Saturday, 2 August 2014

Tech

Preventing password expiry on Windows 7 Home

I provide occasional IT support to neighbours. This week's request was harder to resolve than it should've been, so here's a quick summary for anyone who

Problem: Windows prompts me to change my login password every 42 days.

Desired outcome: I don't local users' passwords to ever expire.

Solution:

  1. Click the Start button
  2. Type cmd then press Ctrl+Shift+Enter
  3. Select "Run as Administrator" (you'll need to enter your password here)
  4. In the command-line window, type net accounts /maxpwage:unlimited then press Enter
  5. Type exit to quit the command-line window

Notes: Absurdly, Microsoft don't provide a graphical user interface for adjusting this setting on "Home" versions of Windows 7, hence the need to dive into the command-line. Running net accounts without further options will show the current settings.

Posted by pab at 13:52 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Theatre

Wolf Hall / Bring Up the Bodies

I tend to avoid popular things, and don't read much fiction. So I was probably in the minority in the audience today, having read neither Wolf Hall nor Bring Up the Bodies, Hillary Mantel's blockbuster books on which these two plays are based.

I'm also not exactly a big fan of history. I'd much rather live in the present.

But today's Emma's birthday, and I knew taking her to a double-bill in the West End would be the perfect gift.

It turned out to be the perfect day all round. It's been years since I've been to a West End theatre, and from the moment we entered the auditorium I felt a tingle of expectation and excitement that caught me off guard.

The plays were fantastic! Against a minimal set the actors let props and costume define the boundaries of the many scenes. Sometimes two "camera angles" on one scene are present on stage simultaneously. At other times, a scene in flashback flows around the reminiscing characters. In fact "flow" is probably the best way to describe the motion of the entire experience. The plays felt lyrical, echoing each other and weaving around the storyline effortlessly.

I thoroughly recommend both, but if you've only the stamina for one three-hour play, make it the first. I suspect you'll be back for the second anyway.

It's almost enough to make me want to read the books.

Posted by pab at 23:58 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Books , O'Reilly Reviews , Tech

IPv6 Essentials

A good "leg-up" ★★★☆☆

There's a fundamental change occurring on the Internet: the venerable Internet Protocol by which all nodes communicate is being replaced with a new version, IPv6. Silvia Hagen's IPv6 Essentials provides engineers with a good leg-up to understanding the wide-ranging impacts of the new protocol.

That said, there's still a lot of legwork for the reader to do. This is not a gentle tutorial. By necessity it covers many technical areas in significant depth, sometimes bordering on being just a little bit too dry in its presentation. With so much material to cover, I'm sure the author faced a chicken-and-egg dilemma about what to present first. I imagine reading it a second time will be a much easier prospect.

The shining gem is chapter eight, which describes Mobile IPv6. The ability for a device to migrate seamlessly from one network to another without breaking sessions might not seem to be an "essential" part of the core protocol suite, but by reading the details I developed a genuine admiration for how the individual elements of IPv6 work together.

There's a wealth of information in this book. Sometimes the structure irked me, and I would have liked more tabular presentation that can be used for reference. However, it's bang up-to-date — a good thing since many technologies recommended over the past twenty years to aid the transition from IPv4 to IPv6 are no longer recommended, as the author points out.

It's undoubtedly be a book I come back to regularly as the transition gathers momentum.

[Note: I received a free electronic copy of this book through the O'Reilly Reader Review Program.]

Posted by pab at 22:27 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Solas

Solas 2014: Common Ground

There's no doubt about it: Solas is currently my favourite festival.

solas-village.jpg

This year's highlights:

Above all that though was the feel of the place. This was a wonderful weekend, and well worth the rather long journey from the far south of England. Roll on next year.

Posted by pab at 22:09 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Books , O'Reilly Reviews , Tech

Getting Started with Bluetooth Low Energy

An Inspiring Introduction ★★★☆

I've worked a little with Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) before, getting the bulk of my information from programming guides.

This book presented an opportunity to go back to basics: to review the protocol stack from top to bottom and patch in the gaps in my knowledge. On that account it succeeded very well.

There are many components to BLE, and a seemingly unending vocabulary to learn (care to distinguish profiles, procedures, protocols, or ATT versus GATT?). "Getting Started with Bluetooth Low Energy" does a tremendous job at guiding the reader through the scenery, pointing out subtleties and traps along the way.

In particular, the tour of the protocol stack presented in Chapter 2 is wonderful, describing everything from the application down to the low-level radio components (and how those lower levels necessarily impact the behaviour of frameworks and apps).

In places I would've liked a little more detail (I'm a sucker for packet traces, and there's scant information about specific profiles built on top of GATT), but the book has inspired me to dig deeper and continue learning about BLE elsewhere. And that's the key point: I was expecting to learn, but in addition to that I was energised. While I previously had in mind one application for which I could use BLE, I now have dozens of ideas.

[Note: I received a free copy of this book through the O'Reilly Reader Review Program.]

Posted by pab at 14:02 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Books , O'Reilly Reviews , Tech

Java 8 Pocket Guide

More "Java" than "Java 8" ★★☆☆☆

A "pocket guide" for something like Java is always going to be a difficult book. It's got to be succinct enough to allow easy access to salient points while simultaneously proving the depth that this complex platform deserves. A book that is perfect for experts is unlikely to appeal to beginners too, and therein lies the problem with the Java 8 Pocket Guide.

I was hoping for a speedy "leg-up" on new features in Java SE 8, having been a long-term Java developer. Sadly this book doesn't quite meet that need. There is Java 8 material here: a tour of the new Date and Time API and a good overview of Lambdas (although only a passing reference to method references, and pretty much nothing about the new collections streams).

But I'd like to see further detail on the library: a list of package names isn't enough! The Concurrency chapter was interesting, but would've been so much more informative with more detailed examples. (And those examples that are present need reviewing further: I'm sure the author meant to invoke thread.start() instead of thread.run() to spawn a new thread.)

If you're coming back to Java from a long time away and need a reminder about the syntax and style of the language, or if you're new to Java and need an aide memoir to keep beside your IDE, the Pocket Guide might be perfect. Experts looking for a reference to what's new in Java SE 8 should look elsewhere.

[Note: I received a free copy of this book through the O'Reilly Reader Review Program.]

Posted by pab at 19:50 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Islands

Kerrera

Another day, another island; another island with a special place in my heart.

sound-of-kerrera.jpgWithout Kerrera there would be no Oban. Separating the town from the Sound of Mull, the island acts as a huge natural breakwater, providing this "Gateway to the Isles" with its own ready-made harbour.

I first visited back in 1999. I was a hopeless romantic. I took the ferry from the mainland and embarked on a walk around the island's perimeter. Three quarters of the way round I sat on a rock to eat my sandwiches, the water gently lapping away at my feet.

Here I came up with the idea for the Model Boat Club. Imagine a young couple, hopelessly in love. On a warm summer's day they walk round a small island and stop off for a picnic in the bay. As the food is finished, a model boat comes into view. It rounds the rocks and heads straight towards the couple. Attached to its mast is a neatly wrapped box. Attached to the box is a label bearing the girl's name. She unwraps it to find a jewellery box. Her heart beats faster. Seeing that she's too nervous to look inside, the boy takes it from her, tilts open the lid and asks "the question". Of course she says "yes". The boat slips silently away.

model-boat-club-bay.jpgIt occurred to me that if you're going to spend a significant sum on an engagement ring, you may as well propose in style. You can draw a direct line between that time moment on the island of Kerrera and an evening on at Tan-y-Bwlch seven years later.

We saw plenty more on Kerrera today including parrots, a peacock and a turkey; Gylen Castle and one of the world's best tea-rooms. But the highlight for me was taking Emma to an unnamed bay on the island's southern tip to tell her the beginnings of the story that ended with me sketching a lych gate on a boulder on a beach south of Aberystwyth.

Posted by pab at 18:05 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Friday, 30 May 2014

Greenbelt , Islands

Iona

We've been on the island of Iona this week with friends from Greenbelt.

For the past ten years Emma and I have made the pilgrimage here every two years or so. We'd each visited the island before we met each other too; it was on a call from the village phone box that I discovered my degree result twenty years ago. (I thought I might have scraped a third; I couldn't have been more wrong!)

abbey-sunset.jpg

It's an island we know well, but this year I discovered dozens of places I'd never visited before. Rather than stick to the well worn paths I ventured across the moorland at the heart of the island, climbed hills I'd not previously noticed and more than once sunk deep into a bog I wish I had spotted.

As we headed north on Friday I wondered whether this would be our last visit to Iona for a while. I now know that it will not. We shall return.

Posted by pab at 22:20 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Islands

Staffa

fingals-cave.jpgCultured people might tell you they visit Staffa to see Fingal's Cave. They'll sit on the basalt columns and listen to Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture as the waves break on the rocks below. Maybe they'll tell you of Queen Victoria's visit to Staffa, or invoke tales of the British Romantics.

It's certainly an atmospheric place, but it's not the reason I like to visit the island.

puffin.jpgIn fact, I'd venture that there's only one reason why anyone ever returns to Staffa: for the puffins.

Ever ready to entertain the crowds, these small birds will fly up to greet anyone willing to sit patiently on the cliff tops for a few minutes. They're beautiful, charming and curious. They bring a smile to everyone's face yet always look terribly sad.

Staffa is well worth the trip. The birds will draw you back.

Posted by pab at 19:29 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Friday, 23 May 2014

Places

Heading north

caledonian-sleeper.jpg

There are few better places to find yourself just before midnight on a Friday night than platform one at Euston station. Or to be more specific, there are few places better than the lounge car of the Caledonian Sleeper with the love of your life and a wee dram, especially if ahead of you lies a week away from work and breathing space of the Hebridean islands.

Posted by pab at 23:45 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!