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Exchange, Hotels and Laptops

I haven’t written a lot on here recently, partly because I’ve been busy at work with various projects and partly because I’ve been stressing about buying a new house (I’m still waiting for the people at the top of the chain to vacate their property. There are only four people in the chain, including me, yet it’s been nearly 6 months since I sold my property. C’mon people, let’s get moving).

Anyway, I’m writing this from my new laptop in my hotel room in London where I’ve been sent to attend an Exchange 2010 course. I have a spare thirty minutes, so thought I’d write up a quick review of my experience so far. As with most of my reviews, these are based on my own narrow perspective and should probably be read with a generous pinch of salt.

Laptop

Work recently provided me with a new laptop, after I dropped a not-so-subtle hint that my own had died and I couldn’t afford to replace it (Not strictly true, but hey, I use it for work so why shouldn’t work pay for it!). Anyway, I chose a Samsung Series 7 Chronos laptop with an i5 processor, 8Gb of RAM and a 1Tb hard drive. I have been using it every day this week, and I am suitably impressed with the hardware. The battery life (although perhaps not the reported 11 and a half hours) exceeds my previous laptops by several hours, the screen is large enough to be useful and is crystal clear. The keyboard is comfortable, and the keys are well spaced and don’t have that “flick off-able” quality that some cheaper laptop keyboards have (you know, when you’re speed typing and your finger catches the edge of a key and flicks it off. And no matter what you do, that key never feels the same afterwards!).

In fact, the only thing that lets this laptop down is the software. It can pre-loaded with Windows 8, which was an intentional decision on my part as I felt that I needed to get some exposure to Win8 in order to better assist friends, family & colleagues when they upgrade. While I am pretty sure the OS works well on a mobile device such as a tablet or phone, I really don’t like it on laptops (nor will I like it on desktops!). Microsoft have put both interfaces (the new Metro touchscreen style interface, and the old style desktop interface), and while you can flick between them manually, the fact that different apps runs in different interfaces mean that you will spend much of your time switching between the two. This wouldn’t be so bad if applications such as IE that run in both interfaces actually moved between interfaces as well, but unfortunately each IE instance is totally separate, so pages you’ve opened in one interface don’t appear in the other.

Some of the apps also don’t feel particularly stable. The provided Mail app, for example, keeps telling me that my gmail account is unavailable, despite synching with it not 5 minutes ago. And what is up with having to sign in with a Microsoft account for everything (You even have to sign in with your Microsoft account to start the Mail app, even if you’ve no intention of using the app with a Microsoft email account.

All in all, Windows 8 feels a bit like Vista. A step between two vastly different products that has been used to introduced new features and technologies. As with most new technology, it has rough edges that I’m sure will be smoothed out in time for the release of Windows 9.

Hotel

I’m staying in the Travelodge on City Road, and I have to say, it’s not been as bad as I thought it’d be. Despite it’s location, and the warnings of traffic and nightclub noise posted on their website, the room has been for the most part quiet and relaxing. The only noisy elements have been one or two of the guests who seem to thinking nothing of having conversations at the top of their voices whilst leaving their rooms at 4am.

The room is basic, but clean. Tea/Coffee etc are provided free of charge and are topped up daily. The room is also cleaned daily (I noted that some other reviews stated their rooms were only cleaned a couple of times a week). There is a bar/café down stairs which I haven’t yet used, so can’t really comment on the quality of the food, but it’s nice to know that it’s an option.

The staff (from the little I’ve seen of them) are friendly and polite. All in all, a decent hotel that I would have no objection to staying in again.

Course

Finally, the Exchange 2010 course that I’ve been attending. I’m not going to go into too much detail yet with the actual course content, as the week isn’t over and it’d be unfair to judge the course based on the first couple of days (which tend to be quite basic regardless of what course you’re on).

The course is being carried out by QA on Tabernacle Street, which is only a couple hundred yards from my hotel. The facilities are about average, with free tea/coffee/biscuits etc. Each student has their own dual screened workstation with 16Gb RAM and plenty of virtual machines to play with. Unlike some courses, you’re not made to pair up with another student in order to test out interactions between systems; each individual workstation runs its own virtual AD/Exchange organisation.

Lunch is pretty much as good as it gets for someone with “lunchophobia”, with us being essentially kicked out and made to find our own places to eat (although we are permitted to bring food back to the classroom).

All in all, not a bad experience and I don’t think I’d have any objections staying in this Travelodge once more, armed with my Chronos laptop ready to embark upon another QA course.

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Posted by on March 20, 2013 in Study, Work

 

Long time no post…

Wow, has it really been that long since I posted anything on here? Oh well, other than work (and then work, followed by more work) there’s been little for me to post about recently.

Until now.

Finally, some ten years after I bought my little one bedroom bungalow I have actually gotten around to selling it. Woohoo. Incredibly, it was sold within a week of being put on the market, which kind of irks me given the fees charged by the estate agents to sell the house. Or perhaps I’m looking at it the wrong way and should just consider it money well spent.

I don’t want to go into to many details about my new house, given that contracts have yet to be exchanged and there is still time for everything to go belly up, however, I’m hopeful that I will be moved early in the new year. Three bedrooms ftw! And stairs! And a downstairs loo!! And a rather large mortgage. Meh.

I must admit, I’m actually very sad at the thought of leaving my current bungalow. When I look back at the original particulars from when I bought it all those years ago, I must admit my ugly little bungalow looks pretty nice now. Gone are the nasty, drafty, dark brown wooden windows and doors, replaced with new UPVC double glazing. Gone is the flimsy old fencing, replaced by a (bloody expensive) sturdy fence hand built by me & my Dad. Comparing the inside shows marked improvements as well, especially the kitchen which Dad & I replaced a few years ago and the recently redecorated lounge.

Ten years is a long time to build memories in a home. I’ve laughed, cried, shaken my fist, cursed noisy neighbours, learnt to cook real food, fallen in love from afar, and even survived a tornado that ripped the roof off of nearby houses (that was a bloody sleepless night, let me tell you!)

One thing I won’t miss though is the jets. Despite being somewhat diminished by the double glazing, and despite still being very impressive when you see them taking off from close up, the sound of jets taking off a few miles away when you’re trying to sleep, or trying to watch TV in the evening, or even, god forbid, hold a conversation, has grown tiresome. Yes, the RAF do a fantastic job protecting us from the scum of the world. Doesn’t mean I have to enjoy living near them! I also shan’t miss being woken up at 5am by my silly sod of a neighbour who seems to find it quite normal to sing at the top of his voice early in the morning. Dude…there are people trying to sleep!

Once the process has moved on a little bit and contracts are safely out of the way, I shall post some before and after pics of my old bungalow, as well as a couple of pics of my new place. Until then, it’s back to work for me…

 
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Posted by on December 6, 2012 in House & Home

 

VMWare Woes Pt2

As readers of my blog may recall, I posted about issues I’ve been having with our new VMWare system running on an HP 3000 blade chassis.

As a quick reminder, the system had been set up by consultants who knew their way around VMware, but didn’t seem to have a clue about the networking side. Although the system was cabled correctly into two physical switches, failure of one switch caused the system to drop offline rather than use the second switch.

Political issues and various managers throwing their toys around meant the consultants were no longer willing to assist us, so the problem fell to me to resolve. My efforts were hampered by the fact that the IT Manager allowed people to start accessing the VM’s, which of course meant I couldn’t take the system offline during working hours.

As I’d correctly guessed, our issues were being caused by the fact that the failure of a physical switch was not being seen by the ESXi host connected to that switch (each ESXi host is connected to the C3000 interconnect switch, which connects to the physical switch).

Having tried (and failed) to use Beacon Probing to work around this, the solution would appear to be to enable Uplink Failure Detection on the C3000 interconnects. Thich allows us to tell the interconnect to kill the downlinks to an ESXi host when it detects a failure on a physical switch uplink. This has the effect of alerting the ESXi host to the network failure, which will then start utilising remaining network paths for outboun traffic.

Unfortunately, even that wasn’t straight forward, as UFD only works on uplinks that share the same VLAN configuration. Our consultants had set up multiple uplinks with each in a different VLAN. This week, I managed to recable the system so that the VLANs are all trunked over the same uplinks, allowing me to enable UFD. Four days later, the system is still up, there are no signs of the new configuration causing any issues and (I think) we now have a fully fault tolerant ESXi environment. Stay tuned for part 3 when I test my work and start pulling out various cables!

Oh, and the issue with one of the VM’s hanging at 95% when powered on was due to it having been automatically migrated to another ESXi host during the maintenance period. It was waiting for me to respond to a question asking if I had moved or copied the VM, but I hadn’t spotted this as the question is actually asked on a different tab; no indication of this is given on the main tab, it just looks like the VM has hung!

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2012 in Computers, Work

 

Venus & Jupiter

It’s now just past 5am in the morning, I am full of redbull and have just spent a few hours gazing at the night sky. I think one of the things that has surprised me most since taking up astronomy as a hobby is what you can see with the naked eye. What used to be a dark sky littered with random white specs which I just labelled as “stars” is now an intricate system of stars, planets and moons. I am still learning my way around the stars, but am confident at picking out the brighter stars (and planets). And the moon is always a pretty safe bet 😉

Tonight, Jupiter has been high in the sky just to the left of the moon, and I managed to get some nice views of it through my scope earlier on, although the photos didn’t come out particularly well. Click a photo to see the full sized version.

I just went out for a quick peek before heading to bed, and noticed Venus shining brightly to the east. Having put away my scope for the evening, I just took a quick shot through my regular camera. Jupiter and the moon were still clearly visible too, so I fired off a quick shot of those too. Even in these photos, you can still pick out some of Jupiters moons if you zoom in closely enough.

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2012 in Astronomy, Photography

 

e-Film Workstation 3.4 ODBC Bug

Bit of a random post, but I came across this issue earlier today while troubleshooting a problem at work today. As I didn’t find it documented anywhere else, I thought I’d throw it up here 🙂

e-Film is a DICOM viewer used by hospitals and imaging departments for viewing medical images. While older versions used an Access database to store information, version 3.4 (which is what some of our radiographers at work use) uses a SQL 2005 Express database.

I’d been troubleshooting an issue where the user was getting a delay of around 10 seconds each time she changed to a different image. With a couple of hundred images per case, she was getting understandably frustrated. I noticed she had over 73,000 images stored in her local database, so my first thought was to clear this down. The quickest way to do this is to move the contents of the DICOM folder in the e-Film program folder to a different location and then tell e-film to rebuild its database.

This is when I discovered the bug. e-Film refused to build the database, and when I checked the log it was suggesting that the username or password was wrong. This seemed a bit odd, since e-Film itself was working ok. When I checked further, it turned out that the database name in the system DSN in the ODBC settings had an extra space at the end of it. Removing this space fixed the problem and allowed e-Film to rebuild the database. Not sure how or why e-Film is able to function when the database name is incorrect – perhaps it doesn’t use the settings from the system DSN?

And for those wondering, clearing down the database hasn’t fixed the initial problem, so back to the drawing board on that one.

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2012 in Work

 

Jupiter (At Last)

After seeing Saturn a few weeks ago, I’ve been looking forward to capturing a shot of Jupiter. Unfortunately, from where I am located with my garden facing pretty much due north, I’ve not been able to see Jupiter as it would have meant climbing out of bed at half three in the morning. Night after night of heavy cloud haven’t exactly helped matters.

Well, tonight was a pretty clear evening, so I made the effort to stay up as Jupiter was due to be in my line of sight in the early hours. Although I haven’t been able to capture any detail in the photos (I wasn’t really able to make out any detail, even when viewed through my highest power lens), the photos I took with my Canon 110D clearly show the planet and three of its moons. A cropped copy of one of the photos is shown below. I just need to figure out what settings to use in future to capture the most amount of detail possible.

For those who like knowing this kind of stuff, Jupiter’s volume is that of about 1,321 Earths and it has at least 66 moons, including the four large moons called the Galilean moons, three of which are in the photo below.

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2012 in Astronomy, Photography

 

VMWare Woes

A few years ago, a new project dropped into my lap at work. This project was to involve the setup and configuration of a “next-generation” linux server for our Genetics department to run their sequencing analyses. The next-gen server was to replace an aging 1U Dell server with a pitiful single P4 processor and 4Gb RAM (the poor thing ran maxed out pretty much 24×7). So far, so good.

And then the IT manager got involved and decided that the money for the next-gen server should be invested in a decent VMWare environment, with the Genetics department getting a virtual linux server to use instead. And this is where the fun begins. To begin with, I had been getting quotes for a server with between 48 and 128Gb RAM. Our new virtual system has 32Gb, total. Given that the Genetics server will be one of many virtual hosts running on this system, 32Gb is likely to be insufficient. This is not the biggest issue however.

Our IT manager then decided to pay for consultants to come out and set up the system. This seemed logical; while we have some experience with ESXi having run a small ESXi environment for a year or so, we don’t have experience with complex VMWare setups with multiple blades and SANs.

Unfortunately, the IT manager also ordered two new switches that the SAN and blade chassis would connect to. Equallly unfortunately, he didn’t consult his infrastructure engineer (that’d be me) and so we ended up with cheap switches that don’t support the features necessary for a fully fault tolerant setup. The consultants weren’t too fazed by this. After a bit of head scratching, they set up a semi-working system and left. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on August 16, 2012 in Work

 

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