Media Fun and the Great Outdoors

This weekend I started my duties as best man by organising Pete’s stag do.  We spent the weekend in the Forest of Dean, raft building, learning survival skills, building shelters, making fires and generally having a good time at Pete’s expense.

Pete’s flat is lush and has given me some ideas on the media front.  Behind his TV stand lies an Acer PC, running Windows Vista Ultimate.  This includes the Vista upgrade to Windows XP Media Center Edition.  In the machine is a dual tuner TV card, so he can record TV and watch it at the same time.  The PC then connects to the TV with ease, so you get full media center capabilities plus Windows Vista on the TV when you want it.

Coupled with all of this is the flashy Microsoft Media Center remote, which brings the whole lot together very nicely.

So I’m doing some sums on the media front…eBuyer’s cheapest Acer PC comes in currently at £235 and includes Windows Vista Home Premium (the other SKU of Vista to include Media Center).  Couple that with a TV card and the Microsoft remote, the Xbox 360 and the home server, you get a nice package.

But then there’s always the surround sound, HD TV….the list goes on.  So I’ll be content with the fun of the new Xbox for the time being.

My photos from the weekend are now on Facebook.

End of another week

Sheesh, I’ve hit the end of another week.  I never want activity to take priority over learning.  I’ve done quite a bit of travelling around, speaking to new people, feeling relieved after the stress of the previous week, our servers are now running a bit smoother.

As a kid I never had many things and I never was that interested in games consoles or gadgets.  Now that I’m starting to make more choices based on what I actually think over what would make others happy, I’m discovering a whole part of my life that I never lived.  It’s quite exciting.  Suddenly adventure, games, competition and practical jokes are becoming more appealing and are areas that I want to go to.

xbox360

In this vain I just ordered an Xbox 360 from Amazon and saved £30 off the retail price (went for the Premium model in the end; the Arcade is cheaper but no hard-drive and the Elite is a lot more expensive for really just a 120 Gb hard-drive, although it is black and looks cool).

We’ll be able to view photos and play music from the Windows Home Server on the T.V., as well as enjoying Call of Duty 4 and whatever else comes our way.  Ideally I’d like to set up surround sound in the lounge, so we can fully enjoy our Tesco DVD rentals (which is a great way to get movies without having to buy the discs).

I want to get back to the gym and running again; the Chicago Marathon is in October and I’d love to be there.

Time for some West Wing Season 4 and then sleep – I don’t think I really woke up properly all day, so rather then try and work late I’m calling it day and catching up on sleep (rest is not the problem but sleep sometimes gets behind).

London and Life

I was in London yesterday in glorious Spring weather – slightly cold, but bright sunshine.  I snapped the following on my phone whilst crossing Waterloo Bridge:

IMAGE_128

It reminded me of my marathon experience last April and got me thinking again about running…

In the mean time I’ve been tweaking system performance, improving our caching through the use of HTTP headers in ASP.  RFC2616 details the HTTP 1.1 status codes, which can be used to control the caching of certain items.

Our problem is that a table of contents sometimes grows to over 1Mb and every time a user visits the site they pull back this huge file.  In order for this file to be cached, we send back a HTTP header LAST-MODIFIED, equal to the last modified date on the ToC file.

Now if the browser already has this item in its cache, it will send a header HTTP_IF_MODIFIED_SINCE containing the last-modified timestamp from the cache.  On static files, IIS (the webserver), takes care of looking for this header and responding appropriately.

However for dynamic files that serve semi-static content (like the ToC in my case), you have to handle things yourself.  If the HTTP_IF_MODIFIED_SINCE header is detected, then the timestamp is checked against the file on the server.  If nothing has changed, then just report the HTTP-STATUS as 304 Not Modified.  It is then up to the browser to use the version from it’s cache.

A couple of useful articles on this:

http://www.15seconds.com/issue/970911.htm

http://www.web-caching.com/mnot_tutorial/how.html

After implementing these changes we saw a huge reduction in request timeouts and dropped network connections.  Well worth building into future work.

Time Away

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks, hence no posts.  Firstly, my laptop finally gave up the ghost.  Whilst trying to reimage it from my Windows Home Server, the power unit just kept cutting out.  And then I was getting blue screen memory errors.

So my new Dell Latitude D630 arrived, all shiny and fast, and boy is it nice to work with!  I went for the 9-cell battery which, after my tests, will run for just over 5 hours on normal usage.  It comes with a light sensor inside the lid so it can automatically adjust the brightness of the screen to suit your surroundings, thereby saving battery power and making sure you don’t strain your eyes.

It’s a 2.4 GHz dual core Intel, 160GB hard drive (the largest I could get), DVD R/W, 4 USB 2.0, modem, WiFi etc.  It also comes with a smart card reader should you need it for work.  Anyway I’m very pleased with it.

d630

Then I had a crazy week of work, culminating with a 10 hour day in London, the afternoon of which I spent frantically working in Costa Coffee on the WiFi, trying to drink my cappuccino medo as slowly as possible!

Then the Pioneer Leaders Conference in Letchworth, then spoke at Open Heaven, then had a meal to welcome new people to the Church and tonight I’ve got a consultation team meeting on a building we are looking at buying.

To keep me sane I’ve been having fun with the various bits of technology around the house, getting the WHS backup going.  My next step is to test the remote access…

Time for some work now!