James O'Neill's Blog

December 31, 2006

Happy new year.

Filed under: Uncategorized — jamesone111 @ 8:50 pm

I was going to call this a Pretty Good Year, which is the title of a peice by Tori Amos (“Well, still … Pretty Good year”  sounds like something you only say when things are anything but pretty good). But this has been. It’s a year of new horizons – both figurativly at work (thanks Eileen) and literally – my travels have taken me to both India and Africa for the first time. And it’s also been one of continuity at home (thanks Jackie).  

Some years ago I heard Richard Harris reading this on New years eve. It’s correctly called section 106 of Tennyson’s In Memoriam (though people call it “Ring out Wild Bells”.) In Memoriam is a pretty huge work – this bit is roughly in the middle and it feels like the turning point of the whole peice. It starts with images of darkness and death and ends with optimism. I learnt Tennyson by heart at school, “Charge of the Light Brigade” because the whole class had to, and some big chunks of  “The Lady of Shallot” when we had to choose our own – and he really needs to read aloud.

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkenss of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.


Happy 2007.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.


CLIP and ForFiles my new favorite Vista tools

Filed under: How to,Windows Vista — jamesone111 @ 5:46 pm

How many times when you’ve been writing a technical document have you had to copy the results of some command from a command prompt window ? 

When I was looking for some information about WINSAT for my earlier post, I some lists of new vista commands. Clip is so simple I wonder why it’s taken so long to get it into Windows. Here’s what it says about itself


Redirects output of command line tools to the Windows clipboard.
This text output can then be pasted into other programs.

Parameter List:
/? Displays this help message.

Places a copy of the current directory listing into the Windows clipboard.

Places a copy of the text from readme.txt on to the Windows clipboard.

How did I get this text in here ? I ran
Clip /? | Clip
and pasted the results into Windows live writer.

One of the things I was trying to check with the memory bench marks I talked about in the WinSat Post, was the time it takes my new camera to write files (answer – roughly speaking it writes a 16MB image file in 2 seconds with my memory cards). What I really want to be able to do is shoot a sequence of files and look at modified time to the second. Which of course a DIR command doesn’t show you. So you have to look at the property pages for each file. FORFILES will process files and let you get at their name, date and time modified (to the second).

Now granted the FOR command which was there when I started working with DOS 3.1 can do a lot of these things. (As a trainer I used to set students the challenge “In testing a network  how would I use the command for %f in (*.*) do copy . nul) but FOR doesn’t recurse subdirectories and can’t pass file properties as parameters to the commands it invokes.

Bonus nugget. Remember “Look and Feel” lawsuits ? Remember the recent deal with Novell ? I remember Netware 2.0a had a “WhoAmI” command. So does Windows Vista. Try Whoami /all | clip


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This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

Bootable USB keys

Filed under: Windows 2003 Server,Windows Vista,Windows XP — jamesone111 @ 3:38 pm

Since I raised the subject I’ve had a mail from a couple of people on the subject of making a bootable key.

I described the steps making a USB key bootable using the Vista / Windows PE version of Diskpart. Here are the commands

  • select disk 1 {or the number of your USB key, be careful !}
  • clean  {Like I said, be careful ! This erases the disk}
  • create partition primary
  • select partition 1
  • active
  • format fs=fat32
  • assign
  • exit

Now at this point you have a disk which will try to boot using BootMgr in the style of Windows PE/Vista/Longhorn server. Several people have asked about making a key which boots in the style of Server 2003/XP/Windows 2000/Windows NT. I can’t make the Vista/PE version of disk part run on Windows XP, and the older version won’t prepare a USB key. So you need to do this from Vista or the Vista build of Windows PE. Once the drive is formatted it has a Vista Boot sector – this won’t boot NT / 200x / XP operating systems. You need to use the BootSect utility:
Boosect /nt52 E:
stamps a Window 2003 Server boot sector (one which uses boot.ini) onto drive E:. I haven’t tried it but you should be able copy NTLDR, BOOT.INI and NTDETECT.COM onto a USB key as a way of starting a machine which with a corrupt boot environment.

For now, as far as I can tell, there’s no way to set-up such a device under XP/Server 2003. I’d welcome any correction on this.


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This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

Readyboost. Money well spent, but what’s fast enough ?

Filed under: How to,Windows Vista — jamesone111 @ 3:21 pm

There are a bunch smart ideas in Vista, and Readyboost seems to be a favorite with a lot of people:  extend memory by using USB “key” / “Stick” “Thumb drive” (what are we meant to call these things).  Of course since it can be pulled out at any time it can’t be used like normal RAM, and it works as a disk cache (hand in glove with “Superfetch“)

Put Vista Readyboost into a search engine, an entry on Tom Archer’s blog will be pretty near the top. Tom has a FAQ sheet with answers from Matt Ayers (the “feature owner” for Readyboost), and the very first question is

Q. What perf do you need on your device?
A: 2.5MB/sec throughput for 4K random reads and 1.75MB/sec throughput for 512K random writes

It’s a great article, but it doesn’t say HOW you measure it.  Vista has a command-line “System Assessment Tool” called WINSAT. It gives access to the same performance and user experience data that you see in control Panel – but it’s not the greatest tool when it comes to being self explanatory. People like Daniel have done a better job explaining how to call the API than we’ve done of publishing information on the command line tool: the best I’ve found was posted here during the Beta one stage of Vista. The commands to run for disk benchmarking to see if a device meets the Readyboost test are:
winsat disk –read –ran –ransize 4096 –drive D
winsat disk –write –ran –ransize 524288 –drive D

Substitute D for the letter of your drive without the colon; the second command takes several minutes to run, the first only a few seconds.  You can specify -IOCount xx to reduce the number of operations to xx and speed up the process. The default seems to be about 4000 in the release build of Vista.  You can test sequential as well as random writes using by substituting seq and seqsize for ran and ransize.

One very dull evening over the holiday period I did a rough and ready comparison of a few of my memory devices and readers, using the Readyboost tests and sequential tests with the same sizes. It’s dangerous to extrapolate from an arbitrary test like this – I’m not quoting my numbers because the time to do a 4K sequential read or 512K sequential write doesn’t tell me how long it will take to do something in the real world, like save or transfer pictures. It’s doubly dangerous for me to do it as it becomes “someone from Microsoft said”, so with the caveats that this isn’t a rigorous test and your mileage will vary, I have drawn a few conclusions:

  • The most efficient way I have to read a Compact Flash card is my Lexar Cardbus CF adapter. CF-PCMCIA adapters are widely available and cheap (they’re just socket adapters) but they are slow and crushingly CPU intensive. Cardbus adapters don’t have these problems but are harder to track down. The CF card from my camera in the Lexar adapter (with its XP driver) gives more then twice the speed ready boost requires. However …
  • Combining an SD–>CF adapter with the Cardbus adapter Halves the speed of an SD card compared with using my  Toshiba laptop’s built-in SD socket. My SD cards in that were faster than I could get with my CF cards however …
  • On these tests, my Dane Elec 133x SD card is slower at writes, but faster at reads, compared with my “My memory” Mini-SD + adapter combination. Writes matter a lot for camera use.
  • The “USB key” style SD card reader I bought from eBay turns in the worst performance of any of my USB 2 devices. The Kingston Data traveler elite I was given in the summer is the best. My Portable hard drive/card reader combo turns in respectable times (SD faster than CF), with the new camera a little slower (but more than 5 times faster than the old one), so living without the Cardbus adapter or built in SD support would be OK.

There’s a pretty clear message here for laptop users. If you have an unused SD slot put a 1GB card in it, configure it all for ready boost and forget it. It will cost about £10 + VAT, for a noticeable performance improvement.


Update. Thanks to Blake Handler who pointed out that my US colleague Kurt Shintaku has a list of devices people have tried with ready boost.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

December 29, 2006

USB wasn’t meant to be like this !

Filed under: Mobility,Photography — jamesone111 @ 2:12 pm

Jason is seems to be bugged by the same things as me…

I got my new Pentax just before Christmas. I’ve owned three of their digital camera and each needs a specific USB cable – used on other cameras; the camera I take diving has a standard “Mini-B” and the old camera used something totally proprietary. In all I use 7 different USB cables. Some devices block the neighboring USB port so I connect them with an extension cable. My portable hard disk / card reader uses a “Y” cable with a standard “Mini-B” end and 2 “A” connectors to the PC (wikipedia explains the connector types). My wife’s Ipod has its own proprietary  USB connector. Phones are starting to use a single connector for USB and audio, which needs an audio adaptor, as Jason has pointed out, my old phone has a 2.5mm socket so that needs a different headphone adapter for MP3 use.

Traveling with a handful of gadgets is a pain. My laptop is a given: next into my bag goes an Inverter from APC to give AC power from the car or on a plane (fortunately the APC unit has an adapter for the 12V connector used on planes). I used this a lot in my previous job – where there was pressure to bill 10 hours work, done in premium economy: these days I idle the time away in the cheap seats where British Airways don’t provide power. When I’m abroad I have a Swiss Word Adapter which has doesn’t just act as mains plug adapter but also has a “cap” which is a USB 5volt power supply. Jason is pretty keen on the Power adapters from I-GO which are sold by Expansys among others. At the very least that could reduce the laptop power brick and inverter to one device, and should power the USB devices… APC have a similar device with a USB socket.

If you didn’t know already – USB has only 4 pins, 2 data, +5V and ground. PC USB ports rarely deliver more than 500mA of current not enough for the external hard-drive: hence the “Y” cable. That cable will connect one of the cameras and my phone to my laptop. However: just plugging  the phone’s data cable into the USB power won’t work, it needs a computer – with drivers installed – sending data or a power cable which grounds the otherwise unused pin on the USB Mini-B plug. 

At least the phone and drive can charge when connected to the PC: the cameras don’t charge via USB at all, and each has a different battery. The change of camera needs an extra charger, the Pentax I’ve just replaced shared AA batteries and a (USB-Powered) charger with my flash gun. That charger has a “full B” connector like my printer, scanner and mains powered hard disk – which means packing a USB cable! I found out about AA form-factor, USB-Chargeable batteries but charging 4 at once sounds worse than taking multiple battery chargers:  “universal” chargers use swappable battery holders, so there are just many bits to pack/lose, although all my chargers are mains only and the Universal ones tend to be mains or car. If they could be run from the APC or I-GO universal PSUs that would be be a help. I was getting so annoyed with the mass of cables that I wired my own to let me use the Swiss adapter to charge my hard disk , phone (modified mini B connector) AA battery charger (full mini B) and my 5V powered Bluetooth GPS “puck”. I’m on a quest for the perfect adapter which would let me use just the “Y” cable or an extension lead to connect any device for data and/or power; none of the kits on the market seem quite right – the “Universal” adapter by Hama is close (and cheap right now on 7DayShop), but lacks a Mini-b socket and “A” and full-B plugs 

Here are three things I’d like to see

  • Organizations which have to give approval (CE, the FCC etc) should withhold it from devices which depart from established connector standards. 
  • Policy from regulators which says that (a) Devices which use USB for data with batteries of 5V or bellow, should always charge via a USB using a standard cable. (b) Devices which don’t use USB for data should still use 5V via USB as a power source.

This is pretty close to what the Chinese government is mandating for phones – according to the People’s Daily article which was the source for Jason’s blog post . Jason got his info via Techdirt, who reported a similar initiative in Korea. Korea to me means Samsung, who have a tie-up with Pentax. With luck Samsung will standardize their cameras as well as their phones, and tow Pentax along behind them. But too late for this purchase.

Manufacturers (and cell phone carriers) see proprietary cables, batteries and chargers as a way of selling more accessories. Maybe they’d look at the other way round. They have to put one in every box which increases cost but they don’t add any value to a cable. I’d rather Pentax didn’t give me a cable and let me use one I had already. It wouldn’t move the camera to a lower price point so that’s margin for them. My retailer would get the chance to sell me one as an accessory – without stocking half a dozen different cables.  The same would happen when I bought a phone. No need for Orange to put the charger in the box with my new phone if I’ve got a perfectly good one cluttering the place up already, no need to supply chargers to people who will only charge the phone from the computer etc. And if you need a charger you can pick one up anywhere .

I must admit that until the Chinese initiative I was resigned to losing a never-ending fight to control the array of bits needed to support my gadgets. Now there is a chance things will move in the right direction, but I’m not getting carried away.

Technorati tags: Photography, Pentax, USB, Mobility

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

A tale of two printers and a design error in UAC

Filed under: How to,Windows Vista — jamesone111 @ 1:52 pm

I’ve said before, but not on this blog, that the worst bits of software I have on my XP-based home PC all came with devices.It’s hardly surprising, when we buy software alone we only buy something satisfactory. We make buying decisions on the devices, not their software. I have the following 3 stinkers:

Pentax provided some dreadful software with my  wrote for my camera. Why does anyone think the world needs another photo browser ? Why don’t camera vendors provide extensions for their RAW files for Explorer in XP (and Vista). The UI for Pentax’s RAW conversion software is simply dreadful (and they’ve actually improved it since the first release I used). The software Epson provide for their printers leaves a lot to be desired – is it possible to forgive a company for having an installation guide which says “ignore the warning that this driver is unsigned” ? The USB port driver periodically stops working. My HP scanner is worse – scan too many images into the program’s buffer and BANG! it crashes without saving any of them.

Are things better on Vista ? Like many home users I wonder if all my devices will work. I thought I’d test it since I have the luxury of time to spare over the holidays and a Vista laptop (worst software on it: Nvidia Screen driver for GE Force Go 6×00 TE and the [XP] Software provided for my USB-TV tuner which really deserves it’s own post.)

First up was the HP ScanJet 3970: no driver with Vista, no driver on Windows update, and no Vista driver on HP.COM. Just the 2003 vintage driver for XP which has been so sucky up to now.

Next my printers. Yes I have two Epson Photo Stylus units, an 895 (with built in PCMCIA card reader) and a 1270 A3 printer – which is currently loaded with Lyson inks for printing on art paper. I’ve been promising my wife I’d put the 895 on E-bay for the last year, but I thought I’d try that first and looks like true plug and play… and then it isn’t. There’s no driver to for card reader, not that big a deal, but an annoyance. On to the 1270: with no card reader it installs with no problems.

Looking at the drivers (cliick the image above to see a larger view) there are different tabs along the top. The 895 has version information which makes says it’s Copyright Epson 2006 – though the Epson driver files have copyright messages going back to 1999 (the newest is 2003-4) ! The file modified dates are the same as the rest of Vista though.
The 1270 doesn’t have this tab: it has two others instead “Device Settings” – the form to tray assignment – and “Utilities” – nozzle check and cleaning. You can get to the latter via the Printing preferences dialog where you can find them as your application prepares to print. That’s the only way to get to them on 895 which has no “form to tray assignment” that I could find.

On XP the preferences dialogs are very similar as you expect for printers from the same family. On Vista they’ve got nothing in common, for example the Nozzle check and cleaning are on a tab named “Maintenance” on the 895 and “Utilities” on the 1270. The 895 sets its paper sizes  on the front page, including “User defined” which I need to print Panoramas on roll paper. There’s no user defined paper size in the 1270 driver ! This caused a moment of Panic, but I soon realized that I had to set-up forms for my panoramas. However, you can’t create forms in an application’s print dialog: you have to go to the Printers folder in Control Panel and either from the right-click menu, or the file menu, choose Run as Administrator” / Server Properties. It’s clunky but not a big deal here, because the only person in the house who prints on different sizes of paper is also the only one with admin privilege (me).  But if my kids want to stitch and print their own panoramas they’ll have to get me to set the paper up each time. Still, forms allow me to use a whole 10M roll for one print if I’m so minded – which the 895’s driver won’t.

Now I suppose I should be pleased that the support for both Printers is in the OS, and realistically most people will have only one printer. It still bugs me that some printers don’t have custom paper sizes, and bugs me more that only admins can work round the fact.


This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas

Filed under: Uncategorized — jamesone111 @ 8:30 pm

One Christmas tradition which amuses me is the Norad Santa site. This year my daughter has been watching it. Of course the thing that caught my eye was that these days it is mash-up done with Windows live local … If the US military can use it for this, what could you use it for ?

Not that you should be reading this blog round Christmas, of course 

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

December 18, 2006

In Poetic mood today.

Filed under: General musings — jamesone111 @ 4:18 pm

When I was about 8 years old my mother hung a small poster of “Desiderata” in the kitchen. I love the text, even if I can’t always follow the advice. Here’s a snippet.

As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant, they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.

Hugh Macleod has been seeking manifestos – under 500 words (Desiderata is 314) and covered by the creative commons license – which disqualifies it, sadly. I suspect many people would put Kipling’s IF up as a manifesto. Hugh, provided the link to this, on the Selsius Real Estate Blog

Zen Blogger’s Manifesto

Do not follow in the footsteps of others,
seek what they sought and make your own footsteps.
Write not for others, as there are too many.
Write for yourself, as there is only one.
Subtract before you add.
Listen more than you speak.
Give more than you take.
Make but do not measure.
If you want to change the world, love someone.
All manifestos are dung.

It would apply just as well to photography.The first 4 lines address influences and motivation, and the Yoda like “Make, but do not measure” could be targeted at the obsessive pixel-peepers. 

Before I leave all things eastern, since this is also a time of year for catching up on odd jobs, I’ll share a Haiku I found from a competition

Three things are certain:
Death, taxes, and lost data.
Guess which has occurred.

Checked your back-ups lately ?

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

December 14, 2006

Phew: EVO Launch

Filed under: Events,Exchange,Office,Windows Vista — jamesone111 @ 9:18 am

I’m waiting to see the feedback from the audience, but the general feeling is Tuesdays event was a success.

We had two servers “live” on stage and a third in reserve. These had 4 processing cores each, with 8 GB of memory and twin hard drives. The global launch organizers sent us a total of 53 Virtual Machine images (all of which were on the servers, but not all of which were used). And we added another half a dozen to that bringing the total to about 60 – which totaled between 300 and 400 GB. Eileen quoted 650 GB – that’s just the two live servers, if you add in the spare we had over a terabyte. Plus 6 laptops used for demos and a seventh for the slides. The differences in output between all of these (and VMs in full screen mode) taxed the AV system’s auto adjustment abilities.

The folks in Redmond who produced the VMs had a pretty tough job – because preparing an event for launch time means working with software isn’t finalized. In one case the demo images have passed their activation cut off date, and in another there is a certificate which only becomes valid after that date. Some demos need to be able to access the internet (via a proxy server) and some need the proxy turned off. We get sample demo scripts to go with the images, but in a lot of cases the scripts and images were out of sync. 

At the end of rehearsals, the Unified Communications demos stopped working. These had 12 VMs in the original plan, but only 7 in the live version – which was close the limit for one of our servers. We thought we’d fixed the problem, but an hour before the audience arrived a critical group of services failed to start. Wondering if something had passed an expiry date we changed the date on the server – which broke something else later in the day. We tried to bring up the images on the second server (a minor configuration error in Virtual server meant a crucial machine was disconnected from the network – not that we knew it at the time). Fortunately, Arthur, who was presenting that session, had copies of the VMs on an external hard drive, we plugged that it, changed the paths to the Images and to whoops of joy all the critical bits started. It was a lot of extra stress for Arthur which he didn’t need.

He wasn’t the only one suffering stress. One of the presenters had just had news of a death in the family, and Eileen was recovering from illness and wouldn’t have come to work on a normal day…. As for me, it was odd to be co-ordinating and not presenting – I have a bit more understanding for event organizers now. A general thank you is due to all the presenters, but particularly to Andy, Brett and Jessica, who delivered the track that I owned.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

December 11, 2006

Does your company discriminate against people with disabilities ?

Filed under: Internet Explorer — jamesone111 @ 6:48 pm

This isn’t a question about your employment practices. In recent years a lot of work has been done to make buildings usable by wheelchair users; but how many of the people you do with visit your office. I’ve known for some time that websites do a lousy job, the most obvious case being the use of Flash and similar technologies which doesn’t work for a blind user working with a screen reader.

So guess, if you will, what proportion of Web sites reach minimum standards of accessibility. Half maybe ? Hopelessly optimistic. A quarter then ? No. We talking minimum standards – surely  10% of sites can manage that ? Apparently not. The figure is 3%, according to a study which came out last week 

Here are the most common sins:

  • 93% did not provide adequate text descriptions for graphics
  • 73% relied on JavaScript – which breaks some common readers
  • 78% had poor contrast
  • 98% break screen readers by not following standards for HTML
  • 97% prevented people from altering the size of text
  • 89% made page navigation awkward
  • 87% used pop-ups, disorientating users of screen magnification software
  • And, no, based on our home page I don’t we’d pass the test with flying colours either.

    This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

    December 8, 2006

    Exchange 2007 released

    Filed under: Exchange — jamesone111 @ 8:24 pm

    Since Eileen is on her way back from holiday, I’m going to steal her thunder and share what Jeff Raikes just told the whole of Microsoft.

    I’m very pleased to announce that the Exchange team has completed its development work on Microsoft Exchange Server 2007.  Congratulations to the team on this terrific accomplishment! 

    Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 delivers fantastic innovation including:

    • Unified Messaging that delivers voice mail and fax messages to the Exchange inbox
    • Greater mobility support – for example, IT administrators can enforce security policies on mobile devices with greater control and granularity and end-users get full fidelity HTML mail
    • 64-bit architecture that allows organizations to increase the number of users per server or allow larger mailbox quotas while reducing per-mailbox storage costs
    • Anti-spam that ensures mail from your contacts gets through, while keeping the bad stuff out

    I saw a request for that last feature recently. I hope we take we up most of the others on that list too.

    Microsoft has been running 2007 internally for months – though offices outside Redmond haven’t been on it for quite so long, the statistics in Raikes’ mail will be widely quoted

    Today we are running over 125,000 mailboxes on Exchange Server 2007 with more than 30,000 of those enabled for Unified Messaging. 

    I’ve seen what Exchange UM can do, and I can’t wait for it to be rolled out here.

    Technorati tags: ,

    This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

    Overpriced and over here #2

    Filed under: Uncategorized — jamesone111 @ 7:56 pm

    Or what happens when you throw stones in a glass house.

    My post on over priced and over here attracted the following comment from Russ Pitcher.  

    The same price disparity appears to exist with Windows Vista.  For Vista Ultimate the US RRP seems to be $399, Amazon.co.uk are advertising it at £369.99 which equates to $727!  Almost twice the price!
    Given this state of affairs, is it OK to buy a copy in the US and get my sister-in-law, who lives in Atlanta, to ship it over to me? (Hopefully the shipping won’t cost $328 ;])  Is this within the license terms and will I still have access to UK regional settings?

    Rather than allow it to go forward as a comment I thought it deserved its own post. This is David Weeks‘ area, but since he wasn’t around I ended up speaking two of his colleagues to get the story. The is longer and more complicated than I’d imagined, but here’s the gist.

    There are two dead simple ways of getting a UK price. (a) Divide the US price by the exchange rate (roughly 2) (b) Cross out the $ sign and put in a £.
    We don’t do either.  

    We don’t use a free floating exchange rate internally, and while the pound is going up this increases the difference between UK and US prices. There are further complications such as UK prices quoted with Tax and US prices without and issues of European law which stops us charging more in (say) France and Germany, than in Britain and Ireland even though we have to translate the product for those markets.

    Last, is question of margins. Although we can’t enforce a retail price (that’s been illegal for years) we do make suggestions to retailers as to what the price should be (the price we sell it plus the typical industry margin) but we don’t publish that information. After my conversation with the folks upstairs I’m quite happy not to know.  Suffice to say that Amazon set their own pricing and that reflects both what we charge them for the US and UK packages and their own margins – which I’d guess are higher here (and that is a guess) The price difference is all down to us, or all down them. And until the product has been on the shelves for a bit I’d take those prices with a pinch of salt.*

    Now Grey Imports. Microsoft UK hate Grey Imports because that’s a UK sale going to the US; so don’t expect anyone here to be supportive. Microsoft Redmond don’t really mind, seeing a sale is sale, and the net contribution to our bottom line is very similar in both cases. You’ll have to pay VAT @ 17.5% on the import plus shipping and handling, but there’s still a saving to be had. Throughout the betas and now with RTM I have been running US vista with UK regional settings, so a Grey Import will work just fine.

    * Update. Russ’s price for from Amazon UK is for the non-upgrade version. Anyone with an existing PC should be buying the upgrade which Amazon list but without a price. You also pay less for Windows when it is pre-installed on a PC than if you buy the full retail product. Interestingly since he did his research prices have gone from all the Vista products on Amazon US. As I said, until the product has been out for a little while don’t take prices as Gospel.

    This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

    December 7, 2006

    Ah… the never-ending pool of Wii jokes

    Filed under: Uncategorized — jamesone111 @ 3:34 pm

    Am I just puerile, or is it a British obsession with bodily functions ? I don’t know. Nor do I know if I should feel feel sorry for people at Nintendo over the name of their console, they seem to be playing up to it. The BBC reports Nintendo have advised people who have a Wii to “Avoid excessive motion” and “If your hands become moist, stop and dry your hands.” 

    Apparently there have been stories of the “Wiimote” controller flying out of people hands, the president of Nintendo commented on this “We need to better communicate to people how to deal with Wii as a new form of entertainment.”

    You really couldn’t make this stuff up.

    UPDATE I better not name the person who sent me the links http://www.wiidamage.com/2006/12/05/tv-skewered-by-wii-remote/ and http://www.wiihaveaproblem.com The URLs say it all. You know who you are, and I didn’t think you had time to spare for such silliness. .

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    This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

    We’re hiring !

    Filed under: Uncategorized — jamesone111 @ 2:34 pm

    Microsoft UK in general, but the IT pro evangelist team in particular. If you fancy my job (well not mine – I’m staying put thank you very much) then drop me a note. You can’t do the job without a reasonable grasp of technology (or at least the ability to be pick it up) and being able to talk about it. We won’t want anyone who isn’t passionate about it.

    My former colleagues in Microsoft Consulting Services are looking for people too. When I was still there, my director told a meeting “If you wouldn’t recommend working here to a friend, you probably shouldn’t be here yourself”. At the time I was working out where I wanted to go because MCS really wasn’t for me, and a friend who I introduced to the company wanted to move into MCS. Bit of a moral dilemma…  I told him about the negatives but made sure he spoke to someone who could give him the positives. I’m pleased to say his informed decision was that it was right for him and after a few months he’s still enjoying it.

    Not everyone would want to be an evangelist, or a consultant, or a support engineer, or a marketing person or … you get the picture. But we’re hiring for a wide range of things right now, and I think Microsoft is a better place to be working than it was a year or two ago: not just because I like my current job more than my previous one, and not just because of the changes to grading and bonuses made in the May either; I said then we’d got rid of the worst thing about working here, and 6 months on I don’t think that was an overstatement. Still that doesn’t account for all the improvement. Logically, there are better and worse times to join any company. There’s a feel-good factor that comes with growth; a new London office coming on stream in the new year and a new building going up in Reading show that we’re growing. And companies have a good feeling when new products are going out; I joined just after the 2000 wave of products hit and that was a good time, the perfect time would have been just before. If you think working for Microsoft might be a part of your future, now would be a good time to act on it.


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    This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

    Over priced and over here

    Filed under: General musings — jamesone111 @ 12:11 pm

    Here’s a Pentax lens at big UK retailer.  £629.99 ; and here it is at big US retailer $689.95, less a $100 rebate – net price $589.95.  With the pound trading at $1.967, my sister in California can buy it for under £300.

    Stuff costs more in the UK than the US. For example an Xbox 360 $399 (£200) in the US, and £275 in the UK. Some products have localization costs (different manuals, safety stickers, cables etc). UK dealers work to higher margins. UK distribution costs are higher. There are taxes (e.g. 8% duty on lenses) and of course VAT which alone accounts for half the difference in X-box prices, but when I’m paying more than double I feel that someone somewhere is taking the Mickey Bliss.

    Some friends of ours recently started a book shop and they have been having the same thing with some books which carry the US$ price on the cover; there’s no VAT on books, nothing to localize, it’s margins and distribution costs.  Here’s a snippet from their blog. 

    A phonecall to the wholesaler says “we charge the full UK currency equivalent to cover the costs of getting the book over from the US” ….. How did you bring the book over from the US? In a sponsored canoe, one at a time?

    “In a sponsored canoe ??! ” will enter my library of phrases.

    This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

    December 5, 2006

    Logoff and logon … how do you want it ?

    Filed under: How to,Windows Vista — jamesone111 @ 2:29 pm

    I came across this post by Joel Spolsky.  The thrust is that the shutdown menu in Vista is too complex (hey, we changed things so you no longer have to click something labeled Start to shutdown). He says: ‘You have to choose between nine, count them, nine options: two icons and seven menu items. The two icons, I think, are shortcuts to menu items. I’m guessing the lock icon does the same thing as the lock menu item, but I’m not sure which menu item the on/off icon corresponds to.’

    Answer: the On/off Icon can be, Sleep Hibernate or Shut Down, you choose (as I wrote back in August). He goes on”On many laptops, there are also four FN+Key combinations to power off, hibernate, sleep, etc. That brings us up to 13 choices, and, oh, yeah, there’s an on-off button, 14, and you can close the lid, 15. A total of fifteen different ways to shut down a laptop that you’re expected to choose from.”

    Actually that’s wrong. There are 7 actions you can choose to take, and more than one way to accomplish each. I have never had a laptop with the key combinations that he described, but Lock is [Window] + [L] to me you can press Ctrl Alt Del and choose a shutdown option from a menu, or use the command line shutdown tool. Heck, you could create a short cut to the shutdown tool on your desktop. The are a lot of ways to carry them out, but I think most people understand the 7 options

    • Log off. This isn’t my computer, and I’m leaving it for someone else to use.
    • Switch user. Let someone else use it, I’ll be back. 
    • Lock. I’m leaving my computer. Leave stuff running.
    • Sleep. I’m stopping work for a little while, be ready to resume quickly
    • Hibernate. I’m stopping work for a long time, stop consuming power
    • Restart. I want to reboot the operating system NOW.
    • Power off. I want to reboot the operating system next time I do any work.

    Not everyone is going to use all 7, any more than they will all use remote desktop, bit locker or Windows Movie maker.  In XP you clicked shutdown and then got a choice of “which  do you want” and holding shift expanded the choices. Joel says ‘If you’ve spoken to a non-geek recently, you may have noticed that they have no idea what the difference is between “sleep” and “hibernate.” They could be trivially merged’. Perhaps we could hide one or the other and change in response to the Shift Key, but does seeing both make “normal” users more unhappy than power users who can’t see the  function they want ? 

    He goes on /Switch User and Lock can be combined by letting a second user log on when the system is locked. That would probably save a lot of forced-logouts anyway.’
    er…. Joel have you not seen the big SWITCH USER button when the machine is locked ? I’d have to check how you do force if can force a user logout on Vista without logging in and going to task manager. Logging a second user in is pretty easy.  Switch user just jumps to a screen which is accessible form the lock screen. Again, one of the two could be hidden but I don’t think that makes things any better ?

    Then he asks if you need log off. Of course I don’t and nor does he. Try PCs in a library, or class room or any other shared area. Reboot between users ? Please!

    What if we combined Sleep, Hibernate, Switch User and Lock modes? When you go into this mode, the computer flips to the “Switch User” screen. If nobody logs on for about 30 seconds, it sleeps. A few minutes later, it hibernates. In all cases, it’s locked. This makes my experience of my PC WORSE not better. My mail isn’t already in my inbox when I come back. I can’t leave anything processing while I’m away. My IM contacts think I’m out instead of away from my PC. I can’t use Remote Desktop onto my PC or copy files off it remotely. Scheduled tasks will wake the machine from sleep but not from hibernate. The list goes on.

    If you’re thinking this is a Microsoft person blindly defending the product, it’s not  – it just illustrates how difficult changing a feature can be.

    By the way someone recently said to me that you can’t change the vista picture displayed at logon for a domain user. Actually if you Open Control Panel, in User Accounts there is a Change Picture option..


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    This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

    A little bit of history.

    Filed under: General musings — jamesone111 @ 11:19 am

    Jonathan over at the Office Word Team’s blog discovered that we just had the 30th anniversary of Microsoft as a trade name.  I saw the story of how he got permission to show Bill Gates’ first business card – there are all sorts of rules about this material. If you want to see it you’ll have to go there … I wonder how many of those cards still exist and what they’d be worth.

    This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

    December 3, 2006

    On photographic resolution

    Filed under: Photography — jamesone111 @ 9:09 pm

    Another one of my weekend posts about photography, and 2 or 3 times the length I’d have liked. Still, I have managed to get most of the key ideas about resolution into it.

    Photography is about more than the amount of recorded detail, but choice of subject, camera position, timing, lighting, lens choice, colour rendition and so on. But Photographers get hung up on resolution – the ability to resolve detail, and every time we talk about it in the digital realm things go wrong.

    The Process of making a photograph divides three parts

    First the lens throws an image onto the back of the camera. Lens resolution is usually measured in line pairs per mm – we can multiply this by the width of the image to get image resolution

    Second, the image is captured on film or a digital sensor. The combination of image resolution and the fidelity of the medium gives a recorded resolution. The Digital world equates “resolution” with “pixel count” e.g. 3000×2000 pixels – 6MP. This indicates how faithfully the image is digitized, not the overall quality; it’s only useful for comparing different recordings made with the same lens.

    We can express sensor resolution in line pairs: and you can’t reliably record a pair of lines with just a two rows of pixels – if the pattern of line pairs is offset by half a pixel everything would be an even grey – so we need 3 pixels per line pair.

    Common sense tells us that recorded resolution can’t exceed the resolution of recording medium or the image formed by lens. The film world could get an indication of resolution in the photograph using the formula: 1/R = 1/L + 1/M (where R, L, M are the resolutions Recorded, of the Lens, and of the Medium in lines per unit width). Fleshing this out with some numbers: a photograph made with a top-quality 100 lp/mm lens on 100 lp/mm film will have a resolution of 50 lp/mm; or 1800 line pairs over the width of 35mm film frame. Halving the lens (or film) resolution doesn’t halve the final resolution – it only goes down to 33 lp/mm -1200 lines per frame.

     People argue about the application of this formula to digital, but it fits observed behaviour. If we scan an image with 1200 line pairs resolution on a scanner which has 1800 lines resolution (roughly 4000 DPI giving a 20MP image) we’ll get an image with 720 lines resolution. I’ve seen it argued (wrongly) that, in order to match film, digital cameras need as many pixels as the best scan. Digital SLRs owners find their pictures aren’t much worse than film, and in some cases seem a little better, despite having an image area smaller than film. Lens resolution per mm remains the same but a smaller image has fewer lines across it’s width: a typical DSLR sensor gets 2400 or 1200 lines with a 50 lp/mm or 100 lp/mm lens. Compact digital cameras have sensors in region of 7mm wide giving only 700 line pairs of resolution with a 100 LP/mm lens (and compacts’ lenses aren’t that good). The point here is that all other things being equal a bigger sensor produces a better image.

    We can predict the resolution we’ll get in the final image. .




    Recorded res from
    a 2400 lines image

    Recorded res from
    a 1200 line image


























    This shows that recorded resolution isn’t proportional to number of pixels. It also shows better lenses benefit more from extra pixels. Further upgrading the lens can give more improvement than adding pixels.
    In short, all pixels are not equal, Pixel count alone doesn’t tell us how much detail is recorded. (See point #1 from in this Popular Photo “Truth Squad” piece)

    The third stage in making a photo is printing. With film, an enlarging lens projects the image onto photosensitive paper and the net resolution can be calculated as before. Digital printing doesn’t suffer the same losses as printing from film. 35mm film’s bigger image holds more detail but the other steps in the process erode this advantage.

    Questions I see about pixels and print sizes boil down to one of two things. The first is “When will my pictures look pixelated”. I want to sink the myth of 300 DPI here. 300 Dots per inch was the finest half tone screen in the printing industry, but today’s photo printers print can print well in excess of 3000DPI. Somehow 300 DPI became a wish for 300 Pixels per Printed Inch. In fact the printer will interpolate the number of pixels you give it, to give the (fixed) number of Dots it prints. Try making copies of a picture scaled down to give a variety of PPI values in a print of (say) 6×4 size, and compare the results when printed. You’ll find below 100 pixels per printed inch, the print looks pixelated; above 150 it doesn’t. You can read about someone who tried it.

    The second question is “Will I have enough detail to stop my pictures looking ‘mushy’ ?”. Small prints hide a lack of recorded detail, pore over a bigger print and it looks fuzzy (although you tend to view a bigger print from further away). Depending on how you view your pictures you may not see the benefits / shortcomings of your camera. But how much detail do you need per printed inch?

    Lets ignore changes in viewing distance and say ” X line pairs per printed inch and above looks sharp”. Line pairs aren’t directly related to pixels, so there’s no justification for 300 DPI myth here (300×300 Pixels from a medium format lens’ image recorded on a Phase one back holds more detail the same size block from a phone camera. They can’t both be exactly what’s needed for a 1 inch square of print) .
    This is why the latest compact cameras can be disappointing. On an A3 size print (13×9 inches) 10MP gives 300 PPI, and 4MP only 175 PPI. You’d expect the 10MP to look superior, especially if you believe the 300DPI myth. In practice the 4MP doesn’t look pixelated, and the 10MP only wrings a little more detail out of the image formed in the camera. It reinforces the point Print resolution depends on print size, lens quality, sensor size, and Pixel count combined, not just one (like pixels).

    The 300 DPI myth is also to blame for bad Resampling or Interpolation: I’ve encountered people who convert a 2100×1400 (3MP) compressed JPEG into a 10MP uncompressed TIFF before sending them to the lab to make a 13×9 print. They have heard that JPEG can lose detail and introduce artefacts into the picture. Converting JPG to TIFF won’t restore lost detail or remove artefacts.

    Printers print at fixed numbers of dots per inch, with even cheap ones going up to 5760×1440, so most images need to be interpolated before hitting the paper. The printer will do this for you, but you can interpolate on your computer using anything from Windows Paint to specialised printing software. Interpolation can’t bring back lost detail, but better interpolation can maximize what you get from an image file and give a better result overall. But which does better, the software inside your printer (or at the lab) or on your PC ? The only way to tell is to try both. Interpolating to 300DPI when the printer resolution is a multiple of 240 or 360 DPI may actually produce worse results.

    Does all this prove anything? Only the futility of trying to judge much about pictures from numbers of any kind. In the end the photographer needs to stop worrying about Pixels and ask “is it a good picture” which depends on so many other things. I’ve said before that I can buy the same paints and brushes as a great painter; I can be taught to put paint onto canvas the same way, but that wouldn’t make me a great painter. So much of what we do in photography amounts to a study of the paint, not the painting.


    This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

    December 1, 2006

    The phone is dead #2

    Filed under: Real Time Collaboration — jamesone111 @ 11:42 pm

    “If you hadn’t fixed it to the desk it would be pushing up the daisies! It’s rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible! This is an ex-business tool”

    I never deleted Darren Stange’s post “My deskphone is stupid” from its RSS folder. Our desk phones just got more stupid: until this week a  Microsoft person could reach me by dialing 3080 from their mobile: now they have to dial +44 118 909 3080 (which was the number they needed in their contacts if they were going to call me from abroad). Alas, dialing 07 3080 from a Microsoft deskphone will no longer reach my mobile. The shortcuts were getting harder and harder to maintain. It’s not a real hardship for me since I don’t memorize extension numbers.

    A short spell with a dead smartphone proved to me that I don’t need or even want a deskphone if I have a working mobile. Think of 3 features of mobiles that you don’t get in a deskphone.

    • Phone book. I don’t know my wife’s office number, or Eileen’s extension number.I dial names, and caller ID shows names. This is why I see so many people ignoring desk phones when making calls – (and the loss of short codes doesn’t matter).

    • Hands free. There are dozens of low cost Bluetooth headsets, which work with all but the most basic mobile phones. The headset for my deskphone is proprietary, and frankly I don’t know how to get one, but I’ll bet it’s expensive. Which is easier to use with your PC ?

    • Modes. From my mobile I can send a text message, a photo, or an Instant message. My deskphone ? Voice only.

    We pay for dial-up conferencing, because No one can conference 3 parties on a deskphone. The user interface of the mobile makes it easy. And on top of all that are the things you want only in a mobile device –  like the music player and calendar.

    The voice mail functions in Exchange 2007’s are voice-driven. It’s been rolled out in Redmond, but here in the UK we still have an ancient keytone-driven system, so I can’t process Voicemail in the car -which is precisely where I want to. Like so much telephony, the functions haven’t advanced at in the last dozen years. When I say that some people think “what about VOIP ?”

    Voice over IP has delivered nothing to end users. Switching from dedicated phone wiring to IP might save infrastructure costs, but are conference calls easier ? No. Has it made it easier to get the people we want on the phone ? No ! Have the phones or hands free units got cheaper ? No. Camera, text messages ? Forget it.  

    My phone calls start with an e-mail or a  phone book, dialed automatically on my mobile, or read from my PC screen and rekeyed into my deskphone. Why we are still using network addresses to make phone calls is beyond me: why not use the same address books we use on our PCs to control our phones. Again folks in Redmond, and a few pilot users here including Darren have  Remote Call Control from Office Communicator. The success of products like Skype and voice in Windows Live messenger show that some people are happy to plug a handset into their PC and ditch the phone. They’ve also proved that good software doesn’t need QoS in the network infrastructure.

    Presence information changes your relationship with a phone, because see if someone is available BEFORE you call them, and if not see when they’re free or pick e-mail, or IM instead. At Jeff Raikes’ UC strategy day we announced a range of phones for Office Communications Server (watch for the name Tanjay) which will be available next year from 3 partners. We were showing pictures of the phones at Teched in Barcelona, and Paul Duffy talked about it briefly in our interview there. And if you’re in a Video Watching frame of Mind, several people have mentioned the “Devil wears prada” unified communications Videos, which Mark Deakin has posted to Soapbox.


    This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

    The Phone is dead #1

    Filed under: Mobility — jamesone111 @ 1:31 pm

    Or “Le Phone est mort, vive le phone”

    I now have my 3rd C500. The first one got lost on a plane in May 2005, second bore the scars of a hard life, but died on it’s charger last week. Although Orange got me #3  pretty quickly, switching phones isn’t totally smooth

    • My phone runs ALK’s Co-pilot sat nav software and the activation process fails because my product key was used on the old phone.
    • I still haven’t figured out what I did before to get OneNote 2007 Mobile working on the phone.
    • I had my own screen layout (XML) and in moving PCs I seem to have lost the backup copy I had.

    However it’s a pretty quick process to set up sync with a server – typing in the server name takes about 50% of the time – then whoosh I have my contacts and appointments on the phone. Being without my phone for a couple of days was a reminder of just how dependant on that. I’d got the old phone to a state where it couldn’t be upgraded to sync with the Vista media player, the new one has the upgrade, so that’s a bonus.  

    This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

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