Saturday, 20 December 2008

The New Interview Platform

I've written in the past about interviewing, on how to present yourself well to others in these situations.

What might not be obvious though, and something I entirely bypassed in my discussion, is that you are always being interviewed.

Think for a moment. How many of us take part in social networks in some way be it Flickr, Facebook, Google searching (trust me, this feature is coming someday), IM chats via Google Talk or MSN Messenger. We all project a digital personality which search engines find and present to those who want to find out more information.

I've done a search for a few friends, and the engines turn up more and more detail on older and older material from them. Not all of it is what I'd tend to call 'interview material', some is just plain filler and crap but thankfully so far none of it is damaging to their reputation.

Even the questions they are asking are part of the search result fabric with sites such as Stack Overflow presenting itself to Google for indexing.

But I think this is all great stuff for a few reasons!

  • If you are good and use the tools as you should us them, i.e. the web, then you leave a digital trail showing how you used the web asking questions and hopefully too how you contributed to the web.
  • If you are bad, you either won't have an online presence, or what you do have online will show you haven't really scratched the surface of the thing you are being interviewed to do.

Someone wrote 'try to be an expert in your field'. This makes sense since the footprint you leave will be more impressive and deeper.

I'd say this works for a large percentage of programmers and professionals out there, only a few are awkward like me and refuse to focus on just one field.

However my advice overall is simple - Live by your values - if you believe in something, tell it from the heart, always. This way, you won't even have to write a resume...

(follow me on Twitter)

Friday, 19 December 2008

Google Sites

I've been sort of roped slightly into doing a site for someone and have been looking at several options.

Only recently started playing with Google Sites expecting it would be fairly good, but on reflection I'm quite impressed at what you can do with it.

Immediately, I should mention that I expect to shape the site, deliver it and handover the day to day publishing since I don't much fancy being a glorified typist.

So the Google offering allows me to:

  • Create a site in moments. Really, it is that simple.
  • Create forms to capture input. This works pretty well, data is captured to a Google spreadsheet
  • Create a photo slideshow from a Picasa album
  • Setup page links and hierarchical structures
  • Secure the site
  • Host comments and attachments
  • Other things, go Google for yourself.

I'm no stranger to web development. I recognise that Google have limited the features more advanced users may want. So I can't for example use iFrame's, JavaScript and a bunch of other things. This makes site mashups tricky if not impossible, a shame in the 2.0 world... It's a tradeoff though.

But the elegance of the product really leaves me wondering if it's not just perfect for my needs. It's just so darned quick to throw up posts and alter basic content, and after all content is king right?

What do you think?

Would you use it?

Have you created a site for someone else less technical than you to then take over and publish to?

What did you use?

(follow me on Twitter)

Friday, 24 October 2008

Back It Up

So the home Windows computer now has over a 1TB of storage. How did that happen? Perhaps less important is how, more important how to back up all this data safely!

We have around 8 years of pictures, 10 years of my music collection, 15 years of files I've scanned or documents I've typed up, all my contacts I know, all my emails, licence details for software I own (you get the idea, lots of digital stuff).

Backups are traditionally very painful to do. People either think they are too complicated, think they take too long to run, or think they are too expensive to do.

I wanted the least pain to make sure backups happen, so here's what I use. Hope this helps convince you to do similar.

  1. Buy an external hard drive and install this making sure both it and your PC use USB2.0 for speed.  I picked up some 750Gb for around £50. Just make sure this is big enough for all the things you want to backup.
  2. Download and install a copy of Microsoft's SyncToy 2.0, it's free
  3. Create a folder pair.  There are options when creating the pairs, but essentially you are telling SyncToy "I want you to copy this source folder (left folder in the screenshot) to the destination folder (right folder in the screenshot).
  4. Run the sync.

What's pretty smart here is SyncToy takes care of the delta process.  That is, if a file changes in the left folder, the right is updated by SyncToy.  If a file is deleted on the left folder, the right can (optionally) remove it too.

The initial sync can take ages depending on the size of the left folder and the speed of the drive and connection between your PC and drive.

Within the Help menu is a helpful (odd that) description of how to schedule this process so your folder pairs are automatically synchronised. Means you don't have to concern yourself with remembering to run backups.

You have no excuses now. Don't come crying to me when it all hits the fan...

I'm interested to know, does anyone do anything else from this? Anyone backing up to the Internet, how and at what cost / speed?

(In fact, small lies above. I have a second internal drive and an external drive. I prefer to schedule the backup to the internal drive to happen weekly, and run the backup to the external drive every month storing the drive out of the house for safe keeping).

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Old Acquaintances

Feeling a tad misty-eyed today.  It would have been the 40th birthday of an ex-colleague and friend, Michael Roser.  Mike was unfortunately in a fatal road accident earlier this year.

Just wanted to mark the event by writing a few short things about him and my memory of him, hope you don't mind reading them.

He was a slightly quiet, slightly grumpy bugger, but certainly a smart one. Very warm natured and close friend to those who stuck around long enough to see past his occasional scowl.

Always pushing himself, always challenging things, always learning, always sharing, always amazing. This shone through in his physical training he took part in, his technical work, his conversation about software and other things, his diverse interests (making wrist watches being one!), in fact nearly everywhere.

I always left with the impression that Mike's life was a huge training exercise to prepare him for something immense. And when it came, boy would he be prepared!

Sorry you left so soon mate. Far too soon for my liking.

Friday, 8 August 2008

Like A Hole In The Head

When I was a kid, I had a lot of time on my hands, most kids do. I chose to spend a fair whack of it playing games on the Commodore 64, the Spectrum, Amstrad, Amiga, Megadrive, Saturn, etc...

i.e. I played a hell of a lot of games.

One of my friends who I played games with in those days recently said he didn't think he'd be alive when a game as good as GT4 came out (yes, GT5 looks better).

However, I've just finished looking at footage for GRID for the PC.

Take a look at this video if you can

For me, I was always aware the graphics side would reach these levels, and clearly will continue to improve. But the physics engine that demo shows just looks utterly stunning.

So, do I need another game on my list of things to play? No more than a hole in the head.

But it's still utterly stunning what developers can achieve these days.

(yes, probably will end up getting this, looks far too nice to miss out on).

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Delicious shared items

For anyone who follows my links via the RSS feed from this blog, I've decided to move these off of the RSS feed here onto a separate feed.

Subscribe to my shared items (including shares) on

Will splice in more shared items in there when I get time.

Monday, 7 July 2008

iPhone 3G - worth it?

I'm a sucker for gadgets, and the new iPhone is very tempting...

Look at the features at a glance
- 3G connection
- Stunning touch screen UI
- Google maps
- Unlimited data (with reasonable usage of course)
- TV Out support
- iPod feature
- etc...

I won't even try to replicate the list, Apple already did that.

There are obviously a few niggles, but most I think people could live with.

So I'm again debating do I need these features?

The answer is a definite yes, of course I do. That's precisely what Apple marketing makes me feel, and there is no doubt that Apple's marketing is first rate. We all live in a connected world and all want access to information when we need it at our convenience.

It's the lifestyle thing, isn't it? Don't you just want to be the person to be seen using the most up to date phone with all that connectivity to the world?

I thought I did...

After the 18 month contract, with the 16gb model and the £35 per month package, it's a cost of £789.00. That's without taking out insurance, or itemised billing, or anything else I've not included.

That's a hell of a lot of money for anything, isn't it?

My car probably costs me around that per year in depreciation, and I'd consider that to be a reasonably big expense. Hell, I could buy a superb new computer for that, or an amazing flat screen, or a holiday for crying out loud!

So my reluctant conclusion at the moment has to be that I'd need to be off my rocker to think I REALLY needed that sort of device at that particular cost. I just can't see past the cost at the moment but fawn over the thought of the features you can have!

What do you think? Is the iPhone worth the cost? If you are considering it, how are you justifying the cost to yourself?

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Todo Lists for the web

I've been playing around with the Vitalist service. It offers an on-line todo set of pages.

My first impressions were poorer. I wasn't impressed with the garish colours and without really studying it sort of dismissed it out of hand.

However, taking another look at it, they offer:

- Mail / SMS you your reminders
- Integrate with Google calendar / RSS readers
- Simple UI
- i.e. basics for GTD

The only fly in the ointment for me? I can't get the todo list onto my copy of Outlook.

Perhaps it's time to leave the notion of sync everything behind and start down the 3G route with on-line access to my data / integration with SMS etc...

However worth a look if you are into stuff like this.

Friday, 16 May 2008


I never realised this, but blogger, or blogspot, support OpenID.

If you also have a Blogspot account, you also have an OpenID. It's the URL of your homepage.

i.e. mine is

See for a list of supported services.

Very smart!

Friday, 9 May 2008

Why Is It Hard To Work In Large Companies?

I've noticed that lately my motivation for work has dropped away a little.  We've recently had a new bundle of joy, Emily, who being the 3rd kiddo means home life is very much about keeping on top of the cleaning, playing with the kids, etc.  I'd previously wondered if this is partly the cause.

But Emily is now 8 months old, and I still feel a degree of apathy, so what is the cause?

I've come to suspect the more likely candidate is work.

You see, I used to work in a small(ish) software house with around 130 staff, I think I knew around 80 of these guys at the time I left.  Since leaving this, I've started in a company with 40'000 staff.  That's a lot of people, a lot of voices and opinions.

Now that I have perspective, I see that there was a really good community there.  People talked from time to time, people challenged things, we worked toward a common set of goals, delivery of a package to our customers and potential customers.

I think that now in such a large environment, these voices may be too small to be heard.  That means you don't get to meet others with the same goals as you or the same problems.  I put my apathy down to a lack of community in my workplace.

I think a lot of the best IT staff do their best work when they have a community to participate in because they are engaged with others and challenges at an ability level without fear of recrimination or career damage.  Simply put, you need to swim with the same fish to be part of the school.

What do I mean by a community?

I believe a community is a group of like minded people with common goals who want to help each other achieve their group goals for mutual benefit.  Sometimes it can be knowledge shared, contacts shared.  Sometimes it can be shared problem solving.

Now, work in a big company and that horrible factor of politics starts to play up.  It's hard to be sure if someone is trying to prove themselves to others, trying to shift out of the way of a bullet, and so on.  Too many people are in it for the money.

I think the community is one of the unspoken requirements for the best development to exist.  Without it, people's views are not challenged or questioned and people find it harder to seek to learn.

And that's quite sad I think...

I'm left pondering how you create a community when,

a) you don't have a project or budget or authority to create one

b) creating such a community would assume you all have clear goals, rarely the case in very large groups of people

c) the community needs members to take a small risk and offer help to their detriment (perhaps they need to use some of their own time to do something).

So my challenge is to understand how to create such a community in a larger organisation when the focus is only on projects, delivery and milestones.

I'm inspired by the material out there on agile methods.  It is clear to me that this approach works best for software development.

I feel at the moment that I have to sort out the community I work in before I can really get my learning back on track properly.

Does this strike a chord with you, and if so what do you think the right way is to tackle the problem?

Friday, 25 April 2008

Hardy Heron

Downloaded Ubuntu tonight, the latest build Hardy Heron.

Installation was so very simple you could knock me down with a feather... Wireless connection was up and running first time round. Left me feeling quite amazed to be honest at how straightforward setup could be.

When did Linux get this simple, and so complete?

Gonna make a point of trying to use Linux day to day at home and see if I can swap over to it. The commercial games aspect is the only real reason I can see at the moment to keep on Windows...

Otherwise it's all in there off the bat with no hard work :-)

Try saying that with Vista...

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Far and wide

Make sure that if you work in IT you don't focus on just one aspect of your skills.

Strive for a balance of the following:

  • Can code in at least 3 languages
  • Knows about OO concepts, or other similar design abstracts
  • Knows how to write SQL (the main language for data)
  • Knows how to write and manage requirements (suggests a good understanding of English and communication)
  • Knows something about how networks work (nobody creates islands anymore)
  • Can present their material one on one or to a crowd without belittling them

Covering these general bases makes you stand out from the crowd.

Google = Smart, but a little too subtle...

I've started using Google's mail service lately to aggregate all my mail.

I'm past the debate of whether I trust Google with my data or not simply because if something is important to me I'll store it offline and online. A key challenge for Google is earning and keeping your trust, I reckon the millions they spend trying to retain my trust will be more investment than I'm ever likely to make against my personal data. However that's another debate...

The aggregation feature is very useful to me. One site, all my mail, any PC. Very smart.. However I missed some of the useful features within Outlook that I used to quickly manage mail.

In Outlook from the main view you can select a mail item with the mouse, then hold down SHIFT, select a mail somewhere below it and release SHIFT. This selects the two mails you selected and all the mails inbetween. Very useful in clearing out dead mails I know I don't want.

Google employs a tickbox against the mail.
The subtle part I just stumbled upon... Google has implemented a client side script to mock this behaviour. Select a mail with the tickbox, hold down SHIFT and select another mail far below it. All the mails inbetween are selected!

Very smart, very useful, but a shame that it's not more obvious. Well done Google!

Now, the only problem left to solve is that age old chestnut of having passwords. Need to get rid of them, they are a fantastic security hole for the Google strategy.


Some of you I've noticed are using Twitter with some success. I've noticed a few other sites push toward FriendFeed.

FriendFeed is a social aggregation tool, does a very good job of pulling together all of the social feeds from quite a few sources (Picasa, Flickr,, Facebook, YouTube, BlogSpot and more).

The very nice part about it is you are subscribing to me without actually knowing what services I use. However FriendFeed aggregates the things I do and puts them into an RSS feed / page you can keep up to date with.

I've used it to tag a few services I use and have created a profile for you to also tag and watch if you want. From that, you can separately drill into the social sites I use.

Well worth a look if you want to follow someone or be followed.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Orb Streaming

I found TVersity was lacking in terms of it's ability to keep running.  The service crashed on my PC and seemed to take longer than I'd expect to stream films.

The actual quality of the films wasn't too hot either, but certainly considering the software was free I had zero expectation so wasn't really disappointed.

I stumbled upon another package name Orb.  Their site does a good job of explaining what the software does, but in a nutshell:

  • Your PC securely broadcasts it's presence to the Orb site.
  • Via the Orb site, you can browse music, photos, videos located on your home PC
  • Supports the Wii, iPhone, Smartphones, etc..  Most UPMP's
  • Allows you to access ALL your files on your PC
  • Allows you to upload to your PC

Pretty good features for free software.

I found the media streaming quality to be really good and the features suitable to my need.

One really neat feature.  There are a bunch of links to Flash games suitable for playing on the Wii.  All the games are free, so basically I just found a bunch of free games.  Most are poor, but a few are pretty good.

I realised while playing with this stuff that my home PC is woefully underpowered.  It's time to upgrade...  Maybe TVersity will run better with new kit?

Maybe?  I?  Could? get a TV card too to watch streaming Internet television stations on my regular TV in the front room?

Clever Brain Stuff


Clever Brain Stuff from Cambridge University .

O lny srmat poelpe can raed this.
I cdnuolt blveiee that I cluod aulaclty  uesdnatnrd what I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdr nig  to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in what oredr the ltteers in a word are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is that the first and last ltteer be in the rgh it pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can still raed it wouthit a porbelm.   Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the word as a wlohe. Amzanig huh?! Yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt! If you can raed th is psas it on  !!

Appealed to me...

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

TVersity - Wii Streaming

I mentioned that I had started to look at streaming video from my PC to the Nintendo Wii in an earlier post.

Well I downloaded TVersity, installed and played around a bit with it. I also needed to download the Opera browser for the Wii, cost around £3.50 from the Wii Shopping channel.

After around an hour of installing and faffing around, I managed to get select media on my PC showing on the Wii. I had an AVI file of the short series Hogfather on the PC, selecting it on the Wii was a simply matter of browsing a web server running on the PC.

The web server hides behind it the TVersity magic which is a flash encoder. This software reads a file on your PC, uses DirectShow (I think) to then re-encode the file into a flash based stream (like YouTube). The result is the ability to open any file from the PC for which you have a codec and set it up suitable for viewing in a simple open format.

TVersity is free, so really this all seemed to be too good to be true... and I found out it might be.

There are a few problems which prevent me actually using this to watch movies.

1. Something is causing the videos to stutter around 5/10 minutes into them. It may simply be that my PC is too slow or is running something which soaks up the bandwidth.
2. It's a real pain not to be able to fast forward a film. I tend to shut down the PC at night which means the encode process needs to start again. You can't fast forward into non-encoded video.
3. The actual frame rate is very similar to YouTube quality video. I'm finding it very painful to try to watch at 15 frames per second with all the real detail knocked out of the videos.

I probably have very unrealistic expectations of the setup given TVersity costs zilch.

The answer I think will be to upgrade the home PC. It's a lowly Athlon64 3Ghz wit 1Gb memory. Quad core seems the way to go here or really fast dual core.

So my adventures have paused for the moment until we get around to that job.

Meantime the setup does have a few nice tricks which I'll still make good use of.

- I can listen to my music in the living room by streaming it to the Wii. The sound quality is very good.
- Using the Wii browser I get a good experience browsing the web. Handy if the main PC is in use.
- The setup seems to cope OK with using TVersity to recode some of the videocasts I watch. Seeing these on the television from the sofa instead of a smaller monitor at the PC is a delight. Particularly for the ones which last a good hour (i.e. PodTech and Channel9 videos).

I'm also not abandoning hope that there is another method to do this. Maybe Nintendo will support AVI's and USB storage devices? Time to go Google...

Friday, 4 January 2008

Wii Stream

We were lucky enough to receive a Nintendo Wii this Christmas. Suffice to say Boxing day clocked up around 9 hours of gaming when my family got together on Boxing day.

I'm a terrible geek when it comes to new things. When I first got my PSP, within a week I'd managed to get an emulator on there running megadrive games, custom web browers, SNES games and more. I cannot help myself!

And now that I'm back home and the holidays are done, I turn my attention to the Wii. It may not be the most powerful new kid on the block, but there is a fair bit of oomph in there.

My interest is in playing movies through it.

A friend at work pointed me toward There is a media encoder which encodes videos to flash on the fly and streams them to a web browser. Since you can download Opera for the Wii (500 points I believe), it is possible to use this combo to pull movies, music, pictures, etc all through this package.

Best of all TVersity is free (they accept donations).

So guess what I'm doing this weekend in any spare time I can find...

Any advice appreciated from other Wii Streamers out there ;-)