Technology

Not many weeks after work pick HP at the new supplier of all our desktop PCs and laptops for the next I’m not sure how many years, they go an make it pretty clear that they want out of the PC making business. Laugh – oh yes I certainly did.

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Technology in HE

I was vaguely watching a live chat on the Guardian website on Friday regarding the impact of new technology on academic research, curious about what their ideas and opinions would be. Whilst the majority of the discussion related to other stuff, several people commented on IT restrictions, comments like:

“Does anyone else feel like they are constantly *hacking* the institution – constantly, CONSTANTLY, finding alternatives so I can do and use what I want. I *never* use the University’s official stuff/software/approaches because I just couldn’t work that way. They suck. Control and power and lack of trust.”

Whilst I understand the frustration, it seems they never consider the reasons why IT departments do some things the way they do. That maybe there are valid reasons. It seems it’s far easier to simply assume that it’s about trust, or lack of understanding, a power thing or simply because we want to annoy people. The thing is what works perfectly for you on your own computer may present a host of problems when you scale things up to 1,000 or 10,000 machines. For example, lets take Google Chrome.

I know lots of people at institute would like a different browser from Internet Explorer. I use Chrome myself (or more accurate Chromium) and it is indeed a slick, quick, well made piece of software. But you start to look at it in terms of deploying it to hundreds or thousands of people and you start having to consider various issues that have probably never even crossed the mind of the academic that just likes how it looks.

1. How do you go about applying security updates? Normally these are done automatically but you don’t want that happening for managed software. Can you separate out the security updates from feature updates. And considering how fast new versions of Chrome come out (on version 14 currently I believe), do you want to keep moving to new versions every couple of months?

2. You need to deploy a different version of Flash player from the one IE uses and keep that up to date with all the numerous security updates it suffers from.

3. You can’t install to the normal location at my institute. And the Chrome profile – where does that go? My profile currently comes in at about 150MB in size, which isn’t much but would have taken up ALL the space we provide for students to store their work for the whole 3 years of study. And you can reach that level in just a few months thanks to the ‘feature’ that stores the text of every webpage you visit!

4. How do you support all the add-ons? Useful as they are, the more you install the greater the potential to make Chrome act strangely, especially as they aren’t produced by Google and it’s much harder to judge quality.

5. What about other software or services that require a web browser – how will they work with Chrome.

6. Apart from some useful extensions what improvements does it really give someone (and please note that the latest versions of IE do very well on speed, resources and security).

I’m sure there are more.

People see us as restrictive and so go off and do their own thing without telling us. How are we supposed to help if we don’t get asked? And even if we do know and would like to help, we often don’t have the time, money or staff to do so. So those people going off and doing their own thing need to consider what they are really asking for, what the implications may be and that maybe we have a valid reason for doing things the way we do. Reasons such as security implications, data protection issues, money, support overheads, method of deployment and duplication of functionality. Maybe if they understood all those things they would be better placed to help make IT at their institutions better with informed choices and feedback…

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In the news

Shell accepts responsibility for Nigerian oil spills. Well, for two of them anyway. It’s probably going to cost them a bit more than the compensation they so far offered – £3,500, 50 bags of rice, 50 bags of beans and a few cartons of sugar, tomatoes and groundnut oil.

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New laptop

Miss C’s laptop has been on it’s last legs for a while and despite my advanced technical knowledge (“Just whack the screen…… see, working again now”) it needed to be replaced. Whilst I know a fair bit about computers I know very little about laptops. So off I went for some serious online investigation.

Was looking for something cheap, light and only powerful enough for basic web surfing, document editing etc. All too easy to get drawn into getting a powerful processor and more RAM than you can shake a stick at but at the end of the day if you are not going to use it, it’s a waste of money. Much better to find a laptop that has all physical things you need such as weight, size, battery life, connection ports and the rest.

Finally settled on a deal I’d seen mentioned on HotUKDeals. £400 for a HP Probook 4320s and £100 cash back from HP themselves (see the offers page). She bought from SaveOnLaptops and the basic price was much cheaper than most other sites out there by a wide margin. Throw in the cashback and the laptop was a steal at three hundred quid! Ok technically the cashback hasn’t come through yet but the claims process was very easy and a confirmation email said it was a valid claim.

Also impressed by SaveOnLaptops. Amazingly quick delivery and great customer service which was surprising for such a cheap site I’d ever even heard of before this.

As for the laptop, that seems to do everything Miss C needs which isn’t surprising as the technical spec is much higher than pretty much anything else in that price bracket! Intel Core i3 with 3GB RAM, 320GB hard disk and a dedicated graphics chip. In fact it was probably as powerful – if not more so – than the desktop machine I’d been gaming on until recently! And it’s shiny.

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Thoughts on Croatia

Every time I told someone where we were going on holiday they had either been themselves, knew someone that had gone, read about it or seen a program about it. All had the same response – “I hear it’s really lovely”. Having now been to visit Croatia I can confirm it’s all true.

We booked a late deal through Thomson – 7 days half board for under £600 in a place called Rovinj in Istria. We chose Rovinj after a quick look through some of the forums on Tripadvisor. I don’t take everything said there as gospel but it certainly helps to hear the views of people that have experience of the place you are going to guide your choices. The advice said Rovinj was a good base of operations and it certainly was. Our hotel was the Hotel Eden. Maybe not the newest (a very swish new place had only just been opened right next door) but the rooms were large and clean, the balcony big enough for sitting with a bottle of wine in the evening and the food was of a good quality. It has lovely grounds with lots of trees for shade, a nice outdoor saltwater pool and is about 3 minutes walk from a beach (although beach is a little generous as the whole coastline is very rocky and what beach there was was man made – still nice though). The evening entertainment was not really up to much if I’m honest but there are plenty of ways to entertain yourself.

Rovinj by night

Whilst possibly not the cheapest you could get, the Thomson rep offered a number of excursions with discounts for booking either two or three which helped bring the cost in line with external choices. We booked three in the hope that they would use tried and tested companies. First up a day tour of “the best of Istria”. Basically a guided tour to Pula, a trip to the hill town of Grožnjan and a local meal in a village whose name I forget. Not bad although quite a long day and the wine with the meal was not up to much at all. Our tour guide Elvis was quite a character though and I spent the first hour thinking he was calling us his “mighty guests” every minute – turns out he was saying “my dear guests”.

Next trip was a boat trip up the Lim Valley (or canal or fjord), on to the town of Vrsar and then a stop for a swim from the boat near to one of the many islands around that area. The trip itself was great although the captain and crew didn’t really speak English so we had no idea of the itinerary most of the time. We all looked a bit surprised when the boat stopped on the way back, they simply asked “Swim?” and then started handing out shots of Grappa. The rocking of the boat also left us feeling a little light headed by the time we got back but at least one family had decided to take the bus back from Vrsar so we were spared the little boy crying out “We’re all going to die” every 2 minutes for the return trip. The number of nudist beaches you pass is also quite high…

Last trip was a day in Poreč. Just the bus there and back – no tour – but it’s easy to find all the sites to see as it’s a small town and well worth the effort. We could have gone one several other trip including to Venice and Slovenia but we wanted to get the right mix of excursions and relaxation, which was why the rest of the holiday was spend lazing by the pool reading, walking around the coast and wandering around Rovinj.

To sum everything up:

1. Lovely countryside (very very green) and beautiful coastline.
2. Good weather.
3. Friendly people who seem to drink a lot of wine and have an obsession with Abba
4. Lots to see and do (or not if you prefer to relax)
5. If you want holiday money, there are plenty of local exchange offices that all offer much better than UK rates with no commission.
6. Good food with a strong Italian influence.
7. Good package holiday by Thomson – would use them again

If you are considering going to Croatia, it’s well worth a look.

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New and Shiny

Six months ago my computer monitor started flickering with what I presume is a dodgy backlight. I’m not one to rush in to things though so I put off buying a replacement whilst I looked at the options and finally last week I bought myself a new one – a Samsung B2430H. At £119 from Scan (plus free delivery as I’m a member of AV Forums) I thought I’d got a bit of a bargain for a 23.6″ monitor. Was a little annoyed when I saw it for a tenner less on Ebuyer a few days later but that’s life….

Going straight to the good points.

1. It looks good. Smooth lines, nice base, nifty blue LED and some cool touch sensitive buttons on the front.
2. Seems pretty solid but then Samsung are a well known brand.
3. No issues at all with the display. Clear, bright and good colour.
4. Dialing down the brightness and contrast results in a power consumption of 27W – much better than the 45W stated on the manufacturer website and possibly lower than my old 19″ LCD from memory.

Not found any problems yet. So if you are looking for a new monitor this one gets the thumbs up from me.

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In the news

Never heard of the Best Party before (but then they are Icelandic) until I read this article on them. Sounds like a refreshing change.

Its first pledge was to break all its promises, making the party almost impossible to attack, then it promised a polar bear to the zoo and a drug-free parliament within 10 years.

The party’s only advertisement was in a newspaper personal column, saying: “The Best Party wishes to meet good people aged between 18 and 90.” Its 10-point plan had 13 points. And the party’s campaign video featured candidates singing Tina Turner’s Simply the Best, with the chorus: “We are the best, the bestest of parties, best for Reykjavik, best city of every week.”

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Interesting

The end of consumerism?. Nah, doubt it very much. But it is an interesting article that highlights some of the trends for using the power of the internet to facilitate social sharing of goods and services.

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Games

I picked up a secondhand copy of Bioshock last week on eBay. Old game I know but that’s the good thing about old games, you can get them cheap and they don’t require amazing hardware to play (generally). Having heard that there was some limit to the number of game activations I sat down to install it yesterday. All was going well until it got to the autopatcher….

I spend a lot of time with software in my job and get to see lots of shoddy stuff. I’m not saying the code is shoddy just the whole ‘common sense’ thinking behind it. Like the very expensive language software a couple of weeks back that didn’t bother to check if you already had the Java Runtime Environment installed already but just went ahead and installed a much older (and probably security riddled) version of it regardless.

seems Bioshock suffers a similar problem. Off went the autopatcher and when I let it through the firewall it came back telling me that “The BioShock patch file is corrupt.”. Commons sense says it should try a few times and then carry on or at least give you the option to skip that part. Nope, rinse and repeat with the downloading and the failing and I’m not the only one that got stuck at that stage according to a quick search.

Maybe it was more luck than judgement in my case but I did manage to get around the problem by doing the following.

1. Whilst stuck at the autopatching phase, downloaded and installed the patch manually.

2. When the connecting window for the autopatcher came up, used Task Manager to kill the autopatcher process. This seemed to convince the installer that it had failed and allowed it to finish but that seemed to remove everything it had already installed (except possibly the patch).

3. Re-ran the Bioshock installer. Went through without an issue.

Like I said, maybe nothing I did actually fixed it and I’m not going to uninstall and repeat just to test the process but worth giving it a go if you are stuck like I was, non?

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In the news

Washington moves to classify cyber-attacks as acts of war.

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