North East Bytes - a Microsoft technology usergroup in North East England.

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Wednesday
Mar272013

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

Last weekend, James and I set out on a mission to build a replica of Hogwarts. We knew it was going to be a big job, so we wasted no time, starting at 08:30, still in pyjamas.

Although we've watched the Harry Potter films a number of times, been to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and to WB Studio Tour London, we can't actually remember exactly what Hogwarts looks like, so we started with a photo:

Then we decided which elements we wanted to have in our model:

Next step was to lay out our pieces roughly to see whether we had enough raw material to do what we'd planned. Lesley had been collecting cardboard boxes and tubes for a few weeks and it turned out that we had almost exactly the right amount, although we were required to devour a Flake Easter Egg early in order to use its box - sometimes you have to suffer for your art (at least I think that's how it went down - it may be that we were just desperate for a bit of chocolate one evening - you know how it is!).

Having decided that we had plenty boxes, we added more detail...

Once we'd got the boxes and tubes in place, we made some paper cones to top the turrets, added some height to our large Bisto turret, some card prisms to the top of our Bran Flakes towers...

...and a facade on the grrreat big building at the back...

Then it was time to paint.

We had to go out and buy paint, which meant we had to disrupt our flow to get washed and dressed first, then headed to B&Q where they have Dulux testers on a 3 for £1 deal. They didn't have exactly the shades for brick and slate that we were after, so we picked up 6 pots and mixed them together to give a nice red brick and slate roof.

We made sure that we also got plenty paint on socks...

...and hands... 

Then we took our newly painted building bits...

...and re-assembled them into Hogwarts...

This model is only designed to be viewed from the front, so we didn't bother to paint the back. You might notice the large turret (beside the Flake Easter Egg) having a bit of a bashed roof. That was something to do with a water pistol launching off the windowsill right on to the point of that cone. No idea how it happened, but I'm pretty certain it defied the laws of physics.

The next step was to draw on some detail. Some windows, detailing in the brickwork, and some numbers, because why not?? Then we taped the bits together into two easily transportable halves.

The whole point of this was to enter an Easter Egg competition at James' nursery school, so we needed to add our Harry Potter egg (created by Lesley), wearing a black wizard's cloak and riding a broom stick (paintbrush)...

In the end, James didn't win the competition (we probably gave him just a little bit too much help), but we certainly had a lot of fun building Hogwarts! :-)

p.s. If you like this, you might also want to have a look at Alice Finch builds massive LEGO Hogwarts from 400,000 bricks - very cool.

Friday
Mar222013

Deleting AD Users with PowerShell - Why is a user not a leaf object?

I've been re-writing some automated processes around user account lifecycle recently, making use of the Active Directory PowerShell module on Windows Server 2012. Most recently this involved removing a large number of expired user accounts. On the first attempt of trying to remove the user objects I was receiving this error for a number of them, seemingly at random:

Remove-ADObject : The directory service can perform the requested operation only on a leaf object

So why would a user object in AD not be a leaf object? It turns out that when a user connects a device to Exchange with EAS, there's an AD object created for that device inside the user object and that is what is stopping the user being a leaf object.

You might search for this and find advice on using Remove-ActiveSyncDevice before you remove the user. The trouble with that is that if you've got multiple versions of Exchange running in your org, then you might find that you can't remove the ActiveSyncDevice for all your users with the same method.

It doesn't matter anyway because the point is that the user isn't a leaf; it's a container that now has child objects, so what do you need to do to delete a container? Simply do a recursive remove. In the case of what I've been doing, this does the job:

$30daysago = (get-date).AddDays(-30)
Get-ADUser -filter {accountexpirationdate -lt $30daysago} | Remove-ADObject -Recursive

Thursday
Mar142013

R.I.P. Google Reader

 
When I'm at my desk, if I don't have the Google Reader site open all day, I'll at least check it 2 or 3 times. When I wake up in the morning, I'll check my GR feeds via a 3rd party app on my phone. In the evening, I'll sometimes keep track of new news via another 3rd party app on my tablet. In other words, I use Google Reader all the freaking time.
 
Today, my stats in Google Reader tell me this:
 
Now Google has announced that they're going to shut down Reader on 1st July 2013. Personally I think they tried to bury the lead by putting the closure of Reader as the 5th item in a list of 8, and by posting it just after the election of a new Pope.
 
I had a conversation earlier today about the value of Reader to Google, and there was a suggestion that seeing people's reading habits holding value when you mine the data (as Google does across all its properties). My stance on that is that they've probably got the demographic data pretty well locked down for the sort of people who use Reader - it's a minority anyway and likely fairly easy to pigeon-hole - so returns on that are probably diminishing. Regardless of that, it's a bad idea for them to annoy that demographic, which will contain a lot of early adopters and influencers in the tech industry.
 
Personally, I'm boycotting Chrome right now (although that probably won't last), and I was considering making a purchase of a new Android device, which I'm now going to give some more thinking time. Neither of those things will probably bother Google, but it's making me feel a bit better today because I'm pissed off.
 
I'm sure that by the 1st July there will be a viable alternative. None of the other options today have the ecosystem that Reader has. I expect that there may even be something better - it's been a while since Google have actively developed Reader and there are some areas where it's holding back the clients from developing new, innovative features. I'm not even sure that the transition will be that painful, it's just annoying that something that's so widely used and appreciated is going away while other, less used Google products are continuing on.
 
I am going to stop short of blaming the new Pope for this, but I think that Hitler sums up the situation quite well in this instance:
Monday
Mar112013

Frustration with the Lync 2013 client for Windows Phone 8

Microsoft have released the Lync 2013 client for Windows Phone 8, and it looks great - many more features than the 2010 version, including voice and video calling. However, when I try to login to my account on Office 365 it tells me that "You can't sign in with this version of Lync. Please install Lync 2010."

That's unfortunate and somewhat unexpected, partly because I'm happily using the Lync 2013 desktop client on my Windows 8 desktop, but more so because the app description in the Windows Phone Store gives no real indication that it wouldn't work. What it does say, in all caps, is this:

IMPORTANT: THIS SOFTWARE REQUIRES CONNECTIVITY TO VALIDLY LICENSED COPIES OF MICROSOFT LYNC SERVER OR OFFICE 365 / LYNC ONLINE AND WILL NOT WORK WITHOUT IT. UPDATES TO MICROSOFT LYNC SERVER MAY BE REQUIRED FOR PROPER PERFORMANCE. SOME FUNCTIONALITY MAY NOT BE AVAILABLE IN ALL COUNTRIES. IF YOU ARE UNSURE ABOUT YOUR COMPANY’S LICENSE TO AND/OR DEPLOYMENT OF LYNC, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR IT DEPARTMENT.

That's the only information about requirements for using the app, and you'll notice that it explicitly says that you can use it with Office 365. It's not a case of "some functionality may not be available in all countries" - this client uses something called UCX which isn't supported by Lync 2010 servers, so evidentially we'll have to wait for Microsoft to upgrade our O365 tennancy. I'd be fine with that if the above important information didn't say "UPDATES TO MICROSOFT LYNC SERVER MAY BE REQUIRED FOR PROPER PERFORMANCE." I'd say that "proper performance" implies that some features may not work optimally, not that you won't be able to get so far as signing in!

I'm sure that the people who have Lync 2013 and Windows Phone 8 devices are going to be very happy with this app, and I expect that I may be happy with it in the future* but this is just another example of Microsoft giving mixed/misleading messages around Windows Phone 8 and it isn't good enough! (For the other prime example that annoys me even more, I refer you to the podcast user experience outside the USA. Going into the Podcasts section of the Music + Videos hub tells you that "It's lonely in here. Go to the Store to add some podcasts", but there aren't any unless you're in the USA. This is something that's built in to the core OS and only works in one country of all the teritories where Windows Phones are sold. Shocking.)

On a positive note, as one of my colleagues pointed out, at least the error message in this case is vaguely helpful and doesn't just give you some obscure error code.

UPDATE: I personally have two totally unrelated Office 365 accounts. Lync 2013 for Windows Phone 8 works with one but not the other. YMMV.

UPDATE2: This is also an issue with the Lync 2013 clients that have just been released for iOS. The Lync 2013 for iPhone and Lync 2013 for iPad descriptions both lack the crucial bit of information that the back end server needs to be running Lync 2013 CU1 (which was only released last month - I wonder how many organizations are ready for these great new mobile clients?).

* If I don't switch back to Android first.

Friday
Mar082013

Bletchley Park

Back in November I had the privilege to spend two days at Bletchley Park, the home of the legendary WWII code breakers and the National Museum of Computing, along with a number of the UK-based Microsoft MVPs. It's a place that I've personally wanted to visit for a number of years because my grandfather's wartime role was at a Wireless Intercept 'Y Station' that was listening in on Axis communications to be decrypted by the Government Code and Cipher School at Bletchley Park (the forerunner to GCHQ).

The two days were filled with presentations from Microsoft staff and MVPs in the ballroom, a team code breaking exercise around the grounds and huts, and a tour of the Museum. The modern content in the presentations was very interesting, but it was the history on display that was the star of the show. This is where many significant developments took place in the early days of computing, as well as work that has been credited with shortening the war and contributing greatly to Allied victory. The history is alive at Bletchley Park and there was a palpable energy in Hut 8, where Alan Turing and his team worked on the German naval Enigma codes.

The after dinner speaker at the end of day 1 was the Director of the National Museum of Computing, Dr David Hartley. He gave an excellent brief history of the pioneering computing done at Bletchley and across the UK, including Tommy Flowers' work and the Harwell Dekatron (aka WITCH); the oldest working stored-program computer in the world, which was recently restored to working order.

I have to say that visiting the National Museum of Computing with a group of people who were equally interested in computing history was a real pleasure. It's quite fantastic seeing the replica Colossus and Bombe machines, and the restored Dekatron, not only in the flesh, but in action! As well as these and many other large machines on display, the museum has an excellent selection of microcomputers (including a room of BBC Model B machines that can be used), peripherals, mobiles, software, books and magazines. I found some books that I used to own and some copies of the Let's Compute magazine that I had a subscription to as a boy. If you've been around computers for a long time, then you're going to find a bunch of things that bring back memories you'd forgotten you had. It's awesome. :-) 

If you're ever in the vicinity of Milton Keynes, I urge you to visit, enjoy and support this fascinating and important site. The Museum isn't fully open every day, so check the website when you plan your visit: www.tnmoc.org & www.bletchleypark.org.uk. You should take a guided tour of the museum and then browse in your own time - the staff are both knowledgeable and enthusiastic and really add to the experience.

If you're interested in finding out more about the wartime work carried out at Bletchley Park, I can highly recommend Sinclair McKay's "The Secret Life of Bletchley Park: The History of the Wartime Codebreaking Centre by the Men and Women Who Were There", which is available in paperback and on Kindle. I'm currently reading the follow-up to that book on my Kindle: "The Secret Listeners: How the Wartime Y Service Intercepted the Secret German Codes for Bletchley Park"