages that look the same if required.

  5. Other services can call the data service if required, so the scope and implementation of the data calls are not limited to the portal.

Incidentally, just to clarify, since it seems to be something of a misconception (in this review, for instance) - you do not have to use ESQL in order to access a database using WMB. We offer Java and Mapping nodes which have similar capabilities. In this case, I wanted to illustrate just how straightforward it can be to build an XML message from a database query using ESQL (it uses less space in my blog!).

[*] I've met Bobby only once, briefly, after a session at a conference about 15 months ago. You can tell he's a guru because he's blessed with a blog at IBM developerWorks. Plenty of interesting stuff to read over there.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

WebSphere Message Broker reviewed

Thanks to Google News Alerts, I found a very interesting article about WebSphere Message Broker (the review is at Network Computing, but I came across it via the Messaging Pipeline, a site I'd not been aware of before). It is particularly interesting because it is a review, and I don't think I've ever read a review of WMB before. The article is mostly positive, which is great. It also provides a few comparisons with aspects of competitive products, and I'm always grateful for the insight.

I'd like to make it clear that I am not an official spokesperson for the product, but as a consultant I have been using Broker in customer situations for over five years now. There are a couple of points in the article that I think are worth picking up:

  • We rebranded MQSeries as part of the WebSphere family (WebSphere MQ) a few years ago - I think it is always worth getting this right.

  • The article doesn't explicitly explain what the simple scenario that was being built actually did, so I can't really respond to the charge that a significant "depth and breath of knoweldge" was needed to build it.

  • Message Broker's ability not to have to use XML for data parsing and transformation is, indeed, one of its greatest strengths. Not only that, it is worth adding that the broker uses just in time and partial parsing technology, which can significantly improve performance. What this means is that (unless otherwise configured) when a message arrives at a message flow, it is only parsed the first time that you address a field inside it. When that happens, the message is parsed to the point at which that field exists in the message, and no further. Of course, if you want to, you could tell the broker to parse and fully validate every field in the message before processing it in the flow - but you don't have to. Partial parsing is great for performance. Say you were routing a message on the contents of an XML element that existed in the first, say, 50 bytes of the message - you could do that without having to parse the whole ~200Kb document.

  • The broker has a number of methods of transforming data - Java, XSLT, ESQL and drag-and-drop graphical mapping. The author of the article appears to refer to building a mapping, and having that generate the XSLT required. The article also suggests that there is no tooling for building an XSLT visually. Actually, our Rational tooling (on which the Broker toolkit is based) does provide exactly this function, and it sounds like the author used it... so I'm a bit confused here. As well as a graphical XSLT editor, the Eclipse editors provided with the Broker provide everything you'd expect for editing XSLT, like syntax colouring and context assist. It is possible that the XML development capabilities were not enabled, but it is a simple matter of switching them on via the toolkit preferences.

  • The article mentions that in order to access a database for a simple lookup, ESQL or Java coding is required. In fact, the broker has a number of database nodes. These use the mapping technology to provide a drag-and-drop interface to database tables. You can even discover a schema from a datasource using the Data perspective in the IDE, import the table definition, and work directly with it in the database nodes. So, you could build a database lookup without using either Java or ESQL.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this review. There's much more about WebSphere Message Broker - IBM's Advanced ESB - over on IBM developerWorks.

I'll leave the inimitable Richard Brown to pipe up on the true meaning of orchestration, he seems to have things to say on the matter...

Technorati tags:

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Orchid festival

Colour palette
Originally uploaded by andyp uk.
Ola and I spent part of Saturday at the 2006 Orchid Festival at Kew Gardens. The theme was Orchids in Art and Design. Wonderful displays. There were several large (probably 8ft tall) paintbrushes where the ends were covered in colourful orchids as if covered in paint, and some artist's palettes with the blobs of paint made up of orchid displays. The exhibition ends today, so we just caught the end of it... but it turns out that it is an annual event, so I'm sure we'll visit again next year.

A great opportunity to make use of some of the techniques in Photographing Plants and Flowers. Apparently one of the best ways to capture the unique shape of orchids is to face them, and then position the camera at about 45 degrees to the side, and 45 degrees up or down. Seemed to work well.

And so begins the last week of my 20s. Sigh.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Photo backlog

Originally uploaded by andyp uk.
I'm slowly getting through a huge photo backlog from last year. This is the latest upload.

The one thing this has highlighted is how out of whack my displays are. My Linux box (where I edited this, and whence I uploaded it) shows the image with richer / more saturated colour than either of my two Windows laptops. It seems like it might be time to invest in a Spyder or Huey.

In other news, my favourite Flickr tool jUploader was updated to version 1.0 a couple of weeks ago. I only just noticed.

Technorati tags:

Getting around London

My colleague, WebSphere maestro Richard Brown is currently running an occasional series on his blog, sharing his secrets for optimising journeys around our capital.

There's no substitute for such first-hand local knowledge, of course, but if you are interested in planning your journey at a slightly higher level, the latest Google Maps mashup I've found provides a tube journey planner. Similar to the one offered by Transport for London, but faster. Plus it shows where the lines actually run, which is quite neat.

Incidentally, I notice that the iconic London tube map has made it into the final three for the Design Museum's Great British Design Quest, as supported by the BBC Culture Show. Of the remaining entries, I think it is going to get my vote - partly because it is so enduring.

Technorati tags:

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Going 50mm

Since I got my 50mm lens a few weeks ago, I've been making an effort to use it as often as possible... but I still fall back on my existing zooms fairly often. The truth is that we've not been out to do much photography - which is why I've been posting stuff from my back catalogue to my Flickr photostream.

I wanted to share a few really interesting articles about 50mm photography. The best article I've read is The Forgotten Lens. There is also Rediscover the 50mm Lens and this blog entry on 50mm prime lenses (which refers back to the first article I've linked).

I'm excited, but not getting out enough. I hope to remedy that soon.

Technorati tags:

Choosing an in-car satellite navigation system

Last week, my wife told me that she wants to buy me a satellite navigation system for the car as a present for a significant birthday that I have coming up far too shortly. The only challenge was that I knew next to nothing about the systems, and she was relying on me to help to choose the appropriate one!

The main criteria is that it would be good if it covered both the UK and Poland. Other than that, we don't mind too much. I've been told that cost is not an issue, which is very nice (and somewhat surprising!) to know.

Initial research suggested that the TomTom GO 700 was the best option since it does cover Poland - admittedly only 18% coverage but I can't find anything better than that. It has nice features like Bluetooth hands-free calling with a mobile, and downloadable voices including John Cleese..... As a techie, it was nice to see that that particular model runs Linux, too. The concern I had is that ~50% of the reviews on Amazon seemed to indicate that the units have a fairly high failure rate.

I posted a request for information to an internal forum at work, and several people replied with suggestions. The main players seem to be Garmin and TomTom.

Yesterday, TomTom announced a whole range of new models, due out in April. I'd suspected that this was on the cards, since their existing range was available at a significant discount. Mmmm. The new TomTom GO 910 sounds amazing. May have to wait until after my birthday, now.

Technorati tags:

Monday, February 27, 2006

Sametime 7.5 rocks!

The IBM Lotus website has just been updated with more information about Sametime 7.5, the forthcoming major update to the Sametime chat client. I've been using IBM Community Tools internally for a while now, and many of the features are going to make it into Sametime 7.5. I can't wait for the new version. There are plenty of screenshots to whet your appetite.

Technorati tags:

Friday, February 24, 2006

No longer #1 on Google

For at least a few days recently, this weblog was the top hit for my name on Google. Today, it is suddenly down to fifth or sixth, and all of the hits above it are unrelated to this Andy Piper. I have no idea how this has happened - but then, I also have no idea how I made the number 1 slot in the first place. Oh well. Ego-surfing back on pause for a while.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Google's latest - Google Page Creator

Google Page Creator is an online tool that lets you create static web content. Google will then host it for you at [yourGoogleId] You get 100Mb of hosting space.

Interesting to see where Google is going with this. Do you want them hosting your content? And how much does this differ from Blogger and other blog hosting sites?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Flickr eyecandy

So you've been bitten by the Flickr bug. You update your photostream regularly. Wouldn't it be great if your screensaver could show you your pictures, your favourites, those of your contacts, or others based on tags or groups? I've found two good Flickr screensavers:

I'd love one for Linux...

Technorati tags:

The end of SWT? Mustang kicks back

One of the big annoyances I always had with Java was how bad rich client / desktop applications looked. They can be ugly, and even with Swing, the look and feel often never quite matched the native desktop... this was particularly true on Linux, and I was also disappointed with the lack of antialiased (smoothed) fonts for Swing GUIs on Windows until recently. has some screenshots of the new GTK look and feel that is due to come along in Mustang (aka Java 1.6), and it does seem that it is likely to be a much better match for my Linux GNOME desktop.

Of course, this isn't enough to sway me away from SWT, which always looks completely native, and as a programming framework it gets richer by the day. developerWorks has an article comparing AWT, Swing and SWT, and a tutorial on how to migrate your applications from Swing to SWT.

Dynamically update Web service interfaces using WebSphere Message Broker

An article that has been in the works for quite some time has been published on IBM developerWorks. It describes how to use a message flow to automatically download a WSDL file from a remote source, extract the schema definition, compile it as a message set, and redeploy the message dictionary to a running Message Broker.

It is really great to see so much material on Message Broker (and the rest of the WebSphere family) being published recently. Do take a look at developerWorks, there is some fantastic material there.

This is my debut as a developerWorks contributor, although I should thank Ben Thompson for doing most of the work of making our idea into something publishable. Many thanks to the developerWorks editorial team, too. Look out for more from me on developerWorks in the near future.

Technorati tags:

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Canon announces the 30D - is it "new" enough?

According to PhotographyBLOG, Canon has just announced the EOS 30D, after months of speculation about what the successor to the 20D would look like.

My only concern is, is it a new product for the sake of having one? The principal improvement appears to be the larger LCD (I'm a fan of larger LCDs on cameras in general, so this is not a bad thing provided that the battery life remains reasonable). Apart from that there are the Picture Styles that are now available in the 5D, and a selectable 3fps/5fps frame rate. The EOS 20D has been hugely popular and successful, but I would have thought that such a small incremental update is not likely to tempt people to upgrade from the existing model. Maybe it will help to win some people over from a Nikon system (I doubt it) or be appealing to those moving from compacts (I have to admit that if I didn't have the 350D and I had a bit of extra cash, I'd be buying a 30D).

No reference on the Canon website yet, but I'm sure that will come.

Technorati tags:

Gluing myself together

I don't know if anyone else has come across Suprglu yet (why is it that after Flickr, everyone has to drop the 'e'?).

The premise behind Suprglu is that many people have a Flickr account, various RSS and ATOM feeds flowing from sites like (it supports a whole range of default sources, plus any feed you want to add), and at least one blog, maybe more. By registering with Suprglu, you can build a composite site which aggregates all of those sources into a single page. So, if you visit my Suprglu site, you'll find my latest photos from Flickr interspersed with posts from my external blog. Like Blogger, Suprglu is themable.

The only big problem is that it seems to lag behind by 24-48 hours.

WAS CE - a good looking update

I just installed version of WebSphere Application Server Community Edition, which is based on Apache Geronimo v 1.0

The admin console for this release has had a significant revamp, with some nice icons added to the GUI. It has some very useful functionality (I like the log viewer in particular).

Unfortunately (and foolishly) I ignored the warning not to install over the top of an existing installation, and pressed Next after the installer had told me to choose an alternative install path or uninstall first. As a result, I lost my existing server configuration. Fortunately, it was trivial to redeploy the sample JMS application I've been playing with:

C:\WebSphere\CE\bin> deploy --user [user] --password [pword] deploy ..\samples\jmssimple\sender.war

Sadly, I haven't had a chance to try out the Eclipse plugin yet... but this looks like a nice step forward.

Technorati tags:

Monday, February 20, 2006

Back from a week in Devon

There's an organisation in the UK (I think they have branches in a few other countries, too) called The Landmark Trust, which restores old properties and makes them available for hire by private individuals and parties. Last week, we stayed in one of their largest properties, Wortham Manor in west Devon.

Wortham Manor Master bedroom Great Hall

(naturally, there are more photos over on Flickr)

February is a slightly cold, wet and windy time to be going on this kind of holiday, but we had a great time along with a group of 13 friends. The walking and the photography opportunities were good; the food was fantastic. It didn't rain all the time, either. A shame to have to come back. We're looking at alternative Landmark Trust venues for our next trip - highly recommended.

Anyway, that explains the slight interruption in normal blogging service. More soon, once I've got through the email backlog.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Googlewhacking WebSphere Message Broker

Googlewhacking is the game of trying to find a search query with only one result.

Looking through the referrals for the past few days, it turns out that right now, my blog is the single result for the search phrase "javacompute supportpac".

I guess posting this means that it won't stay that way for long.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Choosing a digital compact camera

My mother has wanted a digital camera for some time. She primarily wanted one for taking shots of her granddaughter. I think she became convinced that digital cameras are a) not as scary as all that and b) capable of perfectly decent print quality. In fact she's pretty good with trying technology - she has a PC, uses e-mail and the web... reasonably basic, but she's prepared to give new things a go.

On Saturday we went out to Lakeside shopping centre. One of the things my mother wanted to do whilst I was with her was to look at cameras. She'd saved some money to get one, although I had to point out that you have to account for memory cards in the initial outlay, so she didn't have quite as much as she thought she did to spend. I'd already determined the following criteria for helping us to decide on an appropriate model:

1. Ease of use. It had to be point-and-shoot, and make as many of the functions as easy to use as possible. Knowing the kinds of options available on cameras these days, I didn't think she'd ever use all of the functions anyway - so the basics had to be straightforward to use and understand.

2. Large screen. I was aiming for a 2.5 inch screen, since I knew larger would be better - my mother's eyesight is OK right now, but I still didn't want her squinting at a smaller screen. She's seen other cameras with big screens, too, and liked those. Of course, the larger the screen, the shorter the battery life and the more expensive the camera, so I knew this might lead to compromises.

3. Good quality images. I'm not fooled by the megapixel myth and know full well than more MP alone does not make a sharper image, but I was still thinking in terms of 5MP so that she could make some decent-sized prints if she took photos that she liked.

4. Not a Sony. The reason? Simply, the memory sticks. They cost more than SD / CF, for no appreciable reason. In terms of other brands, ideally a Canon, Nikon, Fuji, Olympus or some similar quality, well-known manufacturer.

My ideal for a digital compact would probably be a Canon Ixus 750, but that was substantially beyond our price range. We took a trip to Photo Optix[1], which is where I bought my Canon EOS 350D last year. The lady there was happy to discuss the requirements, and let us play with a Nikon Coolpix of some description (right price, but 1.8 inch screen, 4MP - so not ideal), and a Pentax Optio S55. I'd not considered a Pentax, and didn't know much about the Optio range. It did fulfil all of the criteria. Before we purchased I dashed out to another shop to flick through the camera magazines, and the model got a reasonable review - no major flaws, and good quality. Photo Optix also did a case, batteries plus charger, SD card and 3 year warranty for half price, just exceeding our budget but working out pretty well.

The only issue I had with the camera was that the PC software didn't seem particularly friendly to beginners - it ships with a copy of ACDSee for Pentax. I'll look around for something a bit more straightforward to use, ACDSee seemed to expose more options than strictly necessary. I'd be interested in anyone else's experiences with this software.

Anyway... choice made, and so far, so good. We'll have to see how she gets on with it.

[1] the Photo Optix website really needs some love, compared to retailers like Jessops or Warehouse Express. One thing I will say for them is that their staff have always been very attentive, helpful, and knowledgeable. Prices on memory cards are not very competitive, but in general I've been happy with their service so far.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Database shootout

Following on from my posting about DB2 Express-C, I was very interested to read an article comparing Cloudscape/Derby with MySQL. Cloudscape is a slightly different product to both DB2 Express and MySQL, since it can be embedded inside your application and doesn't need any specific administration tools. The database is hidden from the user. This can be a huge advantage, depending on your application requirements.

For example, in WebSphere Message Broker version 6, the Configuration Manager now uses Cloudscape instead of DB2 to store its information. This means that it is easily portable (it now runs on all of the WMB supported platforms), and you don't need to install and use DB2 if you don't want it.

Take a look at Cloudscape, also known as Apache Derby, if you are interested in a lightweight embeddable database. If you need something a bit bigger and don't mind some administration, DB2 Express-C is worth a look.

Technorati tags:


I've been revisiting some of the images I took last summer. So far, one of the results has been a small series of pictures of butterflies. All of these were taken on one particular great day in Poland, using the kit lens that came with the 350D. I hope to get an opportunity to use the new lens on these kind of close-up shots in the future - guess I'll have to wait for better weather to come along!

White butterfly Brimstone butterfly Peacock butterfly
Delicate Balancing

So far, the first one shown has proved very popular and according to Flickr Scout is currently #19 in the Flickr Explore pages.

Technorati tags:

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

DB2 goes free...

... well... DB2 Express Edition does, anyway.

As reported today on The Register, you can now download DB2 Express-C for free and use it on x86/x86_64/PPC Linux and x86/x86_64 Windows. Combined with the release of WebSphere Application Server Community Edition, this is an exciting step and provides developers with the tools to build enterprise apps for free, scaling up to IBM's full WebSphere and DB2 offerings.

Technorati tags:

Saturday, January 28, 2006

First outing with the EF 50mm

Church path
Originally uploaded by andyp uk.
We'd been planning to go further afield today, but instead stayed near to home. Might get the chance to visit some gardens or other attraction tomorrow. This is one of the first shots I was really happy with using the new lens. Lots to get used to with the improved aperture and lack of zoom.

Camera goodies

Although I usually try to get a lie-in on a Saturday, the front door buzzer woke me - the postman had a parcel to deliver.

Rewind: Yesterday, I ordered some new kit for my camera from Warehouse Express - a small Lastolite reflector for flower photography, a Canon RS-60E3 remote switch, a Canon EF50mm f/1.8 II lens, and a hood and filter for the lens. About half an hour after clicking submit on the order, I had a call from Warehouse Express explaining that the lens and filter were out of stock - did I still want to go ahead with the order and they would send on the items in about a week when they were due in? I said OK, since the postage costs were not going to change. I understood that there was an extra charge for Saturday delivery, but I didn't pay for that since I figured that I could wait an extra few days.

The upshot is that I was expecting a reflector and remote switch on Monday, and the lens and other bits a week or so later. So I was pretty happy when it all turned up in one package this morning! I also appear to have a Hoya Super HMC Pro filter, which I didn't think was the quality that I'd ordered (I thought I was getting a basic filter). Kudos to Warehouse Express - I'll be using them again.

I'd been looking at getting a lot of this stuff on ebay. The EF50mm can be found for around £60 on ebay, but usually shipped from Hong Kong with another £15-£20 postage and a 7-10 day shipping time - so not much different from the price I paid, and it would take longer to arrive. In the end, I'm happier with the service I got from a UK-based company.

I've not had a chance to give the kit a proper workout yet, but I'm looking forward to going out later to get some shots. I'd read some reviews of the lens, so knew roughly what to expect. My first impressions of the EF50mm f/1.8 are that it is small; much nosier focus than either my existing EFS18-55mm (the kit lens that came with the EOS 350D) or the EF55-200mm; but early results of inanimate household objects suggest that it is very sharp. It is my first prime lens so I guess it will take some getting used to.

Time to change my kit bag. I've been carrying the 350D around in a medium Crumpler Ben's Pizza bag, large enough for the camera body with lens attached, and the second lens. With three lenses and sundry other accessories I may have to move up to the rucksack I bought last year, which I've not had to use yet; or make a tough choice before going out as to which two lenses to take with me.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Java, Eclipse, SWT - a blog

I just discovered that Joe Winchester, of Eclipse Visual Editor project fame, has a blog. I shall have to follow it.

Your message could not be processed, please try later

There's a new article on IBM developerWorks entitled Generic message retry and requeue with WebSphere Message Broker V6. It describes how to use the Timeout nodes in WMB v6 to implement periodic retry for message flows. The article was written by Stephen Cox from IBM Hursley. Well done, Steve - excellent piece. If you are interested in Broker topics, it is well worth your time to have a look.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Sametime 7.5 screenshots

Exciting announcements from Lotusphere - Ed Brill has posted screenshots of Sametime 7.5 on his weblog.

Technorati tags:

Lotusphere 2006 begins, and developerWorks blogging

I can't be at Lotusphere, but I'll be able to follow the goodness via Kelly's blog and photos. I know there'll be some great stuff coming from our Lotus team.

Incidentally, to pick up a comment James Governor made last week (I'm a little late in responding)... I think developerWorks is a great place for IBM employees to be blogging. It is a focal point for our products and technology. Microsoft bloggers have blogs at MSDN, so why shouldn't we have them on developerWorks? I'd agree with Richard's point that it seems a bit strange to need to get a developer ID to leave a comment, but sometimes you do have to register to leave comments on other blogging sites. As a techie, I'd actually consider it something of a badge of honour to have a developerWorks blog. I guess it makes some sense to make some of our blogs, particularly from strategy and VP level, more accessible directly from, but I'm inclined to Richard's "so what?!" view of this issue.

Technorati tags:

Weekend wanderings

We visited Wakehurst Place this weekend. Wakehurst is an offshoot of Kew Gardens - we're members at Kew, and get free entry. It is a lovely estate with some great walking opportunities (up and downhill, unlike many other gardens). The manor house itself is quite attractive. Another major feature is that Wakehurst is the home of the Millennium Seed Bank, where they are aiming to preserve 10% of the world's flora in seeds by 2010. We both agreed that we need to visit again as the seasons pass - it looks like it will be really beautiful in spring and summer, and the walks through the trees should be great in autumn.

Some photos, more to come (and more on Flickr - check the large sizes too):

Walled Garden Millennium Seed Bank Manor

Picked up the debut album by Thirteen Senses for a stupidly tiny price in Tesco - very mellow listening. Also picked up a bargain copy of Midway Arcade Treasures for PS2, so I spent a bit of time yesterday afternoon revisiting arcade classics like Gauntlet, Defender, Spyhunter, Joust and my personal favourite, Smash TV. Some of them seemed much more difficult to play than they used to be - it could have been the controller over the keyboard. I certainly wouldn't have spent as long playing if I didn't have unlimited opportunities to continue (i.e. "new coin") in most of the games.

As Darren mentioned over on eightbar, one of the internal IBM podcasts at the moment is Battle of the Bands. I listened to the most recent episode this weekend. I think I'm going to have to start buying some of the albums by the artists involved - in particular, I really enjoyed a track by Lisa Swain. The quality of all of the bands is just so high, it has been very difficult to choose my favourite tracks so far.

And now, the week begins in earnest.

Technorati tags:

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Wireless networks are all around me

I got home this evening, opened my laptop, and instead of connecting to my home wireless network, Access Connections roamed me onto another network. I was pretty surprised that there was an unsecured wireless network in the vicinity. I live in a small block of flats. Scanning for networks, I discovered four others, two of which had public names, and one of those had encryption disabled and no security. Not only that, but the router had no password enabled. Clearly I didn't do anything to harm the network, instead I quickly got Access Connections to connect to my own network (no name advertised - check; high encryption - check; secure - check; strong passwords set - check).

I'm now in a bit of a quandary as to how to proceed. People tend to come and go around here, I don't know everyone in the block, and I don't know who this network belongs to - the network name doesn't give anything away. Do I put up a sign on the noticeboard to tell people to check their wireless security? - surely that's alerting anyone who walks through the hallway that there is bandwidth waiting to be grabbed. Do I knock on the front door of every flat asking if they have a wireless network that I can help them to configure? Or just leave it?

Why isn't DB2 more popular?

There's a great article on The Register today talking about the profile of DB2. Did you know that the largest OLTP databases in the world are hosted on DB2?

Technorati tags:

Today on IBM developerWorks...

Making an early start to my blogging today, I'd like to draw attention to a couple of the latest articles on developerWorks:

  1. Hursley superstar James Taylor has an article on Verifying WebSphere Message Broker V6 without using the toolkit. Thanks for the acknowledgement, James - I checked through some of the scripts included in this article at an earlier stage, it should be a very useful article if you have just installed WMB v6.

  2. Krishnakumar Balachandar has an article on Using WebSphere MQ with WebSphere Application Server Community Edition. This is a topic I've been following for some time, so it is particularly nice to see the labs putting out some material on this. This makes WAS CE an ideal platform for building web applications to interact with an existing WebSphere MQ or Message Broker infrastructure.

Technorati tags:

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Fedora or SuSE

I went through the Linux Distribution Chooser test. Apparently I'm either a Fedora or a SuSE man - not a surprise since my Linux history started about 8 years ago flipping between SuSE and Redhat, and has progressed to Fedora.

Monday, January 16, 2006

WebSphere Message Broker Toolkit v6 fix pack

Just a quick entry to mention that the first fix pack for the Message Broker toolkit has been released.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Playing with Flickr

This weekend I revisited some photos I took last year. I'm really pleased with my winter photography so far, but I decided to liven up my Flickr account with some more colourful photos. If you do go visiting my photostream, do have a look back at the snowy shots from Poland too, I'm really proud of them.

Floral carpet Summer's gone Daffodil on black

Another reason for the flower photos is that I've been reading a book called Photographing Plants and Flowers. It's a nice book about techniques for capturing flowers. Among many other interesting topics, it talks about changing backgrounds digitally, so I've tried a couple with plain coloured backgrounds as an experiment.

As I've blogged before, my RAW package of choice is RawShooter Premium. The image manipulation software I use is The Gimp, which is free and generally very good... However, in creating the plain background versions of my old photos, I did encounter a problem. I needed to create a large (3000px, 300dpi) image. On Windows, this caused The Gimp to hang up 3 times, each of which required a reboot. I tried playing around with the cache and memory settings, but to no avail.

In the end, I switched to my Linux workstation. I had multiple applications running, and The Gimp still flew. Admittedly that box does have twice the memory of the laptop, but I was still amazed. What it doesn't have is any kind of application for uploading photos to Flickr, so I went looking for some. The first option was some scripts for Nautilus in GNOME, but I wanted something a little more sophisticated. I found Glimmr, an application written using Mono. It is small, and looks good - but unfortunately hasn't been updated since the Flickr API changed in the middle of last year, so doesn't actually work. The project looked dead, but then I found the author's blog where he talks about resurrecting the application. Not sure if or when that will happen.

I know that F-Spot supports Flickr upload, but I've never really enjoyed the user experience - although I do know that I need a good photo browser / tagging / cataloguing application. See the Introduction to F-Spot article in GNOME Journal.

Finally I found jUploadr. This is written in Java, based on SWT, and is cross-platform. It could be the perfect application. I'll be giving it a try over the coming week. Initial indications are that it is very nice indeed - and it works.

In terms of GNOME integration, there is also Gnickr - making Flickr a virtual filesystem in GNOME. I've not tried it yet. I found mention of it on this interesting page of Flickr tools - too many to look at in one day.

Whilst I'm recording interesting Flickr articles, I should also mention that I found one about making Flickr work with Gmail and Picasa; tips for beginners on Flickr; and basic guidelines for tagging on Flickr. All worth a look.

Technorati tags:

Friday, January 13, 2006

A Wikipedia antidote - and an IBM joke

Demonstrating that I have a sense of humour (and I'm sure most of my colleagues do, too), I'm going to share this link to the Uncyclopedia's page about IBM.

I know that Wikipedia has been getting a lot of bad press lately, but I've personally never had too many problems with it. The Uncyclopedia is a fun parody, though. When you arrive, you are greeted with the message:

Welcome to Uncyclopedia, the content-free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.

... it seems to be rather well put together, so far.

Warning: some of the content may be offensive. I've not dug too deeply, I went straight for the IBM definition. The definition of Linux (or rather, DorkWare for Dweebs) is pretty amusing, too :-)

(I first picked up news of the Uncyclopedia over on James Governor's blog)

Technorati tags:

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Changing my mind about Thunderbird

Thunderbird 1.5 is getting on my nerves.

As I mentioned earlier, the News and Blogs (aka RSS/Atom) support is much enhanced over 1.0.x... but having used it for a few hours now, the interface really sucks. It really should be simpler to add, delete and organise feeds.

Not only that, but in 1.5 the News and Blogs folder defaults to loading the web page for each feed rather than displaying the textual summaries, so you have to be online all the time. I've got a web browser for looking at the web pages if I want to. You can change this (the non-obvious series of clicks is right-click News and Blogs -> Properties -> tick "By default, show the article summary instead of loading the web page") but you don't seem to be able to do it on a global basis for all the feeds you already subscribe to; you have to go through the list in Manage Subscriptions, edit each one, and tick the article summary option.

I know there are dedicated applications like RSS Bandit available. On my Linux workstation I use Liferea, which is really nice. I wanted to continue to use Thunderbird, since I already use it for newsgroups, and for managing IMAP accounts. At this rate, I'm rapidly going to lose my patience.

Technorati tags:

Reasons to buy a UPS

About midday yesterday, I found that I couldn't connect to my webmail. I run SquirrelMail on my Linux server at home, pulling email from about 7 different accounts I have dotted around the Internet, and aggregating it all for me in one place. I have a DynDNS address where I can access my server, so that my email is always available. If it is unavailable, it usually means that my home ADSL connection has gone down, or there has been a power cut and something hasn't restarted properly.

Yesterday, it turned out to have been a power cut. I got home to find that my entire home network was down, wireless wasn't working, my workstation hadn't restarted at all, and my server was unable to connect to the Internet since the router was refusing to connect, for some reason.

I don't have a UPS. I know, I know, I really should have one. I've just never gotten around to spending money in that direction. Not only that, but I'm not sure I have enough space under the desk, and every time I look into it I get confused about what I really need. A neighbour recently gave me a conditioned power supply with a single plug on one side, and 4 standard power sockets on the other, harvested from an office that was being closed down... but that just has surge protection rather than a battery backup.

Yesterday's failure was fairly bad, but not catastrophic. I run Linux Software RAID on my workstation, so I have two copies of my data and I'm not terrified of data loss there (yes, there are backups too). My server is not RAIDed, although it probably ought to be. These days it just runs my mail, web and news servers really - there's not a lot else I need from it.

The workstation failed to restart twice, but I think that was partly down to the ADSL connection still being down and various services (like NTP synchronisation) hanging. I also had a very strange problem where the X server didn't want to come back up at boot time, complaining about missing fonts. Once I'd ssh'd over from the server (which restarted and recovered from the ext3 journal without problems) I was able to kill the hanging boot services, and start X from the command line. Note to self - remember that you can check the status of the RAID array by looking at the contents of /proc/mdstat and using mdadm to force synchronise the members if needed.

Finally, the router. It simply wouldn't connect to my ADSL provider. A simple reboot fixed that problem, and the wireless connectivity too.

So I'm in the market for a UPS. It needs to support two machines as a minimum, and also to be Linux compatible. Oh, and not to cost a fortune... I need the rest of my money for a new lens for my camera...

Technorati tags:

Thunderbird 1.5 is out

My Windows e-mail, news and RSS client of choice, Mozilla Thunderbird, reached 1.5 release status today. I just installed it, and it seems to work fine. There are no immediately-visible changes when you first start it up. The Options dialog is of course now similar in style to Firefox 1.5, and the extension update mechanism is also inherited from Firefox. The Manage Subscriptions dialog has been extensively updated - you can now import OPML files, and create folders for your feeds, which is a big benefit. I guess I have to spend some time reorganising my subscriptions.

There is more coverage of the new features here and here.

Unfortunately quite a few of the extensions that I use are not currently compatible with 1.5 (NestedQuote Remover, Signature Switch, Move Search Items, View Headers Toggle Button, and compact folder), but hopefully they will get updated soon.

Technorati tags:

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Hostile commentary on Google Pack

Seems not everyone shares my lukewarm enthusiasm for Google Pack - Paul Thurrott doesn't like it very much at all...

I think he's being overly unfair - I still hold to the opinion that it is a good "one-click" (-ish) way of getting a bunch of essential software onto a machine, and potentially for keeping it updated. I just don't think that all of the software is the stuff I would choose to include in such a pack.

Technorati tags:

Adobe Lightroom squares up against Aperture and RawShooter

There is increasing coverage of Adobe Lightroom, a new RAW workflow tool. This follows a lot of noise about Apple's Aperture application. I've not lost much sleep over Aperture, mainly because I don't have a Mac - and although they are very desirable machines, I'm not expecting to go there any time soon[*]. Also, some of the coverage of Aperture has been more than a little mixed in the levels of praise, for an application that puts such a dent in the wallet.

Lightroom sounds interesting, since it will run on Windows as well, and Adobe clearly already have a lot of experience in digital imaging. I like the look of the application. The layout reminds me a lot of my RAW tool of choice, RawShooter Premium. The features are tempting - Lightroom can work not only with RAW files, but with JPEG, TIFF and PSD... JPEG at least is something I would use, and probably TIFF too. The Greyscale Mixer and the number of processing options are exciting - with RawShooter I sometimes have to switch to The Gimp for some post-processing. Of course, pricing hasn't been announced yet - if it competes favourably with RawShooter, I might even be tempted.

[*] I'm sidestepping the fact that none of these apps run on Linux, which they clearly could do if the writers made an effort... it's just disappointing.

Technorati tags:

Monday, January 09, 2006

Flickr Scout

Using the new Flickr Toy, Flickr Scout, I discovered that two of my photos have been featured in the Flickr Interestingness pages in the past month. This is the area you can browse through to find the "most interesting" photos for a particular day. Unfortunately, due to competitive pressures one of them has since dropped off the list, but it was still very cool to find that my photos are making that much of a splash :-)

Deer in the snow Yellow flower - Kew

Technorati tags:

ThinkPad T60 announced and previewed

I'm happy to hear about the ThinkPad T60 (this is a link to a preview article). A dual-core model with a max of 4Gb of RAM and a larger hard drive. I won't miss the parallel port. I do wonder why I really need a Windows key, but never mind. I wonder how long it will before we are issued with them internally...

Technorati tags:

I don't need most of this stuff anyway

Jean-Francois raises an interesting view on Google Pack over on his blog Life in Technical Sales. I'm not as brave as him in that I don't want to remove my Google account (yet). He's right that a lot of the pack is redundant - to me anyway, since I was already a Firefox user, for example. It is a nice way of getting the latest "essentials" onto a new PC, though.

Incidentally, it looks like I was wrong about the screensaver, it can reference files on a network drive. The only disappointment is that it always works through directories of pictures in the same order, so there isn't that much variety. I do like the Collage look, though. I wonder if there is an alternative photo screen saver that would allow me to have something as nice as the collage, with the variety of randomisation, possibly with Flickr support included...

Technorati tags:

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Google Pack

So Google have announced the Google Pack, a bundle of software that Google provides free-of-charge for Windows PCs.

As a fan of Google, one the one hand I think this is a good thing - getting Firefox onto more PCs, for instance. However, I'm not keen on the idea of the cut-down version of Norton Antivirus, so I've excluded that from my download options - I'm going to switch my home laptop to AVG Antivirus Free Edition in the next week or so (although I'm a bit nervous about trying to remove Norton, I have heard horror stories). I was also interested that it includes Ad-Aware SE. I'd previously been an Ad-Aware user, but have recently switched to Microsoft AntiSpyware Beta... although I've not installed it on my home laptop just yet. Of course, Google couldn't possibly have included that, so Ad-Aware is a good alternative.

On the whole, running the Google Updater was a very pleasant experience. I didn't get prompted for a reboot, and it detected Adobe Reader, Google Earth and RealPlayer as already installed and updated them to newer versions for me. I also like the Screensaver, which in my opinion is nicer than the pictures screensaver that MS provides. The only irritation is that it does not allow you to include photos from network drives, so I can't use it at home with my entire photo collection - it lets you add the UNC location or mapped drive to the list of folders, but after you click OK it silently removes it again, which is a shame.

One comment on the Ars Technica article I linked above:
The apps included in Google Pack will supposedly be updated automatically, and Page trumpeted the fact that there's no nagware included—you won't be bugged for upgrades, and you won't have to worry about the programs in Google Pack changing your system settings without your approval.

... well, that depends on your view of what your system settings consist of. It did add RealPlayer and others to my Desktop, Adobe Reader Speed Launch to my Startup folder, and Picasa into the Run key in the registry (which in some ways is more evil, since you have to know to go looking in there). It also added itself to the Startup folder as well, of course - but I'll leave it there for now.

On the whole though - quite a nice new freebie. Worth a look.

Technorati tags: