Weeknote 5: Playing with Azure; Black Friday; substandard online deliveries; and the usual tech/cycling/family mix (Week 47, 2017)

This weeknote is a bit of a rush-job – mostly because it’s Sunday afternoon and I’m writing this at the side of a public swimming pool whilst supervising a pool party… it will be late tonight when I get to finish it!

The week

There not a huge amount to say about this week though. It’s been as manic as usual, with a mixture of paid consulting days, pre-sales and time at Microsoft.

The time at Microsoft was excellent though – I spent Tuesday in their London offices, when Daniel Baker (@AzureDan) gave an excellent run through of some of the capabilities in Azure. I like to think I have a reasonable amount of Azure experience and I was really looking to top up my knowledge with recent developments as well as to learn a bit more about using some of the advanced workloads but I learned a lot that day. I think Dan is planning some more videos so watch his Twitter feed but his “Build a Company in a Day” slides are available for download.

On the topic of Azure, I managed to get the sentiment analysis demo I’ve been working on based on a conversation with my colleague Matt Bradley (@MattOnMicrosoft) and Daniel Baker also touched on it in his Build a Company in a Day workshop. It uses an Azure Logic App to:

  1. Monitor Twitter on a given topic;
  2. Detect sentiment with Azure Cognitive Services Text Analytics;
  3. Push data into Power BI dataset for visualisation;
  4. Send an email if the sentiment is below a certain value.

It’s a bit rough-and-ready (my Power BI skills are best described as “nascent”) but it’s not a bad demo – and it costs me pennies to run. You can also do something similar with Microsoft Flow instead of an Azure Logic App.

Black Friday

I hate Black Friday. Just an excuse to shift some excess stock onto greedy consumers ahead of Christmas…

…but it didn’t stop me buying things:

  • An Amazon Fire TV Stick to make our TV smart again (it has fewer and fewer apps available because it’s more than 3 years old…). Primarily I was after YouTube but my youngest is very excited about the Manchester City app!
  • Another set of Bluetooth speakers (because the kids keep “borrowing” my Bose Soundlink Mini 2).
  • Some Amazon buttons at a knock-down £1.99 (instead of £4.99) for IoT hacking.
  • A limited edition GCN cycle jersey that can come back to me from my family as a Christmas present!

The weekend

My weekend involved: cycling (my son was racing cyclocross again in the Central CX League); an evening out with my wife (disappointing restaurant in the next town followed by great gin in our local pub); a small hangover; some Zwift (to blow away the cobwebs – and although it was sunny outside, the chances of hitting black ice made the idea of a real road bike ride a bit risky); the pool party I mentioned earlier (belated 13th birthday celebrations for my eldest); 7 adolescent kids eating an enormous quantity of food back at ours; and… relax.

Other stuff

My eldest son discovered that the pressure washer can make bicycle bar tape white again! (I wrote a few years back about using baby wipes to clean bar tape but cyclocross mud goes way beyond even their magical properties.)

After posting my 7 days 7 photos efforts last week, I saw this:

I’ll get my coat.

I also learned a new term: “bikeshedding” (nothing to do with cycling… or smoking… or other teenage activities…):

It’s scary to see how much we’re cluttering space – not just our planet:

There’s a new DNS service in town:

I’ve switched the home connection from OpenDNS (now owned by Cisco) to 9.9.9.9 and will report back in a while…

This ad tells a great story:

Curve is now available to ordinary employees and not just business-people!

We recently switched back to Tesco for our online grocery shopping (we left years ago because it seemed someone was taking one or two items from every order, hoping we wouldn’t notice). Well, it seems things have improved in some ways, but not in others…

On the subject of less-than-wonderful online shopping experiences, after I criticised John Lewis for limiting website functionality instead of bursting to the cloud:

It seems they got their own back by shipping my wife’s Christmas present with Hermes, who dumped it on the front doorstep (outside the notified delivery timeframe) and left a card to say it had been delivered to a secure location:

It may be silly but this made me laugh:

Finally, for this week, I borrowed my son’s wireless charger to top up my iPhone. Charging devices without cables – it’s witchcraft, I tell you! Witchcraft!

Next week, I’ll be back with my customer in Rochdale, consulting on what risual calls the “Optimised Service Vision” so it was interesting to see Matt Ballantine’s slides on Bringing Service Design to IT Service. I haven’t seen Matt present these but it looks like our thinking is quite closely aligned…

That’s all folks!

That’s all for this week. I’m off to watch some more Halt and Catch Fire before I get some sleep in preparation for what looks like a busy week…

Ad blocker detection

Ad blocking has become increasingly common on the Internet. We all hate those sites that place obtrusive ads in the middle of content (Forbes, ZDNet, I’m looking at you!) but for many sites it’s fairly passive content – simple images, banners, etc. placed above, below or to the side of the main content. We might not particularly like it – the ads are not always intelligent (how many times have you bought something and then seen ads for the site where you already made a purchase based on the cookies on your computer?!) – but nothing in life is truly free and the websites that offer advice, etc. that help fix our problems are often at least part-funded by ads.

My blog currently has over 2000 posts written over a 12 year period. Some are good, some are bad. Some are rants, some are really useful with lots of positive comments saying words to the effect of “thanks for sharing this”. A few years ago, I used to make about £50 a month from Google ads. With hosting charges of around £100 a year, plus domain name registrations of about £25 a year, that gave me some profit to go towards IT equipment and let me write more blog posts. I even set up a company for my writing and consulting. Then along came Google’s Panda algorithm change which de-emphasised blogs in search results. Almost overnight, I saw 90% drop in revenue.

My company ceased trading a while ago – and my day job now means that I can’t continue it for contractual reasons – but, to be honest it had long since become more effort than it was worth.

I now make about £60 a year from ads and maybe a few more pounds from referrals. The UK Government takes 42% of this in tax. I write less content than I used to (I’m a busy guy but I’m also less motivated to do so). My website hosting costs far outweigh the revenue of the site but the ads help a little. This blog is nothing more than a labour of love.

On the last site redesign, I moved my ads to the bottom of the page. I also added a notice asking people not to block the ads. Now I’ve upped the ante a little by using Pat O’Brien‘s Ad Blocking Advisor WordPress plugin to display a notice when the site detects ad blocking. I’m not ad-blocker-blocking because you can still read the content, but I do ask people with ad blocking software to reconsider:

“It looks like you use ad blocking software in your browser. I devote a lot of time to this website and the advertising doesn’t even cover my hosting charges but it helps a little. Please support this website by adding it to the whitelist in your ad blocker. Thank you!”

Ironically, I had to install an ad blocker to test the website functionality!