Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Rethinking Google+

Google+ has split opinion and had its fair share of detractors, most notably around forcing Google+ accounts on its users and the Youtube comments saga. It did have a lot of good things going for it too though, most notably Photos, private location sharing and Hangouts, but it never became the force Facebook or Twitter were. Since Vic Gundotra  left the helm it seemed Google was giving Plus a back seat, focussing on some of the best parts and making their own apps out of them or rolling them into things like Maps. 

Google has since seemed to shift Plus from a social network to a place to share content with like-minded people, focussing on Communities and Collections making it, in my opinion, more of a Reddit or a Pintrest than a Facebook.

This focus has been taken further with a redesign that you can opt in to via the instructions here Dive into the new Google+

Update: The new layout wasn't appearing to me so I followed these instructions on android police and it worked: "You can try out the new Google+ now by going to Settings > Manage other apps & activity > Manage Google+ activity and clicking in the search bar at the top of the screen".

Friday, 6 November 2015

Surveys out the window

This post is not about waving a laptop out the window ;)

In our site we use AirMagnet Surveyor rather than Ekahau, I believe for convenience, as we have mostly Fluke kit for network troubleshooting (Aircheck, Etherscopes, Linkrunners and DTX testers).
We have updated our survey software from 8.6 to 8.7.4 and all our previous surveys no longer display correctly. The survey path and survey data no longer line up with the drawings. The drawings were almost all dwg files (with a few uploaded jpg files where dwg's were not available). The drawings were all measured and recalibrated before starting the survey. So that's 74 buildings that we are no longer able to use for reference :(
The response from the support team we contacted to look into it was "based on our analysis of your project, we believe the root cause is the AutoCAD DWG file process between v8.6 & v8.7". It doesn't look like the two are compatible.

It would have been nice to know this before we ran the update.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Blogger Now Supports HTTPS - Here is how to enable it

Google has enabled the facility to https support in Blogger.

This is an opt-in facility for the time being, possibly as certain parts of some blogs may not work exactly as they do now, depending on templates and such like.

To enable https:

Step 1: Go to settings for each blog you want to enable it on.

Step 2: Toggle https availability from no to yes.

You will then see a warning that custom domains will not be supported.

All done.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Cisco AP skins

As part of our roll out of wireless everywhere we have had to try to deal with a few listed buildings and spaces where installations don't want to be seen. Also we have had a request from our theater to paint the wireless access points so that they are dark and cannot be seen when the lights are down during a performance.

It is easy enough to turn the LED off on the access point. This might make it a little more difficult on occasion to troubleshoot the AP, but we have monitoring kit and the ability to log in so we should be fine.

To do so, logging in through Cisco Prime it is the bottom tick box option on the configuration page:

Rather than painting the access points we found that we can get AP skins that are designed to allow the wireless signal through and fit our internal antenna AP's (1142, 3502, 3702).

They are on Cisco's marketplace here. We also found international shipping from the US here and here.

They have a clip and included is some velcro stickies to make sure the cover doesn't come off if it is ceiling mounted (but easy enough to get off should you need to).

Note: Skins are paintable using an enamel spray paint such as Krylon (do not use oil based paint or metallic
paint). Surface does not need to be treated. 

Temporary Wireless Link

That's right, the University has bought another building. They also, in their wisdom, decided to start moving staff in before getting services to the premises, and it turns out the road where we would need to dig to access the ducts has a Section 58 notice, meaning it cannot be dug up in a 3 year period.

As a result we have installed a wireless point-to-point link on our nearest visible and accessible roof top.

New Wireless Link

We have a couple of point-to-point wireless devices we keep for emergencies and temporary bodges that we have set up before (pictures of these below), but as we have a large building to feed with a number of staff and students as well as PC's to image we were looking for something that could provide closer to a gigabit connection. From throughput tests it seems to work well and a fibre can go in the road at a later date.

Existing point-to-point wireless kit on 5.4GHz frequency and 20/40MHz wide channel tests

Thursday, 10 September 2015

More Wireless Bugs (1)

We have found another bug on our wireless network, with thanks to a helpful person who we spoke to during an install of an access point in their room.

For some reason we were discussing the AP and the boot up sequence, we told him that the LED would go green when it was online and blue when someone was connected. The AP booted up and worked and all seemed well for a few days.

Then we got a call from the guy who wanted to tell us the LED no longer goes blue. Well our monitoring kit, that is supposed to alert us to problems (by probing the device) thought all was good. The controller and Prime thought all was good, no alarms and a connected, active AP. So off I pop to site and I find I cannot connect, I can't see the AP on the Aircheck. Logging into the AP I find the administration status of the radios disabled. I look through the logs and see it appears to have done it by itself a few days before we got the call. My second thought, after how the hell has that happened, was 'has this happened anywhere else' because it is extremely rare for someone to know and to tell us what the LED status lights on the AP are doing or not doing.

So after a long and laborious trawl through the radios on Prime I did find another hand full of APs that had turned their radio off. So now we need to find a quicker way of spotting these, or wait for people to report faults. We passed this on to our suppliers who said it sounds like a bug which should be fixed in the next controller version....whenever that is released.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Wireless Project Update

I have written before about our project to get the whole campus wireless coverage by September 2015. After many [many] months waiting for our Estates department to start moving, things are coming [too] thick and fast.

As well as another 36 buildings to survey and 47 currently being installed as part of the wireless project we have a small matter of three new buildings to kit out and bring on line for the start of term. This is in addition to all the fun the start of term usually brings, last minute department moves included.

Matters were not helped recently when Cisco shipped us a few hundred access points with a different LWAPP image version to the other 600 or so among the order. The configuration on these access points was different and it appears was missing the crucial "bridge-group 1 spanning-disabled" command. This caused our switch's BPDU guard to err-disable and shut down the port within around 30-60 seconds of boot up. What's worse is Cisco had no way of telling which image was on which access point. They were all mixed up among the order.

As a result we have had contractors fitting access points around campus and not knowing whether they are going to come up or not. If not, is it down to this LWAPP version or a VLAN, cabling, switching issue? Or just the contractors plugging the the ethernet cables into the console ports, or not al all?

This is just one of the many problems we have had in the last few weeks and months of the project. I'll try to update with a few more details, but on the bright side I finally managed to get a Surface Pro for wireless surveys and so far this has been excellent.

More about this and the project progression to follow.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Why Windows 10 is good for Linux

This might be strange but I believe Windows 10 will end up being good for Linux and here's why.

Updates in Windows 10 are mandatory and, while the OS may be whizzing along when first installed, like an older phone or tablet what happens after a year or a few years of updates and upgrades? Older hardware and devices will begin to struggle. So the choice will be, either upgrade to a new PC (or your hardware if you know how) or install a different OS. Many people who have taken advantage of the free Windows 10 upgrade may not be inclined to shell out for a new system or component upgrades on a regular basis, and the other option will be to switch OS. Additionally, with a new Windows system comes the cost of another OS licence (it's not free forever, only for a year and for upgrades).

This, therefore, may lead to a number of new Linux installs as people need an alternative to an ever more larger version of Windows 10 in order to keep their machines running. Linux variants that mimic Windows 10 or have Windows 10 skins will be popular and the Linux user base may actually grow. This is just an opinion, but we'll see what happens after a year or two of updates.

-This post was also written as a test of the Do Note app via

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

I said goodbye to Spotify

I was probably rather late to the Spotify party. I had been managing perfectly well with my rather large music collection and digital radio until we had a Spotify playlist set up for the work barbecue. I thought the service was really good. I was impressed by the size of the catalogue and the apps across various platforms. Added to this, my station of choice, Kerrang!, had gone from Digital Radio. So I signed up.

Now, barely a few months later, I am quitting Spotify.

This is in light of the recent terms and conditions changes Spotify have began rolling out. They are demanding access to potentially a huge amount of personal data. As Paul Mason from The Guardian writes:

As well as my photos, contacts, audio and video, Spotify wants the right to collect data not just on my location “but the speed of your movements, such as whether you are running, walking, or in transit”. It would see what I post and like on Facebook and it will store my credit card information, share it with payment processors and use all of this to fire adverts at me.

That's right, they want access to ALL my contacts and media on my phone or device, amongst other things, and will share these with advertisers and 'business partners'.

I fully understand that, as with a lot of software, "if you are not paying for the product, you are the product". However, this new policy isn't just aimed at the free users of Spotify, this new policy will also apply to the 20 million of us or so that pay for Premium. This is where it really gets to me. Yes, if your service was free then providing a quality product won't be cheap and this is how you could model your business to make money, or encourage people on to a paid subscription. But if you are going to go after the paid users too, in what feels like a gross invasion of privacy, then I for one will no longer be funding the service and I certainly won't be allowing access to my personal data (not to mention numbers and addresses belonging to my various contacts).

In the last few months Amazon Prime Music has launched in the UK and, while not as vast as Spotify's collection, will provide me with ample music choice in its stead.

Friday, 26 June 2015

How I Received My Windows 10 Notificaion

Everyone started reporting in the office that they were receiving the Windows 10 notification/pop-up in their system tray enabling them to reserve a copy of Windows 10. Everyone except me.

Hmmm, Windows 7 Pro? Check. I made sure I ran all the updates, I was checking my hardware compatibility, checked with work that the update wasn't blocked centrally and even went through all the suggestions in these two help articles: and All to no avail.

Then I realised that I hadn't had the notification on my home computers either. So it pointed to it being definitely something I'd done.

Now, what was the same across all my computers...? It couldn't be could it....? Yes, that's it!

I had Internet Explorer disabled. So, turned it on, and a few updates and reboots later, there it is. 'Reserve your free upgrade'.

So there you have it. If you don't have IE enabled, you won't get the upgrade notification. Hope this helps.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

My Essential Chrome Extensions

Google Chrome has worked it's way into my daily routine of work and home. I was a big big fan of Firefox and couldn't see myself ditching the browser but now I work almost exclusively on Chrome. Here are some of the extensions that I have to have installed for my work-flow.

Adblock Plus - I don't click on ads anyway so it helps keep my browser window tidy but the main reason I use it is to block potentially malicious ads that could contain nasty little malware.

Clearly - Another add-on to keep my browser window clean and tidy. This extension from Evernote makes it easy to read text by removing the images and putting it on an easy-on-the-eye background of your choosing. You can also use it to print and clip to Evernote.

Evernote Web Clipper - Speaking of Evernote, the web clipper enables you to save parts of a web page to your notebooks (rather than printing the whole screen with Clearly).

Ghostery - Excellent extension for blocking trackers.

Save To Pocket - Essential bookmarking service that is cross-platform and can download items for reading when offline.

Feedly Mini - Feedly replaced Google Reader as my main go to for news and other RSS feeds. This extensions helps you quickly add and share content.

Pushbullet - Phone notifications on your computer that you can also respond to. For example, reply to a text message when you are busy working on your desktop. Also able to push content to your phone.

HTTPS Everywhere - Force websites to use HTTPS where possible.

Web of Trust - Make sure that link you are clicking or web site you are visiting is genuine and trustworthy.

Then below there are a few applications that I don't sync to home that are for work only:

Chrome Remote Desktop - Used to access my office desktop from android app.

PDF Mergy - I work a lot with building plans and this enables me to merge them together to send as one attachment rather than dozens.

PDF Split - Again for building plans, when I just want a single floor, for example, and the contractors have sent the whole lot as one I can split the pages.

Notable PDF - Annotate PDF's.

Lucidchart - Mainly I used it for accessing and editing Visio documents.

Autocad 360 - For building drawings again. This time working with DWG files.

Google Keep - Simple note taking to sync with phone. Include text, audio and pictures. Take a very quick note when I am out and about using the android widget and then do what I need to with it when I'm back in the office.

Trello - Great application for helping manage projects. Has been very useful on a number of projects we have had. Also I have the extension Cardcounter for Trello added to keep track of how many cards are in each table, or to-do list.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Giving your Cat5e superpowers - NBaseT

With wave 2 of ac wireless access points about to hit the market this year network managers have been wondering how best to solve the potential bottleneck problem of having access points capable of over 1Gbps but existing cabling limited to 1Gbps.

Some have suggested running two cables to each access point, others have suggested ripping out all your Cat5/5e ethernet and replacing it with 6a.

There is now another solution. Cisco presented a discussion about a new technology called NBase-T at Cisco Live (Milan), the video for which is here: Vimeo. This technology, not limited to Cisco, aims to achieve speeds of 2.5Gbps and 5Gbps over existing cabling. This can offer significant advantages over replacing your cabling, not least the cost. NBase-T also supports all current versions of Power-over-Ethernet.

Concentrating on Cisco, as that is the switching technology we use here, hence the one I'm interested in, the Catalyst 4500, Catalyst 3850 and C3560-CX support this technology.

We'll see over the next few years whether this technology is something we can take advantage off in our older buildings (new ones will have Cat6a) where 'Multigigabit' connections may be needed.