Monday 29 October 2012

Computing in 1982 - October

The October 1982 issue of Your Computer looked at the threat to British manufacturers posed by a new wave of microcomputer imports from the US and the Far East.

Against a backdrop of delivery not-quite-in-28-days these new machines looked likely to offer an alternative of high street convenience, with no delivery delays if the machines were in stock, and should the machines be faulty, they could be taken straight back for exchange or refund like any other goods.

Whilst the reviewers were generally impressed by the new wave of machines, one stood out in particular - the Commodore 64, which went on to become one of the key machines in the development of home computing.

Also this month, the usual collection of low-level assembler and machine code utilities, and a little bit of Forth as well.

Monday 22 October 2012

LinkedIn Endorsements: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

I've received a few emails recently about LinkedIn Endorsements, a new feature on the professional social networking site. Like many such features, they were added with a specific reason in mind, but there have been some side effects which are, I suspect, unintentional.
So first of all, what are they? Well, you can read the LinkedIn announcement describing them here. Basically the feature builds on the existing "Skills" facility, allowing connections viewing your profile to click on a skill to indicate that they can confirm that you have that skill. This is very similar to LinkedIn Recommendations, but there are some differences, which are crucial.

The Good

The problem with Recommendations is that they're time consuming to write (properly) and also need a level of (necessary) interaction between the two parties before being published against a profile, nobody wants a Recommendation to say negative things, so each one must be approved by the recipient. Endorsements, however, are quick and precise - you can select the skills you've seen your contact demonstrate and endorse each with a single click.

Also, Endorsements are connected to Skills, and everyone should have Skills listed on their LinkedIn profile, because having a formalised skills list makes it easier to be found on LinkedIn searches. I've seen numerous LinkedIn profiles which have not been updated to include Skills, and the Endorsements feature will encourage those people to add Skills, so that they can then be endorsed.

The Bad

As mentioned above, Recommendations take a little while to sort out, but they can be very specific, and allow your connections to go into a bit more detail about the particular business or technical projects you've worked on, and how significant your contribution was. All of that is lost in a single-click Endorsement.

The other major issue with Endorsements is the amount of noise they can generate. You will receive emails from LinkedIn whenever someone endorses your skills, but you can switch these off (go to Settings -> Email Preferences -> Set the frequency of emails -> Endorsements). Also, whenever someone in your network receives or issues an Endorsement, that activity will show up on as an update on your LinkedIn home page - although LinkedIn will roll these up into single updates for multiple connections from time to time.

The Ugly

The speed advantage offered by Endorsements can work against you, however. If one of your connections gets click happy, you may find them endorsing you for skills that they have no knowledge of. Your network will consist of people you have, and have not, worked with before, so it's worth keeping track of those Endorsements - if any are not appropriate, you can hide them (click the "see all endorsers" icon, and use the "Hide endorsement" buttons as required).

And if you are a "click happy endorser", remember that your Endorsements will show up as a LinkedIn activity, so if people in your network see that you're endorsing pretty much everyone for pretty much everything, your Endorsements will carry less weight in the future.

Tuesday 16 October 2012

Open House London 2012 - Broadgate

This is one of a short series of blog posts describing visits during Open House weekend in London, September 2012. You can find out more about Open House on their web site. Having visited the Lloyd's Building, there was just enough time for another City of London visit before heading up to Dollis Hill for the tour around Paddock.

Unfortunately 1 Finsbury Circus closed early due to its popularity, but nearby in Broadgate a few of the buildings had their lobbies open to the public. 10 Exchange Square was perhaps the least interesting, but was a handy stop on the way to the Broadgate Tower, the newest building in Broadgate.

The tower lobby is actually split over three levels, all of which were open, each offering interesting views of the others. From there, it was over to 155 Bishopsgate, one of the oldest buildings, being one of those built during the original redevelopment in the mid 80s. This has an upper and lower lobby, accessed via the Great Eastern Walkway and Bishopsgate respectively, although for Open House only the latter was open, which did cause some confusion for those arriving via the walkway, who could see other visitors inside even though the doors were locked!

155 Bishopsgate is a stark contrast to the Broadgate Tower, and shows how design has changed over the last 25 years or so - dark panelling replaced with bright colours and gleaming metal finishes.

You can see some more photos here.

Friday 12 October 2012

Don't let the Caps Lock key RUIN YOUR TYPING

Photo by i_yudai on Flickr
Last week I received an email from James Potter, The LinkedIn Man putting me in touch with one of his connections who was looking for a software solution to a particularly annoying problem:

"As the world’s poorest typist I am desperate to solve the problem of hitting Caps Lock in error and looking at the screen 30 seconds later to find I have typed about thirty WORDS IN UPPER CASE, by mistake."

As this is something that's caught me out before, more often not involving Caps Lock but Num Lock, and finding that I've been moving around a spreadsheet rather than entering numbers into it, it seemed worthwhile writing up a solution offered within Windows itself, namely "ToggleKey".

This feature will cause your computer to beep whenever you press Caps Lock, Num Lock, or Scroll Lock. It makes a slightly different sound activating the lock and deactivating it. Here's how to enable it on Windows XP:

Simply click Start, and then Control Panel. On the window which opens you'll see "Accessibility Options". Double click that, and another smaller window will open - find the box near the bottom marked "Use ToggleKeys" and tick it. Click OK and you're done.

On Windows7, the steps are similar, but inevitably slightly different, and is documented on the Microsoft web site here.

Tuesday 9 October 2012

Open House London 2012 - The Lloyd's Building

This is one of a short series of blog posts describing visits during Open House weekend in London, September 2012. You can find out more about Open House on their web site. Some events are turn up on the day and queue, and the Lloyd's Building is one of those, and is one of the most popular with visitors.

Fortunately the Saturday was a fine day with clear blue skies to start. As this is such a popular attraction the queues are long, and even if you arrive an hour before the opening time, you'll still be in a queue, so you should allow for this when planning your day. The event is well organised, having been run for a number of years now, and there's no pressure to move around at any speed. Although there are no guided tours, there are plenty of event staff around to help you with any questions you may have.

There is security on entry, inevitably, so be prepared to have your bags searched, and sharp objects will be removed (and returned to you when you leave). The contents of my backpack were queried, as the contents were my heavier boots, ready for the afternoon trip to Paddock in north London!

From there, the route is laid out before you, going up on to the main floor, and across it, with plenty of time to look at the Lutine Bell, the Nelson Exhibition, and the atrium, before heading out to the lift lobby to take one of the building's trademark external lifts up to the 11th floor.

The 11th floor offers spectacular views of nearby buildings, as well as across London, and being at the top of the atrium, you get a chance to look back down at the Lutine Bell way below you. Also on the 11th floor, the route takes you through the Adam Room [PDF].

On the other side of the building, the lifts take you back down, this time to the 3rd floor, where you get another chance to look down, and also across at the network of escalators which run up and down across the atrium. Indeed, these are the next stop on the route, and take you back down to the ground floor level, where you can complete your tour with a visit to the Coffee House for refreshments.

This is an excellent place to visit, with plenty of time to look round and take photos (some of mine are here), allow around 90 minutes including stopping for a drink on your way out.

Thursday 4 October 2012

Open House London 2012 - Paddock Bunker

This is one of a short series of blog posts describing visits during Open House weekend in London, September 2012. You can find out more about Open House on their web site.

Some events are turn up on the day and queue, but many are ticketed (although still free) and must be booked in advance. Paddock Bunker in Dollis Hill, north London is one of those.

Paddock, the Alternative Cabinet War Room, was built in 1939 to provide a backup command centre for the government during the Second World War. However it only hosted two Cabinet meetings, the first chaired by Churchill in 1940, and the second by Clement Atlee in 1941.

Although Churchill had been keen to establish a base outside central London in case the primary Cabinet War Room sustained heavy damage, after the first meeting he felt it unsuitable for long term use. He missed the second meeting due to illness. The facility was abandoned before the end of the war.

The bunker has remained largely intact and untouched since then, although it did suffer some flood damage some years ago, and is now owned by a housing association. It is open to the public during Open House weekend, with guided tours from Subterranea Britannica volunteers, who are enthusiastic and knowledgeable. Hard hats (provided on arrival) must be worn by all visitors because there are a few low doorways and other obstacles. The facility is now also quite wet, with standing water in places, so sensible footwear is a must.

This is a fascinating tour, is altogether different to many other Open House tours, and is highly recommended. You can see a few photos from the tour here.

You can learn more about Paddock on the Subterranea Britannica web site.