Saturday, February 08, 2014
YouView vs Sky

2014-02-03T10-19-24_0I've been a Sky customer for over 11 years and while in the early years I didn't think much about shelling out near to £50 a month for all of the channels through the years, I realised how wasteful that had been seeing as I didn't watch most of them. I began by cutting back on the channels as much as Sky would let me getting my bill to about £23 a month.

If you're a Sky customer you'll be no stranger to Sky's offers, where they'd like to give you the movies or sports package for a large discount for 6 months or more. The problem comes when trying to cancel those channels. In the past I've been on the phone to the cancellation line for almost an hour trying to drop channels and with them suffering slow systems. Sky make it very easy to add new channels you can even do this online, however the functionality to remove channels was not made available online.

Don't get me wrong I have had no other problems with Sky through the years as a service and I have found it a reliable service. I even managed to save money by learning how to service my own satellite dish without taking out a service contract. However I couldn't help but be fascinated by BT's YouView option. BT give you the option of a YouView box along with 18 other channels among them SyFy, Universal and Fox which were some of the channels we seemed to watch the most on Sky. All of this would only cost me £7 a month added onto my existing broadband package. Previously I had been put off BT's service in the past because you couldn't record these extra channels which were sent to you over your broadband connection. After an announcement was made that these channels were recordable, I took the plunge and ordered the BT TV service and ran it alongside Sky for a few months to compare them and to start recording my shows on the new box.

The comparison 
It took me a bit of getting used to the interface on the YouView box but after a while it started to make sense. It also came across as more intuitive compared to the Sky program interface, the ability to go back in time on the planner and watch shows that had already been aired was a brilliant idea. Recording shows was simple enough and so was recording a series of a show.

On Demand Shows
2014-02-03T10-45-43_0Both boxes provide on demand content and there is no competition when it comes to the latest content Sky does win hands down. That's not to say BT's "BT Player" service doesn't have an impressive catalogue however quite a lot of the on demand content is older and much of it has probably been removed from Sky's catalogue already.

But wait! Is that Sky in the On Demand section on the YouView box I see? It is indeed! So while you have access to BT Player in the On Demand section on the YouView box from BT which features all the on demand shows BT have sourced you also have access to content from BBC iPlayer, ITV, 4OD, Channel 5, MilkShake, NOW TV, Sky, Dave and S4C.

The Sky Store player in the on demand section is basically giving you access to pay per view movies from Sky. If you're looking for the latest movie releases you're more than likely going to find them in here before they reach the BT Player Box Office section. Sky Store funnily enough actually seems to work better on the YouView box than it does on Sky's own box. The Sky Store is also available separately on other services.

What about NOWTV?
NOW TV is also a service available from Sky basically providing Sky's regular content over broadband (at a price). Don't get too excited though the NOW TV player on the YouView box does not have the ability to stream live content from NOW TV as it does on their website or via the Xbox such as Sky Atlantic or Sky One but Sky does mention they are working with YouView to make this available. For now the only content you can get off NOWTV on YouView is Sky Movies. I'll be writing a separate article about NOWTV and their dedicated NOWTV Box later.

Other on Demand Content
And as usual the other on demand players such as iPlayer, itv Player etc are freely available on the YouView box as they are via a web browser on your PC. I will admit I have only made use of BBC iPlayer and 4 On Demand and have had no problems so far with the quality of the service.

Anything Else?
I have found the YouView Humax box provided by BT reliable and haven't had too many problems with it. I have only had one issue watching a SkyStore film which kept on stuttering, the issue was corrected by quickly resetting the box by holding down the power button on the front for 8 seconds.

I suppose I will find out soon enough if I will end up regretting my decision to drop Sky. Only time will tell Smile

posted on Saturday, February 08, 2014 2:28:20 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Comments [0]

 Monday, November 18, 2013
HP G62 laptop powers up but no display and fan is running

A family member had a problem with their HP G62 laptop not displaying anything on the screen. I naturally thought it was a user related error until further investigating. The WIFI indicator light was showing orange, the Caps Lock light was out and the hard disk wasn't doing anything. I found the trouble shooting steps for the laptop and went through them doing the following.

  • Test the memory by removing SIMMs one at a time
  • Checking the hard disk
  • Trying an external hard disk

But nothing worked and the usual check, the Caps Lock flashing light didn't display anything then I chanced on the following post on the HP website. The key piece of information here was that I think the BIOS had become corrupted. To solve the problem I did the following.

  • Remove all peripherals from the laptop
  • Remove power supply
  • Remove battery
  • Hold down the power button for 30 seconds (to drain any power from the laptop and hard reset it)
  • Then start up the laptop while holding down the Windows and B key together

Surprisingly the screen burst into life and the machine began to rebuild/reinstall the BIOS and suddenly worked! While doing so the caps lock light flashed several times.

I hope this helps someone.

posted on Monday, November 18, 2013 8:04:29 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Comments [0]

 Thursday, July 04, 2013
Are our mobile phone networks falling apart?

Vodafone no signal

I've been with Vodafone my current network provider for more than 12 years as a business customer. My reason for choosing Vodafone has been that they have always been one of the most reliable mobile phone networks. I say this because I was one of the first to subscribe to 3's network when it first launched and had next to no signal. I still have a 3 phone which I use as a backup.

But recently I've discovered a sudden loss of signal with Vodafone, it started to happen gradually and then all of a sudden I had no service where I live in Kent. I also started to notice that getting a data connection near any of the main London stations in the early morning or in the evening was next to impossible even though I had a full 3G signal. Complain to @VodafoneUK via twitter and they ask you to enter your issues on their online forum where you have to enter your postcode and then go through the process of telling them you have no signal on 2G or 3G and that even if you walk 5 miles down the road you still don't have much signal. Eventually a member of the tech team will look at the issue and tell you what your site number is and then confirm "oh yes there is an issue with that particular cell". What annoys me about this approach is that if there was a problem with that particular cell tower why on Earth didn't they have some computer system monitoring those towers which could flag it up before customers complained? Its called being proactive guys?

Anyway more people started to complain and the tech team informed us that they are investigating the issue. The only problem is this has now been going on for 2 weeks and they still have no progress to report on the issue. Not surprisingly customers are getting angry. You can see the forum thread here .

Do a search for "vodafone signal" on twitter and you start seeing something like this

 

image image

Now while any network will have a fair amount of people complaining about signal strength I also found updates of people moving to Vodafone from EE and other networks because of a lack of signal.

image

But then looking at various news sites we start to see the following.

http://www.thisiskent.co.uk/Signal-blackout-leaves-Vodafone-users-furious/story-18746042-detail/story.html#axzz2XmQzDuJU

http://sotontab.co.uk/2013/04/11/vodafone-no-signal-southampton/

http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2013/feb/16/vodafone-wrong-signals-reception-mast

http://www.eveningnews24.co.uk/news/problems_on_vodafone_mobile_phone_network_for_thousands_in_norfolk_1_1999735

 

EE (also has it bad)

Start looking at the other networks such as EE (T-Mobile and Orange combined) and you start seeing some similar trends taking place. If not more complaints.

image

 

http://onthewight.com/2012/11/09/everything-everywhere-mobile-signal-more-like-nothing-nowhere-from-orange/

Someone has even started a Facebook group complaining about the poor service on EE.

image

Another site has also been setup for people complaining about EE and how to leave.

image

 

O2

There are some complains about O2 but there don't appear to be as many as the two above probably because they are not as big as those two?

image

 

So what's happening?

Dig a bit deeper and you'll find this article, basically O2 and Vodafone agreed back at the end of 2012 to start sharing phone masts. It makes you wonder if the process of doing this may have lead to poor coverage while it is underway?

Take a look at the AV Forums and you'll find a post where an EE customer recons they're doing exactly the same with Orange and T-Mobile mast infrastructure

OR

Or could it be that the networks are focusing on 4G at the expense of their existing  3G customers? What ever it is the lack of visibility of what is happening especially with Vodafone is frustrating. At least tell people what's happening guys, when you don't people start too become suspicious and frustrated.

posted on Thursday, July 04, 2013 6:11:54 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Comments [0]

 Thursday, May 02, 2013

Many people complain about SharePoint personally I haven't had much of a problem with it in the past until now. The theory of SharePoint is sound, it's a good idea and I was an early SharePoint Developer back in the days of version 1.

The main problem with SharePoint I find these days, is actually getting teams to use it. I have worked with a lot of companies in the past and many have it installed. However there appears to be a key issue in SharePoint which makes it harder for people to use and I've seen it on several sites.

How can I easily copy my documents up to SharePoint?

Any SharePoint dev or person who has used it will say "Oh just click on the explorer view". The explorer view is great for getting documents into SharePoint provided it actually works. You can also map a network place to a folder in SharePoint, however this also suffers exactly the same problem. It doesn't always work!

The frustration!

Visit the Microsoft forum's and its full of people asking the same questions who are being presented with all kinds of work arounds. From ensuring certain services are turned on, to adding SharePoint to your trusted sites right down to wiping all of your browsing history. For some this works but for quite a lot this just doesn't work. For the end user this is frustrating, they may not be very technical and it takes time out of their day. The main question on their minds is "Why can't it just work?". These users who experience these issues usually raise the problem with their tech support desk who find themselves in a difficult predicament. What usually happens is people come up with their own solutions to problems and some of them involved bypassing SharePoint and just placing the final document in there while they make use of tools such as DropBox, SkyDrive (the irony) or Email to share documents.

Get it right

Surely Microsoft understands that this is such a vital part in getting people to use SharePoint. They need to get this bit right and it should just work with no questions asked. The result of this not working is one (not all) of the reasons I hear people saying so many unfavourable things about SharePoint. Microsoft if you get this bit right you're going to see some happier people.


Note
I am awaiting the next version of Office 365 & SharePoint with interest, if this issue is addressed here it will be a huge leap forward.

posted on Thursday, May 02, 2013 10:10:46 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Comments [0]

 Friday, February 15, 2013
The very distant future of retail

Reading several articles about the breakthroughs in 3D printing suddenly gave me a vision on what the future of retail could be possibly 30 years from now. You'll have to use your imagination as I take you on this journey, you may roll your eyes and utter the word "ppleeeasse!" but bare with me.

Imagine if you would a future in where we are all purchasing one physical product that gets delivered to our houses a bit like like gas or water its piped to our houses or shipped by lorries. Its arrives in large vats filled with not very interesting grey granules. It is a key product and its value is an indicator of how well an economy is doing just like the price of oil. We go to comparison websites to choose the company with the better deal as we do for out telephone, gas or electricity.

Just how every home now has a TV, broadband and a computer of some kind, every home has an advanced compact and state of the art 3D printer. Online Shops such as Amazon and Apple were at the forefront of this technology wave as just as we had programs such as iTunes installed on our machines for music we have programs such as iWear and Jungle Stuff. These programs work almost exactly the same as iTunes or Spotify, we find a digital item we want and pay for it. It is then automatically downloaded. But the difference is we are now paying for the DRM protected designs for clothes, shoes, hand bags, pans, dishes and small furniture items. We download these items and our 3D printers which take the grey granules we purchase in bulk, "print" these products into the real world as wearable clothing shoes or small items.

The quality of what we buy is governed by the price we pay for these granules. We buy cheaper granules for things we do not think we will posses for long. When we are done with an item of clothing it is fed back into the printer and broken back down into its granular form. The system recycles itself. Thousand of unknown designers just as unknown authors did, now have a platform to market their designs to the public at incredibly low costs. The industry of manufacturing cheap garments in the far east has disappeared and replaced by just the need for the most up to date designs. But here is a grey area and as markets have taught us there will always be a black market to any new product. It takes it place in copies of original copyright designs and the breaking of DRM protected designs and people "chipping" or hacking their 3D printers so they can accept non copyright designs. There is of course an open source movement, as usual its not for the technically inept and more focused towards those that understand the technology and can accept designs through an open market where people have contributed free designs.  

It is a world where traditional brands such as Nike, Adidas etc focus on the next cutting edge design of their product and will probably endorse a certain type of granule for their products.

There will still be a market for traditional products but these will be for the wealthier as our populations increase producing cottons, silks and wool become more expensive as land is better suited given over to food production.

There you have it my thoughts on where retail could be in the very distant future.

posted on Friday, February 15, 2013 10:06:31 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Comments [0]

 Friday, February 08, 2013

If you've been using trying to get the FritzBox VPN client to work lately and have been getting the above error. It is probably caused by a missing folder on your machine. In my case I was missing the folder "FRITZ!Fernzugang" which is found in the following directory on my machine "C:\ProgramData\AVM"

It seem the Fritz!Box tries to save a file to that directory but doesn't check if it exists or even tries to create the folder of it doesn't exist. I had this problem with the 64bit version of the client for Windows 7. I am guessing it may only be a problem on that version.

You can see more of whats going on if you check the following folder C:\Program Files\FRITZ!VPN\logs there is a files named nwtsrv.log which will give you a lot more detail on what's happening.

If you have been having errors importing the configuration for a VPN into the Fritz!Box itself trying exporting the file encrypted first for some reason it doesn't seem to like an unencrypted file.

posted on Friday, February 08, 2013 10:26:15 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Comments [0]

 Monday, September 17, 2012
Using TFS with the WorkflowCentralLogger, PowerShell and PSAKE

I was recently brought into a client site where they had made use of PSAKE to handle their build process. The build would be kicked off from the traditional Workflow in TFS using an Invoke Process. Everything was working perfectly until they spotted that when the build failed there was no way of viewing which unit tests had failed from within TFS. In short PowerShell was giving precious little to the TFS summary view.

The question was how could we get that rich logging information you got in the build summary when doing a traditional build using Workflow? Setting up a traditional build and observing how MSBUILD is called from TFS starts to shed some light on the situation

C:\Windows\Microsoft.NET\Framework64\v4.0.30319\MSBuild.exe /nologo /noconsolelogger "C:\Builds\1\Scratch\Test Build\Sources\user\Test\Build.proj" /m:1 /fl /p:SkipInvalidConfigurations=true  /p:OutDir="C:\Builds\1\Scratch\Test Build\Binaries\\" /p:VCBuildOverride="C:\Builds\1\Scratch\Test Build\Sources\user\Test\Build.proj.vsprops" /dl:WorkflowCentralLogger,"C:\Program Files\Microsoft Team Foundation Server 2010\Tools\Microsoft.TeamFoundation.Build.Server.Logger.dll";"Verbosity=Normal;BuildUri=vstfs:///Build/Build/111;InformationNodeId=6570;
TargetsNotLogged=GetNativeManifest,GetCopyToOutputDirectoryItems,
GetTargetPath;TFSUrl=
http://mytfshost:8080/tfs/Test%20Collection;"*WorkflowForwardingLogger,"C:\Program Files\Microsoft Team Foundation Server 2010\Tools\Microsoft.TeamFoundation.Build.Server.Logger.dll";"Verbosity=Normal;"

 

In the above example I have highlighted the section I discovered is responsible for the summary view you usually see when kicking off a build from TFS. I discovered this with a bit of guesswork and some reflector usage to see what was going on inside MSBUILD. Googling for the WorkflowCentralLogger gives precious little back about how it works and more about the errors people have encountered with it.

Getting to the solution
You will be forgiven for thinking the answer to the problem is just adding the missing WorkflowCentralLogger switch (with arguments) to your MSBUILD command line in PowerShell/PSAKE. Sadly its not that simple. See the InformationNodeId in the above command line? This appears to tell the WorkFlowCentralLogger where it needs to append its logging information. Passing it into the Invoke Process was my first thought, the problem is you're not going to find anything that will give it to you, I wasn't able to find it anywhere.

So how do you get it to work then?
The answer is, you need to build a Custom Workflow Activity. A custom workflow activity will have access to the current Context. To use this you need to inherit the class "CodeActivity". Its up to you how you use this Custom Workflow Activity, you have one of two ways.

  • Place it above the Invoke Process in your workflow, get the InformationNodeId and pass this as an OutArgument to the Invoke Process below it (not tested fully)
  • Or invoke Powershell from within the Custom Activity using a runspace and pass it the code context. (fully tested)
   1:   
   2:   
   3:  namespace MyWorkflowActivities
   4:  {
   5:      using System;
   6:      using System.Collections.Generic;
   7:      using System.Linq;
   8:      using System.Text;
   9:      using System.Collections.ObjectModel;
  10:      using System.Management.Automation;
  11:      using System.Management.Automation.Runspaces;
  12:      using System.IO;
  13:      using System.Activities;
  14:      using System.Collections;
  15:      using System.Globalization;
  16:   
  17:      using Microsoft.TeamFoundation.Build.Client;
  18:      using Microsoft.TeamFoundation.Build.Workflow.Activities;
  19:      using Microsoft.TeamFoundation.Build.Workflow.Services;
  20:   
  21:      public OutArgument<string> InformationNodeIdOut { get; set; }
  22:      
  23:      [BuildActivity(HostEnvironmentOption.All)]
  24:      public sealed class GetInformationNodeId : CodeActivity
  25:      {
  26:          protected override void Execute(CodeActivityContext context)
  27:          {
  28:          
  29:              context.TrackBuildMessage("Getting the Information Node Id", BuildMessageImportance.Low);
  30:              IActivityTracking activityTracking = context.GetExtension<IBuildLoggingExtension>().GetActivityTracking((ActivityContext) context);
  31:              string informationNodeId = activityTracking.Node.Id.ToString("D", (IFormatProvider)CultureInfo.InvariantCulture);
  32:              
  33:              context.SetValue<string>(this.InformationNodeIdOut, informationNodeId);
  34:          }
  35:      }
  36:      
  37:  }

The code above illustrates the first solution. Its a lot simpler and you'll have to pass that node id to MSBUILD when you construct its command line in PowerShell. Line 30 and 31 is where all the magic takes place, I managed to find this line using reflector in MSBUILD. If you have never written a custom activity before Ewald Hofman has a short summary of one here

The diagram below illustrates where GetInformationNodeId (code above) sits just above the InvokeProcess which calls PowerShell.

 

image

The second solution, which I actually went with is slightly more complex and I'll blog about how I did that in another article. You might be wondering what are the immediate benefits of one over the other? The beauty of going with the second solution is you can make use of the code activity context within your PowerShell scripts. So for example instead of writing your PowerShell events out to the host you could wrap that call in context.TrackBuildMessage (as illustrated on line 29 above). Hopefully I'll find some time to blog about that next week!

I'd be interested to hear about other peoples experiences.

posted on Monday, September 17, 2012 2:19:34 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Comments [0]

 Saturday, August 25, 2012
How to check a PDFs page size with iTextSharp

I don't know why I found it so hard to get hold of this information. I've placed it onto my blog for reference purposes. As before, if you can suggest a better method of doing this please leave a comment.

 

   1:   public string GetPageSize(string PathToPDF)
   2:          {
   3:              var reader = new PdfReader(PathToPDF);
   4:   
   5:              // A post script point is 0.352777778mm
   6:              const float postScriptPoints = (float)0.352777778;
   7:   
   8:              // The height and width are returned in post script points from iTextSharp
   9:              float height = reader.GetPageSizeWithRotation(1).Height * postScriptPoints;
  10:              float width = reader.GetPageSizeWithRotation(1).Width * postScriptPoints;
  11:   
  12:              reader.Close();
  13:   
  14:              if ((width >= 210 && width < 211)
  15:                  && (height >= 297 && height < 298))
  16:              {
  17:                  return "A4";
  18:              }
  19:   
  20:              return "unknown page size";
  21:          }
posted on Saturday, August 25, 2012 3:11:48 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Comments [0]