Inside a hard disk drive

Ever wondered what’s inside the metal box that stores all your stuff? If you’re a computer enthusiast you’ve probably seen it many times over, but since I’ve today had the chance to open a 10K SCSI disk up to destroy it’s insides, I took the opportunity to take some photos.

Be warned: you should never open up a hard drive unless you don’t mind losing all of the data that is stored on it. They are built in special conditions, and are sealed to prevent dust getting in and causing catatrophic damage. So, there’s your warning.

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Birth of a brand identity: Idea Cog

As I’ve mentioned a few times, I’ve started my own business. Part of the fun of starting a business, for me at least, is the graphic design needed to create a brand identity.

There are many things that constitute a brand identity, including the name, logo and brand colours. Choosing a name is probably the hardest part, and I’ve worked through many iterations to get there.

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Introducing Idea Cog and Foresight


As many people will know, I’ve been working on a software project for several years now. A lot of work has gone into producing what I’ve just launched as Foresight, and I’ve set up Idea Cog as the company that owns it.

Foresight is a client-server based solution for agencies and any other businesses that have very variable needs for their individual projects. It provides tools for project management, document versioning, live recorded discussions and most importantly of all – advanced adaptive scheduling!

There are so many features in fact that it’s going to take me a while to document them all fully. At the moment, there’s an initial feature list as well as a ‘Quick Start’ video showing how to install and configure Foresight.

If you want to start using Foresight, you can get your hands on a free 5 resource license which you can use with the freely available downloads. Once you’ve fallen in love with my first commercial offering, you can purchase more licenses as you need.

So, please give it a whirl and leave your feedback below.

2011 Goals

So, yet another year over and another year older. As I have done last year, and the year before, this post outlines my goals for next year and assesses how well I did with those set for 2010.

Here’s last year’s list:

  • Become a Microsoft Certified Professional – this was delayed due to illness, but the next exam is scheduled for early Feb 🙂
  • Complete a software project I’m working on, and sell it – I’m tantalisingly close to achieving this
  • Have another great holiday somewhere with friends from uni – done!
  • Post more to this blog – possibly the least-achieved goal
  • Learn to cook more than just pasta – an ongoing one

And this one is for 2011:

  • Become a Microsoft Certified Professional
  • Complete Foresight, sell it, and get a business going in the form of Idea Cog
  • Have another great holiday somewhere with friends, money allowing
  • Get some non-computer-based hobbies going
  • Make some more local friends, and pull myself away from working on Foresight all of the time
  • Get more exercise
  • Learn to cook more than just pasta

Like a lot of people, money is quite tight at the moment, but most of the things above don’t need it. Hopefully I’ll be able to put the financial worries to the back of my mind and focus on the positives of the year to come!

Not long now…

For the past few years I’ve been working on a desktop application that will hopefuly solve many every day problems that face new (digital) media, creative and various other forms of agency. This new software is callled Foresight, and it’s being prepared for it’s impending release.

I am forming a new business, Idea Cog, which will have Foresight as the first of possibly many software products as it’s portfolio. I’ve just completed the single-page teaser site which is now live at ideacog.co.uk.

If you’re interested in learning more, please sign up to the newsletter via the form on the Idea Cog homepage.

Stuff for sale

Over my many years of computer enthusiasm I have collected many bits of electronic stuff. I am now flogging the things I no longer need on eBay. There are some bargains in there, so please take a look:

The reality of 3G broadband

Back when 3G was being deployed, the massive investment some communications companies made in constructing their next generation networks seemed ludicrous. Now, with the advent of useful smartphones becoming integrated into mainstream society, this provision for a higher speed packet-switched network has become the backbone of non-voice mobile communications.

I’m always a skeptic when new technologies and products are floated – they have to prove themseleves before I will accept them. Thus I am mostly immune to hype, and can normally see through the misleading marketing. So, I have held off buying the latest mobile phones and switching completely to 3G broadband.

3G is seen by many as a replacement for fixed line broadband. At the moment I’m between fixed-line broadband providers (for the past 2 weeks) and have had the choice of no internet, digging out my 56k modem and paying per minute, or giving 3G a try. While no ‘net access would possibly have been good for me, the addict inside me and the coinciding offer of voucher double-up at Tesco led me to purchasing a T-Mobile 3G Broadband giftpack.

T-Mobile seem to be the only provider offering time-based services at a reasonable cost, instead of traffic-based services (pay per GB). 3 months comes bundled with the ~£35 cost of the package, which is pretty attractive for the freedom and backup service it should offer.

However, it seems there is a reason that such offers don’t run the risk of you abusing the essentially unlimited traffic allowance – it’s near impossible to maintain a connection unless you take abnormal measures to keep it alive. Due to the way 3G and most packet-switched/virtual connection networks operate, and to avoid cells becoming unnecessarily busy, connections are only kept alive so long as they are active. If network access is required after an idle period where the connection is ‘dropped’, it transparently reconnects itself. At least this is the theory.

In practice, possibly due to the proliferation of 3G-enabeld devices it’s very hit or miss as to whether I get a live connection in the first place or manage to keep alive one long enough for it to be useful.

To get around this problem as best as possible (it’s still not 100%) I’m using my fileserver as a temporary router, with the dongle plugged into that. A basic firewall interface got the thing working without too much work. With my fileserver being Linux-based, there is one extra step needed – installing usb_modeswitch. This package is available in Ubuntu and once installed ensures that the dongle is placed in modem mode instead of storage mode. To keep the connection alive, I set ping running in continuous mode against a server I run.

After using this for 2 weeks, I can report back a few observations:

  • Multi-tasking is near impossible, so make sure you’re only loading one site at once
  • Images are automatically reprocessed to far lower quality where possible, which is actually a good thing as it makes sites just as quick as normal
  • It is just about possible to play games, in my case L4D2; however don’t expect low pings (200-300 seemed common)
  • Don’t ever consider it as a full-time replacement for a proper fixed line, however as a backup it beats 56k when you’re used to higher speeds
  • By default, certain content is blocked; I’ve not been able to get Windows Live Messenger working despite removing the filtering

I hope this is helpful for anyone who is contemplating doing something along the same lines.

Hopeful improvements to KillerLight

If  you don’t already know, KillerLight is the name of the theme I created for this site, and which is available on wordpress.com. Currently it uses JavaScript to do some animation of the header, fading between several images to give the impression of lighting effects. Many people have contacted me (sorry to everyone I’ve not managed to reply to!) about the performance, saying that even on high-spec machines it struggles.

Well, perhaps with the advent of HTML5, specifically the Canvas element, this will hopefuly be improved when I have the time. This new element is designed for graphics rendering, and uses the graphics card to it’s full advantage where possible. This should produce a huge difference in performance. For those without an HTML5 browser, they will see a standard static (non-animated) header.

First Attempt at Interior Design

My completed bedroom
After
Back in April I decided to take a well-earned break from work. During that week, I got a lot accomplished. Mostly I worked on my software project (details to be revealed fairly soon, probably) but towards the end I started my first decorating project in my flat.

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2010 Goals

It’s a little late, I know, but it’s still relatively early in the year – early enough to set some targets.

Last year I set the following goals:

  • Become a Microsoft Certified Professional – exam 1 of 3 complete (with flying colours 😀 ), half way through studying for the second now
  • Complete a software project Im working on, and sell it – about 80% of the way there for the first version
  • Buy a house/flat – done!
  • Get more exercise – I’ve got a Wii now, with Wii Fit, which sorta counts … doesn’t it?
  • Push for a revival of socialising at work (its died off over the last year) – didn’t happen
  • Have another great holiday somewhere with friends from uni – didn’t happen
  • Do more non-C# coding, to revive the broadness of my programming skills base specifically PHP – lost interest, continued focussing on .Net

In addition to the above, I did achieve something I hadn’t planned to do last year – my sky dive.

Now, these are the goals for this year:

  • Become a Microsoft Certified Professional
  • Complete a software project Im working on, and sell it
  • Have another great holiday somewhere with friends from uni
  • Post more to this blog
  • Learn to cook more than just pasta

Yeah, it’s shorter than last year, and certainly not original but I should be able to achieve them all if I put my mind to it. I’ve also got a few more personal and some secret goals to meet, so this isn’t the complete list.

Here’s to the new year!