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No Notifications in Outlook 2013

Slightly funny problem happened recently where a customer had no new email notifications appearing. There were no Desktop Alerts and no envelope in the notification area. They were using Windows 7 and Outlook 2013 (as part of the Office 2013 suite). They had all notifications turned on within Outlook, but strangely nothing in Windows notification center (no envelope icon or Outlook icon to choose from). Google revealed very little to help until I stumbled upon a post in the Microsoft Office 2013 community forum here in particular the answer offered by Peter Riederer suggesting removing Skype if version 6.1 was installed. I checked this and sure enough, the user had this version installed and running.

I removed Skype (this was a last-ditch effort to get it working, so I’d have tried anything at this point) and sure enough, the notifications appeared. Hmm, really? Skype? As a test I reinstalled Skype and the notifications disappeared again. Uninstall, returns.

This is quite an obscure problem (as evidenced by the lack of info on Google) so a big thanks to Peter for somehow pointing me in this direction.


In earlier posts, I detailed installing and setting up SQL Server, installing prerequisites for SCCM 2012 and installing SCCM itself. Now the full release version is out, I thought about updating the posts to reflect any changes between the RC version I was using and the release version.

It turns out, the only difference now is that, if you are using SQL Server 2008 R2, you need to install SP1 CU6, rather than CU4. CU6 is available here. To summarise then:

See this post to install and configure SQL Server 2008 R2 (don’t forget to install CU6 instead of CU4)

See this post to set up prerequisites for the various site systems

See this post for the install of SCCM

In my previous blogs, I have gone through setting up SQL Server ready for the SCCM database and installed the prerequisites for a successful installation. Now it’s time to start the real fun and get SCCM 2012 installed.

Begin by extracting the files from the self-extracting ZIP file somewhere useful and run splash.hta when done. From the main menu, you have a lot of options to install the server, run pre-installation checks and look through the documentation. I’m taking the opportunity to ‘Get the latest Configuration Manager updates’ from here, otherwise it will do it during the installation and put a halt on that for a while.

When you get the latest updates, you choose where to store the updates (note that the folder must exist). Remember this location, you’ll need it later during installation.

While that’s downloading, now might be a good time to update the Active Directory schema. If you’ve had SCCM 2007 and updated the schema for that, you won’t need to do it again for SCCM 2012. To update the schema, there are two options, either run ExtADSch.exe or use the LDIFDE utility to import ConfigMgr_ad_schema.ldf. According to Microsoft, using the program is easier but LDIFDE is simpler to diagnose any errors that may occur. Personally, I have never had a problem with ExtADSch.exe (likely because the Active Directory domain was pretty solid). I’ll cover both here. Before you start, it’s a really really good idea to have a known good backup of your Active Directory infrastructure, in case something goes horribly wrong.

Using ExtADSch.exe to update the schema

This one is quite simple. Navigate to the SMSSETUP\BIN\X64 folder in the extracted SCCM 2012 folder and run ExtADSch.exe. The program should update the Active Directory schema and produce extadsch.log file on the root of the system drive you can check.

Using LDIFDE to update the schema

  • Open the ConfigMgr_ad_schema.ldf file in notepad from the SMSSETUP\BIN\X64 folder in the extracted SCCM 2012 folder.
  • Change all occurrences of the text DC=x to match the full name of the domain, for example, in this case the domain is test.local so I would replace DC=x with DC=test, DC=local
  • Use the LDIFDE command line utility to import the file contents. For example, ldifde –i –f ConfigMgr_ad_schema.ldf –v –j <logfile> will import the schema extensions, enable verbose logging and create a log file at the location specified.
  • Check the log file that the import was successful

Next you have to create the System Management container in Active Directory for it all to work properly. The site server computer account needs to have Full Control over the container. To do this, it’s easier to use ADSIEdit.

Creating the System Management Container

 Start ADSIEdit from Start, Administrative Tools

  • Right click ADSI Edit in the left hand bar and choose Connect to
  • Enter the relevant information to connect to the computer or domain you want. If it’s the only one or the one the server is within, you can just choose Ok
  • Expand the server and the domain until you see System in the left hand tree view. Right click the System container and choose New, Object.
  • In the Create Object screen, choose container from the list and enter System Management as the value.
  • Click Finish

Setting security on the System Management Container


  • Navigate to the System container and then right click the System Management container and choose Properties
  • Click the Security tab, click the Add button and locate the site server computer (note you may have to add Computers to the search scope by clicking the Object Types button)
  • Check the Full Control checkbox
  • Click the Advanced button and click the site server computer in the list and then click the Edit button
  • Under the Apply to dropdown, choose This object and all descendant objects
  • Ok all windows

Installing System Center Configuration Manager 2012

On the splash screen, click the Install link to kick of the installation. You can skip the Before you begin screen (as you’ve done all that stuff, right?) and move on to the Getting Started screen. From here, you can set up the main services (including using defaults for the install), install a central administraton site and recover a site. If you have run setup on a pre-configured server, you can upgrade to SCCM 2012, reset the site or remove the software. For now, I’m going to install the primary site, but with the check box for using the typical installation options unchecked.

The next screen asks for your product key, or you can choose to install as an evaluation (that you can then upgrade to the full version). Then it’s a couple of pages for license agreements before the Prerequisites Download page. Here is where the earlier work downloading the prerequisite files comes in, as we can choose the folder we downloaded to.

After the folder has been checked, you choose the language to install the server in, that is, the language the console and reports are displayed in.

The next screen allows you to choose the language the SCCM client will be installed in. This lets you install a particular language client based on the language of the installed system.

Site and Installation settings are next, where you set the site code, name and the installation directory. You can also choose to install the Configuration Manager console too.

Next up, you can choose to add the server you are installing to an existing site hierarchy or install it as a stand-alone site. I will be installing as a stand-alone, though I suspect that if you choose to install a Central Administration site first (from the initial splash screen), you will be able to add additional sites to it (this is something I will have a play with in the future 🙂 ).

The next screen asks for the SQL Server database to install to. It has assumed that this server will be hosting the database (which if you are using a remote database, will need to be changed), and asks for the instance and a name for the database.

The next screen allows you to choose the server where the SMS provider will be installed. The SMS provider handles the communication between the Configuration Manager console and the site database.

After this, you configure the method clients will use to communicate with the main site (that is, via HTTP or HTTPS). For this, I have no PKI set up, so no certificates, so I will be configuring to choose the communication method for each site system.

Now you can choose the site system roles to install, and where abouts. You can choose a different server to install the Management Point and Distribution Point on to if you so desire. Note that using HTTPS for the client connection requires an appropriate PKI certificate.

There’s an offer to join the Customer Improvement Program next, then a summary of the installation before you continue. At this point, the prerequisite checker kicks in to let you know of any problems you might have. If all has gone well, the install will continue and eventually you’ll end up with a screen of green ticks. The install takes a while (as you can see, it took a little over 2 hours on my admittedly under-powered virtual machine), and SCCM continues doing things after the install has finished. I recommend leaving the server to ‘settle’ for a while (my VM calmed down after around 20 minutes or so) before doing anything else.

That pretty much completes everything, provided all has gone well, SCCM 2012 should be ready for use!

Installing Prerequisites for System Center Configuration Manager 2012

If you’re reading this, hopefully you have your Windows Server 2008 R2 system installed and SQL Server 2008 R2 SP1 CU4 set up and ready to go. If not, you can see my guide here for how to do that. If you have, then you’re nearly ready to start installing SCCM 2012. But before you jump right in, there’s a bit of setup beforehand that’s needed.

NOTE Microsoft have a lot of this information on their web site at but it’s not that easy to pick out the important parts. I’m going to summarise what’s needed first then explain how to install it.

The components you’re going to install determines the prerequisites that are needed. In an ideal world you would separate out site system roles across multiple servers, and even set up server redundancy as much as possible to compensate for that inevitable downtime.

Summary of what’s needed for what

Site Server .NET Framework 3.5 SP1

.NET Framework 4

Remote Differential Compression

Application Catalog web service point .NET Framework 3.5 SP1

.NET Framework 4

WCF HTTP Activation

WCF Non-HTTP Activation

Default IIS with:
Application Development


IIS 6 Metabase Compatibility

Application Catalog website point .NET Framework 4

Default IIS with:

Static Content

Default Document

Application Development


Windows Authentication

IIS 6 Metabase Compatibility

Asset Intelligence Sync Point .NET Framework 4
Distribution Point Default IIS with:

ISAPI Extensions

Windows Authentication

IIS 6 Metabase Compatibility

IIS 6 WMI Compatibility

Remote Differential Compression

BITS Server Extensions

Windows Deployment Services

Endpoint Protection point .NET Framework 3.5 SP1
Enrollment Point .NET Framework 3.5 SP1

WCF HTTP Activation

WCF Non-HTTP Activation

Default IIS with:

Application Development


Enrollment Proxy Point .NET Framework 3.5 SP1

WCF HTTP Activation

WCF Non-HTTP Activation

Default IIS with:

Application Development


Fallback Status Point Default IIS with:

IIS 6 Metabase Compatibility

Management Point .NET Framework 3.5 SP1

Default IIS with:

ISAPI Extensions

Windows Authentication

IIS 6 Metabase Compatibility

IIS 6 WMI Compatibility

BITS Server Extensions

Out of Band Service Point .NET Framework 4

WCF HTTP Activation

WCF Non-HTTP Activation

Reporting Services Point .NET Framework 4

SQL Server Reporting Services

Software Update Point .NET Framework 3.5 SP1

.NET Framework 4

Default IIS

Windows Server Update Services 3.0 SP2

State Migration point Default IIS
System Health Validator Point NAP server

That may seem like a lot, but most features are shared with other services. To reduce that down, lets take out the duplicates:

.NET Framework 3.5 SP1

.NET Framework 4

Remote Differential Compression

WCF HTTP Activation

WCF Non-HTTP Activation



IIS 6 Metabase Compatibility

IIS 6 WMI Compatibility

Static Content

Default Document

Windows Authentication

ISAPI Extensions

BITS Server Extensions

Windows Deployment Services

SQL Server Reporting Services

Windows Server Update Services

NAP Server

Now, depending on the setup, you may have to install all or just some of these, particularly if you’re not using features or installing them on additional servers. It’s actually very easy to install these, as most are done through the Add Roles and Add Features section in Server Manager.

Installing Prerequisites

Start up Server Manager and wait for the screen to refresh. Scroll down a bit an click on the Add Roles link to start the Add Roles Wizard. To begin, select the Web Server (IIS) and Windows Deployment Services roles (we’ll do Windows Server Update Services later).

For the WDS configuration, ensure both checkboxes are selected.

For the Role Services for IIS, we need to make sure the following is checked (accept any prompts to install addition features, they will be needed):

Static Content

Default Document

Directory Browsing

HTTP Errors

WebDAV Publishing


.NET Extensibility

ISAPI Extensions

ISAPI Filters

HTTP Logging

Request Monitor

Windows Authentication

Request Filtering

Static Content Compression

IIS Management Console

IIS 6 Metabase Compatibility

IIS 6 WMI Compatibility

NOTE here that I selected WebDAV to be installed too, this is because I have had problems with remote distribution points not installing properly in SCCM 2007, a problem that is solved by ensuring WebDAV is enabled.

You will need to get Windows Server Update Services available from Allow setup to run and choose a Full Server install, connecting to the database etc, but DON’T CONFIGURE ANYTHING! Just cancel the configuration wizard when it shows. This is because SCCM will do the configuration, if there’s anything done you will have to remove WSUS and reinstall again to get it working.

The next step is to run the Add Features wizard. We want to select the following boxes:

.NET Framework 3.5.1 Features

WCF Activation

HTTP Activation

Non-HTTP Activation

Background Intelligent Transfer Service (BITS)

Remote Differential Compression

Again, there’s not a lot to see, so you can move straight on to the installation.

Next up, you need to install .NET Framework 4 (the Client Profile version isn’t enough). You can grab it from

We’re nearly done. There’s one last thing to set up with SQL Server, and that’s to set the buffer memory. From Microsoft:

Configuration Manager requires SQL Server to reserve a minimum of 8 gigabytes (GB) of memory in the buffer pool used by an instance of SQL Server for the central administration site and primary site and a minimum of 4 gigabytes (GB) for the secondary site. This memory is reserved by using the Minimum server memory setting under Server Memory Options and is configured by using SQL Server Management Studio.

Open SQL Server Management Studio and connect to the SCCM instance. Once connected, right click the server in Object Explorer and choose Properties.

Select Memory in the left hand menu and then set the value for Minimum server memory (I will be using 8GB as the recommended minimum, which is 8192MB)

And we’re pretty much done. There are a few little things left to do which fall under the setup of SCCM, so we’ll leave that until next time.

This post is here to help you set up an instance of SQL Server with the intention of using it for storing the database for System Center Configuration Manager. It goes through the settings that need to be made during the installation to be compatible, as well as post-setup configuration required to get the server fully up and running.

I am installing everything on to a single Windows Server 2008 R2 Standard virtual machine for the purposes of this. In an ideal world, all the server roles (Domain Controller, SQL Server, SCCM roles) would (and should) be split out across multiple servers with fail-over redundancy etc in place.

The Windows Server machine is an Active Directory domain controller, DHCP and DNS server. It is set up this way to closely reflect as much as possible a real life situation. The server has had all Windows Updates installed (generally a good idea).

In the end, I will be installing two SQL Server instances, one for the SCCM database and one for the WSUS database. While there are no special requirements for the WSUS database, the SCCM database requires a specific collation set, one that is different from the standard installation collation, and thus requires its own instance.

Prerequisites for SQL Server 2008 R2

There’s not much additional software required for installing SQL Server 2008 R2. The .NET Framework 3.5 is required, but you will generally find that if you have all the latest Windows Updates installed, you will have .NET 4.0 (or newer) anyway. This is why it’s a good idea to get the system updated first. It also requires Windows Installer 4.5, which as we are installing on Windows Server 2008 R2, isn’t an issue (it’s included already).

User Accounts

Microsoft recommends for extra security that the service account for SQL Server run as domain user accounts. This allows the administrator to apply the rule of least privilege to the accounts, preventing them from doing anything they’re not supposed to be doing.

For the purposes here, I’m going to install the database engine (and associated SQL Server Agent) and Reporting Services. If I wanted to install other items (like Analysis Services etc) will need accounts for those too. I will need to create three user accounts in Active Directory, all of which will have standard Domain User security rights (if there’s a more secure way, please let me know). I suppose in an ideal world you would use a separate password for each account, but I will use the same one for this test system.


Insert the DVD and run setup.exe from there, use auto play or run setup.exe (if you downloaded the files). The setup program will start. I’m not going to fill this up with unnecessary screenshots, so I’ll gloss over the bits that aren’t interesting in bullet points.

  • In the SQL Server Installation Center, choose the Installation menu, and then select a ‘New installation or add features to an existing installation.’ From here I can set up SQL Server failover clusters and cluster nodes too.
  • The Setup Support Rules runs first; everything should be fine here with no errors reported.
  • Enter your product key next, or choose to run as an evaluation (you can change to a paid product later if you wish).
  • Accept the license terms if you want to get any further.
  • Allow the Setup Support Files to install.
  • The Setup Support Rules will run, and all going well you shouldn’t have any errors.

On this version, I have to choose whether I want to install individual features or all the features as default. As I want to be choosing what I’m installing, as well as setting service accounts and collation, I choose the first option SQL Server Feature Installation.’

I select the features I want in this installation from the Feature Selection screen. I want to install the Database Engine Services as well as the sub-feature Full-Text Search (as SCCM needs that to install). I select to install the Management Tools-Basic too (note that Management Tools-Complete also gets checked). I can change where the shared features (in this case, the Management Tools) gets installed. I may have multiple hard drive partitions available for installation, so I can change to another drive here.

  • The Installation Rules run, and all being well will generate no errors.

Now I can set up the instance for SCCM. I choose the Named instance option and enter a name for my instance. I can change the Instance root directory here, so I can place the files on another partition if required.

  • The Disk Space Requirements screen tells me if I have enough disk space to install all the SQL Server files. You should make sure that you have enough disk space not only for installation files but also the database afterwards.

On the Server Configuration screen I choose the accounts I set up earlier in Active Directory Users and Computers (if you haven’t done it yet, you can do it now). The passwords that have been set for the accounts go here too. Change the Startup Type of the SQL Server Agent service to Automatic in the dropdown box. Also change the SQL Server Browser Startup Type to Automatic.

On this same screen, select the Collation tab and click the Customize button.

In the Customize the SQL Server 2008 R2 Database Engine Collation window, choose the ‘SQL Collation, used for backwards compatibility’ option and in the list choose SQL_Latin1_General_CP1_CI_AS

  • For the Database Engine Configuration leave Authentication mode as Windows Authentication mode and click the Add Current User button to add the current logged on user as a SQL Server administrator. If another/other users are required, you can click the Add button to choose them from Active Directory.
  • Still in the Database Engine Configuration screen, click the Data Directories tab and change the directories if required. These options will locate the database data files wherever you specify, this could be on another partition or disk.
  • On Reporting Services Configuration leave the default option to ‘Install the native mode default configuration.’
  • Choose to send error reports to Microsoft if you like.
  • The Installation Configuration Rules run and should be fine.
  • A summary of what is due to be installed is shown. Click the Install button, sit back and relax!

Installation for the WSUS database

Installing a SQL Server instance for the WSUS database follows the same procedure as above, with a few small differences:

  • Choose to install Database Engine Services and Full-Text Search only on the Feature Selection screen.
  • In the Instance Configuration screen, add a new Named Instance called whatever you like.
  • You can reuse the service accounts if you like, though I’m sure it’s best practice to create more accounts for the new instance. Leave the collation alone this time.

That’s pretty much all there is to setting up the two instances for SCCM and WSUS. The next part is about configuring the communications of the services so they talk to the outside world (or to your network, at the very least).

Setting SQL Server Communication Ports

SCCM requires the SQL Server instance to use static ports (dynamic ports are not supported and will cause setup to fail). As we are running two instances of SQL Server, we’ll need to set a static port for the SCCM instance and for we’ll set one for the WSUS instance too.

In the Start menu, under All Programs, Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2, Configuration Tools, run SQL Server Configuration Manager (you can also start typing this in the Search programs and files box in the Start menu).

Expand SQL Server Network Configuration and under Protocols for <SCCMInstance>, ensure TCP/IP is set to Enabled. Do the same for Protocols for <WSUSInstance> too.

Next you need to disable dynamic ports and set a static port for the IP address that will be used for accessing the SQL Server instance. Double click the TCP/IP protocol under Protocols for <SCCMInstance>. In the TCP/IP Properties window, change the Listen All option to No and then click the IP Addresses tab.

There are a lot of IP addresses (IP1, IP2 etc) listed, you will need to locate the one associated with the address of the server and change the Enabled option to Yes for that address. In my case, I also set the loopback address ( to Enabled=Yes too, as I will be installing everything on the same server and running Management Studio at times on it too. EDIT I have found there is not really any need to set the loopback address. For each enabled IP address, remove the number from the TCP Dynamic Ports. Scroll to the bottom of the list to the IPAll section, remove any number from the TCP Dynamic Ports section and enter a port number of your choosing in the TCP Port box. EDIT You should enter the port you want to use into the TCP Port section for the IP address you are using.

UPDATE-After a lot of teeth-gnashing, I appear to have finally solved an issue that prevented SCCM setup completing (during the install, it would fail on the first step ‘Evaluating setup environment’ with the error ‘Could not connect or execute SQL query’). With help from I found that you have to remove any value in Dynamic Ports for ALL IP addresses (even those not in use) and any under the IPALL section at the bottom. Then, you have to enter your chosen port number in ALL TCP Port boxes for ALL IP addresses (again, even those not in use), as well as in the IPALL section at the bottom.

UPDATE-Since having written this, I have found that there is one more setting to change before remote connections work 100%. Within SQL Server Configuration Manager, expand SQL Native Client 10.0 Configuration and select Client Protocols. In the right hand side double-click TCP/IP and change the Default Port to match that you set earlier for the SCCM instance.

Don’t forget to do the same for the WSUS instance (use a different port number though). Once you’ve done that, go to SQL Server Services, right click the SQL Server (<SCCM Instance>) service and choose restart. Do the same with the SQL Server (<WSUS Instance>) service.

Next, we need to configure Windows Firewall (or another firewall, if you don’t use Microsoft’s one) to allow remote access to the SQL Server.

Configuring Windows Firewall

Click the Start button and click Control Panel. In Control Panel, under System and Security, click Check firewall status, and then click Advanced Settings in the left hand column (alternatively, you can click the Start button, type wf.msc in the search box and hit Enter).

In the left hand pane of the Windows Firewall console, click Inbound Rules and then click New Rule in the right hand pane.

In the New Inbound Rule Wizard, choose the Port option and click Next. In Protocol and Ports, ensure TCP is selected, make sure Specific local ports is selected and enter the port number you used for the SCCM instance.

In the Action screen ensure Allow the connection is selected. In the Profile screen, select the network profiles this rule will apply to. Having Public deselected is going to make things secure (in case for whatever reason the server slips into Public mode). I’ve kept Domain and Private selected for now, you will need to choose the option that best fits your network.

Choose a name for your protocol and click Finish. Rinse and repeat for the other SQL Server instance, using the port number you set for that particular instance.

EDIT You need a firewall rule for the SQL Broker service used by SCCM for communications between the sites and database server. You need a port (by default, this is TCP 4022, but is changed in SCCM setup if necessary), and follow the instructions as above.

Now that communications are up and running (you can check this by running SQL Server Management Studio and entering servername\<SCCM Instance> into the Server name box, it should connect to your server instance), we need to get everything up to date. Get Windows Update fired up and get service pack 1 installed!

Lastly, once Windows Update shows no more updates, you need to install SQL Server 2008 R2 SP1 CU4, otherwise SCCM won’t install. It’s a hotfix request you can get from

We’re now done with SQL Server setup, and can move along with getting the prerequisites installed for our SCCM installation.

I lied. We’re not quite done. Fire up Management Studio and connect to your SCCM instance. You need to make sure the user performing setup has sysadmin rights to the instance, as well as the SCCM computer account. Adding the user is simple enough, in my case it was the administrator account, but you might use something different. Expand the Security folder in Management Studio, right click the Logins folder and choose New Login.

Click the Search button next to the Login name box and locate the installing users’ account in Active Directory (this will more than likely be the user you log in to the SCCM server with). Click Server Roles in the left hand panel and make sure ‘sysadmin’ is checked. Click Ok.

Next, the computer account of the server running SCCM needs sysadmin rights granting too. This is slightly different to the above, as on a remote SQL Server you can’t add computer accounts as logins. There are two ways to do this-either add the SCCM computer account to BUILTIN\Administrators group, or create a new group and add the computer to that. Then, you add either BUILTIN\Administrators or your new group to the sysadmin role in the same way as above, substituting the user account for the group instead.

Now, we’re done and can move on to getting the SCCM server up and ready.

I’d spent a day and half at work, and got taken home early (I’d have driven but the car had been smashed by the minibus, and wasn’t drivable). The sensation was like there was nothing moving in my stomach, like everything I ate stayed there, still with pain in my back. I refused to have dinner, just didn’t fell like having anything.

It was 1:30 Wednesday morning I woke up with a painful burning feeling in my chest, just under where my breastbone ended. Despite my fear of needles, tubes, pipes etc I knew I needed to go to hospital for this. After throwing up a couple of times, an ambulance car turned up at the house to assess the situation and suggested as I was doubled over in pain to get to the hospital rather than wait for an ambulance. The car journey takes about 25 minutes but seemed like a lifetime. I was seen in about 15 minutes in A&E and was given a voltarol injection for the pain. In my bum. It took the pain away everywhere except there, which continued to feel bruised for a week afterwards. I spent the next 4 hours or so lying on a bed waiting to know what was happening next when the pain started coming back, and the shakes started. A doctor told me I had pancreatitis and needed antibiotics. Another hour or so wait and a nurse hooked me up to IV antibiotics, a drip and injected some morphine too. All I can say is thank god for morphine! I was wheeled up to a ward for observations and general looking after.

The general treatment for pancreatitis involves regular blood sugar tests (as the pancreas handles insulin production), starvation for between 7-10 days, intake of fluids to flush the body and antibiotics. So there I laid for 7 days with no food. Fortunately, the hunger pains stopped after around 4 days, they were getting really intense to the point of nearly making me throw up.

On the 8th day the consultant visited and told me I was free to eat what I wanted. Of course, during the last few days I (along with my mother) had been spending some time looking up pancreatitis on the good old fashioned internet and was told pretty much every diet should be low fat to prevent the release of gall stones (which was put down as the cause in this case). The consultant in his wisdom telling me I could eat what I wanted probably wasn’t the best advice, I knew full well a low fat diet was needed. The biggest question I had at this point was “how low fat is low fat?”. I didn’t really get a straight answer in the remaining time I spent there, and it wasn’t until I saw my GP a week or so after release that I got at least a baseline to work with.

After 10 days in hospital, which seemed like a lifetime at the time, they discharged me and sent me on my way. I was told I’d be having my gall bladder out within 6-8 weeks, and should expect to have a meeting with the consultant within 3-4 weeks.

After seeing my GP, I felt better about the foods I could eat and what should be avoided. Red meat was off the menu, so no burgers any more. The whole milk had to go, as did the cheese and chocolate. Every shopping trip now involves checking the labels of everything to see how much fat a particular item contains to determine if I could have it at all, or in stages or not at all. My GP recommended as a starting point taking the recommended daily intake (currently 70g of fat) and halving it. That of course doesn’t mean I could eat a meal containing 35g of fat and that would be it for the day, as my gall bladder would be working hard for that entire meal. I bought 2 cook books, 101 Low Fat Feasts and 101 More Low Fat Feasts from the BBC Good Food people, as a lot of the freezer stuff we had been surviving on had to go. The next shopping trip was like nothing we’d done before, the trolly filled with fruit and veg.

5 weeks passed, and there was no word from the hospital about my surgery. After multiple phone calls to chase it up, I finally got a date for my pre-assessment at the end of November. This was 9 weeks after I had left hospital, and I’d been looking after things for all that time, as another attack would set me back another 6-8 weeks at least…

I’ve been pondering buying a new telescope for a little while now, after seeing one which appeared reasonable for £200 in Canterbury. I found F1 Hobbies and Telescopes via a Google search as the nearest telescope seller in the area, and took a trip to see what they had to offer.

After a good talk with the shop-keep, I was clearer in my mind what I wanted to get and what results I was looking to achieve. In the end, I’d settled on eventually buying a new mount (the Skywatcher EQ5 with SynScan or the Celestron CG-5 with NexStar) and attaching the DSLR to it, or using a webcam (eventually with something like a good Philips Toucam) plus an adapter to get it connected to my telescope.

I’m a little way off getting the Toucam, so decided to see what I could do with what I have lying around. I’ve got a Microsoft LifeCam VX-1000 that I’ve had for a while and don’t use, so am going to be taking that apart to remove the lens and make it partially suitable for some astrophotography.

***Big BIG thanks to for having done this first, I wouldn’t have known which bits to remove otherwise, it’s a shame it’s in French (for me, as I don’t really understand French) but Google Translate works well to get the idea.***

Microsoft Lifecam VX-1000

Microsoft Lifecam VX-1000, before modifying

Step 1-Remove the stand

You need to remove the rubber covers from the side of the camera to get to the screws underneath, and then undo the screws. The rubbers pop off with a small flat-headed screwdriver to help them on their way.

Rubber caps on the side of the stand

Rubber caps on the side of the stand

The screws are very small, I have  a 75mm x No. 0 Phillips screwdriver that was small enough to undo them. The stand will come away at this point, leaving two rubber grommets behind, remove these too.

Rubber grommets under the stand

Rubber grommets under the stand

Step 2-Open the case

On the back of the camera is a small screw, undo it to open the casing apart DO NOT LOSE THE SCREW, YOU NEED IT TO PUT THE CAMERA BACK TOGETHER!!!

Undo the screw on the back of the camera

Undo the screw on the back of the camera

Camera with casing apart

Camera with casing apart

There a two clips either side of the button on the top of the camera that will be holding it together.

Step 3-Remove the Lens

Unscrew (with fingers) the lens, and you’re done with the modification.

Unscrew the lens

Unscrew the lens

Step 4-Put it back together

Refit the case and screw it back together. You can refit the stand if need be-I did so I didn’t end up losing the parts. Be aware the CMOS sensor is now exposed to the air, so will collect dust and can be scratched! A suitable cover will be needed, a lid from an old camera film is apparently a good size match.

Step 5-Attaching to the telescope

The source web site for this recommends fitting an IR filter to a lens before attaching the camera. I don’t have an IR filter, so will be skipping that step for the time being. I’m using a 2x Barlow lens to attach to the telescope, with the webcam attached to that. No special adapters are required-the Lifecam focuser is almost exactly 1.25″, the diameter of my telescope’s lenses, so fits directly on.

EDIT-Having been out and given it a go, the Barlow distorts the image far too much for any usable images to be gained. Using just the webcam alone gave better results.

Attached to the telescope

Attached to the telescope

When I get a bit of clear sky, I’ll give some video capture a go and see what happens.

For quite some time now I’ve had the occasional back pain. In the past, I would wake up with it, take some pain pills and head off to work. That was until I had the pain again, worse than before which lasted almost an entire day despite popping pills left right and centre. I ended up in bed this time and sleeping for nearly 5 hours during the afternoon, something very unusual for me as it takes a lot to knock me out.

Things settled down for a few weeks until I got the pain again. It felt like a muscle cramp across the lower part of my shoulders. A call to NHS Direct was helpful, where they suggested taking Co-Codamol, Ibuprophen and a Zopiclone (a sleeping tablet) to help me get to sleep that night and see my doctor in the morning. By the time morning had rolled around I had turned a slight shade of yellow, never a good sign. I was sent for an urgent blood test with results expected next day.

Next day we went down to Folk Week at Broadstairs, so called for results from there. When the receptionist tells you the doctor wants to see you, you don’t really take it to be a good sign. Appointment made for next day there and then.

I went back to the doctor again, by which time the yellow colour had almost gone. Sent me for another blood test to check that the high levels of certain things related to liver function were dropping as well as an ultrasound. I don’t do needles at the best of times, and two blood tests in one week was about to finish me off. I admit the first test wasn’t too bad, and kudos to the phlebotomist who did it. The second, not so great, the phlebotomist this time took it upon herself to wiggle the needle around in my arm because she couldn’t get any blood out. Turning the valve on helped, so thanks for that…

The ultrasound was the next big test of patience. The doctor marked this up as urgent too, which according to the ultrasound department meant waiting 2 weeks before sending out the appointment, and another 2 weeks before the test itself, then adding up to 10 days for results. The good news is you could be waiting over a month for an urgent ultrasound!

Second blood test came back reasonably fine, all levels returned to normal bar one which was coming down, all seemed well and good. Until a couple of weekends ago, on Saturday night it started with what felt like my stomach expanding in size three times, and then the back aches started again, accompanied by cold sweats and a grey skin colour. NHS Direct recommended a trip to hospital, not my idea of fun so decided to sleep on it, see what happens. Over the course of Sunday and Monday I felt sick and dizzy, the thought of eating anything made me feel sick, I couldnt really win.

I was still waiting for ultrasound results when I went back to the doctor after my weekend incident. Results were in, and everything looked good, no problems anywhere but confirmed I have gall stones, and they could be causing the problems I’ve had. The doctor was concerned about my amylase levels being ‘abnormal’, so shipped me off for another blood test. Next day results come in and I get a call from the doctor telling me he’s writing a letter to the surgical consult at the hospital and I had to go straight away to be checked over. Feeling of dread or what?

Get to the hospital and get checked in. No idea at this point what’s going to happen, and I’m faced with a wait to be seen. A nurse takes me to the triage room  to get started, tells me I need a canula, blood tests, they’ve got an x-ray set up. I tell her where to go with the canula, needles and things stuck in me isn’t really my most favourite thing in the world. Probably a good thing too, after spending 4 hours there (most of which was spent waiting around), they discovered there was nothing wrong. That’s right, nothing. They confirmed the gall stones too, but said none were loose and were just going to set me up with an appointment with a consultant to have the gall bladder taken out. Off to home I went, not really none the wiser. The weekend was a bit touch and go with the pain, but it all really kicked off the following week…

With all the recent hoo-ha with the apparently slightly luke-warm reception, it seems a lot of people are disappointed that there was no iPhone 5 announcement, with a lot of excitement surrounding this non-existent phone based on mockups of an imaginary device with no real specifications other than a tapered back and large screen.

Particularly considering the late announcement of this phone (the ‘usual’ announcements being around June/July) a lot of people had high hopes for a ‘superphone’ that will be the width of a human hair, come with 7.1 virtual surround sound, holographic display like R2-D2…and considering the extra time Apple have had to produce something, it maybe isn’t too unreasonable to hope for something truly game-changing.

There are those that compare the specifications to the latest and greatest from the likes of Samsung, LG, Motorola, HTC and so forth, this is wrong to do in my opinion. These companies seem to release or announce a new phone with a better this and brighter that every few weeks, leaving some to say the iPhone is out of date, slower, hasn’t got the best camera. On paper, that may be so, but Apple have the same advantage with iOS as they have with Mac OS-they know precisely what hardware their software will run on, and can tailor and tweak away without concern of a device having a particular wireless chip or different bluetooth stack. This means their phones run as well as a top-end Samsung despite a difference in spec, and when a phone looses performance, they can drop it from their support (think iPhone 3G).

I’m not sure a iPhone 4 user would warrant updating to the 4S-except if they really really want Siri, there doesn’t seem much point. But those on the 3GS (or trusty-but-oh-so-sloooowwww 3G like I’m still using) could see it as a viable upgrade. It won’t be long before the features of iOS 5 (or possibly 6) become too much for the venerable 3GS and that gets discontinued, for now even replacing the 3GS seems a little pointless, with still reasonable performance from the device.

Apple have played a trump card with this release, and is similar to the 3GS release. They have, to market, their top-end phone, the 4S, with it’s high quality camera, built in voice assistant and dual core everything. Next up is the 4G, not as powerful as the top end and lacking Siri, but still very capable and will be for another couple of years at least. For the low-end, budget conscious buyer the 3GS is still on sale with many features in the latest iOS build. In the buildup to the ‘Let’s Talk iPhone’ event rumours included talk of Apple releasing 2 new phones-the 5 and lower priced 4S. Though the 5 didn’t happen, Apple have cleverly created their high-middle-low range, something other manufacturers have been doing but flooding each market segment with a handful of phones that certainly confuse me, in a “is this one better than that one?” sort of way.

That leaves the elusive 5 and it’s whereabouts. With the current market, there isn’t the room for it in Apple’s inventory, or rather there isn’t a place it would fit. However, if you think about the late release of the 4S as a stopgap, that would leave June/July 2012 open for Apple to discontinue the 3GS*, move the 4 down to budget, 4S to mid range and the 5 as top-end. This will set Apple up for the next 2-3 years (at least) with a rolling full range brand of mobile phones.

Whatever happens in the future, I’ll be happy with my iPhone 4S, even if it does look like the 4 and no one would know it was a 4S unless I told them. Looks aren’t everything, and the 4 design is still pretty good to look at.

*alternatively, rather than discontinue the 3GS completely, explore the currently ever-lucrative emerging markets of India, China, Africa and the like by introducing the 3GS at a heavy discount, funded in part by sales of the new 5 and older, slightly cheaper 4S in the developed market

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