Review: Electronics For Dummies book UK edition (paperback)


Despite not being a networking book, the Electronics For Dummies book has helped me quench my thirst for knowledge and as it’s related to one of my goals for the year i.e. brushing up on my electronics skills, I thought it warranted a review.


This is the second book from the For Dummies series that I have read from cover to cover. I can’t even remember what the first one was but I do know it was back in the early days of the series. I also recall, vaguely, that it was a very good read. I have since avoided the For Dummies series like the plague for two main reasons. Firstly, the quality varies massively from title to title. Some read like they were written by a dummy and fail miserably to inspire newbies to the subject. Secondly, and this ironically is nothing to be proud of, was my pride getting in the way. Who wants to admit to reading a book written for the total beginner in any subject? Of course, that point of view is utter nonsense. Some of the Dummies books are so well written that they take you to a fairly advanced level within a short period of time afforded by the page count. On top of that, diving in to a subject, whether for the first time or as a refresher, at too deep a level will most likely have a negative impact. At best, you’ll not grasp the subject matter as you should. At worst, you’ll lose interest completely and miss out on learning something new.

When I decided to get back in to electronics and expand upon the knowledge I had picked up as a giddy teenager with a soldering iron and a desire to try to repair every broken appliance and remove every component from those I could not fix, I bought a couple of books online and headed off to the local library (yes, how very old school!). A quick scan of the For Dummies book in my Amazon app showed it had a review score of 4.6\5  with 15 votes so I put the stigma to one side and booked it out.


The book is made up of four parts with a number of chapters in each. Each chapter builds nicely upon the knowledge bestowed by the previous ones.

Part one begins with an initial discussion of electronics and electricity in general and moves on to components, starting with resistors, capacitors, coils and crystals (not the ‘healing’ type), semiconductors, Integrated Circuits and others besides. Various critical equations and laws are given in this section such as the classic Ohm’s Law. Whilst I like to think I am comfortable with mathematics and electronics in general, I do feel that this section is presented, for the most part, in a very concise and understandable way with only a couple of places where I had a ‘flick through the last chapter in a panic’ moment.

Part two covers things like how to begin collating a good toolkit, the importance of safety when working with electricity, how to read schematics, how to make your own circuits and finally how to measure and analyse circuits with aforementioned toolkit.

Part three puts the rubber to the road and looks at how real circuits are put together and how to apply the knowledge gained up to this point to any circuits you run in to. It then has a number of projects for you to build yourself from scratch. This hands on approach rounds off the book nicely. As a network engineer, it is always the hands on labs that cements the knowledge that I gain from books and videos.

Part four is the standard ‘Part of Tens’ section that the For Dummies series has become well-known for.

The appendix at the end gives a number of Internet resources for those willing to expand their knowledge further.


Electronics For Dummies is an excellent introduction to the addictive world of electronics. It is written in a very readable style and keeps the pace nicely throughout. There are only a small handful of places where I got lost and had to read over the material again. I would recommend it for anybody in my situation, wanting to get back in to an old hobby or for a total beginner assuming that you don’t come out in hives when you hear the word ‘algebra’.

It has certainly given me the confidence to move on to the more advanced aforementioned books that I purchased with Xmas money and it will only be a matter of time before my Raspberry Pi gets brought in to the fray, perhaps with an Arduino to keep it company.

Now I’m off to build my first circuit.


8.5\10 – recommended

Till the next time.

Edit: since writing the original review, I have noticed that at least one of the projects in chapter 14 has errors in the instructions, where the schematic and the physical breadboard picture\component list don’t match up. However, with a the vast number of projects available on the Internet, this barely detracts from an otherwise well written book.

Windows Server 2012 – Overview


As is the case with many network engineers, I began my IT career, many moons ago, as a systems administrator. More specifically, I was a Microsoft Engineer. Over the years, I have worked on every Microsoft OS from the early MS-DOS days through to Windows Server 2008 R2. I was proud to attain the MCSE certification on the 2003 track and upgraded to the MCITP Server and Enterprise Administrator certifications on the 2008 track. I still hold the MCSE in higher regard than either of my MCITPs and I think that seems to be the general feeling in the industry.

Microsoft themselves seem to feel them same way too, as they’ve reverted their certification paths back to the classic MCSA\MCSE naming convention, although they now have slightly different meanings:

  • Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator is now Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate
  • Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer is now Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert

When Microsoft made this move, they were kind enough to also give me a free MCSA2008 certification based on my previous achievements on the 2008 track. Fair enough, although it didn’t make any difference until the new 2012 certification path became available. At that point, I was then able to do the 70-417 upgrade exam which covers topics from three other exams to become a MCSA2012.

I’m a full time network engineer now but after having put 10+ years of my career in to Microsoft, I think the investment of time to keep my MS certs up to date is well worth it. On top of that and perhaps more importantly, I am not a fan of working in silos and if I can complete a task without having to hand part of it off to another engineer, then all the better. Will I always update my Microsoft certifications? Probably not. I still feel I’m in a transition period from sysadmin to netadmin to some degree but once I feel my network experience has caught up to the level I was on as a sysadmin, I probably won’t have the desire so much to keep my MS certs up to date.

The new certifications offers both a server track and a desktop track. I’ve not done desktop support for many years (other than being the permanent personal helpdesk of my family and friends), so that track does not appeal to me one bit. Right, that’s enough of the certifications, let me quickly review the OS itself.

Operating System

When I first installed Server 2012 on bare metal, I was incredibly impressed with the speed it took to give me a desktop, approximately 15-20 minutes. What impressed me less was the desktop itself. Yes, I know I need to start embracing this at some point but I’m not a fan of the new desktop style that Server 2012 and Windows 8 has adopted. The good news is that in a production environment, I would opt for a core installation of 2012 wherever possible i.e. without a desktop GUI. I have also installed Server 2012 on my laptop in VMware Workstation 9 using an ISO on a network share (100Mb\s link) and it installed in under 45 minutes which is also impressive.

Below are some of the points that have attracted my attention:

  • NIC teaming is now built in to the OS. This allows for active\active or active\passive depending on your requirements. I’m looking forward to putting this in to action to see how stable it is and what the performance is like
  • DCPROMO is dead, long live Powershell. The promotion is all done by Powershell 3 now. As a massive Powershell fan (it saved me countless hours when working with Exchange 2007\2010), this is a welcome change. Powershell will only become more prevalent in future. If you work with Windows, you are doing yourself a huge disservice by not becoming proficient in Powershell. To be honest, DCPROMO is really only deprecated and can still be used to perform an installation using an answer file, but its on it’s last leg
  • There is an increasing emphasis on virtualisation as you would expect. One nice feature is that you can add or remove roles and features from an offline 2012 VHD file. Hyper-V has been improved considerably too with some nice features such as replicas, allowing you to provide business continuity. Deploying VM clones of domain controllers quickly without the mess of name\SID duplication looks like a nice touch too
  • Remote management has been taken to the next level. You can add or remove any roles\features on a remote server
  • No steps taken to remove legacy requirements e.g. NetBIOS\WINS, PDC emulator. Please, oh please sort this out. Let the dinosaurs die out
  • Small Business Server is dead but seems to have been replaced by the Essentials SKU. In a previous life, I used to work on SBS a fair amount and, in the right environment, it works very well. I’d be interested to know what improvements\differences that Essentials brings to the table
  • Data deduplication – oh yes! Storage may be cheaper than ever before but storage requirements by both users and applications have never been greater. This feature should help balance these two factors


There are loads of other new features and improvements for existing ones as well as many more things that have finally been deprecated but the list above is a quick review of those things that rang a bell with me. Overall, I’m impressed with the evolution that Windows Server 2012 has taken. It’s a lot more snapier, thanks to being leaner and smarter coding. It will only be a matter of time before I start looking at the pre-2012 GUIs and tutting, thinking how outdated they are!

So now all that remains is for me to keep delving deeper in to the OS, read up some more on the capabilities and do the CBTNugget videos that are available to date (just 10 from 20 as I type) and see if I can pass the exam in time for Xmas.

Till the next time…

Review: the new iPad (3rd generation)

Let me start by making one thing clear. I am no Apple fanboy. There, I said it…and I mean it.

I have never bought anything from Apple before although I do have an iPhone 4 courtesy of my current employer. I’ve had an iPhone (since it was a 3GS) for about three years and it didn’t take long for me to realise that it was the best phone I had ever used, yet I still continued to resist buying an iPad. When the latest generation was due for release in March it was actually Jo, my wife who suggested we got one.

I reviewed what the upgrade brought with it and when I saw a colleague’s arrive at work and we compared it side by side with some HD video and a like for like comparison of a technical PDF, it was the clarity in particular of the latter test that convinced me that I wanted one of these. The fact that both Jo and my five year old daughter Mia could get a lot of use of out it too made the decision a no-brainer. Mia is at that age where the educational value of an iPad alone would justify it’s purchase in my opinion and the ‘always on’ appeal means that Jo can check her emails, browse the web, check a film\actor on IMDB or find out how her team are doing (Manchester United – don’t ask!) within seconds rather than having to boot her laptop up.

This post isn’t a review of the iPad as such. There are already a countless number of those available to help sway you in your decision. In fact, swaying your decision is not the purpose of this post at all. I’ve had my iPad (‘ours’ I can hear two voices cry) for just over a week now and thought it time I gave a summary report of my experience to date, from the perspective of a network engineer who is always happy to find ways of maximising his time. With that in mind, I have broken this down in to the different areas arranged by application type, that offer me real value and functionality.

Social networking

I have a Facebook account. It’s been disabled on more than one occasion and I only use it now to keep up to date with a handful of people who I unfortunately rarely get a chance to catch up with anymore. I also have a Google+ account and use that even less. The only social media site I regularly use is Twitter (and even that is dwindling recently) and I have found the Hootsuite app on the iPad makes the experience much more efficient with it’s multiple configurable columns. Adding a separate column or more to keep track of some useful hashtags is a breeze and I like that I can see what the people I follow think is important enough to retweet in one place.

Online content consolidation

I am currently playing with a couple of different apps that do similar things. Zite and Flipboard will go to a number of different online sources and, based on what you tell them are your interests, create a digital magazine. Although Flipboard is the more slick looking of the two, I like the fact that with Zite (and perhaps I am just missing the similar functionality in Flipboard), you can tell the app which articles, authors, sources and article tags you like so as it learns from your input, you should in theory get even more relevant content every time you use it. All I have to do is open it up, read and give a couple of clicks for feedback.


For me, a tablet platform is ideal for two main areas of productivity and the iPad has a couple of apps which excel at both. Toodledo is, as the name might suggest, a to do list app which allows me to quickly enter tasks, give a breakdown of more information, set priorities, deadlines and reminders. iThoughtsHD is a mind mapping tool and it’s a bloody good one too. Within minutes of having installed it, I had created a couple of maps outlining my certification path over the next few years and a broad list of networking projects I have awaiting me at work. Using these two apps together, I can create multiple 10,000ft views of areas that need my attention (be it at work or at home) and then break those areas down in to tasks with detail and time targets. A very powerful combination.


Again, a couple of useful apps here. I have an Amazon Kindle device and having an app on the iPad that I can view all my Kindle purchases on is very useful. Even more so was picking a PDF app that had more to it than just as a reader. In the end, I opted for GoodReader which has two features that sold me. Firstly, the ability to easily sync with iTunes and arrange my PDFs in folders and secondly some very nice annotation capabilities – useful for techie publications with diagrams that I always like adding detail to.


I’ll admit that I was a little dismayed at the relatively low number of real techie apps on the iPad and by that I mean ones that are more complete toolboxes. Sure, there are lots of apps that do this or that or let you buy extra functionality ‘in app’ but many of those don’t even manage to carry themselves that well. I bought Prompt, an SSH client, for my iPhone quite a while back and because it is a universal app, that means it is designed for both iPhone and iPad and therefore was free for me to download on to the iPad, which was a relief as I originally paid 69p for it and it has gone up to £5.99 since then. I considered getting iSSH but some reviews of the latest version turned me off it. I finally managed to find one of those toolbox type apps with built in ping, traceroute, whois, etc. functionality which doesn’t have hidden costs and has some nice extras. It is called IT Tools.

Spare time

Of course, it’s not all work and the iPad has plently of functionality to let me chill out. Firstly, there are a host of games that can easily cost you hours of your time. For me, I went for some standard classics that include card games, chess and draughts, sudoku and of course Angry Birds! I also went for Real Racing 2 HD, which has been updated for the new iPad’s Retina display and looks gorgeous. I also have a few cracking sports apps that let me keep up to date with results and my team’s news (Manchester City of course!) in the most efficient way. I also opted for Garageband as I recently bought the dongle that allows me to connect my electric guitar so, despite being a failed musician, I can still take a shot at the dream!

Others worth mentioning

Twitter came to my rescue again when I asked about a good flash card app. It was Bob McCouch that suggested Mental Case and it quickly became evident that it would be a tool I will use throughout my career to not only help me on my certification path but to have to hand when my memory otherwise fails me. I’ve also downloaded FeeddlerRSS but haven’t had time to set it up yet. I have also bought Blogsy, which as you may have guessed is a blogging app. I should really have posted this particular review using it, but I’m still not up to speed with it yet, but it looks very capable indeed. Maybe the next post to put it to the test.


For me, the iPad is all about making the most of my time, even when that’s time wasting! I can have access to all my ideas and projects, my tasks for the next day, week and year. I can vacuum the Internet in seconds for information that is relevant. I can have all my reading materials at my finger tips. I can keep up to date with the things that matter to me, without having to sift through 90% of crap first. Now that I have a decent case to protect it, I can take it to work and use it in ways that my laptop can’t really compete with. That’s really where it’s value is for me. It’s not a laptop replacement but the hardware, interface and software filters out of lot of bloated nonsense that I have just grown accustomed to on the laptop: a minute to boot up, another to log on thanks to the daily group policy gang bang, sluggish applications that offer 90% functionality that I’ll likely never use or even learn exists for crying out loud.

It’s also pretty good at producing content, but perhaps not always on a par with a desktop\laptop equivalent. Photo editing, video editing, music creation and blogging tools are all very capable for the most part. Put all of this power in to something you can throw in a much smaller bag than the one you use for your laptop, that you can have sat next to you and accessible at the push of a button, with software that is almost always a fraction of the cost of your main workstation software and I’m already starting to ask myself how I got by for so long without it.

Let me finish by making one thing clear. I am no Apple fanboy. There, I said it…and I mean it.

Although, that may very well change…

Till the next time…