Andrew's Blog

Random Thoughts of an ASP.Net Code Monkey

Bringing A Code Club to 9-11 Year Olds

January 19, 2014 10:06 by Andrew Westgarth

This is a cross post from my blog on STEMNet. - http://networking.stemnet.org.uk/blog/bringing-code-club-9-11-year-olds

For a while now I’ve been a STEMNet Ambassador working with local schools on Technology related activities and have been working on getting involved in Code Clubs for quite some time.  This week I started my first Code Club with a local school.

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I am a strong believer in giving children the opportunity to discover the fun in Computer Science and Computer Programming.  I believe the current National Curriculum can be boring, mundane and uninspiring so much so that we are losing many, many potentially great programmers, developers and technologists at a very early age.  I have worked with a variety of age groups and unfortunately the size of groups get smaller as they get older because they don’t see the fun in the subject, often spending year after year working on nothing more stretching than Microsoft Office (PowerPoint, Excel and Word), admittedly not all schools are this limited but in my experience this has been more a case of the exception rather than the norm.

However, in a rare and unrepeated occurrence, Michael Gove actually said something I agreed with, in that Computer Science is to become an important part in the National Curriculum from September 2014 with children getting the opportunity to explore and experience Computer Science, looking at design, coding and algorithmic skills.  This really struck a chord with me and is something I’ve been keen to get involved with for quite some time.  In order for the UK to encourage students to look further into all scientific subjects, we need to capture the imaginations of students at an early age, i.e. before they leave Primary School (age 11), and then continue to stretch their imaginations and interests throughout Secondary education and onwards hopefully to Further Education or positions in the industry.

Schools are currently not fully equipped with the knowledge, skills and resources to teach coding skills and this presents a great opportunity for our industry to build strong links with the education system, providing valuable support and resources to help bridge the gap.  One such way that I have started to do this, amongst others, is to run a Code Club at a local school.  Code Club is a UK wide network of after school coding clubs for children aged 9-11 run by volunteers.

This past week I held my first Code Club session and what a fantastic and rewarding session it was!  Using the wonderful resources and tutorials prepared by Code Club, I was able to introduce the group of approximately 11 to Scratch, a programming language used to teach children how to build animations, games amongst others.  I started with a quick overview and demonstration of the Scratch IDE and then set the group off with a tutorial with which they were able to build a Cat and Mouse game using sprites and logic they put together using Scratch.  Within minutes of working with the tutorial they were all looking at ways in which they could stretch the possibilities and inject their own customisations into the program.  The hour long club past very quickly and when I had to tell the pupils that it was time to go home and their parents were waiting for them, there was a chorus of disappointed “Awwwws” as they wanted to carry on working.  The pupils seemed to really enjoy it and many took the tutorial notes home so they could continue working through the week until the next Code Club!

If you’re reading this post, work in the IT Industry and have an hour to spare a week why not consider getting involved in helping children to learn to code? Check out the various initiatives in your area and nation, including Code Club, Hour of Code; and look to see if there are any schools or community groups in your area who are looking for a volunteer.  Personally I think it’s the least we can do.  We complain that there aren’t enough good new people for us to hire in our industry, let’s take aim at the long term goal and look to help the next generation of coders grasp the opportunities that our wonderful industry provides!

Ultrabook Review: Lenovo Ideapad U300S

April 1, 2012 13:25 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.

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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

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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.

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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!!

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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.

Computer Science Curriculum is Changing and You Can Help!

January 26, 2012 05:51 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!

Cut The Cord, Save Money and Go Faster

January 15, 2012 14:12 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!

Software Development - Job or Career, Passion, Vocation

August 23, 2011 14:48 by Andrew Westgarth

My name is Andrew Westgarth and Software Development is my passion! Is the role you're in just a job to you or is it your Passion /Vocation and Career? Do you enjoy what you do and are you fulfilled in what you do? I think one of the biggest requirements for a good developer is a passion for what they are doing, in order to be a good developer you need to have a thirst for learning and a desire to improve.

I've been thinking about writing a blog post about this topic for a few weeks but not had time until now. Prompted by a conversation on Twitter today about the distinct lack of good, passionate developers available at present I thought I'd put down a few of my own notes on this topic. I have worked in software development (primarily web) for over ten years and have been on both sides being both the prospective employee and prospective employer. I have been involved in the UK Development Community for many years, running User Groups (NEBytes and previously VBUG), speaking at User Groups and Conferences and am now putting together the very first Developer! Developer! Developer! North.

Software Development is a career that you choose to go into and for me personally it is more than just a job, it's my passion, it's a vocation and it's my hobby. I am always looking to learn even more, every day is quite literally a school day, if I've not learned something new every single day then I'm disappointed. My passion drives me to get better and better with every opportunity. Be it looking to make sure that my code compiles cleanly and has no errors, or that I'm building the best user experience or looking at how new language enhancements can improve the performance of my applications.

Money has never motivated me, as long as I've got enough to have a reasonable standard of living and can pay for my season ticket then I'm happy. What really motivates me is an opportunity to learn and to work with equally passionate people. The most enjoyable and highest quality work is always completed when a team is passionate about what they do. I've worked together with fantastic developers and designers to produce fantastic results. The infectious nature of passionate people rubs off on the others in a team and carries them along and reignites that spark.

I've been thinking about why there aren't more passionate developers available/in the industry and have my own opinions on why that is the case and here are some of my thoughts. Some developers don't see software development as a career they see it as a means to an end. They come to work at nine and finish at five and are not interested in learning anything other than what is directed by their company. Some developers are happy to work with older technologies day in day out and are not interested in raising their head above the parapet to take a look at what's going on in the world outside. This creates problems for them and the teams they work with because in the long term they will become obsolete as do the technologies they are working with, and it causes divisions as teams are held back from moving forward and the passionate developers are held back.

Some developers see training and personal technical development as something they should get paid for and something which should only happen during work hours, they will only attend events if their company pays for them to go and gives them time off to go. This attitude is seriously flawed when under hard times the first thing that is often cut is a company's training budget, so hence personal technical development stutters and stall.

Other developers are passionate about software development and see their role as a long term career which they are always looking to build on. Some developers want to work with code all day every day, some want to move towards architecture and beyond. They spend huge amounts of their own personal time learning, reading blogs, RSS feeds, tweets, journals, attending User Group events and community conferences, taking part in online seminars. They will bring this enthusiasm back to the team, distribute the information and hope that their enthusiasm and passion rubs off on the other developers in the team. Even better if there are a number of passionate developers within the team they feed off each other and drive standards higher and higher.

So we have roughly three groups, the 9-5ers who just see software development as a job, those that see their own technical development and progression as the responsibility of their employer and not themselves and finally there are the passionate developers who want to share their passion. So why are there so few of the last category both in the industry and available?

The possible options are that:

  • The passionate developers are employed in teams of equally passionate developers by employers who recognise that passion and how to nurture it
  • Those developers who once were passionate about software development have been taken advantage of by colleagues and employers who rely on those individuals to provide training and technical development for the whole team, and have now lost their passion
  • They have left the industry/country and taken their passion elsewhere.
  • ???

I'd really be interested to hear your views on this topic so please leave comments below and I'll follow up this post based on your comments. One group of developers who I haven't discussed in this post are graduate/student developers but that would be a complete post on it's own.

Cookies Law: Ah the Irony!

May 23, 2011 00:30 by Andrew Westgarth

Update 26th May 2011: This just keeps getting better and better.  The ICO have now issues guidance to say they realise there are going to be technical issues implementing this new legislation, therefore they are granting businesses a one year reprieve to come up with and test solutions to get everything in order.  This seems to be a bit of a case of closing the barn door after the horse has bolted!  For more information the ICO have released additional guidance and the BBC have also commented on the issue.

On Thursday 26th May 2011, the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations are changing in the UK as a result of the revisions made to the European Directive.  The changes cover of a number of issues but the issue I’ve been focussing on recently is that of the changes in regulations to how cookies are used on websites.  However these changes from what I can see are going to cause not only companies and developers issues, but more importantly will cause more inconvenience for users!

funny-pictures-cat-wishes-to-access-your-cookiesSo what’s changing I hear you ask, well up until now the regulations required that websites which used cookies for storing information, informed users how the website used cookies and advised how they could opt out if they wished and gave instructions on how to do so using browser settings.

In their infinite wisdom the European Union, and consequently the UK, have decided to change this and require that websites provide full information about how cookies (including Flash Cookies and Isolated Storage) are being used and ask users to opt in to the use of cookies.  The only exceptions to this rule would be where a cookie is “strictly necessary” for the function of a site, e.g. maintaining a shopping basket.  An example of a cookie which needs to be declared and in common use on many websites around the globe, are those created through the use of the Google Analytics service.

How Can a Website Comply?

In the UK the information Commissioner’s Office, in their guidance document have advised website owners that they should look at this in three stages:

  1. Review and make a list of all cookies and similar technologies (Flash Cookies; Settings in isolated storage) being used on your website and how they’re used;
  2. For each one identified determine how intrusive it is;
  3. Determine a method of obtaining consent for each one, which will provide the best experience for users of your website and which will fulfil your requirements. Then put together a plan to implement this.

It is no longer sufficient to users browser settings to indicate whether or not they wish to allow the use of cookies, due to the lack of sophisticated control of cookies, levels of variation between browsers versions and the fact that browsers are not the only way in which users access websites.

Solutions and Irony

I’ve been looking at possible technical solutions to this issue and still can’t find one which I like and believe will serve all interested parties well.  All of the possible technical solutions have advantages and disadvantages.  Some examples of the options I’ve been considering are Popup windows or splash screens, but these are often blocked by browser settings, can cause immense confusion and often inaccessible to users'; Requiring the acceptance of terms and conditions which detail required use of cookies is again unworkable as users would have to have accounts with which to access your website, how can you handle anonymous users?

The irony of all of these changes is that the likely technical solution is to ask for permission to write a cookie to indicate whether or not the user is happy with cookies being used.  However if a user does not allow cookies, the cookie can’t be written so what do you do then?  Deny users access to your website? Prompt them on each request from your website?  If you chose to disable the cookie(s), for example the Google Analytics tracking cookies, do you turn them off on an individual page basis, or do you disable them on a session basis?

Comments

Apparently there were consultations with members of our industry on these changes and discussions on how they will work.  I can’t believe that these regulations have been passed in their current state, they are extremely unworkable and pose so many issues for maintaining a workable, compliant and usable web. 

The intention behind these changes is good, in that the EU is aiming to protect user’s privacy and enable users to make informed decisions about what data is released and able to be used by third parties.  However by asking users for consent for permission to use cookies each time they try and access something on a website, after they have said they don’t want to allow the use of cookies, users will start accepting the use of cookies just so they can use the web.  Also as user’s won’t always access websites through the homepage, site owners will need to implement solutions which cater for every possible entrance to the site.

The most common instance of where websites write cookies are for the use of analytics services, i.e. Google Analytics.  So far Google haven’t commented on whether they are changing their service to not need cookies, nor have they provided any guidance for website owners on how the service can be used if user’s deny cookies.  So are site owners going to stop using the very, very popular service in order to improve the usability of their site but also lose the benefit of analytics – which ultimately are used to improve user experience?  I wait with baited breath to see how major websites – Amazon, Play, Google; tackle this issue from Thursday in a way which won’t lose them users.

I think the major losers in all of this, are going to be the users, which these changes are attempting to protect – ah there’s the irony again!  By creating differences in how websites comply, users will be left confused, harassed and frustrated when all they want to do is use a website to do something which they’ve been able to do for years be that buy a book, find information or post an update to their timeline.

What’s Your Opinion?

I’d be really interested to hear other people’s take on this.  How do you interpret the changes?  How would you implement the technical requirements?  Do you think it’s workable?  I look forward to an interesting discussion on this issue and seeing the many responses to this on a website near you!

Other Posts on This Issue

Craig Hawker has put down his thoughts on this issue in the form of an excellent blog post, which I recommend reading for additional commentary - The “EU Cookie Directive” (2009/136/EC) and you.

Black Screen And Mouse Pointer After Enabling Live Mesh Remote Connections

April 17, 2011 13:16 by Andrew Westgarth

Live Mesh is a fantastic product, on top of giving access and synchronisation services to 5GB of storage on SkyDrive, it provides the ability to open remote desktop connections to machines over the internet.  It is this connectivity gain which I have made most use of in the past, and unfortunately it has caused me no end of pain after a complete rebuild of my laptop, so much so I’ve had to disable remote connections.

About a month ago I rebuilt my laptop OS, something I do fairly regularly (well at least once a year) to make sure everything is running smoothly.  I have a Dell Latitude D820 (Intel Core 2 Duo, 4GB RAM and NVIDIA Quadro VS120M Display Adapter) and it has served me very well for more than 4 years.  However I noticed an issue recently with my laptop after rebuild whereby upon boot all I got after logging in was a black screen with a white mouse pointer!  I tried everything I could as this seemed to be quite a common occurrence when I’d searched for it, at first I thought it was a graphics driver issue so I uninstalled went back to basics and tried with each version of the drivers, still the same outcome. 

I was however able to remote desktop using Live Mesh to my machine and see the full desktop and interact fully, so it continued to baffle me. Well I had to flatten my hard drive for an unconnected reason.  So as I started to rebuild once again I tested each stage to check where the black screen issue appeared.  I noticed it happened after I installed Live Mesh and enabled remote connections, something I’ve done many times before but having been able to replicate the issue twice I believe there is another issue, maybe it is a combination of Windows 7 Ultimate 64bit SP1 and Live Mesh I’m not sure.  All I know is since I have disabled remote connections through Live Mesh the issue doesn’t exist on my laptop anymore.

So my final question is: has anyone else seen the same behaviour?  Have you had problems after enabling remote connections?  I’d like to hear from anyone else having this issue.  I’m trying to raise a bug on the relevant Connect element but have been unable to so far, I’ll update this post with the link when I have created it.

What Podcasts Do You Listen To?

March 16, 2011 16:23 by Andrew Westgarth

When I presented at NxtGenUG in Birmingham last month I was asked which podcasts I listen to and I promised to write a blog post listing some of my favourites.  So here it is!

  • .Net Rocks! – Carl Franklin and Richard Campbell publish a podcast twice a week and cover a wide range of .Net related topics for .Net Developers
  • RunAs Radio – Richard Campbell and Greg Hughes host a weekly talk show primarily aimed at IT Professionals.  I’m a developer but pretty much an all round geek, so love hearing about additional technology such as Exchange, Hyper-V and Lync.  Plus to be a good developer I believe you need to have an understanding of the systems you are interacting with.
  • Hanselminutes – Another weekly talk show this time hosted by Scott Hanselman, covering a wide range of topics from how-to advice, tools, utilities and issues and workarounds.
  • Deep Fried Bytes – Deep Fried Bytes is a podcast with a Southern (US) flavour hosted by Keith Elder and Chris Woodruff, a huge variety of topics are covered as they say in their description “Anything is fair game if it plugs into the wall or takes a battery.”
  • This Developer’s Life – This is a fairly new podcast but a great listen.  Scott Hanselman and Rob Conery talk about different aspects of being a developer and most of it is really relevant, especially the Disconnecting episode.
  • NEBytes Bytecast – Of course our very own NEBytes Bytecast – I always listen back to see how good or otherwise it was.
  • PC Pro Podcast – This is a weekly podcast from the team behind the PC Pro Magazine, covering a wide variety of topics and technology, quite an easy listen.
  • Polymorphic Podcast – This is a great podcast which I only found last year, Craig Shoemaker covers Object Oriented Development, architecture and best practices (.Net).  Unfortunately there haven’t been any new episodes for a while but the archives are certainly worth listening to!
  • Pixel8 – Podcast centred around building great user experiences.
  • Sod This – Podcast by Oliver Sturm and Gary Short two normal guys interested in technology, software, programming and lots of other things.
  • The Thirsty Developer – A fairly new podcast to me, been running quite a while though – podcast with MS Developer Evangelist Dave Bost and Clark Sell
  • SEO 101 – As I’ve been getting more and more into SEO I came across this easy to listen to podcast, unfortunately what’s not easy to listen to are the four long advert breaks per episode, thankfully I can fast forward through them!
  • Radio TFS – What it says on the tin – a podcast dedicated to Visual Studio ALM (Team Foundation Server)
  • Pragmatic Programmer – If you’ve read the Pragmatic Programmer then you should check this podcast out from the Pragmatic Bookshelf
  • Windows Weekly – This Week In Tech’s Windows Weekly podcast with Paul Thurrott, a weekly look at all things Microsoft.
  • NxtGenUG Podcasts – Podcast from Rich and Dave although they haven’t produced many new podcasts lately their back catalogue is certainly worth a listen.

Finally I have just found the Herding Code Podcast and will be adding that to Zune for synchronisation and automatic download.  That finishes quite a long list but are there any podcasts I don’t have in that list that you listen to and would recommend?

Great Resources for Budding User Group and Conference Speakers

February 3, 2011 13:53 by Andrew Westgarth

I’ve been sitting writing and submitting session proposals for Developer Day Scotland this evening.  I really enjoy speaking at User Groups and Conferences and am always looking for ways to improve and share knowledge.  In our User Groups i.e. North East Bytes and the Developer Community we actively encourage new speakers, indeed that was the original mandate of the DDD events.  We’re always looking to discover new speakers and to encourage new speakers, be they starting out with a short 10 minute Grok Talk or standing up and delivering a full one hour conference session.

Guy Smith-Ferrier, well respected speaker with over 20 years experience of speaking at User Groups and Conferences such as Tech Ed, has recently published a series of 8 videos on How To Give Great Presentations in addition to his paper which he has previously written on the subject.  Guy is a great speaker and these sessions address key elements of giving great presentations with plenty of tips and information which both new and experienced speakers can use to improve their presentations.  Check them out now,

Never Was So Much Owed By So Many To So Few

September 15, 2010 02:00 by Andrew Westgarth

Just a small post to issue my personal tribute on Battle of Britain Day in it’s 70th Anniversary Year.

The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the world war by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.

Winston Churchill. House of Commons, August 20th 1940.

 

http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/september/15/newsid_3521000/3521611.stm

Never_was_so_much_owed_by_so_many_to_so_few

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