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A new beginning...
I am officially announcing that my blogging home is moving to - the decision to set up there instead of at Randomelements has not been taken lightly. Unfortunately, however, in today’s climate the web is leaving SharePoint far behind as a blogging client and while it is possible to customise it (I’ve made a lot of special modifications myself - Han Solo) the interactivity with various services across the web just isn’t there. WordPress will give me that connectivity.

The Randomelements :: Blog will not be taken down - there is far too much good stuff to just kill it but all new material will be posted here from now on. I may cross post and set up an optional page redirection as well. For anyone using the old RSS feed fear not, this will get automatically redirected to the new blog so you should not notice any break in service and start getting the new content automatically. I will re-post some of the best recent items over here to give it a solid base to build on so I apologise if you double up on items in your RSS reader - I hope you understand.

It is always going to be difficult to rebrand and relocate at the same time but I think I have already been moving that way (changing my name on was the first step) but I felt that it was required. I found it hard to develop a personal brand around the name randomelements - random doesn’t have good connotations.

As far as the content goes it will be pretty much business as usual; I have been trying to stick to my blogging strategy and hope that this has been reflected in the quality of posts that I have been writing since the start of the year.

Big changes coming...
 WordPress Logo
It's the wrong traffic.

Bloggers want traffic - there's no denying it. Either due to a sense of vanity or a need to increase clickthrough numbers to monetise the content we all want those hits. This is normally where SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) comes in to play.

There are numerous guides to SEO and companies willing to take your cash for applying SEO to your site but the key to SEO is getting as high a page rank for a given topic as you are able. Sites are usually looking to get top 3 on Google for any given search.


Let's have a look at a few search terms that crop up in my referrer stats on a regular basis. The following is my position in a search on Google:

    • lexmark vista - #5
    • windows media player 12 - #3
    • mda touch plus review - #3
    • vista sp1 problems - #2
    • passed excel 2007 - #1

These are just some examples of quite high placements in respect of a number of searches; not bad you might think, that is until you look at the traffic reports for the blog. Take this month (March) so far according to Google Analytics:


As you can see, traffic for March has come mostly from search engines and nearly 93% of visitors have been first time visitors to the site. Only 7% of my visitors are returning readers - this is not a good conversion rate. Just because you feature highly in search results it does not guarantee any quality of traffic, only a quantity which - on the face of it - should be good for your site. The truth, however, is not always as simple as that.

Why do visitors land at your site?

For the past few months the traffic to this blog has been consistent and is the highest it's ever been which you would think is a good thing. It's nice to have the numbers (which are still small fry compared to most of the other blogs out there) but it's the wrong type of traffic.

Searches for Windows Media Player 12/wmp 12/ media player 12 dominate my traffic but not because those readers value my opinion on whether Microsoft should merge WMP and the Zune software rather than keeping two separate (and in my opinion conflicting) product streams. No, instead those readers are just out to get what they can't have: a beta of WMP 12 which doesn't exist. Once those visitors realise that they are not going to get what they came for they are off which is reflected in the Bounce Rate stats of nearly 85%.

The frustrating thing about it is that I have done no search engine optimisation for the blog but have obviously tapped in to a current theme in order for the blog to feature so highly in these search results. Irrespective of any effort on my part to promote posts on topics such as these you are never going to convert visitors to subscribers under these circumstances. Unless you are offering something that you shouldn't (fake downloads, information in breach of an NDA etc.) those people who want what they can't have are never going to stick.


So, this is where SEO becomes so important: creating a buzz about the things you actually want to show in search engines so that you can generate the right traffic. It is only when you are getting the right type of visitor that you will be able to persuade them that you have something worth reading and that they should stick around. If you can do this then you will be able to convert a good proportion from one-off visitor to a subscriber and - if you're lucky - an "unpaid evangelist" who will spread the word even further.

Week in review 13.

Having been off sick last week I've had a bit more time for blogging so here's the highlights:

  • Quoting other sources is always a good idea but if you're going to do it make sure that you do it in the right context.
  • PicApp - free images for bloggers but not ready for prime time. Free access to quality images is a great idea but this ad supported service needs a few tweaks before I'd consider it ready.
  • AAPL v MSFT - lies, damn lies and marketing. My thoughts about marketing after a Twitter discussion.
  • Twitter is becoming more popular by the day so how can you use it more effectively and let your followers know what you are reading?
  • Adobe launched a new online image editing application with 2GB of storage space and online gallery service. What's it like? Have a look at the beta.
  • In these days of social media we hear the term "personal branding" a lot. Is a favicon a valid part of this?
  • There has been a lot of talk about our online presence being decentralised so I ask the question "is lifestreaming the answer or are we asking the wrong question?"

As always, you can also view all of last weeks posts.

Should a favicon be part of your online identity?

Without question, one of the most effective ways to market yourself or your site/blog on the web is to have a recognisable online brand. This comprises your site name, logo, design, even your voice via the content and, in these times of social media, your amorphous mass of personal profiles littered around the web.

One thing that is often overlooked, however, is the favicon - that little graphic that identifies your site in browser address bars, favourites lists and on tabs. Does your site really need one? No, but in order to stand out and not be lost amongst a whole list of standard icons it's a good idea to get one.

So, after 4 and a half years of overlooking this aspect of online branding I thought that time had come for me to stop being lazy and implement this simple step.


I have seen advice around the web that you should avoid using blue for a favicon even if your site theme itself is blue, the argument being that it will get lost among the standard blue e's used by Internet Explorer. Providing your icon is sufficiently distinct I don't see why blue can't be used - just so long as it stands out from the crowd.

Normally, the best plan is to utilise your site logo when creating your favicon as it will create an instant relationship back to the site itself, If it is not practical to do so in such a small space then - as I have done - the normal action is to take the first letter of your site name. Some advocate using a small graphic but if it bears no relation to the contents of your site I feel that this can backfire.

Tying it in

My online brand is somewhat fragmented and, in the absence of any logo, difficult to pin down. To further tie the favicon in to the site I have taken a couple of steps to link it to the page contents. Firstly, I have replaced the normal SharePoint Help icon in the top right hand corner with a version of the favicon graphic. I don't think I've ever recorded a click on the site help (which takes you to the standard SharePoint help files) so there is no danger of losing anything by doing so and it means that the new graphic is always displayed on any page. Secondly, the graphic has been placed next to date on the main posts list to again make it visible.


I still need to look at where else I can incorporate this graphic both on my own site and within my profiles across the web in order to create a comprehensive and instantly recognisable brand.

Your thoughts

Is this a good place to use it? Should it be next to ech posts title instead? Let me know what you think.

UPDATE: I've moved things around a bit, what do you think?

  favicon integration

A few layout improvements.

After looking at the blog for the past few days I thought that it need a few touches to help tidy things up a bit. I have therefore made a few changes which, although only small, I feel have made quite a difference.


Let's run through the list:

  1. extra spacing between posts to create a greater feeling of space on the page
  2. extra spacing between post title and body - reduces the cramped feeling
  3. adding a 1 pixel border to the left of the right hand pane - assists with the page separation
  4. copied the post edit link to the main page

Change 4 is purely for my own benefit but it saves having to go to the individual post page in order to update any given entry. I think that it is further evidence that SharePoint is not yet a grown up blogging platform; it seems obvious to have edit links readily available and the page layout is not ideally suited to a blog - the blog template is too akin to a standard SharePoint site. Saying that I'll keep plugging away at it and keep making improvements.

I hope the changes make things a bit better on the eye.

UPDATE: one more change for IE8 users. I have placed some javascript in the syndication section (top right) to check browser version and display a link to ad the Featured posts WebSlice to your Favorites bar.

  IE8 Syndication

Note: this will only show when IE is in IE8 standards mode and NOT when emulating IE7.

Related Posts
PicApp - free images for bloggers but not ready for prime time.

There has been a bit of buzz recently over the new site which has just started a public beta - I was mailed an invite to check it out. The aim of PicApp is to make professional images from the likes of Getty Images and Corbis free for use by bloggers using an ad supported system.

Instead of inserting a straight image you get a code snippet to add to your post which provides the image in a flash widget which displays ads when you mouse over the image; a good idea but I personally don't think it's ready to go prime time.

Size and scope

At present I see two main stumbling blocks for PicApp:

  • the sizes of images offered, and
  • the variety of images

Whilst many of the images can be used in a choice of sizes (normally two or three alternatives) I feel that even the smallest is too large for many blogs - approximately 350x210 for landscape and 210x320 for portrait. This just seems to take up to much space in a post and, in my opinion, looks as though you are using it for padding. Understandably, the image size needs to be large enough to support the included ads so I don't think that we'll be going much smaller than this.

This being early days the images available appear to be limited but this may improve over time as more sources become available. If you want images relating to current affairs you will be fine as most appear to fall in to this area - again, this is understandable when you consider their source.

I think that PicApp will be one to watch as it grows but only time will tell if it becomes a worthy resource that any blogger can dip in to and get something worthwhile out.

Do you use PicApp? What do you think of it?

Old conversations? It's all about context.

I posted a while ago about taking old conversations and brining them back in to focus so that they could be explored fully in the correct media. What you should not do, however, is just explore things which seem to back up your argument when they are not actually relevant.

Why do I say this?

My earlier post about installation issues with the betas of Vista SP1 are being found and quoted (see here for example) now in relation to the issues that people have been experiencing with the RTM build. These later issues are mainly due to the driver problems that caused Microsoft to delay the release of SP1 in the first place and have now prompted Microsoft to offer toll free SP1 installation support in the US).

So, if you're going to bring old conversations back in to focus make sure they are still relevant to the situation today.

Related Posts
Week in review 12.

Last week saw Sal's birthday and another trip to hospital (we're still waiting for the last of Amy's test results to come back) but here's the week's highlights:

  • Microsoft announced that they will be releasing a mobile Zune portal (possibly to coincide with Windows Mobile 7) and extending the reach of the Zune to Europe in 2009 but I asked is this too little too late?
  • It was also announced that they have licensed Flash Mobile for use with Pocket IE but is that decision giving the customer what they need or is it Silverlight suicide?
  • The HTC shift promises so much but it's short battery life in Vista and cut down SnapVue offering mean that it doesn't deliver. Paul at MoDaCo has devised as way to get full Windows Mobile 6 on the Shift meaning that you don't have to switch to Vista just to get stuff done. Find out how to liberate your Shift.
  • Just like anything else, a social media strategy demands time and commitment so you must be realistic what you can achieve when real life gets in the way.

See all of last weeks posts here.

Week in review 11.

Last week was a bit of a nightmare. After having Amy go in to hospital with HSP Chloe also had to go in during the week as she developed an infection and ended up with a similar rash on her face around the eyes. I think I'm getting used to sleeping on the fold up beds they provide for parents! So, not much blogging happening last week:

  • Why the sudden interest in WMP12?
    Over 300 hits a day on posts about Windows Media Player 12 - there must be a reason...
  • After the news that Apple were to include Exchange ActiveSync support in version 2 of the iPhone firmware the obvious question was "will Exchange on the iPhone kill Windows Mobile?"
  • Silverlight 1.0 coming to Windows Mobile.
    So, it's not  just Nokia S60 devices that will get some Silverlight goodness.

To see all of last weeks posts go here.

Week in review 10.
Two events stood out last week: the release of IE8 Beta 1 and the iPhone SDK with the news that the iPhone would support syncing with Exchange as of June so, with those in mind, here's last weeks highlights:
  • Google Sites was launched and heralded as a SharePoint killer but can it really live up to that billing or will it be just another perpetual beta?
  • The Internet Explorer team announced that IE8 would be standards compliant by default and the new features were announced prior to launch.

    I had a first look at the new browser and delved a bit deeper in to using one of the new features - WebSlices - by creating the Featured Posts WebSlice that you can subscribe to, more information on using slices can also be found here.
  • Microsoft announced that they would be porting Silverlight to Nokia S60 series phones and this would happen before the platform hit Windows Media. Some are annoyed at this but it does make sense.
  • The iPhone news will once again change the Windows mobile space and get a lot of people thinking about making that switch.
You can see all of last weeks posts here.
The Randomelements "Featured Posts" WebSlice is now live.
It's not much but it's an indication that the technology works: the Featured Posts WebSlice is now live on the left hand pane. It's surprisingly simple to create a WebSlice - you only need to include three class properties in the contents.

When hovering over the slice content the WebSlice icon appears which you can click to subscribe to the slice. You can also subscribe to the slice via the feeds icon drop-down
Once subscribed, the slice sits in your Favorites Bar and will indicate when the contents have been updated by making the title text bold.
As mentioned, the code required to create a slice comes in three parts. Firstly, the slice container must be defined with the class "hslice" in order to identify it to IE8. The slice title is defined by the class "entry-title" and the main contents by the class "entry-content":

WebSlice Title

        Stick your slice content here!
The slice can contain multiple instances of the entry-content class and there's nothing else to it. Unfortunately, it appears that the formatting options are limited as the background image applied to the slice contents do not show in the fly-out on the favorites bar. Images can be included in the contents just not as a background.
Can WebSlices be used to keep us up to date with comments?
WebSlice IconThe whole point of a WebSlice is that is lets a reader subscribe to a specific portion of a page so can they be used to keep us up to date with comments on a particular blog post? I don't see why not.
All you would have to do is surround your comments section with a WebSlice (with a dynamic ID perhaps) and let users subscribe to the slice for a post of their choice. Any time a new comment is added the WebSlice will notify the reader that is has been updated allowing them to keep up to date with response to your post.
I shall have to give this a try over the next couple of days.
UPDATE: I had a quick test last night and the quick answer is yes, however, you are limited in what you can do. A WebSlice fly-out will only show a certain amount of data. If your slice is bigger than that you cannot scroll so are forced to open the target page.
You could get round this a bit by sorting your comments with the most recent on top but this obviously causes issues with following the conversation.
In conclusion
I don't think it's the best way to do this but could be used in the absence of any other means.
Related Posts
Randomelements "Featured Posts" WebSlice coming soon.
I will be fully embracing the IE8 beta here on the blog and will have a "Featured Posts" WebSlice available should you wish to add it to your Favorites Bar and keep up to date with the top posts (I will be changing them based on popularity and time)
 Featured Posts WebSlice
I will need to enhance the formatting and ensure that everything works correctly before it goes live but, once it does, please test it and let me know if you have any problems.
I hope to launch the WebSlice tonight so watch this space.
UPDATE: it's nearly ready. It looks as though you are limited with the formatting that will be applied to the actual fly-out. I have tested a background image on the slice section but this does not get displayed.
UPDATE 2: the slice is ready, see this post.
Related Posts
Week in review 9.
Working from home again last week and studying so time for a few more posts. Here's the highlights:
  • Pocket IE gets zoom but is it enough?
    IE is one of the components updated in Windows Mobile 6.1 but will it stand up to the other browsers doing the rounds?
  • SharePoint as a blogging platform?
    An email prompted me to think about exactly how I see SharePoint as a blogging platform. Here's some pros and cons.
  • A big part of blogging is the comments and the interaction with readers so, It is the conversation that matters. may be showing the way ahead.
  • Our obligations as bloggers.
    Brandon LeBlanc's honesty really gets you thinking about what we as bloggers are trying to do and how we should do it.

See all of last weeks posts here.

Survey results.

A couple of weeks ago I asked you, the reader, to answer a few questions about the direction the blog is taking. The questions related to the type and quality of the posts here at Randomelements.

The response was a little disappointing but a few themes did emerge so, as promised, here are the results:

1. What types of posts do you enjoy reading?

Reviews didn't get a single vote but the other three options all got an equal number (short, informative posts; more in depth posts and opinion pieces)

Maybe this is because there haven't been many reviews yet.

2. What topics would you like to see more of?

The clear winner here was Tweaks and Tips followed by tech news, Microsoft software and social media.

3. What topics would you rather see less of?

General tech news came out as the least favourite post topic. Despite being the building blocks of the blog Microsoft software and social media also, surprisingly, received votes.

4. Overall, how is the current post quality?

The general consensus was that post quality was good (thanks to the one person who rated it excellent). One person also rated it as Could be better but luckily no-one said it was Really naff.

5. How does the post quality compare to the past year?

Consensus here was that post quality was About the same as the last year but Improving got one vote as did Much better.

No-one answered the open question "Anything else you would like to say about the blog?"

What do these answers mean for the blog?

They say the customer is always right but I'm afraid that I have to ignore the desire to see less posts about Microsoft software and Social Media. There won't be too many reviews on the blog as I'll only throw them in when something comes along which demands one - reviews not getting any votes doesn't, therefore, bother me.

With regards to Tweaks and Tips I will post items as and when I come across them but will not post them just for the sake of it when the same tips are already listed on a multitude of other sites.

Overall, not too much can be drawn from the survey as the population was too small but I can at least take away the feeling that the blog is read by a wide enough variety of people to support a range of topics.

Related Posts to show the way ahead for blogs, RSS and comments?, a service that has piqued my interest since it was first announced, has entered its invitation only beta stage and promises to be so much more than the RSS readers we have at present. 

When I discussed how RSS needs to change to enable us to get the full conversation I mentioned that RSS readers will need to alter in order to support the way ahead, is heading in the right direction as it allows you to write comments on posts directly from the site itself using the API. Reports also mentioned that would be able to work with the disqus comment system.

It's not yet the ability to post comments back to any blog directly from your feed reader but it's a good start (unfortunately, I haven't got an invitation yet so haven't been able to test it) and an indication of the way things are heading.

As well as the feed readers needing to change to accommodate distributed commenting it is obvious that blogs will need to as well, whether it be implementing something like disqus or a complete change to the native commenting system to work with an API. proves that the days of distributed commenting are closer than we thought.

Related Posts
Our obligations as bloggers.

The debate over the difference between journalists and bloggers has been rolling on ever since blogging became popular. Should bloggers adhere to the same rules? Should they aim for a more journalistic integrity? Is it okay to just spout off whatever you want whenever you feel like it?

Blogging is different for everyone and what you put in to it should reflect what you intend to get out - a lesson that has been reinforced by a blogger I have followed and respected for a long time: Brandon LeBlanc.

Brandon has really opened up and made a huge admission on his blog (I learned a lesson this week about Microsoft…) and I applaud him for his honesty and bravery in posting it. He reminds us that we as bloggers may have opinions but we do not know everything. Just because we feel a particular company should act in a certain way doesn't give us the right to demand this particular course of action and, just because a particular train of thought has not been discussed in public it doesn't mean that it is not being considered internally and that we are the only people to think of it.

We must not make assumptions and should present our views in a balanced manner, as Brandon says we are are no in the best position to determine what is right for any given company and should not act like we are but, there is no harm in voicing our concerns about specific issues, getting the questions out there and in essence asked to be proven wrong.

As I mentioned above, we must not assume that we are the only people thinking about certain topics or ideas and just because we don’t hear anything, or there are no press releases or even leaks and rumblings about specific topics we assume that companies (in this case Microsoft) are behind the competition or have dropped the ball - probably not so, but we are dealing with business secrets. If every business was to announce what they intend to do over the next weeks, months, years then the competition would jump in and do the same thing before them. Yes, the age of transparency at Microsoft is upon us but, for obvious reasons, there is only so far this transparency can extend.

Don't forget, Dean Hachamovitch over at the IEBlog said "don’t mistake silence for inaction" when the team was being criticised for the lack of news on IE8. Shortly afterwards the announcement was made that alpha builds had passed the Acid test - a major milestone that just could not yet be discussed publicly. This example will be just the tip of the iceberg as far as a company like Microsoft is concerned.

So, I echo Brandon's plea and ask that all bloggers should recognise their position and question, comment and suggest rather than assume, accuse and demand.

It is the conversation that matters.

Interesting discussion has taken place recently and I wanted to add my take. Some great minds have been looking at the issue of blogs, their RSS feeds and the comments; the current state of affairs appears to be a bit lacking.

A big part of blogging is the conversation and, as we all know, a conversation has two sides and is incomplete without one of them. As Chris Brogan explains the comments to any given post are just as, if not more, important than the post itself but the current means of being kept to date with those comments are not working.

The options we have at present are as follows:

  • email notification of new comments
  • a general comments RSS feed
  • an RSS feed specific to one post

not a desirable position, I think you'll agree.

Louis Gray touched on this problem almost a whole year ago - forward thinking indeed - with his post The Trouble With RSS: I'm Not Involved. We spend so much time looking at the way we consume our RSS feeds that we lose everything that surrounds the content and as Louis says lose the participatory role.

There is no easy solution to this problem, however.

It has been suggested that something like could fill the void and provide us better options when consuming our feeds. At its simplest level you could combine both a posts and comments feed in to one and just subscribe to that but this is messy and not a great way to consume content.

What is needed is a way to combine both the posts and comments, filtering the comments to the relevant post and displaying them in the correct order. We run the danger, however, of information overload so an option to opt in to comments for any given post is in order. As Chris suggests, perhaps some kind of toggle to select only those posts whose full conversation you wish to follow.

How do we then consume such a feed?

Are we forced to visit the site to select an option, or are we looking at some kind of extension to RSS to feed back to the site the content we wish to consume? Are we looking at something like Simple Sharing Extensions (SSE) for ways to communicate back to the site in question?

The overview for SSE says:

"The scope of Simple Sharing Extensions (SSE) is to define the minimum extensions necessary to enable loosely-cooperating applications to use XML-based container formats such as Atom and RSS as the basis for item sharing – that is, the bi-directional, asynchronous synchronization of new and changed items amongst two or more cross-subscribed feeds."

Sounds right on the money, but this kind of feed consumption will require new feed readers that support the new extensions.

How far could this be taken? Could we get to the point where you can comment directly on the post from within your feed reader?

What do you think?

SharePoint as a blogging platform.

I received an email from Ken Crawbuck at Microsoft asking how I was finding SharePoint as a blogging platform so thought it would make the good basis for a post. If you don't already know, I am hosting this blog on Windows SharePoint Services v3 using the standard blog site template that comes out of the box.

Overall, it’s not too bad as a blogging solution but it is very apparent that the WSS blog template is intended for simple use within a corporate environment and is a version 1 release (maybe not even that).

As a public blog platform it does have some limitations which I have had to work around and, therefore, customised things for my own needs - I have blogged about these before and  SharePoint Designer really comes in to its own here.

A quick for and against list

I have ultimate control as I host it myself
Post and comment integration as you would expect
Built in RSS feeds
The ability to customise SharePoint to your own requirements

Difficult to customise certain aspects
You’re going nowhere without SharePoint Designer
Little thought to the extranet/internet
No easy data portability
RSS feed issues

Windows SharePoint Services and MOSS 2007 are designed to be usable over the web – hence the options to have different URLs to access it via the intranet/extranet but I would still consider there to be bugs in the implementation. One specific example is with the RSS feeds and how they handle images. Image links within blog posts are made relative when processed by the feed and this causes a number of feed readers (RSS in Outlook included) to not be able to display them due to broken links. Personally, I get round this by having all images addressed with the www prefix to force an absolute link rather than a relative one.

Another RSS issue is that items show in RSS feeds before they are approved - this is not desirable and usually means I have my comments feed turned off as I don't want it filled with the spam comments I haven't gotten round to deleting yet.

Comments in general are an area where SharePoint lacks over the internet. Obviously, all your readers are no going to have Active Directory accounts so they access the site anonymously; as such they are not identified and you are forced to add custom fields for visitors names/URLs etc. Not a problem you might think except that the default comments view will not allow you to customise it via the normal means in the UI. To get the custom fields displayed your are forced to edit the comments web parts manually in SharePoint Designer - not good.

It may sound like I’m being negative but I understand that I’m trying to use it for things that it wasn’t really designed to do, it’s then down to me to tweak things and get it running how I like. The very fact that I have been using one SharePoint product or other for the blog for over four years should say something, though. I’m generally very happy with it.

Avoid the hassles

Should you be looking to host your own blog on SharePoint but don't want to have the added hassle of customising various aspects just to get them to work as you would expect then you would be wise to go for the "Community Kit for SharePoint: Enhanced Blog Edition" - a custom site template which has a lot of what I have had to do built in with the added bonus of Akismet comment spam detection.

Week in review 8.
The start of last week was busy with work and the end of it saw me have a couple of days holiday spent with the family so there was only the one post:
  • Getting Zune and Windows Mobile to play nicely together?
    Mel over at the Windows Mobile Team blog posted asking how the experience can be improved when using both a Zune and a Windows Mobile device - some nice ideas but they didn't go down too well. You need to read the comments to the post.
Week in review 7.
The end of the week saw the migration to the new ISP so I hope the downtime didn't cause any problems; here's what else happened:
  • After Microsoft listened and started making the RTM build of Vista SP1 available to testers I installed it on my main desktop. How did it go? Read here to find out.
  • The browser market for Windows Mobile is going to get crowded. Torch Mobile released the preview of Iris based on the WebKit engine. How does it perform and rank up against NetFront 3.5?
  • Opinion: Microsoft + Danger = Zune Phone? Microsoft announced that they were acquiring Danger (makers of the Sidekick) so could this mean that the Zune Phone is on it's way?
  • After two weeks living with the T-Mobile MDA Touch Plus here are a few more reactions.
  • Are we any closer to WMP 12? Not if Windows 7 M1 is anything to go by.
  • Taking a step back and looking at what you have learnt is always a good idea. What about the plans for the blog?
Up and running on the new ISP.

Friday was switch over day to the new ISP and, as expected, there was a period of downtime while I sorted out the new DNS settings etc. We have moved to Sky Broadband here in the UK as the savings with their phone and satellite TV package is considerable over what we were paying before.

The services comes with a free, rebranded NetGear DG934G wireless router with a custom firmware to improve the UI used to manage the router settings. Sky say that you can only use their router with the service but the truth is they will only support you when using their router and to ensure you use theirs the custom firmware is designed to hide the username and password from you so that you cannot set up your details on your own equipment (it all comes preconfigured). This will only be an issue if the router breaks - if that happens I will have to contact Sky to get my login details.

Unlike my previous ISP Sky do not offer static IP addresses so I have had to set up Custom DNS management through so that things are automatically updated whenever my IP address changes (hopefully that won't be too often).

The DNS changes all took effect overnight on Friday so, come Saturday morning, everything was back up and running including the mail to my Exchange Server here.

One advantage with the switch is speed: the broadband package we are now on with Sky is up to 16MB download speed and 764Kb upload. The increased upload speed means that the blog should be served to you quicker than previously - let me know if you notice a difference.

The download speeds are instantly noticeable; the RTM images for Windows Server 2008 are available on Connect for testers so what better way to test the connection. The results can be seen below and I think we still had plenty of headroom to spare:


I'm sorry for any interruptions during the switch over but hopefully things should be a bit better around here from now on.

Blogs, focus and playing the online game.
At the end of 2007 I set out my plan for 2008 with regards to the blog and then my new blogging strategy aimed at creating better content, increasing the exposure to that content and improving my networking as a way to do this.
As time goes on, I realise that these were just small tweaks rather than a cohesive strategy so I think, as we all should, I need to take a step back to look at what has been achieved so far and what have I learnt about interactions, online relationships, blogging and social media.
The hardest lessons have the biggest effect
Having a normal day job with a commute means a considerable part of your day is already accounted for - you are, therefore left balancing the rest of your time between everything else. Something I am very bad at, and my wife reminds me of it, is prioritising between the things that have to be done and the things I would like to do. Your life shouldn't suffer as a result of what you would like to do so you need to make some decisions and get the balance right; you can't be everything to everyone no matter how hard you try. Have a look at Chris Brogan's post on "Scaling Yourself" for further illustration of this.
I don't know as much as I thought I did, nor as much as I should
The one thing you realise when networking with other bloggers and discovering new (to you) blogs is that there are some incredibly intelligent people out there that can do a lot of this a whole lot better than I can. All I can do, therefore, is keep working at it and try to learn as much as I can from as many people as possible. How can we do this but still balance our time?
One answer is to make use of what time you have available. Don't view your commute as a slog instead, treat it as an opportunity to read, catch up on your RSS feeds, make notes and scope some blog posts. What else are you going to be doing for an hour on the train? Doing the leg work here saves time later and lets you get the ideas down (even in a rough form) while they are still in your head.
Content is king, creation is hard
Any blogger will tell you that the key to success is your content, without it you're nothing and I set myself a goal of creating better content this year but it is not as simple as that. It is hard to be creative among the other pressures that life and work place upon us and, all too frequently, ideas noted in the moment stale and dry up when the time comes to do something with them. I often find myself tapping a few points in to my phone for later use but then find it virtually impossible to flesh them out in to useful posts. The initial creative spark goes out and I either forget what I wanted to say or delay too long and the context is lost, hence my post asking how we can go back to old conversations; something that needs to happen a lot more. If an idea is worth exploring then it can be successfully taken out of context.
The secret of success it seems is not the content itself but the ability to deliver it in a cohesive manner. How then can we improve the delivery? I feel we must approach blogging as though it were a job interview and ask ourselves those questions we always get asked:
  • What are my strengths?
  • What are my weaknesses?
  • What is my niche?
  • What can I do that others can't?
  • Do I know enough about the topic?
I am an opinionated person and therefore prone to posting thoughts about things of which I have little knowledge or experience. I find this is okay as long as I am putting a personal spin on how the situation relates to me and not trying to analyse things too deeply. Just as with the job interview, if you try to talk about things you don't know then you will be found out.
Another key driver of good content is passion - it is so much easier to write quality posts on those things you are passionate about and, over time, our passions ebb and flow. My key interests have altered and so the focus of this blog has altered since it began over four years ago. Recognising this flux and accepting it are essential to keeping things fresh. Do not be afraid to deviate from your path but make sure you know the direction you are heading.
Random is as random does
The most successful blogs out there have one thing in common: focus. The writers have found there niche and, by and large, stick to it. This is key to becoming recognised in any given field as an authority. My blog, on the other hand, has always been an amalgam of different topics which is why the name seemed to fit so well; it is a collection of random elements akin to contributions by different authors in an anthology when they should be chapters in one story. Again, we must ask ourselves the interview questions above and combine what we learn with our passions and make a best fit for the subject matter of our blogs.
Charles Hudson posed an on Twitter a short while ago:
"debating whether it's better to give users what they're asking for or what you think they'd want but haven't yet articulated"
My response to this was that there was a fine line between the two - an interesting trade off. People read blogs because they cover topics they are interesting, they may then subscribe and stick around to get more of the same. If your blog is focused the greater the chance that what you think readers want to see and what they actually want will match up. The question then becomes: do bloggers have an obligation to their subscribers?
These thoughts led me to conduct the survey about my blog asking what type of content readers do/don't want to see more of and what is that quality of that content, both in isolation and as compared to last year before my new plans. The changes in content have, no doubt, caused a subsequent change in readership and I can't help but feel that I owe it to both myself and this new readership to continue in the way I have been going.
I will, therefore, temper my way forward in light of the responses I get from the survey and create a compromise; it is possible to change the feel of blog by presenting the same information in different ways.
Downtime this Friday.
I am switching ISPs on Friday so there will be some downtime while everything is switched over and I get DNS sorted. I'm not sure how long this will be as the switch will probably happen while I am at work so won't be able to have everything resolved until the evening. In the meantime, please take the survey if you haven't already done so as I appreciate all the feedback you give.
Site survey.
I wanted to ask you, the reader, your opinions on the blog so have devised a short 6 question survey. I would really appreciate it if you would take the time (just a few moments) to fill it out - please be honest.
If you visit the homepage an invitation to take the survey will pop up and I will leave it in place for a week. Alternatively, please visit the survey here.
I will post the results once the survey has finished.
Week in review 6

This week saw me pass the MCAS exam for Excel 2007 but other than that, here are the weeks highlights:

  • More interesting that the news about Microsoft bidding for Yahoo were the reactions that cam from the announcement, see here: Sticks and stones - MSFT, YHOO and GOOG.
  • Vista SP1 went RTM but due to issues with drivers not installing correctly Microsoft decided to hold off the release rather than let us make up our own minds. It turns out, however, that the RC Refresh 2 build is the same as RTM and now, core testers has access to it early.
  • Prompted by a comment I discussed the transient nature of things like Twitter and how we can go back to old conversations.
  • Who should we listen to?
    Who should we subscribe to? Who should we follow for ideas and trends? Never forget the little guy.
  • Why does Digg not have a category for social media?
    Social media is all about using today's technologies to facilitate communication so why doesn't it feature on one of the most well known social media sites around?
  • A first look at NetFront Browser 3.5.
    The Windows Mobile browser wars are hotting up. Here's a first look at one of the combatants.
Week in review 5.
Bit of a quieter week last week with study and work (and not knowing where I'm going to be from one day to the next) but here's the highlights:
  • Using Tumblr as a scratch pad
    Making use of the tools available, Tumblr let's you gather a range of information all in one place - pretty much an online scrapbook
  • Choosing the right social media tool set
    A few simple guidelines to help choose the right tools for your needs and expectations
  • How to recreate the "Switch between windows" shortcut
    A reader asked in the comments how this could be done so here's the steps you need to take
  • From the front line: don't overlook the obvious
    When troubleshooting problems never overlook the obvious thinking that it can't be a simple solution
  • Mini review: T-mobile MDA Touch Plus
    The question as to what my next phone was going to be was answered so check out this post to get my initial impressions on the T-Mobile variant of the HTC Touch Dual
  • Twitter has had a rocky time and received a lot of criticism for its outages so I devoted a couple of posts to the service and how it affects us. Check out Twitter: how do service outages affect out behaviour and Opinion: Twitter makes me...
Using Tumblr as a scratch pad.
When on the road I tend to jot down ideas on my Windows Mobile phone and then hold them as Word docs or email them to myself. Handy but it does lead to a degree of fragmentation as to where my ideas are located.
To get round this I have started using as a scratch pad where I can place all my ideas, reminders, links and references together in one place. The great thing about tumblr is the simplicity with which it allows you to upload multiple types of item:
 Tumblr post types
As well as posting directly from the web you can also mail items to your tumblr blog which makes life even easier when out and about. Via a partnership with the site  you can upload video clips directly from your mobile. Cool.
Yes, you can use tumblr as a normal blog but a tumblelog is intended to be used more as a scrapbook to quickly share things. There is, however, a privacy control which let's you mark something as private so that only you can see it.
As I find sites or articles that inspire discussion I will be adding these as post ideas or anything else that may assist with writing the blog so, if you feel like having a look at what I'm thinking about, you can check my tumblelog .
Week in review 3 & 4.
I missed the weekly review last week so here is a look at the highlights from the past two weeks:
  • One man's meat...
    A look at the differences of opinion surrounding the OOXML v ODF debate
  • Opinion: Further thoughts on the new EU anti-trust cases.
    That's right, Microsoft are in the firing line again!
  • MacWorld came and went and the buzz was all about the super-thin MacBook Air see: It's enough to make you switch, How much is that SSD in the window?, MacBook Air - revelation or disaster waiting to happen? and Why you've got to feel sorry for Steve Jobs.
  • Opinion: Microsoft not planning to build their own PCs.
    Despite misplaced speculation it is extremely doubtful that Microsoft would even contempate this. Read my thoughts on why.
  • Should businesses hold off on Vista in favour of waiting for Windows 7?
    The rumoured release of Windows 7 in 2009 has got people talking and wondering if Vista should be bypassed altogether. What do I think?
  • Thoughts on Mahalo.
    Is the "human search engine" all that it claims to be?
  • Microsoft Office as a SaaS offering? I started quite a conversation with my ideas for a purely web based version of Office as a server suite. Check out my thoughts and the comments: Why haven't Microsoft started producing Office as SaaS?, More thoughts on Office suites as Saas, and The Office as Saas debate rolls on.
  • What do people want to read?
    It's interesting to see the traffic generated by different types of posts.
  • Vista SP1 RC1 Refresh 2 released to core testers.
    It's hard to tell exactly where we are with the current build nomenclature still, no problems so far: So far so good...
  • Can Windows 7 keep everyone happy?
    In light of the competition is it still viable to have a "one Windows for all" policy?

Not a bad couple of weeks.

Giving Live Writer another try.

It's been a while since I gave Windows Live Writer a go, I had previously stopped using it due to the duplication required to add tags to the post after posting it. Now that there are more plug-ins available for Live Writer I have decided to give it another try when I am at home (or on another PC where I have permissions to install software) and trade off the duplication of inserting tags against other functionality.

I had been thinking about ways to enhance the flow from post to post and an entry over at Daily Blog Tips (on ways to improve internal linking) advises to use a list of related posts. Fortunately, there is a Live Writer plug-in for just that. The plug-in checks your account for saved posts with the tags you specify and includes the number of related posts of your choice:

 Related posts options

You therefore need to tag your own posts on which, as I have recently started doing, means that the related posts feature will grow over time. It's also handy to be able to muck about with the formatting after they have been inserted.

Let me know if they prove useful or just introduce clutter. If it's the latter then I will stop using them.

All I need now is a plug-in to show custom columns in a SharePoint list. Anyone care to take on the challenge?

Adding extra information to the header of a WSS blog.
As SharePoint handles a lot of the page code via master pages you do not have direct access to the top of the document such as the tag.
You may need to insert different information in to the header such as extra tags for RSS feeds or tags - MyBlogLog. for example, uses a meta tag as one of the ways you can verify your site.
So, how do you do it?
Using SharePoint Designer open the page you wish to modify the header of and scroll to the top in Code view. Whilst you do not have access to the actual tag you can add extra items in the AdditionalPageHead Place holder. Look for the following:
Additional Page Head
The line is the default RSS feed link tag for your blog - don't remove it or IE7 won't be able to autodetect your feed.
Here I have added the meta tag required by MyBlogLog to verify my blog but you can add other tags that are valid in the section.
What do people want to read?

It's interesting to see the traffic you get from posts on different subjects. Take two recent posts for example:


1.     Thoughts on Mahalo

2.     Why hasn’t Microsoft started producing Office as SaaS


The series on Office as SaaS via a web UI threw up an interesting conversation (thanks to Keith for his comments, opinions and links) and a mention in the most unlikely of places but SaaS is a fairly niche area with limited appeal.


The Mahalo post, however, was a (relatively) huge traffic generator in which I agreed with Dave Winer that the site wasn’t really what it said on the tin, and that post is still frequently viewed days later but didn't prompt a single comment. Why?


It is obvious that we are currently fascinated by web applications and web 2.0 is the latest big fat buzzword that we all want to get involved with. Everyone is constantly looking for the next big thing in user generated content or social media.


As Chris Brogan says, we all know more about web 2.0 and social media than we give ourselves credit for. Is it this ease of access that leads to such high interest? The low barriers to adoption where even a self confessed technophobe can log in to a website and get started straight away without the inherent fear factor attached to so many offerings in the past? Quite possibly.

Change is afoot.
As I keep trying to improve the layout and experience offered by the blog things continue to change. Things get added, others get removed and so has been the case over the past day or two.
Gone is the Amazon Affiliate shop. I know when something just isn't working so the space it was taking up has been reclaimed. Gone are the links to Twitter and Zimbio in the right hand pane.
Instead we now have the following additions:
  • A new About page giving a bit of info about me and the blog (available from the tabs at the top or directly here)
  • A new FriendFeed page with my public feed embedded (more of this in a future post). You can get to that from the right hand pane or here.
  • A new profile widget from MyBlogLog including quick links to the various services I use (Twitter etc)
 MyBlogLog profile
I hope you like the changes and find them useful.
Turning comments in to posts.
Most bloggers take the comments on their site and work new posts out of them in order to keep the conversation going in a more visible way. Makes sense.
I also turn my own comments on other peoples' blogs in to posts on mine. I figure that if it's worth saying as a response to someone else then it's worth reworking in to a post and sharing it further that way. Take the earlier Mahalo post for example.
I had not originally intended to post my thoughts about Mahalo on the blog but Dave Winers post reminded me of my initial reactions to the site whilst reading the About section so, if they were good enough to be put as a response to his post, then they are valid enough to be added here as a separate item to trigger conversation.
Expect more of this in future.
More ways to connect with Randomelements.
Now that the new tag line for the blog is "Expanding my online world" I thought that some additional ways to connect might be in order.
First up is Randomelements by email powered by Feedblitz. If you want to keep up to date with the blog but don't use RSS then why not subscribe for email updates by clicking here: randomelements by email.
Now, along with a link to mail me I have also put my mobile number in the right hand pane. Feel free to give me a ring to chew the fat but don't forget timezones ;) (I'm GMT)
Don't forget the new Randomelements community over at MyBlogLog which I hope to be building up soon once there's a few more members.
And there is always Twitter - feel free to add me () - and  but I'm still not using that much.
So, go on, get in touch.
Considering a move.
I am considering moving the blog to a hosted source rather than my own server at home but this would come at a big cost: it would be a complete restart.
Wordpress can import posts from an RSS feed BUT I would have to go through each post and manually edit links and image paths so I don't think that is really viable for over 500 posts.
One thing it would mean would be a chance to rebrand and create a new identity. Do I stick with randomelements? Or go for something new? Obviously randomelements exists in numerous places across the web and how easily can these be changed?
Certainly, it's quite easy to change on Twitter but what about on other places like MyBlogLog that I've just gone to trouble of setting up and signing up for a pro account.
Please let me know your thoughts.
Expanding my online world.

I mentioned in a recent post that I had essentially let the developing web pass me by and felt that I was not really contributing to the conversation. Social Networking and the Web 2.0 were just terms in blogs and not a part of my online experience.


The time has come to change this. I have spent some time lately looking at how I can enhance my contribution and am adopting “Expanding my online world” as a new tag line as it fits my new ethos and the direction I want to take.


Twitter had been my only foray in to the world of Social Networking but I am now giving Facebook another try. Spending a bit more time with it has yielded a few of the results I was after such as customizing the look to filter out a lot of noise that networking unfortunately generates. Thanks to a post by Chris Brogan I am now using the Flog Blog and Blog Friends applications to both share and discover – I hope to be able to find some really good information. Feel free to add me to your Facebook friends and ensure that you mention the blog.


I have also decided to experiment with MyBlogLog and set up a community there (see the link in the left hand pane) so feel free to join.


It is my aim to add something, more than a just few words on the blog so I have been thinking about how I can grow my contribution to the conversation.


Anyone who follows me on Twitter will have seen a few tweets alluding to a decision I have been making and I have now made that decision: I am going to start a podcast! Yep, you heard me. In the past I have discussed with people why I have never started a podcast and my response has always been the same: I have never had a voice.


I have never known what to talk about and, just as with the blog, content is king. You can't ramble for 20 minutes and expect people to come back for more, just as you can post rubbish on your blog and expect them to keep reading.


I'm not entirely sure that I've found my voice but I am certainly a lot more opinionated than I used to be (probably because I'm just becoming a grumpy old man) and at least can find a few things to talk remotely sensibly about.


The podcast will initially be an adjunct to the blog in which I will go over recent news and expand on posts I have already made. I may even throw in discussion about how I am leveraging online resources to enhance my web experience and attempt to dive head long in to social networking.


I am working on material for inclusion in the first show and hope to get something recorded very soon, where I put that remains to be seen; it’ll probably be on the site but I’ll have to see how it goes and if my bandwidth and cope.


Why a podcast and not vidcast? I really don’t think that the web is ready for my ugly mug and I want to get used to podcasting before I go one stage further so, who knows maybe I’ll vidcast in future.


You can be sure that I’ll be letting you all know as soon as everything is ready.

It's all in the preparation, hoping to make an announcement soon.
I'm working on a new project to run alongside the blog which is taking a bit of preparation (hence the quiet day today) but hope to make an announcement about it soon. Maybe tonight!
Keep your eyes peeled.
More additions to the blog.
At this rate I think I'm going to need a Social Networking category although I may just stick to adding Tags. I've now added a submit link to StumpleUpon should you use that as your sharing medium of choice and the Sphere related content widget (although slightly modified so that it fits the site style)
 New social media links
Sphere is a great service which scans the content of the post and shows you the related content in a scripted pop-up, so now I'm doing you a favour by helping you find more good stuff :)
 Sphere popup
Hope they're useful.
UPDATE: I also now have a community over at MyBlogLog so why not join!
The new strategy appears to be working.
It's only been a few days since I announced my new blogging strategy but I have noticed a difference in blog traffic already. In the period since I started this - from 13/1/08 to 16/1/08 - Google Analytics reports 59 referrals from Digg and 26 from reddit, not a bad start. Now if only a small percentage of those choose to subscribe to the feed then I will be happy.
I did a quick comparison of visits and page views for this period as opposed to the 12th (the day before strategy day) and I have been showing a steady increase in traffic:
Visits chart
(the figures for yesterday are subject to change as Analytics always seems to catch up with some visits after several hours)
Now, the numbers may be small compared to a lot of blogs out there but you can at least see progress and I am happy with the results so far.
With any blog the most important part is content and I have been making a conscious effort to get some good quality posts up everyday - consistency is also key. Setting up the Home Server and MacWorld have obviously helped in this respect, but it is my aim to have at least one good quality post everyday (except for holidays etc.) to really keep the flow going.
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy the way things are going.
Week in review 2.
I've been a busy boy this week - plenty of posts - so here's the weekly run down:
A reminder on the Vista SP1 RC install problems: I get so many hits about these issues that I felt the causes of the problems needed clarification.
Added an Amazon Associate Shop to the site: if you need to buy anything from then get it through here and help me out at the same time.
Windows Home Server Power Pack 1 announced: coming later this year the Power Pack will add new functionality to our Windows Home Servers.
Having second thoughts about my next choice of phone: which one to get? Hmm, decisions decisions!
Windows Home Server software arrived early: I ordered the OEM pack and it arrived two days early - I feel a project coming on.
Installing the Windows Home Server DVD: there, what did I tell you.
WHS - post install and remote access: configuring the server for my environment.
WHS how to: change the port your certificate applies to: if you have to change your SSL port then make sure your certificate is implemented correctly.
Windows Home Server add-ins: which ones I'm using and why.
Vista SP1 RC Refresh build available to testers: a new build initially released to the core 15,000 tech testers.
Will Home Servers be a success? My regular look at the deficiencies of Microsoft marketing.
Trialling Kontera ContentLink ads: got to try to support the blog somehow!
Opinion: stop rolling out the "speed up Vista" articles: enough with the articles feeding us rubbish just to get hits.
Will there be a Windows Media Player 12? My thoughts on where Microsoft will be going with their media player software.
Opinion: Is Becta right to warn schools away from Vista and Office 2007? UK schools have been advised the expense isn't worth it - my thoughts.
Reap as ye sow: want to play games at CES then expect to get banned.
Why my Tablet is no longer a mobile solution: Tabby is getting too old, tired and beaten up to be viable.
Vista SP1 RC refresh made public: some say that this in an about-face by Microsoft, I disagree.
Conserving power in a multi-PC household: what can you do when your PCs want to be on all the time?
My new blogging strategy: how I am using online tools to increase exposure and enchance the online conversation.
Correcting an oversight: finally added icons for the Digg and submit links and explain how they were implemented.
Opinion: Why cloud based office suites will not take over, at least not yet: in some sectors they are just not viable, here I explain why.
Now added reddit submission links: use reddit rather than Digg or Then here's the link for you.
Now added reddit submission links.
Using the same method as the Digg and links I have now also added a link to the end of each post to submit it to reddit.
Correcting an oversight.
In January last year I added Digg and links to the foot of each post to make life easier when adding a post to either of these sites. In an oversight I
  1. never added icons, and more importantly
  2. didn't explain how it was done
I thought it was about time I corrected this so I have added icons to make the links more readily apparent
 Social icons
and here's how I originally implemented the links:
If you're adding something to Digg via the website then you first go to and fill in the URL. If on the other hand you're doing from a generated link then you bypass this first phase. Generated links should therefore be in the format
  "{the full post URL}&phase=2" does something similar but with slightly different info. Because of this it is an easy case of creating new calculated columns for the Posts list which builds the full URL based on the details of the given post. The formula for the calculated column for Digg therefore becomes:
and for
Once these are in place you then need to manually edit the Posts web part through SharePoint Designer firstly, to reference the new columns (but not display them where they are not wanted) and then to include them in the part code. Custom columns must be referenced so that you can include them later and, in order to prevent SharePoint from rendering them where it links you include Explicit="False" to the field declarations:
<FieldRef Name="delicious" Explicit="False"/><FieldRef Name="DiggThis" Explicit="False"/>
You can then use your new columns in the actual web part code and, including the site icons, the whole lot looks like this:
<a href=]]></HTML><Column Name="DiggThis"/><HTML><![CDATA[ target="_blank"><IMG align=absmiddle src=/diggicon.gif border=0> Digg This</a> | <a href="]]></HTML><Column Name="delicious"/><HTML><![CDATA[" target="_blank"><IMG align=absmiddle src=/delicious.gif border=0></a><
The same has then been done on Post.aspx which is the individual post page.
UPDATE: just noticed something weird - the first post on the page wouldn't add the post ID in to the URLs (the rest were ok) so I have have to manufacture them manually for now so that the links are correct for all posts on the page.
My new blogging strategy.
 a few days ago that a lot of bloggers had become lazy, jumping on the news bandwagon just to get on sites like Techmeme. Re-hashing the same old news just to be seen rather than actually come up with some original content.
The spread of the "lazysphere" as he calls it is stopping people from thinking about things properly and "deep blogging" or really getting in to the heart of a matter.
At the end of last year I laid out my plan for 2008 in which I said that I would be creating better content. If I were to latch on to a current popular story then it would be with my own twist and comment rather than just recycling the news. I am also hoping to utilise web resources to aid the blogging process; blogging is really about conversation and the only way to enchance the flow of conversation is through exposure.
As such, I will outline here my plan to use the resources available to assist in the blogging process itself, spreading the word and enhancing the conversation.
Yes, I will be using Techmeme but not to just jump on the latest news. As I have already done this year I will be using Techmeme to find new (to me) bloggers and subscribe to their feeds if I like what they've got to say - a great way to enhance the conversation. If I do comment on any particular story that I see on Techmeme then it will be with my own slant after reading a group of opinions and doing a bit of research.
In order to enchance the conversation further and enhance the exposure to my own blog I will be using Digg for self promotion - yes I'm Diggin my own stuff! Why not? I'm certainly not the only one doing it. It is simply a means to get my content in front of more people so that, if they like what I have to say, can maybe subscribe to my feed and keep the flow going.
Whilst checking out Techmeme and Digg it is a good idea to subscribe to their RSS feeds so that you can easily keep an eye on what is happening and, in the case of Digg, don't forget to subscribe to BOTH the popular and upcoming feeds for any area your are interested in.
 Digg feeds
As you already know, I have been on Twitter for a while and am now using it as a vehicle to promote the blog; tweeting links to each of my posts. Again, it's all about exposure. The website Twitterfeed automates this process by parsing your RSS feed at an interval set by you then converting your posts in to Tweets but, for some reason, Twitterfeed just doesn't want to parse the RSS feed generated by SharePoint. I am therefore tweeting each post manually and this also has the advantage of letting me change the text in the Tweet rather than just using the post title. I will also continue to add my posts to Zimbio - I have been getting some hits in response. Any avenue for increasing exposure is welcome.
There you have it, how I plan to keep the flowing going and do my bit to add to the blogging conversation. If you have any further ideas then please let me know.
Trialling Kontera ContentLink ads.
I have decided to give Kontera ContentLink ads a shot as a way of trying to monetise the blog a bit further. Let's face it, we put a lot of time and effort in to blogging so it's only fair we get something back, right?
So, what is ContentLink? It's your typical context sensitive scheme that picks words out of your text, turns them in to links that pop up a small ad
 ContentLink ad
It apparently takes a little while for the system to optimise itself for your site so I'm going to give it a couple of weeks and see what happens.
What I want to know from you is:
  • are the ads relevant? (they should fine tune a bot over the coming days)
  • are the ads helpful?
  • do the ads just get in the way?
  • does this kind of thing really annoy you and you're likely to stop visiting a site because of it?
The last thing I want to do is alienate my readers - it's you that make the blog what it is - so all feedback is greatly appreciated as always. Drop me a comment if you've got something to say about it.
Added an Amazon Associate Shop to the site.
I've signed up as an Associate and added a to the site. I have included some books on a few topics related to the blog but there is also a search you can use to find whatever you like.
 Amazon shop
So, if you're in the UK and are going to buy anything from Amazon why not do it through the and help me out at the same time.
Any money made from referrals will go toward the new server fund so you will be helping the Randomelements  :: Blog be a better and more reliable place.
Week in review.
As promised, here is the first week in review post - a new regular feature for 2008. I didn't get the chance to post this last night but better late than never.
Plans for 2008:
What I hope to do with the blog in the year to come.
Suggestion box:
A quick survey asking you, the reader, what you want to see from the blog. How can I improve things for you?
PointUI: iPhone-esque UI for Windows Mobile:
A new free interface for Windows Mobile which brings a better touch experiencing and is more like the iPhone UI.
Happy New Year!
What's to come "professionally" in 2008:
A quick post about what I hope to be doing with regards to work, exams etc.
Just ordered RTM copy of Windows Home Server:
Finally getting down to building full Windows Home Server now that the beta has expired.
Opinion: looking at complaints about Vista:
I hear a lot of complaints from co-workers and other staff but are they valid?
A virtual recluse in a socially networked world:
Apart from Twitter I have let the social networking world pass me by. Am I missing out? Is it really all it's cracked up to be?
The blog has a new logo:
That's right, there is a new logo at the top of the blog. Here's how it was implemented including how the SharePoint stylesheet was edited.
Making money on the web:
Signing up to GPT (Get Paid To) schemes - monetise the blog.
A relatively quiet week with New Year in the middle and getting back to work.
The blog has a new logo.
Thanks to Sal the blog now has a new logo. I was after something quite minimal but in the same blue colours as the blog and Sal came up trumps.
Here's the blog title before:
Title before
and after:
Title after
It took a bit of playing around with the stylesheet (core.css) to get this is place without any title text etc. but using the eLumenotion SharePoint Skinner it was quite easy to work out which parts needed adjusting.
The logo has been split between three sections at the top of the page:
and the site image ( and title text (.ms-sitetitle a) hidden by setting the display properties to none. With the title set to display:none the .ms-sitetitle padding has had to be increased so that everything lines up correctly, otherwise we end up missing a whole section of the image.
That just left a site title at the top of the page which was removed by setting the display property of .ms-sitemapdirectional to none as well. This in turn hid the in page breadcrumb navigation but this isn't really needed so I also hid .ms-pagebreadcrumb.
I think it looks good, don't you?
Update: things don't quite go to plan in Firefox (there's a gap) so I'll have to have a look at that.
Update 2: using a somewhat unelegant solution I've managed to get round the issue between IE and Firefox displaying the logo differently.
I have set the main CORE.CSS file to use the values required for Firefox and then, in HTML elsewhere on the page, added a conditional comment for IE to change the value:
Suggestion box.
I have created a simple survey (anonymous access enabled) where you can let me know what you want to see from the blog in 2008 (and beyond).
The main Suggestion box page is here where you can respond as well as view the other responses, or you can go straight to the response form here.
One of the best bits about blogs is the conversation they create so, go on, get involved and let me know how I can improve the blog for you.
Plans for 2008.
2007 was a good year for the blog but I plan on making 2008 even better. There are a few things I intend to do to improve the content:
- I will introduce weekly summaries just in case you miss something
- the "From the front line" posts will continue when I have a relevant work related incident/solution to share
- I will start posting "Opinion pieces" where I will take a specific story and put my spin on it, rather than just regurgitate the news. I know I already do this to a degree but they will now be marked "Opinion"
- I hope to be using Twitter more often and really get involved in some good conversations which in turn may lead to further posts
- with any luck I should be able to do some specific reviews to share my thoughts on any hardware/software I may be using
Finally, I will open a suggestion box asking you the reader what you would like to see from Randomelements in the year to come.
Once again, thanks for sticking with me throughout 2007. I hope to make 2008 even more enjoyable.
A year on ClustrMaps.
I first signed up to ClustrMaps on 24th December last year (2006) as a more reliable way of keeping track of visitor numbers as SharePoint usage stats record each hit rather than visitor.
Going by the average visitors to the blog over the first few months I was expecting around 24,000 to show up by the time the yearly map was archived. Instead I ended up with 34,620 which is far more than I would have ever expected.
Thanks to everyone to reads (directly or by RSS), comments, links to the blog - you've made 2007 a fantastic blogging year.
Here's to 2008.
2007, the year in review: April - June.
Also see: January - March, July - September, October - December.
2007 has been a very mixed year for me with some very good times tempered with some dire times and a string of bad luck for the family. I am going to be running a series of posts looking back at the last 12 months from a tech perspective and a personal one. I'll be looking at the things I consider to be the most important developments in the tech world as I have covered it.
April saw more Windows Home Server goodness with a CTP build. Ed Bott over at ZDNet wrote a really good overview of what WHS does which is still worth checking out now.
The best news in April, however, that my article entitled "Microsoft: Fried or Foe" was published in Micro Mart magazine - you can read it here if you've not seen it. The article garnered some mixed responses on the Micro Mart forums but I was generally accused of being a Microsoft fanboy due to my view that MS have been treated unfairly at times just because of who they are. The article was called a "gag inducing ode to Bill" and that it essentially said Microsoft = good and Mac = bad - not the case at all. At least I achieve my goal in getting a conversation started.
May saw Tabby (my old Acer Tablet PC) come home to roost after spending a long time with my father in law and, while we're on the subject of Tablets, Dell finally announced that they were going to be releasing a Tablet PC. Despite Dell being perhaps the most recognisable consumer brand of PCs they were determined to focus on education, healthcare and business - I feel they really missed the mark. 
June came and went with the new TouchFLO interface from HTC and the release candidate of Windows Home Server while I introduced a new feature on the blog: posts called "From the front line" where I would relay specific issues working in the IT industry and resolutions where appropriate.
And then came June 29th - iPhone day. Will the iPhone change the world?
Third quarter to follow.
Google search added to the blog.
Rather than go through the aggravation of another full remove/reinstall/restore of SharePoint I have decided to add Google search to the blog as the native one is suffering from the search service problems that were introduced after the initial restore.
Obviously, as it is Google search you can search just this site or the web and maybe even throw a few coppers in the point via Adsense for Search (it all helps).
I am in the process of adding this to various places throughout the site but it will be mainly focused around the main posts sections.
Unusual entry in my referring URLs.
For a little while I have been seeing the URL in my referrals. Nothing overly unusual you might think except that following the link takes you to the Technet article "Deploy software updates for Windows SharePoint Service 3.0".
I just don't see how this can be showing up in my referrer stats on a regular basis.
I need a logo...
That's right folks, I think the time has come for the blog to have a decent logo. The only problem is that I'm naff at that sort of thing ;)
Any budding logo creators out there who want to have a bash?
An update on the restore.
Everything is working except for the problems with search. I've completely run out of things to try except for another full remove/reinstall of WSS and a fresh restore - I'm not really sure I want to go through that again.
I would expect that a problem with the search service would generate errors in the event logs on the server but no, everything seems to go through correctly. The search database is populated correctly (checking the update times via SQL Server Management Studio) and the search service itself runs fine. The service and crawl accounts are set up in accordance with the recommendations given by WSS:
 Sear5ch accounts
and they are, of course,  permissioned correctly.
I've lost count of the number of reboots, service restarts and complete search database recreations I have been through and I still get exactly the same error:
  "Your search cannot be completed because of a service error"
My question now is do I live with it or do I go through the hassle of another full uninstall/re-install/restore cycle that may not actually work?
Does anyone actually use search on the blog? Is Tags the way to go? Do I stick on a Google or Live search box on instead?
Your search cannot be completed because of a service error.
Everything seems to be back to normal except for searching the blog, I get the error: "Your search cannot be completed because of a service error".
This seems to be a pretty common error but all the normal fixes have done not the trick.
I have tried changing the account used to launch the search service and changed the default content account. Permissions have been checked. I've made sure that the service account has local activation permissions in DCOM configuration within Component Services but the problem persists.
I'll wait to see what events I get logged with regards to crawling attempts etc and see if they reveal anything further.
If you're reading this...
...then I've managed to get everything working again (you'll know what I mean if you on Twitter).
You may have noticed that the blog has been missing for the past day or so - you might not have, but it has. Why? I installed Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 Service Pack 1 and everything went to pot. I mean EVERYTHING!
The blog would not longer work. SharePoint Central Administration would no longer work. I tried to repair things with the SharePoint Configuration Wizard and this would not connect to the content store. Tried again and it said that it was no longer connection to the server farm. SQL itself played up as well.
So, I had the backup and war was declared.
I uninstalled WSS and tried reinstalling - did not go well. Tried again, install worked but configuration would not complete.
How have I got it up and running? Well, I completely uninstalled WSS and SQL server but the uninstall of both failed to complete successfully. I ended up going through the registry and file system MANUALLY removing just about every file and entry I could find - it took hours!
WSS was then reinstalled and a restore finally achieved from backup - phew!
4 years of blogging.
With everything that's been going on I completely forgot about my blogiversary. The 24th November saw 4 years of the Randomelements :: Blog - it's certainly been a roller coaster.
Over the 4 years I've been through a number of different incarnations of the blog but they have all been hosted on SharePoint technology. Some of the changes have been due to software upgrades (like the move to WSSv3) while others have been enforced due to total hardware failure but I'm still here and still going, although there have been a few times when I've considered giving it up.
Different versions of the blog mean that the older posts have been lost but I have reproduced the most popular posts from a previous incarnation on my "Old Items" page, albeit without images, and they seem to generate a lot of traffic from various places.
The focus of the blog tends to change over time but beta testing Microsoft software always plays a big part. I'm not a total MS fanboy (I've certainly been called it) but I do like the software Microsoft creates so I would imagine that it will continue to form the basis of what I write about.
In conclusion, I'd just like to say thanks for your continued support reading the blog and for anyone who takes the time to comment here or link to any of the posts. I hope you all find something useful.
Probable downtime tomorrow.
The new parts will be here some time tomorrow so, if I don't get a 4-pin to 6-pin PCI-e power converter, I'll need to swap all of the guts of the server from one case to another.
Anyone signed up to Zimbio?
I can't remember how, but I stumbled across Zimbio which consolidates news from various places in to one site. It is divided up in to categories or "wikizines" based on specific topics.
You can register your own blog and add your posts to the wikizines and even create new ones if nothing suitable exists.
An aim of Zimbio is to enable readers to find more sources of information on whatever topic they fancy - essentially driving extra traffic to your blog without the need for link share schemes.
I don't know how effective it is or whether it will make any difference but I have joined and submitted my feed.
Snap Shots have updated their service.

I have been using Snap Shots on the blog for a while now (although I'm still not 100% convinced of the utility it offers) and they have updated their service. Snap Shots was formerly called "Snap Preview Anywhere"

They are now linking the Shots service in to Google Adsense (with more advertising systems to come). They recommend telling everyone about the changes to the service so here's the blurb from their site:

Introducing Snap Shots from

Snap Shots enhances links with visual previews of the destination site, interactive excerpts of Wikipedia articles, , IMDb profiles and , display inline , RSS, MP3s, photos, and more.

Sometimes Snap Shots bring you the information you need, without your having to leave the site, while other times it lets you "look ahead," before deciding if you want to follow a link or not.

Should you decide this is not for you, just click the Options icon in the upper right corner of the Snap Shot and opt-out.

It doesn't seem to be bringing in any Adsense links yet but maybe it's early days.

Blog referral and linking schemes.
I received an email the other day which reminded me that I had signed up for Criteo Autoroll a while back but never used it. Autoroll is an "automatic blogroll" which provides links to related content on other blogs - basically a form of link sharing so that we can all find similar content that may interest us.
After seeing posts from Arno Nel about BlogRush I also had a look at that service.
Both aim to give relevant links from other blogs in the system based on your own content but do they cut the mustard?
In my experience, no!
According to their email Autoroll currently has around 8000 bloggers signed up. BlogRush has more sign up but had to remove about 10,000 blogs due to them gaming the system.
With these numbers I feel that it is impossible to offer a good service. Bloggers come with just about every interest under the sun; finding quality relevant content from such a small population is always going to be hard.
Google Adsense works as they have their whole search database to call on. The relevance of links suggested by Adsense is pretty good but a blog linking scheme can never hope of come anywhere near the experience offered by Google.
Customisation is also poor when you compare it to the Google model, there are not enough options or colours available so, even if the relevance was improved, I'd still be reluctant to include them on the blog as they spoil the look.
I welcome any method of driving to drive extra traffic to the blog but it seems a bit self defeating when you are adding something which actively encourages someone to click away from your site.
Do you use either of these services or something similar? What are your experiences?
UPDATE: after posting this BlogRush announced "Phase 2" of their system which introduces better reporting and a nice dashboard not too dissimilar in appearance from that of Google Analytics. Mark Hopkins over at Mashable takes a look and, like me, is still not impressed.
Mark remarks that the example dashboard in the introductory video shows a large number of impressions but very few click-throughs (from .07% to .17%) - not a good advert for the service.
I still think that the network is not big enough to adequately provide sufficient targeted links.
Blog search is back.
I have resolved the issues I was having with search on the blog and have re-added the search box to the top of the page.
I was getting event logs as below each time the crawler tried to kick in:
The start address address> cannot be crawled.
Context: Application 'Search index file on the search server', Catalog 'Search'

Details:   Access is denied
A bit of digging revealed that it was due to the way I had the directory security configured. The WSS Search service appears to need Integrated Windows Authentication enabled or the account used by the service is unable to crawl the database.
Removed site search due to problems.
It's probably not used anyway but I have removed but I have removed the site search box from the top of the page. I have been experiencing problems with the WSS Search service and the index was not populated so there seemed little point keeping a search box that would not find anything.
Re-adding Google AdSense to the blog.
I thought it was about time I reintroduced Google AdSense as I had not previously put it on this version of the blog. My click through rate was never that high previously but it all helps.
If you want to support the blog and see and ad that interests you please click away.
Why link to images from my blog rather than an OEM?
I'm not moaning but I always find it strange that various sites (and there have been a number recently) keep linking to images of the HTC Kaiser and Shift that I have on the blog rather than taking exact same images from OEM sites.
The latest is TechNewsWorld which link to an image of the HTC Kaiser (AT&T Tilt) when images can be obtained directly from HTC. It's not even as if my copy of the image appears first in search results.
Surely, it would make more sense to have your own copy of an image rather than relying on a direct link to another website or, if you must do a direct link, at least make sure that it is from the OEM in question as there is less likelihood that the image will become unavailable.
Identity crisis averted.
Why wait until you get home when you can remote desktop to your server with your phone.
This post should now be posted by me and not the system account.
A few issues with WSS.
You may have noticed that the last few posts are showing as being by "System Account". I have had some issues with Search and Usage Analaysis so made a couple of changes - one of those changes has obviously caused my normal account to show up as the system account.
I hope to resolve this tonight.
If you need to know how to change things like services accounts, crawl account and default content access account then a good place to start is this post from Eli Robillard.
20,000+ visitors since December.
Yesterday saw the number of visitors to the blog go past the 20,000 mark since December according to ClustrMaps:
Clustrmaps 20K
This is only a small blog and I don't update it as much as I should a lot of the time but I think those figures are pretty good.
This is the third incarnation of the blog and it has been live since June/July last year. I'd love to take the WSS "Hit" statistics and quote them instead (they report, for example, that post.aspx has received 149980 hits) but we all know that they don't give a true picture of traffic.
So, I'd like to say thanks to everyone who reads, quotes, stops by, aggregates and comments.
WSS Tagging web parts now on CodePlex.
Thanks to Alicia who commented that the WSS Tagging web parts can now be downloaded from CodePlex rather than from the web site.
I had been contacted on a few occasions asking where the web parts could be download from as the link at wsssearch wasn't working. I had received no response from mailing wsssearch direct.
The Tag Cloud web parts on CodePlex are an update to the version that I am currently running and, according to the projects notes now contain some new functionality such as related tags.
To get you're hands on them visit CodePlex here: Tag Cloud 1.0
Another look at traffic with Google Analytics.
I last posted about where my traffic was coming from over a month ago but there was only 9 days worth of data available. So now, with 5 weeks extra stats to look at, I thought it was time to have another look.
Things are obviously going to average out over a longer period with a larger data population to examine so here are a few comparisons:
Over 80% of my traffic was previously coming from search engines. Over the last month this has settled down to just under 59% with over 26% now showing as coming from referring sites. This is more how I would expect things to look.
Search terms
The term "HTC Shift" is by far the most popular way that someone hits my blog but I think that this is because of Google Image searches. Search for HTC Shift in Google images and an image from my blog appears on the first page.
Popular posts
Even though things have moved on the two most popular posts haven't changed - both are still related to issues with Lexmark printer drivers on Windows Vista. This is obviously still a big issue for a lot of people and Lexmark really should take note.
Again this hasn't changed much. IE still has the lions share with over 74% of readers using it as opposed to 22% using Firefox.
While we're on the subject of stats I'd just like to thank CJ from ClustrMaps who took the time to comment on my post about the differences in reports between ClustrMaps and . It's nice to know that people are listening. He points out "that multiple page views by a single user will result in multiple counts on ClustrMaps - in the future we will resolve this and count true visits more accurately".
So there you have it.
Rip-off blogs.
Don't you just hate them? Those blogs that just take stuff from RSS feeds and recycle them completely with no indication of the original source!
Take the "Tatum and Denim blog" for example. At a quick glance I can see my own posts and those from jkOnTheRun, Warner Crocker, Craig Pringle and others with no links back to the author or even a list of blogs they use for content.
OK, so it's nice to think that someone wants to include my stuff in their list but credit where it's due folks!
Challenges with being "on the bench".
I don't know how things are set up here at HQ but a number of things have changed in the 2+ years since I was last in this building.
The company intranet is now hosted on SharePoint (cool) but things like single sign-on etc. were causing me problems logging in to the blog.
The site at home was set to use Integrated Windows Authentication. At home this is not an issue - the main Vista box is not joined to a domain and I get prompted for username/password OK.
At my last site, I was prompted for login details OK despite being on a domain. But here, signing in gave a 401 unauthorised error regardless of any change of settings.
Luckily, I've got my Windows Mobile so could remote to the server at home and change the authentication method. Now that I'm in I still have an issue with the browser here not wanting to load all pages correctly.
Removing the comments feed.
I am going to remove the comments RSS feed due to the amount of comment spam that gets posted. Even though I have moderation turned on SharePoint still includes comments in the feed even though they haven't been approved.
If anyone has any ideas about filtering out the spam or integrating CAPTCHA I'd appreciate a nod.
Possible downtime tomorrow.
There may be some downtime later as we have a new desk to go in which should save a bit of space in our dining room (where else would you have your server).
If I do have to unplug the server I'll try to make it for as little time as possible as it's a pain to also bring over the redirected emails from my Gmail account.
UPDATE: I am putting this off until tomorrow but the server will be restarting later due to patching.
Stats updated.
Following on from my post yesterday, the Google Analytics figure for visits on the 30th jumped from 25 to 72.
Updated stats
Still not quit on a par with ClustrMaps but heading in the right direction.
I've added the Google script to a few extra places anyway so the comparison will now no longer be relevant anyway.
Who do you believe?
You'll have noticed recently that I like to keep track of my traffic. I'm curious to see why people come here and how they are referred, hence signing up to Google Analytics.
I've also been signed up to ClustrMaps since December which is designed to show you the number of visitors per day going by page views.
It is therefore interesting to see the discrepancy between the results between the two systems. ClustrMaps gives the following:
ClustrMaps stats
Whereas Google Analytics gives:
Google stats
Google Analytics works by a page view triggering a small script on any page you have placed it on - ClustrMaps operates in a similar way by counting the number of times it issues the thumbnail map.
I'm pretty sure that both the script and thumbnail map are on all the same pages so why should ClustrMaps report 4 times more hits that Google Analytics?
Analysing Google Analytics.
I posted recently that I was going to start using Google Analytics to see if I could track where all my additional traffic was coming from and how people were finding the site.
If you're not familiar with the service, you place a small piece of script on any page that you want tracked and when it is loaded the stats at Google are updated accordingly.
It took a few days for Analytics to recognise that the script was in place but, once it did, the wealth of information is extraordinary.
My figures start on the 8th July and run (at the time of posting to the 15th). In that time Analytics reports that there have been 558 visits from 510 unique visitors with a total of 682 page views. IE is by far the most popular browser accounting for 74.37% of my visitors.
OK, so down to the real business of why I wanted to use this:
There we have it - 80% of my traffic is currently coming from search engines but the advantage with Analytics is that it let's me see exactly what people are looking for rather than just showing a top few searches.
OK, so the top few look like this:
but hitting "view report" shows all search terms which have brought people to the blog and allows to to search and filter them. Searching for Lexmark, for example, reveals 127 out of a total of 341 search terms (on current figures).
Vista gives 165 searches but the vast majority of those relate to Lexmark driver issues. Home Server and OneCare rather surprisingly give only 20 and 16 results respectively.
The 341 search terms actually resulted in 441 visits.
In line with these figures, the two most popular posts during this period have been as follows:
  1. Lexmark Vista Driver Delays
  2. At last! Lexmark Z640 drivers

I highly recommend this service if you really want to get to grips with your traffic.

Why the sudden jump in search hits?
I've been on a bit of stats crawl again and noticed a huge upturn in hits to the blog resulting from search engine queries. The only problem is that the native usage reports don't really drill down enough for you to get a clear picture.
Take the Search Terms report in SharePoint Designer (July so far) for example:
SPD Search Terms
It doesn't really give you the full picture once you get out of the most common searches.
Admittedly, I could trawl through the IIS logs which show various search terms such as "HTC Shift", "r400 tablet", "Vista fast user switching" but that is obviously far too unwieldy.
Daniel McPherson (ex-softie) has put me on to which, as he points out, "includes break downs on search terms". Just what I was after.
The reason I am so interested becomes apparent when you compare the top search term in May (which was actually DreamScene Background) to the "All Others" group in June:
 May result     June results
"All Others" was only listed with 2 hits for May.
So, why the big difference? Why is the blog suddenly getting so many hits from search engines?
I have noticed when doing a few searches myself that posts from the blog seem to be showing up a lot higher in search engine results than they used to - especially on - so maybe that's got something to do with it.
Hopefully, Google Analytics will help to give me a clearer picture.
Sorry about the downtime.
You may (or not) have noticed a couple of hours of downtime today. I've been switching some RAM about to try to give the server a bit of a boost. Got there in the end after considerable BIOS tweaking but I can't get it to boot with 3GB installed so have had to leave it at 2GB.
Still, it's better than the 756MB that I had in before - how did it cope?
There may be some downtime tomorrow due to a new installation of Windows - no not Server 2008, actual glass windows (yes those ones) but there may be a problem as the phone line comes in through the frame of the window in the from room. We may be lucky and not have to disconnect it all.
UPDATE: I had to disconnect the phone line for a while but we're back up and running now.
Back and blogging in ink.

New blog.
Sal has moved her blog and converted it to a family blog covering our trials and tribulations on the road to self sufficiency, green living (hence the name) and our lives as a pagan family living in the modern world.
As it's a family blog you may well find me posting over there from time to time.
If you're at all interested then hop over to where we also have a forum to discuss all sorts of issues.
Combating comment spam.
I have been getting an increasing amount of comment spam over the past month or so and, while I have approval turned on so they don't show, it's still a pain to go in and remove dozens of items.
Are there any bloggers out there using a WSS 3/MOSS 2007 setup that have anti-comment spam functionality integrated in to your setup? If so, what are you using?
I'd like to add something from a third party rather than have to hack things about and write my own.
Thanks in advance for any "genuine" comments ;)
Test post from Word 2007 at work.

As I'm testing Office 2007 at the office I thought it was about time I made sure that this works.

Removed the Twitter nugget.
I have removed the Twitter "nugget" from the right hand pane as I just don't update often enough to make it worthwhile.
You can still check my twitterings out at should you want to.
All looks good.
The install of Windows Server 2003 SP2 seemed to go well last night; everything looks like it's working properly and the Help and Support Service is there.
I've not had time to go through event logs etc. to check for any problems or niggles that may have occured but, hopefully, all is well.
Planned downtime this weekend.
The blog will be down for a while at some point this weekend as I will be upgrading the server to Windows Server 2003 SP2 which was made available recently.
During the beta of SP2 I experienced, and bugged, and issue where the Help and Support service was missing after installing. According to this post at the Small Business Server blog it looks as though the problem can still occur. They have, however, given us a workaround to re-initialise it should it go walkabouts again.
Windows Home Server category added.
I thought it was about time.
All the posts have been updated so apologies for any dupes in RSS.
Two months of ClustrMaps.
I signed up with ClustrMaps two months ago today so thought it might be an idea to have a look back over that period.
According to ClustrMaps I have received 4362 hits in those 2 months, but bear in mind that it treats anything from an individual IP address as one hits on any given day - it is, after all, trying to track down your visitors rather than total traffic.

All-time total:


Original counting period began:  

2006-12-24 08:29:23

Not a bad return.
SharePoint's own Usage reports obviously returns a higher number of hits (6512 hits for default.aspx so far in Feb alone).
I've added some other things during this period: links to add posts to Digg and, a Twitter tracker and a number of my old items reposted from the previous version of the blog.
The WSS blog template makes life a lot easier to get started but there are still a number of ways that it could improve so I'll be sure to keep tweaking the site to add more functionality as time goes by.
As always, thanks for reading.
Good news.
As a result of this blog I've been asked by a well known UK computer magazine (both online and in print) if I'd be interested in writing a piece for them.
Let's just say the answer's not no!
Obviously, I can't go in to any detail and there are no guarantees of publication yet but this is a great opportunity for me. I'll post any news that I can as and when I get it.
Most popular old items.
Two of my old posts are requested far more often than any of the others and these are:
Now that Vista is publicly available it's not surprising that some people with less than adequate hardware may want to try to force Glass on their device (a laptop with an integrated graphics chipset for example) although I'm pretty sure the registry hack I used during the betas was killed off.
It's surprising to see so many requests for the OMA issue, I wouldn't have thought that quite so many people would experience the same issue. As such I have decided to update and re-post the item and have taken a fresh screenshot so that it will be complete.
A bit of a change.
I had been redirecting all requests for old posts (/Blog/Lists/Blog/dispform.aspx) straight to the main Blog page but I thought that might annoy people.
As such, I have added an Old Items page. This lists commonly requested items (unfortunately without images) from the previous blog incarnation as I pick them out of the logs.
 Old Items
As it says: "If the one you were looking for is not there please let me know and I'll do my best to dig it out if I still have it somewhere".
So, any requests for the old dispform.aspx will now get routed to olditems.aspx so there's at least an explanation and a change that the text of what you were looking for is actually there.
As I notice other items that are requested fairly frequently I will add them to the list.
Quick survey.
I have the Snap Preview Anywhere script on the site for a while now and wondered what you think of it.
Does it add any value? Is it useful? Or is it just a bit of a gimmick, the fun of which wears off after the first couple of days?
Drop me a comment, let me know. Thanks.
Two more French IPs hammering the site.
That's right, I've got two more addresses repeatedly requesting the "Using Reason on a" file, I hope it's not affecting performance - please let me know if you do experience problems.
The IPs are and and these are both owned by CEGETEL.NET
I get the feeling that blocking these two will just result in others coming along behind them and doing the same thing.
Any suggestions?
Who should link to whom?
After Robert Scoble officially p***ed off the blogosphere (see here and here) Sue Polinsky asked if "big(ger) blogs have an obligation to smaller or newer ones to link to them".
Scoble followed up with his thoughts. He said a definite 'yes' and asked those who think he should check out their blog to leave a comment. Sure enough, he has received a mass of them from those wishing to be checked out.
The recent Ferrari laptop fiasco made me think about this issue from a different angle. The result of that incident was that a lot of bloggers resented people getting freebies - primarily on the grounds that they were little more than bribes - and thought that bloggers should have the same ethics and integrity as journalists and therefore shouldn't accept gifts which could be seen to compromise their "journalistic integrity".
On the other hand a number of bloggers argued that they are not journalists - they are enthusiasts and are not getting paid so shouldn't have to conform to the same standards as journalists - personally, I agree.
Whether or not you believe bloggers should act and be treated like journalists surely they should be like journalists in one particular way: report the news from wherever it comes irrespective of source - if you want to call it an obligation to other bloggers then so be it.
Large news agencies collect stories from smaller, independent journalists so I firmly believe that bloggers should follow that lead. I certainly think that it would be wrong not to link to a "lesser" blog just because you deem it is "beneath you".
Taking steps.
Today's log has also been full of repeated requests from so, to avoid having the site hammered, I have denied the IP address access in IIS and mailed the abuse address as listed in the whois report.
 Blocking IP in IIS
That should help.
Strange entries in the logs.
Yesterday's IIS log was about double the size I would normally expect so I thought I'd take a look.
After loading it up in Excel I see that there are 22024 records in the file which is far more than I would normally have. The main culprit (with 14221 records) appears to be an IP Address of
The results from are as follows:
inetnum: -
netname:        GALOP-INFRA
descr:          GALOP--TELECOM Backbone
country:        FR
admin-c:        MJ2223-RIPE
tech-c:         MJ2223-RIPE
remarks:        For spam & abuse issues please email to
status:         ASSIGNED PA
mnt-by:         GALOP-MNT
source:         RIPE # Filtered

person:         MARTRES Jean-Jacques
address:        18 Chemin de Crouy
address:        92140 Clamart
address:        FRANCE
nic-hdl:        MJ2223-RIPE
source:         RIPE # Filtered

The User-Agent strings listed for this IP are:
  • Microsoft+Office+Existence+Discovery
  • Microsoft+Office+Protocol+Discovery
  • Microsoft-WebDAV-MiniRedir/6.0.6000
So, what's going on there?
Doing a spot of Googling turns up some info about "How documents are opened from a web site in Office 2003". When you consider that this IP address made 2305 requests for attachments to one of my old posts from the previous version of the blog - "Using Reason on a Tablet PC" where one on the attachments was a OneNote file - this would start to make a bit of sense.
We get a bit of a log trail which goes like this:
Log Trail
(Click for full sized image)
And this is repeated numerous times straight after each other.
Now, what I want to know is, are these repeated requests a problem with the redirection at my end or strange behaviour from the requester?
Update on Usage Analysis.
The good news is that usage analysis processing ran correctly last night.
The bad news, however, is that there are still some errors in the Event Log which seem to be related to ASP.NET. I tried running aspnet_iisreg -i but this didn't do the trick so I'll have to look into this more when I have some time. That's for another day.
At least things seem to working okay at the moment.
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