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Random Thoughts of an ASP.Net Code Monkey

NxtGenUG Manchester Slides

April 23, 2012 22:59 by Andrew Westgarth

Thanks to all the attendees who came to my talk on IIS8 last week at NxtGenUG Manchester Daresbury.  Apologies for the delay in posting the slides, you can now get them on my Slides & Resources page and the direct link for the IIS 8 Presentation slides is - http://www.andrewwestgarth.co.uk/Presentations/IIS%208%20–%20Platform%20for%20the%20Future.pdf

Imagine Cup North East Final Looms

April 2, 2012 20:54 by Andrew Westgarth

The Imagine Cup is a great competition for students to get involved in and something I’ve covered previously http://www.andrewwestgarth.co.uk/blog/post/2012/02/01/You-Can-Change-the-World-Through-Technology.aspx. Well 2012 is the first year that the North East has got involved and the competition is really hotting up as the teams hurtle towards the deadline for submitting their Round Two entry in the Software Design competition.

Last month we had three teams present their ideas to the group at NEBytes and in return all of the attendees gave each team lots of useful feedback ahead of Round Two.  All of the teams were asked some very searching questions about each of their respective entries and gave them a great exposure and practice in presenting their idea and answering questions, they all handled it very well and we all hope they benefitted from the experience.

The final of the North East regional Imagine Cup competition will be held on Tuesday 10th April and I am delighted to have been invited to join the panel of judges along with David Dunn, from Sunderland Software City, Ben Nunney, from Microsoft and Ajay Sood from Orchidsoft.  The panel will have the task of selecting the team(s) from the North East who will go forward to the UK Final and who knows then on to represent the UK in the World Final in Sydney, Australia!

This is the first time the North East has got involved and the buzz at the hack day and subsequently seeing some of the teams at NEBytes last month has been amazing and I’m really looking forward to seeing what the teams have come up with at the final next week.  I hope this is the start of a long association between North East students and the Imagine Cup.

Release Candidates of Application Initialization and Dynamic IP Restrictions Released

April 2, 2012 20:08 by Andrew Westgarth

Two new Release Candidates for the following IIS Extensions have been released today:

  • Application Initialization for IIS 7.5 (the replacement for the previously released Application Warmup beta extension)
  • Dynamic IP Restrictions for IIS7/7.5

Application Initialization for IIS 7.5

Application Initialization is a feature which is coming in IIS 8.0 and is now also available for IIS 7.5 (please note this feature is not available for IIS 7.0).   This module helps to eliminate the lack of feedback experienced by users when an application is first accessed and is not “warmed up”.  Through the use of this module Administrators can enable a website to return a splash page while waiting for the application to be ready for example.  The module also enables seamless recycling of pre-loaded application pools with no noticeable impact to users, something I am sure many application developers will be able to take advantage of.

Dynamic IP Restrictions for IIS7/7.5

The Dynamic IP Restrictions module provides Administrators and Hosters with the facility to mitigate or block Denial of Service Attacks or brute force attacks on passwords by temporarily blocking IP Address from where potential attacks are emanating, this is done by monitoring patterns of traffic and matching those to patterns which would indicate attack.  This can be configured on a server and site level.

Sean Eagan, Program Manager on the IIS Team has a more detailed blog post with links to documentation and download links for both the Release Candidates of Application Initialization and Dynamic IP Restrictions - http://blogs.iis.net/shauneagan/archive/2012/04/02/release-candidates-for-dynamic-ip-restrictions-and-application-initialization-now-available.aspx

I will be looking to cover both of these extensions in both my talks at user groups and also in more detail here on my blog.

Categories: IIS | IIS7
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Want to Hear About IIS8?

April 1, 2012 21:59 by Andrew Westgarth

With the recent release of the Windows 8 Consumer Preview and the Windows Server 8 Beta I’ve been looking at the new features in IIS8 such as:

  • Web Socket Support
  • Application Initialization
  • Configuration Optimization
  • SNI Support
  • and many more…

If you would like to know more and are in the Manchester area why not come along to NxtGenUG Manchester on Wednesday 18th April 2012 where I’ll be giving my first in a number of sessions on IIS8.  For more information or to signup please visit the NxtGenUG Website

iis-8

Ultrabook Review: Lenovo Ideapad U300S

April 1, 2012 21:25 by Andrew Westgarth

The Lenovo Ideapad U300S Ultrabook is one of the first of a new range of high end slim laptop's which are seen to be direct competitors and of the Apple MacBook Air.  The key features of this new form factor are that they are lightweight and have high battery life but all the while don't compromise on performance.  A wide range of manufacturers have released similar products but my only exposure to the form factor has been in the form of the Lenovo U300S.

DSC_0622 (3008x2000)

I was very lucky to win this Lenovo IdeaPad U300S Ultrabook through a competition run by Shortlist back in January, therefore my review is coming without my having to actually shoulder the cost of this luxury device.  I am however looking at options to replace my aging Dell Latitude D820, which has been an excellent machine for five years, so am aware of trends and the expected cost to replace my existing work horse.

The Lenovo IdeaPad U300S Ultrabook I am using has the following specification:
    Intel i7-2677M 1.8g-2.9ghz processor;
    Intel GMA HD 300 Graphics
    4 GB DDR3 RAM
    256GB SSD
    13.3" Ultra slim 16:9 HD Display (1366x768 resolution)
    Bluetooth; 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, 1.3MP Webcam.
    1 x USB 2.0; 1 x USB 3.0; HDMI

DSC_0634 (3008x2000) (320x70)

There is an alternative configuration available and that comes with an i3 processor and a smaller 128GB SSD.  The whole unit is fashioned from one single piece of Aluminium.  The Lenovo IdeaPad U300S weighs a miniscule 2.9lbs and the dimensions are phenomenal with a thickness when closed of just 14.9mm!!  The full dimensions are 324x216x14.9mm, you can see a comparison between my swiss army knife and the ultra slim Lenovo IdeaPad U300S.

I ran the U300S with both Windows 7 Home Premium and the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, which is now my primary operating system, and I managed to get over 7 hours of battery life during general use which is absolutely fantastic from a high performance laptop like this.  Lenovo's technical specifications suggest that users should expect 8 hours of use from the machine in general use and I think it's almost correct dependent on use.  None of my use has been heavily processor intensive apart from occasionally building a large solution in Visual Studio.

DSC_0641 (3008x2000)

The resolution of the screen in this model is a lot lower than I am used to as my primary display runs at 1920x1200 on a 15.4" screen but the clear crisp resolution on the ultra slim panel is very usable and indeed caters for the majority of my needs, plus it's of a high enough standard for me to snap two metro apps side by side in Windows 8.  One criticism I have heard levelled at these type of displays is that in direct sunlight they are hard to read, I can neither confirm nor deny this as I have not had opportunity to test this out.

PConnectivity on Ultrabooks appears to be a premium and differentiator if the Lenovo Ideapad U300S is anything to go by as the machine only has 1 USB 2.0 port, 1 USB 3.0 port, a HDMI port and a combined microphone/headphones/headset socket.  I've found myself needing to use more than two USB ports so find myself adding a USB hub to my shopping list so I can always have the option to use more ports.  The lack of a dedicated VGA port is causing my concern at present as I have not been able to test the Ultrabook on multiple monitors, a HDMI to VGA cable is apparently available from Lenovo (according to the nice wallpaper that is on the desktop on first boot) however I am finding it extremely difficult to source, along with other accessories such as the Lenovo USB Hub which has a built in Ethernet port for making use of wired connections.  I don't have any USB 3.0 devices at present and so cannot comment on the usefulness of that port as I find myself using it as a standard port for now.

The trackpad is huge and supports some built in gestures from Lenovo, enabling a notes application for example.  In addition there is the introduction of a dedicated button for one-click restore which I made use of with my first use of Windows 7, this was surprisingly easy to use and a very quick way of restoring to factory settings.  The Lenovo IdeaPad U300S also has support for the Intel RapidBoot technology and the Ultrabook boots into windows in less than 10 seconds!!! which is fantastic and enables me to get to work straight away rather than waiting for a long time for my machine to be ready to use.  This is also the first Lenovo keyboard I have used but it’s very easy to type on and I hear it follows the quality that Lenovo puts into their keyboards.

So generally a lot of positives in the review so far!  I haven't really commented on the processor. ram or SSD size, but I've found it to be a very powerful machine and night and day between it and my D820 which has a Core2 Duo with 4GB Ram.  I have to be honest in that 256GB SSD would be the minimum I would buy and I wouldn't even contemplate a machine with less than 4GB RAM.

So what is the Lenovo IdeaPad U300S missing I hear you ask?  Well I've read reviews where the reviewers have complained about lack of memory card slot.  This doesn't really bother me to be honest as I have a card reader which I carry in my bag and can be used on a variety of machines, I have had a fixed card reader on my netbook and found I never used it much as my main machine was my D820.  What I have come to notice is missing after a few weeks use, both at home and on the road, is a built in 3G modem.  Ultrabooks are designed to be powerful and lightweight, ideal for working on the move but the lack of 3G connectivity means I have to carry around a USB modem or Mi-Fi with me, not ideal.  Other manufacturers also provide the HDMI to VGA Cable in the box as standard and a I think this is a nice touch which Lenovo should also adopt as I've noted already that despite trying to source an adapter I've finding it very difficult and I have presentations to give this month!!

DSC_0636 (3008x2000)

Finally I come to the cost of the Lenovo IdeaPad U300S.  As you'd expect with a beautiful, high performance competitor to the Apple MacBook Air, this isn't going to be cheap.The model I am very lick to have costs £1220.48 from Dabs and the i5 model costs in the region of £850 from the same retailer and a MacBook Air with a similar specification to the i5 model starts at £850.

So the final question comes down to whether or not I think the Lenovo IdeaPad U300S represents value for money?  To be honest I don't think I'm the target audience for this beautiful device.  In looking around for a new laptop I've not looked once at Ultrabooks other than to say they are beautiful devices but not my target.  When I buy a laptop I tend to think towards spending a large amount up front on a device which will last me five years.  My current thinking is towards a different Lenovo product, the ThinkPad W520 as it will give me a 1920x1080 screen and support up to 32GB of RAM which is really important when presenting on Web Farms and IIS share configuration as I need to be able to run many virtual environments, plus a machine like that will keep me going for years, my D820 has cost me about £300 per year over 5 years and I'm looking to spend around the same (or maybe a couple of hundred more) and get the same return.  Also a laptop like the Thinkpad W520 is expandable however the Lenovo Ideapad U300S is a solid piece of Aluminium with no replaceable parts so I wonder how I'll get on when the battery no longer charges or a part fails, also the maximum of 4GB Ram is a little limiting.

Overall I have to say the Lenovo IdeaPad U300S is a and fantastic looking and high performance machine but it's a little rich on the price tag for what it offers for me, I'd personally rather save the £1200 and put it towards a Lenovo ThinkPad but I have a specific use case for my machines.  If you want a high performance, beautiful, lightweight machine for general use and travel a lot I'd really recommend looking at the Lenovo IdeaPad U300S.

You Can Change the World Through Technology

February 1, 2012 13:33 by Andrew Westgarth

Are you a student in the North East and interested in technology or do you know of any North East based students who are interested in technology?  Would you like the opportunity to change the world and potentially win a free trip to Sydney, Australia?

If you've read this far then you must be interested, so what is this all about?  The Microsoft Imagine Cup, that's what!  The Microsoft Imagine Cup is the world's top student technology competition.  Ever year Microsoft gives students a fantastic opportunity to envisage, create and deliver a technology solution that addresses the Imagine Cup slogan - "Imagine a world where technology helps solve the toughest problems!"   The Microsoft Imagine Cup theme this year is inspired by the eight United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

Sunderland Software City and Codeworks have teamed up this year to run a regional heat of the Microsoft Imagine Cup to highlight the fantastic talent that exists in our great region!

Imagine Cup North East - Are you up for a challenge? from Codeworks Ltd on Vimeo.

The Imagine Cup North East is an exciting opportunity for students to work together in teams to solve some of the worlds toughest problems, learn new skills, make new friends, win prizes (did I mention the grand final is in Sydney, Australia?) and test themselves against the other UK and Worldwide teams.

So how do you get involved?  Why not come along to one of the taster events to find out more on Thursday February 2nd in Newcastle (17:30-20:00) and on Friday February 3rd in Teeside (17:30-20:00).  At these events you'll see presentations from Microsoft about the competition, kits available and outcomes required and then on Friday 17th and Saturday 18th February you'll be whisked off to a secret location for a 36 hour non-stop hackathon to work on your team projects

To find out more check out the Imagine Cup North East website - http://www.imaginecupnortheast.co.uk and follow the Imagine Cup North East on Twitter - http://twitter.com/imaginecupne

If you're not a student but would still like to get involved the competition is also looking for Mentors and Sponsors, so get in touch with the Imagine Cup North East, let's get behind the fantastic talent in our region and show the rest of country and hopefully the world how good they are!!

Finally I'll leave you in the capable hands of Captain Rob Miles to give you some more information on the Microsoft Imagine Cup

Computer Science Curriculum is Changing and You Can Help!

January 26, 2012 13:51 by Andrew Westgarth

We as professionals in the Computer Science industry have a responsibility to aid and assist our individual education systems in educating and encourage the next generations of Computing Professionals, be they Developers, IT Professionals, Testers etc.

Change is Coming!

Michael Gove announced recently that the current Information and Communications Technology (ICT) curriculum in England is to be replaced in September 2012. This was all announced at the BETT show and the current curriculum was described as demotivating and dull.

I have long been concerned about the quality and delivery of the ICT curriculum in schools with the curriculum being insipid and not enough time devoted to it (indeed I am little concerned about how this new change will be implemented as I have heard stories of Teachers who believe that any ICT curriculum doesn't need to be taught anymore!).

I indeed remember countless years spending many hours in Excel, Word, PowerPoint and Access. Indeed my first exposure to Access came with the instruction from my ICT Teacher "learn how to use it and then teach me!" Fortunately for me despite spending year after year doing the same thing I was also learning how to code and make more productive use of my own Commodore 64 at home with the support of my parents.

However had I not had that support and encouragement it's likely I would have become disillusioned with IT and moved away from it, I did consider a career as a solicitor for a while, but the draw of the World Wide Web and the endless possibilities captured my imagination.

It is the imagination of the young fertile minds in our school system which we as an industry have been losing for many years with an insipid and dull curriculum which demotivates and makes Computer Science seem boring and unchallenging. Indeed if I started at an early age and spent the next 5-10 years only being exposed to Office programmes I too would quickly decide that IT/Computing was boring and unattractive. Indeed my own brother went through a process of completing an NVQ in IT at GCSE level but when presented with options at A Level his school decided to only deliver an advanced version of the SAME course rather than the Computing qualification which included programming, scripting and networking. Hence someone who is very competent and enjoyed working with computers quickly determined that he would never move towards a career in IT ever! A great loss to our community! This is just one personal example how many more are there. Indeed when I finished my BA (Hons) Business Computing degree many of my peers were of the opinion that computing was the last field they wanted to work in. This I'm afraid is a sad indictment of the state of Computer Science curriculum throughout our education system.

Call To Action!

This recent acknowledgment by the government that our Computer Science curriculum is not good enough and does not match the needs of industry has taken far too long in my honest opinion, but looking at the positive aspect there is now an agenda for change and a visible campaign to increase the quality and breadth of Computer Science teaching. However now is the time for us as an industry to influence and assist our Teachers. In the same way that we spend time educating ourselves and each other on the latest advancements, methods, languages and Computer Science technology we now need to find ways in which to take this enthusiasm and skill into the classroom and lecture theatres.

Get Involved!

Professionally we have user groups and societies in order to foster learning and to advance our own knowledge and equally there are similar avenues for us to take in influencing Computer Science curriculum! Two shining examples of this are STEMNET and the Microsoft Imagine Cup .

STEMNET works with industry to provide opportunities to inspire children and students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), this is achieved by assisting or delivering activities in schools and colleges, I have taken part in an activity in the last six months and found it a very rewarding experience helping a group of students work towards completing a challenge to create a mobile phone application centred around the London 2012 Olympics.

The Microsoft Imagine Cup is another initiative where industry can help Students to solve world problems by using technology and putting their learning into action and ultimately, this year, win a free trip to Sydney, Australia for the Imagine Cup 2012 Worldwide Finals.

These are just two examples of how we as an industry can assist with the Computer Science curriculum to inspire and encourage pupils and students to get more involved with how things work as opposed to just being a user.

Now more than ever we have a chance to make a real difference, it is up to us to help to Make a Difference to Computer Science in Schools!

Recommended Listening–Clint Huffman on RunAs Radio

January 26, 2012 09:34 by Andrew Westgarth

clinthuffmanThis week’s RunAs Radio has Clint Huffman, a Microsoft Premier Field Engieer talking to Richard Campbell about understanding the health state of IIS7/7.5.  There is some excellent content in this episode and I’d strongly recommend listning to it. Clint covers aspects such as mappings, caching, failed request tracing and the IIS Log Analyzer. Rather than tell you everything that is in the podcast, listen now! - http://www.runasradio.com/default.aspx?showNum=248

RunAs Radio is an excellent weekly podcast with Richard Campbell and Greg Hughes for IT Professionals/Developers making use of Microsoft products. In my honest opinion I think developers need to also have an understanding of the systems they develop and deploy on top of to maximise the full use of the platform, so I feel this is an excellent resource for all, so check out the podcasts and subscribe now!

Categories: IIS | IIS7 | Podcasts
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Cut The Cord, Save Money and Go Faster

January 15, 2012 22:12 by Andrew Westgarth

Towards the end of last year I started to think more and more about how I make use of digital television services, telephone (land line) and broadband. I considered my usage vs cost and was keen to work out whether I was getting value for money. This led me to decide to cut the cord and save money!

For the past 5 or so years I've had all of my services from one supplier, Sky. I had unlimited broadband (ADSL at approx 10 mb/s download), telephone (free evening and weekend calls) and Satellite television, I had all the channels available apart from Movies and Sports. I didn't go for movies as there's limited new content added each Friday and I didn't go for sports because I have a season ticket and if I want to see a match it's a great chance to catch up with friends at the pub. All in all my package was costing around £60 a month, quite a lot if it's not getting used to it's full.

When I reviewed my usage I found that with regards the telephone I hardly ever use it, I prefer to use the inclusive minutes on my mobile contract. Moving onto my television services, I regularly found very little on the approx 700 channels I was interested in watching and 90-95% of those shows which I did watch or record were available on a Freeview channel. Moving onto my broadband services I found them to be very reliable but slow! My local exchange was one of the very first outside of London to have fibre to cabinet services from BT made available, and despite Sky announcing trials for fibre optic broadband a couple of years ago nothing has progressed on that front, so I gave up waiting.

So out of the approx £60 I was not getting value for money. I can get Freeview direct from my TV and as mentioned I can use my mobile for telephone services. As for Broadband service, I've already maxed out what Sky were offering and I had to maintain the telephone to keep broadband with Sky. I looked at BT and they offered infinity up to 100MB for £35 a month but I had to have a phone line as well which takes the cost to £45 a month and includes a service I don't want.

Yesterday I called Sky and canceled all of my services and gave my reasons for canceling which were slow broadband speed, limited use for telephone and happiness with Freeview channels. Surprisingly the agents at Sky didn't even try to stop my cancelling and consequently the provision of their services will end in early February. I then applied for Virgin Media's Cable 50Mb/s Broadband service, selected no television services and no telephone line, made use of an excellent cashback offer via Quidco (if you don't use this service already - check it out now!) and my girlfriend referred Virgin Media to me so she gets money off her bill and I get free installation! I've paid a little more for the privilege of not having a telephone installed but I've controlled exactly what I have and am not paying for services I won't be using. There's also the added bonus that Virgin Media announced plans this week to double all broadband speeds of customers , so before long I'll have 100MB broadband. This is costing me £30 a month for three months and then £35 a month afterwards on a 12 month contract and compared with what I'm paying now I'll save £280 over the course of a year, quite a sizable chunk!

So I'll be relying on my internet connection more in future for media services. I've been really impressed with the media services on the recent Xbox 360 dashboard update which has 5 OnDemand, 4OD and soon to arrive BBC iPlayer. In addition I've started to evaluate LoveFilm and Netflix now they have arrived in the UK. Initial impressions of these services are that currently the LoveFilm catalogue is great if you want to use the traditional DVD/BluRay service however their streaming catalogue is limited - for a start it doesn't include TV, and recent films which I can rent on DVD/BluRay through the service are an additional cost when streamed?? Netflix has a good but old catalogue and is streaming only so I'm hoping that gets updated soon. At present I'm leaning towards sharing a subscription for LoveFilm with my girlfriend so we I can make us of the streaming and she can use the DVD service, and possibly Netflix dependent on how their catalogue develops.

I'm looking forward to finding out how my decision pans out, have I made the right choice? I've certainly initially saved myself some money and reallocated my spending. I believe this may also be the path others take in the future as we evaluate what we spend our money on. As internet provision and online services increase I feel the consumer will make services like Sky and Virgin Media work a lot harder for their money!

FREE DDD North Geek Dinner Sponsored by Devexpress

October 5, 2011 09:33 by Andrew Westgarth

After enjoying a great day at what we hope will be a fantastic first ever DDD North, please join us to enjoy a fantastic Geek Dinner at the Sunderland Stadium of Light.

Developer! Developer! Developer! North

Thanks to the fantastic folks at Devexpress we are able host a free Geek Dinner for 120 people!! We hope this will be a fantastic opportunity for speakers and attendees to chat and relax after a fun filled day of great technical content at DDD North

Devexpress

Please join us at the Sunderland Stadium of Light after Developer! Developer! Developer! North for drinks in the Sports Bar and then we will move onto enjoy a fantastic meal and relax with friends and reflect on the day.

The menu is fixed but the choices are below:

Carvery Choices (2 of the following)

Topside of English Beef

Loin of English Pork

Menu

2 Roast Meat Carvery with Yorkshire Puddings, Home Made Stuffing, Market Vegetables and a Rich Roast Gravy

Vegetarian Main Course Option

Chunky Thai Green Curry with Kai Pow Dumplings and Savory Rice

Chef's Dessert/Whole Fruit Selection

Please indicate when booking your ticket if you would like the vegetarian option. If you have any other dietary requirements please indicate too so we can do our best to cater for your requirements.

PASSWORD FOR THE REGISTRATION FORM IS devexpress

Register for DDD North - Geek Dinner Sponsored by Devexpress in Sunderland, United Kingdom  on Eventbrite



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The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in anyway.

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