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December 2011

Tell Me The Answer

Sunday, December 4, 2011 0

I hate not being able to find the answer at the end of a puzzle that’s baffled me for some time; it’s a terrible way to not learn something from an experience and it’s almost guaranteed to cause some problems further down the line when you need that answer the most.

Not having an answer is bad enough, but being locked out of the process to discover the answer is ten times worse for me; especially when I know something most others don’t – a way to solve the problem without resorting to ‘bad workarounds’, that will inevitably cause the same amount of problems as not finding the answer to the original question.

It’s not often that I’ll blog about my work – mainly through fear of revealing information that I probably shouldn’t and/or my colleagues reading something that they probably shouldn’t have and the potential for them to take it the wrong way (this is the Internet after all).  But I’ll need to refer to the problem at hand in order to make my point here.

We’ve long ran a Citrix Xenapp 5 farm at work, split between two clients and whilst one client works flawlessly, the other runs into problems with their allocated servers, despite the applications being almost identical between the two parties.  The troubleshooting process has attempted pretty much everything from re-installing servers, changing hardware components, every registry hack you could possibly ever think of and then a bit more, but nothing has worked.

Having exhausted our troubleshooting repertoire the decision was made to abandon the current farm and build a new one, which after a lot of heart and headaches in trying to find my answer for the failures I was happy to admit defeat in, made especially more easier to swallow given that we have already lost a substantial amount of money trying to diagnose a live system.

The new farm has been built using Microsoft Server 2008 and is now a 64-bit system, as opposed to the Server 2003, 32-bit environment the old one utilises.  The servers are speedy and responsive, but there are two problems we can’t seem to diagnose; when launching an Intranet page (which is set up as a published application), we are prompted for credentials and the second is when we log into a specific website and hit search, the page returns to the logon screen.

Two minor issues you may think, but log into the server locally (as opposed to the published application), and they work fine.  Log out of the server and then launch the published apps again and they work flawlessly. 

This suggests to me that Microsoft have some difference in logon between a local connection and a remote Xenapp session that sets the profile up differently and allows Internet Explorer 8 (and later testing with IE9), to then work.  Searching around the Internet has found no matching results and further leads to investigate.....but instead of trying to fix the issue, our installs team have now decided to switch to Firefox, replacing IE – and it appears to have pressed my buttons.

Being a Microsoft die-hard and a user of the SysInternals tools, I’m dying to get my hands on the server and figure out the difference and then attempt to fix based on the information Process Monitor will unearth for us.  But having zero access to the server prevents me from doing this and instead a team of server engineers attempt to go looking for a needle in a haystack and provide work arounds using Firefox (which means we can’t control sessions using Group Policy anymore and configuration is an added worry we now need to contend with).

I spent two years learning everything I could about SysInternals tools and how to use them effectively exactly for this reason; to find my answer.  What I didn’t envisage was that I wouldn’t be able to use these skills to find answers and that those with elevated privileges would prevent me from working towards solving problems.

“In the words of the philosopher Jagger, you can’t always get what you want”
- Dr. Gregory House, House, M.D.

2011: Here’s what Happened


Kinect Effect


When I first saw the demo of ‘Project Natal’ I knew it was cool technology and was blown away with just how accurately the motion capture performed.  It was the next wave of interaction.


Microsoft then rebranded as Kinect, launched it with some games and released it for XBox.  That Christmas I was tempted to buy one – very tempted.  But I’d already fallen into that trap before with the Nintendo Wii – I was amazed with that device and bought one, only to later discover that the hook of a gimmick controller didn’t make me want to get back into computer games and after a year or so, the console now sits completely unused.


The Kinect had appeal, but it was also expensive albeit a very cool gimmick that I thought I would get bored with very quickly and would then never use – so I didn’t get one. 


But my love of Kinect hasn’t stopped yet and I’m still very much in admiration of the technology; I just need a reason to buy one that isn’t going to disappear with boredom or repetitive use.  At this years CES, Steve Ballmer announced some improvements coming to XBox and Kinect – the launch of Microsoft Avatar to virtually interact with your friends, interactive television, movie integrations – speaking with your XBox to play, rewind and pause.


Again, demonstrations that the Kinect definitely had a lot more potential to unlock, but the features announced were very US specific – the UK didn’t yet have these online services that XBox could integrate into (LoveFilm vs NetFlix for example in movie streaming terms).


Microsoft haven’t stopped yet though and recently started showing the following advertisement:



The video is an admission that Microsoft haven’t thought of every application for the Kinect technology and they are almost willing to open up the technology (in a controlled way), for the customers and developers to tap into using their SDK (Software Development Kit).


It’s rumoured that Microsoft have partnered up with a number of companies in different sectors to help develop further uses – such as the medical examples shown in the video. 


Next year, Microsoft will also be releasing the Kinect 2; an updated version of the hardware that is rumoured to be able to lip read!


The Kinect journey has only just begun and there is clearly still a long way to go yet, but Microsoft and others are clearly working on it – just search YouTube for all of the different hacks and projects people have put together.  And I still think its cool technology.

Integration Nightmares & Dreams


Way back in May 2008, I wrote what can only be described as a brilliant blog post on the future of the technological connected world and how smart devices would be and instantly interact with each other and join up our ‘Digital Lives’.


I would link you to the terrific post, but unfortunately the link conveniently unfortunately no longer works.  The title of which was “Integration Nightmares & Dreams”, which some how felt like a great title to re-use for this post.


Accompanying my breath-taking writing, was a video, which is still very much online and available for me to insert into this blog post:



In the video, you see the lives of three different groups of people; the professional business user who enjoys a good work-life balance, a business man who travels and finally a girl who interacts with her friends and technology for entertainment and enjoyment in a world that is tailored to your needs and tastes.


The video, of course, was made by Intel to paint a picture of the future and the “Ultra Mobile” PC concept, which some how seems very dated, despite it only being made three years ago.


Released just a couple of days ago was this video, made by Microsoft:



The video is to show an interpretation of what the office of the future could possibly look like.  You’ll notice straight away that some of the elements of the Intel video are also present in Microsoft’s video – namely the presence of many different displays that interact and respond with touch and speech.

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