Weeknote 17: Failed demos, hotel rooms, travel and snippets of exercise (Week 18. 2018)

This week, I’ve learned that:

  • I must trust my better judgement and never allow anyone to push me into demonstrating their products without a properly rehearsed demo and the right equipment…
  • There are people working in offices today who not only claim to be IT illiterate but seem to think that’s acceptable in the modern workplace:
  • That operations teams have a tremendous amount of power to disregard and even override recommendations provided by architects who are paid to provide solid technical advice.
  • That, in 2018, some conference organisers not only think an all-male panel is acceptable but are hostile when given feedback…

I’ve also:

  • Gone on a mini-tour of Southern England working in London, Bristol and Birmingham for the first four days of the week. It did include a bonus ride on a brand new train though and a stint in first class (because it was only £3 more than standard – I’ll happily pay the difference)!
  • Taken a trip down memory lane, revisiting the place where I started my full-time career in 1994 (only to be told by a colleague that he wasn’t even born in 1994):
  • Squeezed in a “run” (actually more like a slow shuffle) as I try to fit exercise around a busy work schedule and living out of a suitcase.
  • Managed to take my youngest son swimming after weeks of trying to make it home in time.
  • Written my first blog post that’s not a “weeknote” in months!
  • Picked up a writing tip to understand the use of the passive voice:

So the week definitely finished better than it started and, as we head into a long weekend, the forecast includes a fair amount of sunshine – hopefully I’ll squeeze in a bike ride or two!

Weeknote 15: Pyramid training (Week 16, 2018)

This week has been pyramid-shaped:

  • Monday: start work on Customer A’s End User Computing Strategy.
  • Tuesday: work on Customer B’s Surface/Windows 10 rollout (I’ve stopped pretending that it’s anything to do with a “Modern Workplace” because it’s completely technology-focused). Then, up to Stafford ready for Wednesday’s team meeting and an opportunity for dinner at The Market Vaults (great “dirty burger” and real ale).
  • Wednesday: Team Meeting – opportunity to catch up with my fellow Architects (we’re generally working on different projects so always good to get together). Second trip to the Market Vaults in as many days…
  • Thursday: Back with customer B, then over to the Microsoft Cloud User Group meeting in Birmingham.
  • Friday: trying to write customer A’s strategy but in reality dealing with customer B’s “issues” (and politics). Then, spend the evening at the local “urgent care centre” after my youngest son bangs and cuts his head on a wall whilst playing Xbox (3-4 hour wait means “urgent” is a relative term in an under-funded NHS)… anyway, playing on the Xbox is clearly a dangerous activity!

In other news, I finally managed to get my turbo trainer back to Wiggle using the Asda To You service. It’s a simple but smart solution and a great example of diversification where otherwise near-empty supermarket trucks take parcels from stores to the central distribution hub. Advantages include local drop-off for customers, extra revenue for the supermarket and empty truck space gets used (with the consequential effect of fewer trucks on the road). And they’ll take parcels up to 25kg.

I need to wait for Wiggle and Tacx to work out what’s wrong with my trainer and repair or replace now (so no Zwifting) but at least the sun is shining so I can ride my bike outside…

Talking of sunshine, I wish this was one of my pictures but one local photographer/drone pilot grabbed a shot of Olney in this week’s sunshine:

The rest of the weekend will include a road bike ride, then another attempt at the towpath MTB training with my eldest son (last time we attempted that ride a big puncture ended play), checking out a car boot sale as a potential opportunity to sell some of the contents of our loft – and taking my Mum for afternoon tea as a belated 70th birthday present.

I’ll wrap up this week’s post with another Instagram shot… these road markings amused me as I navigated Birmingham’s one-way system on Thursday evening…

Weeknote 14: Where were all the weeknotes? (Weeks 11-15, 2018)

Weeknotes have been a bit sporadic of late. No, not sporadic. Completely missing.

There have been a few reasons for this:

  • Work got a bit frustrating and it’s generally career-limiting to criticise your customer’s (in)ability to deliver…
  • I got really, really busy at work (see above).
  • And then I took a holiday.

The holiday was great – a week skiing in Tignes/Val d’Isère with my family and then a stop-off in Dijon on the way home. I’m told that the reason to ski at Easter is that you’re more likely to get good weather and we did have plenty of blue skies but it also snowed most days so we had a few white-outs too…

After just three seasons of skiing (for me and my boys), my family are now all at different ability levels with my wife being the most competent (if not as confident as she might have been skiing pre-family!); my eldest son bordering on reckless (just wanting to go faster), skiing black runs and even off-piste (at ski school); my youngest turning into a smart little skier, happy on any of the pistes; and me left behind them all (although I conquered my fear of the red runs this year and my technique is improving).

My family always know when I’m relaxed. That’s when my creative side starts to show – I take more photos and I’m inspired to blog. And that’s why my Instagram feed has been a bit busier of late!

Skiing in Tignes-Val d'Isère (Espace Killy)

The return to work was gentle – the Easter holidays, annual leave and my birthday (we get birthday leave at risual) meant a two day week before I really got back into work.

Unfortunately, after getting home, my Tacx Vortex smart trainer broke. And with just a few weeks to go before the London Revolution, I was hoping to up my training. No Zwift for me until I can get it repaired or replaced though – and that means sending it back to Wiggle.

I found the original box for the trainer, packed it up and weighed it. 12kgs. Too heavy (and a little large) for Collect+ so I followed the advice from Wiggle to send it back using another carrier (and reclaim the postage). Unfortunately, I used Hermes. They claimed that delivery had been refused (Wiggle said it wasn’t) and after a week the parcel was back with me. Their customer service was awful (no answer in Twitter, and only standard responses – nothing that actually answered my questions via email). I have been offered my next shipment free of charge but that’s irrelevant because there won’t be a next time. I. Will. Never. Use. Hermes. Again.

One thing this tweet flagged to me – Wiggle’s social media team and the people who look after their email are really not connected…

Next week I’m trying another option because Mark (@TheLongMile) highlighted the option to return items to Wiggle via a local Asda supermarket. To be fair, Wiggle also offered to collect but that would have been using Yodel (marginally better than Hermes but still not a great reputation) and I’d have had to wait in from 7am to 7pm one day.

Right, that will do for this week’s post. I’ll sign off with another pic from my holidays – breakfast at dawn next to Lac d’Annecy was a great reward for getting up at 4:30 to drive off the mountain ahead of the traffic…

Weeknote 10: “A week off” (Week 7, 2018)

I only worked one day this week. Or, more accurately, I only went to work at risual one day this week. There was plenty of work in the week though – and a similar amount of travel to a normal working week too!

Monday was a good day. We had our biannual summit at risual and, like the last one, we ran it as a mini-conference (risual:NXT) with a keynote followed by 22 sessions over 4 tracks – and I was responsible for the technology track again.

I also brought my 13 year-old son to work with me. He had a great day and it was fantastic to see my colleagues make him so welcome as he helped our ops team to run the day. And the highlight for him? Holding up the cards to tell me when I had 10, 5, 2 minutes left in my presentation and then time’s up. I went 1 minute over (into my Q&A time) and he was sure to tell his Mum and his little brother when he got home! (Believe me, there are people who are far worse at sticking to their allotted presentation time than me!)

As it was half term where I live, I took the rest of the week off but it was still pretty busy. With a loft conversion planned in the coming months, there’s a lot of “sorting out” to be done in my house and the pile of recycling sacks that I’ll be leaving for the bin-men next week is only the tip of the iceberg. In addition to sorting out my own place, I took a trip to South Wales to help empty my Gran’s flat as she moves into care. That’s when I ended up at a recycling centre where I saw this sign and I really did wonder if the Welsh language is just a joke played on the English (it’s not really!)…

Welsh scrap metal sign

One of the most enjoyable parts of the week was on Tuesday, when I took my eldest son to Derby Arena for a track cycling experience with Team MK. My only previous visit to a velodrome was at Lee Valley, where I was in the spectator seating above the track. At Derby the track is on a mezzanine level above a sports hall so you can stand underneath and really get a feel for how steep the banking is (42 degrees, I believe). Nevertheless, my son went from “never-ridden-a-track-bike” to “fearlessly-hammering-it-around-the-top-of-the-track” in less than 2 hours and I think this could be the first of many trips to a velodrome…

I want to have a go now!

Next week, I’m back to work and should finally be getting into the swing of things with my Modern Workplace project, plus an evening BCS meeting and an “AI envisioning session” with Microsoft. Watch this space!

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…

Weeknote 4: music; teenagers; creating a chatbot; tech, more tech and tech TV; 7 day photo challenge; and cycling (Week 46, 2017)

Another week, another weeknote…

There’s not much to say about work this week – I’ve mostly been writing documentation. I did spend a good chunk of Monday booking hotels and travel, only to find 12 days of consulting drop out of my diary again on Friday (cue hotel cancellations, etc.) but I guess that’s just life!

Family life: grime, rap and teens!

Outside work, it’s been good to be close to home and get involved in family life again.

I had the amusement of my 11 year-old and his friends rapping to their grime music on my car on the way to/from football training this week (we’re at the age where it’s “Dad, can we have my music on please?”) but there’s only so much Big Shaq I can take so I played some Eminem on the way back. It was quite endearing to hear my son say “I didn’t know you knew about Eminem!” after I dropped his mates off. I should make the most of these moments as the adulation is dropping off now he approaches his teens!

Talking of teens, my eldest turned 13 this week, which was a big day in the Wilson household:

 

I’m not sure how this little fella grew into this strong chap (or where the time in between has gone) but we introduced him to the Harry Enfield “Kevin the teenager” videos a few months ago. I thought they were funny when I was younger but couldn’t believe how accurate they are now I’m a parent. Our boys clearly understood the message too and looked a bit sheepish!

Tech

I did play with some tech this week – and I managed to create my very own chatbot without writing any code:

Virtual Mark (MarkBot1) uses the Microsoft QnA Maker and runs in Microsoft Azure. The process is described in James Marshall’s blog post and it’s very straightforward. I’m using Azure Functions and so far this serverless solution has cost me absolutely nothing to run!

It’s also interesting reading some of the queries that the bot has been asked, which have led to me extending its knowledge base a few times now. A question and answer chatbot is probably more suited to a set of tightly bounded questions on a topic (the things people can ask about me is pretty broad) but it’s a nice demo…

I also upgraded my work PC to the latest Windows 10 and Office builds (1709 and 1710 respectively), which gave me the ability to use a digital pen as a presentation clicker, which is nice, in a geek-novelty kind of way:

Tech TV

I have an Amazon Prime membership, which includes access to Amazon Prime Instant Video – including several TV shows that would otherwise only be available in the US. One I enjoy is Mr Robot – which although completely weird at times is also strangely addictive – and this week’s episode was particularly good (scoring 9.9 on IMDB). Whilst I was waiting for the next episode to come around, I found that I’d missed a whole season of Halt and Catch Fire too (I binge-watched the first three after they were recommended to me by Howard van Rooijen/@HowardvRooijen). Series 4 is the final one and that’s what presently keeping me from my sleep… but it’s really good!

I don’t have Netflix, but Silicon Cowboys has been recommended to me by Derek Goodridge (@workerthread). Just like the first series of Halt and Catch Fire, it’s the story of the original IBM PC clone manufacturers – Compaq – but in documentary format, rather than as a drama series.

iPhone images

Regular readers may recall that a few weeks ago I found myself needing to buy a new iPhone after I fell into the sea with my iPhone in my pocket, twisting my ankle in the process…

People have been telling me for ages that “the latest iPhone has a great camera” and, in daylight, I’m really impressed by the clarity and also the bokeh effect. It’s still a mobile phone camera with a tiny sensor though and that means it’s still really poor at night. If a full-frame DSLR struggles at times, an iPhone will be challenged I guess – but I’m still finding that I’m inspired to use the camera more.

7 Days 7 Photos

Last week, I mentioned the 7 days, 7 photos challenge. I’ve completed mine now and they are supposed to be without explanation but, now I have a set of 7 photos, I thought I would explain what and why I used these ones. I get the feeling that some people are just posting 7 pictures, one a day, but these really do relate to what I was doing each day – and I tried to nominate people for the challenge each day based on their relevance to the subject…

Day 1

7 Days 7 Photos Day 1

I spotted this pub as I walked to Farringdon station. I wondered if “the clerk and well” was the origin of the name for “Clerkenwell” and it turns out that it is. Anyway, I liked the view of the traditional London pub (I was on my way home from another one!) and challenged my brother, who’s a publican…

Day 2

7 Days 7 Photos Day 2

I liked the form in this photograph of my son’s CX bike on the roof of my car. It didn’t look so clean when we got back from cyclocross training though! I challenged my friend Andy, whose 40th birthday was the reason for my ride from London to Paris a few years ago…

Day 3

7 Days 7 Photos Day 3

Not technically a single photo – lets’ call it a triptych, I used the Diptic app (as recommended by Ben Seymour/@bseymour) to create this collage. I felt it was a little too personal to nominate my friend Kieran, whose medals are in the lower left image, so I nominated my friend James, who was leading the Scouts in our local remembrance day parade.

Day 4

7 Days 7 Photos Day 4

I found some failed backups on my Synology NAS this week. For some reason, Hyper Backup complained it didn’t have enough storage (I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Azure that ran out of space!) so I ran several backups, each one adding another folder until I had all of my new photos in the backup set. I felt the need to challenge a friend who works in IT – so I challenged my friend Stuart.

Day 5

7 Days 7 Photos Day 5

My son was cake-baking, for Children in Need, I think – or maybe it was my other son, baking his birthday cake. I can’t really remember. I challenged a friend who runs a local cafe and regularly bakes muffins…

Day 6

7 Days 7 Photos Day 6

Self-explanatory. My son’s own creation for his birthday. I challenged my wife for this one.

Day 7

7 Days 7 Photos Day 7

The last image is following an evening helping out at Scouts. Images of attempts to purify water through distillation were not that great, so I took a picture of the Scout Badge, and nominated my friend Phil, who’s another one of the local Scout leaders.

(All seven of these pictures were taken on an iPhone 8 Plus using the native camera app, then edited in Snapseed and uploaded to Flickr)

Other stuff

I like this:

And I remember shelves of tapes like these (though mine were all very neatly written, or computer-generated, even back in the 1980s):

On the topic of music, look up Master Boot Record on Spotify:

And this “Soundtrack for Coding” is pretty good for writing documentation too…

I added second-factor authentication to my WordPress blog this week. I couldn’t find anything that uses the Microsoft Authenticator, but this 2FA WordPress plugin from miniOrange uses Google Authenticator and was very easy to set up.

Some UK libraries have started loaning BBC Microbits but unfortunately not yet in my manor:

Being at home all week meant I went to see my GP about my twisted ankle (from the falling-into-the-sea incident). One referral later and I was able to see a physio… who’s already working wonders on helping to repair my damaged ligaments. And he says I can ride my bike too… so I’ll be back on Zwift even if cyclocross racing is out for the rest of the season.

Cycling

On the subject of Zwift, they announced a price rise this week. I understand that these things happen but it’s gone up 50% in the US (and slightly more than that here in the UK). All that really does is drive me to use Zwift in the winter and to cancel my membership in the summer. A more reasonable monthly fee might make me more inclined to sign up for 12 months at a time and create a recurring revenue for Zwift. Very strange business model, IMHO.

I particularly liked the last line of this article:

“Five minutes after the race
That was sooo fun! When can I do it again?!”

I may not have been riding cyclocross this weekend, but my son was, and Sunday was the popular Central Cyclocross League race at RAF Halton. With mud, sand, gravel and steep banks, long woodland sections and more, it looked epic. Maybe I’ll get to ride next year!

I did get to play with one of the RAF’s cranes (attached to a flatbed truck) though – amazing how much control there is – and had a go on the road safety rig too.

And of course, what else to eat at a cyclocross event but Belgian fries, mayo and waffles!

Finally, my friends at Kids Racing (@kidsracing) have some new kit in. Check out the video they filmed at the MK Bowl a couple of weeks back – and if you have kids in need of new cycling kit, maybe head over to HUP CC.

Wrap-up

That’s it for this week. Next week I have a bit more variation in my work (including another Microsoft event – Azure Ready in the UK) and I’m hoping to actually get some blog posts written… see you on the other side!

Weeknote No 3: subscription fatigue; travel; 7 day photo challenge; Microbits; and remembrance (Week 45, 2017)

Another week, another week note. And I really should try and publish these a bit earlier (it’s late on Sunday evening again!)

More on my new roof bars/carriers

Last week I wrote about buying my new Thule roof bars and bike carriers from roofracks.co.uk.

After I’d fitted the bars, I noticed a small dent in one of them. I had been super-careful when fitting them, so I can be pretty sure that it wasn’t anything I did. I emailed roofracks.co.uk and, whilst the dent is only visible in certain light conditions and difficult to photograph, they said they couldn’t clearly see the dent in the pictures I sent (including this one):

Dent in new Thule wingbars

(Is it just me? I thought the red ring would help…)

They wanted me to return the damaged bar at my cost so they could inspect and send a replacement (I’d already said it wasn’t worth it but asked if they could apply a small discount). For that reason, I can no longer recommend roofracks.co.uk. Which is a pity, because they have competitive pricing (presumably based on volume sales).

Subscription fatigue

I also referred to subscription fatigue in last week’s weeknote. I knew that my friend David Hughes had written about it somewhere, but I couldn’t remember where… he pointed me to his newsletters (issue 2 and issue 4).

“Each developer that moves to this business model says “it’s just the price of a cup of coffee” every month, and it is. But my […] issue is that many apps are moving to this business model, and that starts to add up.

I could be in the position where I am spending hundreds of pounds a year to essentially rent software.

That is not for me.”

Hear, hear!

Travel

I spent half the week in the north west of England. Rochdale to be precise.

As it’s so difficult to get a parking space near Milton Keynes station after about 8:00 on a weekday, I caught a bus from home. I found a great website that uses open data to list all UK bus services. Bustimes.org.uk is not an official resource but, like realtimetrains.co.uk, it is an incredibly useful one!

I’d bought a ticket from Milton Keynes to Rochdale and back which, despite showing as only valid via Manchester, was not clear about whether it could be used on trams between Manchester’s two main stations (Piccadilly and Victoria). Manchester Metrolink later confirmed that the ticket wasn’t valid (so it’s a good job I played safe and bought a tram ticket then!).

If only Transport for Greater Manchester took a leaf out of Transport for London’s book with tickets that include public transport transfers (cf. Underground between London termini on through journeys) though it seems you can get a ticket that is valid for tram transfers – I just don’t know how!

I found it interesting to see that people on Twitter thought £67.50 was expensive for a return trip from Milton Keynes to Manchester (I thought it was a bargain). It’s certainly not expensive when compared with demand-based pricing on peak Manchester-London services (which can be over £300) or with the cost of driving ~400 miles to Rochdale and back…

Anyone who’s spent any time in and around Manchester will know it’s a city with a reasonably high chance of precipitation. Stupidly, I forgot to take a coat that fits over my suit to Greater Manchester. Muppet. Luckily I had an umbrella in my work bag…

Also worth knowing (from my travels further south at the end of the week): the rear First Class section in Thameslink trains is declassified until further notice. I have no idea why but it’s useful to get access to some power:

The socket location is a little unusual though:

Work opportunities

A couple of nights in Rochdale also gave me a chance to catch up with an ex-colleague and one of my most supportive former managers, Alan Purchase (@AlanPurchase).  He’s at Capgemini now – who seem to be hoovering up a lot of people with Microsoft skills (as are Microsoft themselves). Meanwhile, I got one of the regular LinkedIn contacts asking me if I’d be interested in a fantastic opportunity from someone I’ve never heard of who won’t even say who they are working for but this one was really special: it would involve moving my family to Ireland. Tempting though it may be to keep my EU citizenship post-Brexit, thanks but no thanks.

The rest of the week

As mentioned above, I was back dahn sarf for the second part of the week and spent two days in London with the first one at Microsoft learning more about the capabilities of Azure with regards to data and the intelligent cloud. I’ve been trying to grok this for a while (my background is Infrastructure). The second day was more mundane, supporting a colleague on a consulting engagement.

I tried using Apple Maps for turn-by-turn navigation on my watch whilst riding my Brompton to Microsoft on Thursday. Unfortunately, Apple Maps lacks cycling directions (it only has walk, drive, public transport or taxi) and I got a bit lost with the various “no cycling” routes in Regents Park which made for an interesting route map!

7 Days 7 Photos Challenge

I’ve been “challenged” for the 7 days 7 photos challenge on Facebook. The rules are simple:

Seven days, seven black and white photos of my life. No humans. No explanation. Challenge someone every day.

Some people are critical of this – saying it’s not a challenge, and suggesting it’s just creating a bunch of poor black and white photos on Facebook. I’m actually finding it a great opportunity to think about what I’m doing and to capture something from the day. Anything that gets me thinking creatively about capturing images has to be good, right?

3 days in and my efforts are on Flickr – see what you think so far…

7 Days 7 Photos Day 2

Other stuff

I was signposted to John Naughton (@jjn1)’s 95 theses about technology by Matt Ballantine (@ballantine70). I think it should be required reading for anyone in a senior technology role…

I do most of my geek stuff with my eldest son, so I asked the youngest if he fancied a play with a BBC Microbit. Our inventor’s kit arrived this week:

We had a lot of fun and it was fantastic to see his face light up when his Microbit started playing the sounds and displaying the letter of the notes as he had instructed.

I’ve played with the Relive app a few times to generate a birds-eye view of a route I’ve cycled. GPX Hyperlapse takes a different view – using Google Streetview to help view a route (perhaps in preparation for a ride).

IBP Index looks interesting as an approach for measuring the relative effort of different activities (e.g. cycling, running, etc.).

Today was Remembrance Sunday and a particularly poignant one where I live in Olney as so many local men were lost at the Battle of Passchendaele, exactly one hundred years ago. It’s always good to see so many people turn out to pay their respects but such a shame the traffic wasn’t halted for the 2 minute silence, as it has been in previous years.

D700-20171112104016.jpg

That’s all for now

Right, that’s all for now. If you read this far, thanks for sticking with me. These posts take a long time to write so any feedback is welcomed – it would be good to know I’m not just writing a diary for my own benefit!

Weeknote No 2: Thule bike carriers; Microsoft #FutureDecoded; and a new iPhone (Week 44, 2017)

After some positive feedback on last week’s newsletter-style blog, I’ve decided to keep going with the format for at least another week.

So, please indulge me in a little narcissism as I write about a week in the world of Mark… although this post is a little late as it’s now the following Monday (I ran out of weekend…)

New bike carriers

Last week I wrote about racing cyclocross with my son. I have a 4-bike carrier that fits on a towball on my car but it’s just a cheap one from Halfords and, to be honest, it’s not that great. I’ve been considering getting a roof mounted system for when I have just a couple of bikes (i.e. not the whole family’s) and, I decided to buy a good product this time (buy cheap, buy twice…).

That meant a Thule system – and their website helped me to work out which parts to buy but I was still looking to do better than recommended retail price. After failing to land a couple of Thule ProRide carriers on eBay, I bought the whole setup from RoofRacks.co.uk, including matching locks as standard and free standard delivery.

One thing I thought long and hard on was whether to go for silver or black finish (my car has black roof rails). In the end. I decided on silver – the 10% premium for black parts is simply not worth it – especially as the silver rails/racks have some black components.

Survey marks

Whilst walking in Dorset last week, I spotted a strange disc bolted to a pavement, with the words Survey Mark on it. I asked Ordnance Survey if they knew what it is and they responded to say it’s a “historical bolt style benchmark” – a legacy system for recording the height above sea level.

Back to work (highlights)

After last week’s holiday, it was back to work this week – with a bang. My employer, risual, was headline sponsoring Microsoft’s Future Decoded event – which meant a couple of full-on (but enjoyable) days at London ExCeL in a mixture of stand duty (chatting to delegates, capturing potential sales leads), presenting (4 short sessions on digital transformation) – albeit in a theatre “room” at the side of the main exhibition hall (so not the best environment) – and joining the keynote sessions (though I missed all of the breakout sessions). Added to UK Azure User Group events on Monday and Tuesday evenings, it was a very busy few days!

I really enjoyed the presenting opportunity – I’d like to do more if I get the chance, though I do prefer to create my own content (rather than presenting material created for me). I also saw some pretty cool presentations that I hope will result in some blog posts of their own – particularly the ones around Quantum Computing and DNA Storage.

Accessibility

Hobbling around with a twisted ankle (after last week’s unexpected fall into the sea) has given me a little insight into what it’s like to have limited mobility. I’ve still walked, but more slowly than usual – and not the distances I’d normally expect to cover. No cycling, running or circuits this week either…

The closing keynote at Future Decoded had a major focus on inclusivity and accessibility – including the surprising statistic that 1 billion people in the world are disabled in one way or another (hidden or visible).

Every one of us has reduced ability from time to time – not just people who are disabled. That may be permanent, temporary (as in my case) or situational (such as when holding a child whilst on a phone call). Assistive technology is something that we can all use to make the most of our senses and get the best use of time – the most important thing we have!

iPhones…

Readers of last week’s post may remember that I fell into the sea, with an Apple Watch Series 3 on my wrist (water resistant) and iPhone 6s in my pocket (not water resistant). As well as the discomfort from the twisted ankle, that’s turned out to be quite an expensive slip…

After a couple of days drying out, my phone was working (sort of), with notifications (and even a phone call) on my Apple Watch – and my computers could “see” the iPhone. But the screen wasn’t working so I couldn’t unlock it.

The damage to the phone was covered on my home contents policy as accidental damage but it was going to take a couple of weeks for the insurers to get their agent to collect, assess and then potentially return a repaired device to me. I don’t want a repaired device. Water damage leads to all sorts of longer-term issues, particularly when combined with corrosion, so they agreed to replace my phone if Apple would certify that the device was beyond economic repair due to liquid damage.  After seeing the bright red liquid damage indicator, Apple was happy to do that. Unfortunately, they valued my iPhone 6S at £299 – apparently the replacement price for an upgrade. Take off £100 excess and I had £199 in the bank but no working phone.

I’d only been saying how expensive the new iPhone is and how I’d keep mine for a bit longer the day before I trashed my old one… now I’m paying for that expensive iPhone 8 Plus over 20 months, with interest-free finance through the Apple Upgrade Programme (AUP… or “ay-up” as the staff referred to it… I thought I’d suddenly been transported to Yorkshire). It also gives me the option to exchange for a new phone in a year’s time (iPhone 8S, 9 or 11 or whatever the next one is called), and it includes 2 years’ Apple Care. Let’s hope the camera is as good as I was led to believe by some of my friends (that’s why I got the plus, and why I got the 256GB version).

Unfortunately, iCloud wasn’t backing up as much as I hoped and a restore to my new phone was a little underwhelming. I had backed up my photos manually but there were a few I hadn’t got, and I had some expenses I really wanted to click “upload” on. I searched the ‘net for a local Apple repair specialist to see how much a new screen might cost and found Northampton Apple Repair, who helped me out with a temporary screen and battery so I could take a full iTunes backup of my phone. Having seen the inside of my phone (lots of salt), they were amazed it even booted.

I also learned that:

Other stuff

The Carrot Weather app has an AR mode and it’s pretty cool:

This is what an Azure Stack looks like. Yes, it’s just a (mostly empty) rack of 1U servers and some very clever software:

This is what a Tesla looks like under the covers:

The Apple 3.5mm to Lightning audio converter is likely to get lost. Maybe leave it permanently attached to a set of headphones (via @timbo_baggins)?

After a few months of using Todoist Premium for free (thanks to discount codes), I’ve signed up for a year… it must be good because I suffer from subscription fatigue and am trying to avoid adding to the pile of products that I use for “less than the price of a cup of coffee” a day/week/month/whatever. They add up to a lot of coffee…

Weekend

No cycling for me this weekend but a good opportunity to get together with friends for a bit to eat and drink, followed by fireworks. After reading some night-time photography suggestions from Apple I downloaded a different iOS camera app ( Procam 5) but didn’t really get the opportunity to try it out before the live display…

Taking photos of fireworks is never easy – particularly on a smartphone. I’m quite pleased with some of the firework pics I took last summer though…

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I fitted the new roof bars on Sunday – they look pretty good. I tested the bike carriers too but took them off until I need to use them.

The instructions are OK, once you get your head around them, but this video helped a lot:

Wrap-up

I’ll be back with more next week – probably a little-less Apple-centric but I need to balance out this week’s Microsoft-centric tweeting, I guess! ^MW

A newsletter? Weeknote? Blogletter? Issue No 1 (Week 43, 2017)

Inspired by David Hughes (@DavidHughes) and Christian Payne (@Documentally), a few weeks ago, I ran a Twitter poll to see if anyone would be interested in a newsletter of some of the stuff I’ve been up to. The responses were mixed, but some went along the lines of “the email format doesn’t resonate with me” and “I like reading what you’ve been up to on your blog”. My blog has been falling by the wayside in recent months and I do want to write more, so I’ve decided to write a weekly (ish) newsletter here instead. In between, I’ll stick write the usual tech-inspired stuff but this will be more eclectic. Matt Ballantine (@ballantine70) does something similar with his weeknotes – but he must be incredibly disciplined to get them out every Friday. I spend Fridays trying to end my week.

So, here goes for issue 1. I’m still not sure what this thing should be called?

A week off

I’ve just had a week off work. I needed it. My previous blog post describes some of the challenges I’ve had lately and I really needed to decompress. After the initial weekend madness (just like every weekend), the first half of the week was spent at home, mostly sorting stuff out (more on that later), then a few days away with my family…

The weekend before…

My eldest son has started competing in the Central Cyclocross League and I’ve been joining in the novice races whilst he races in the Under 14s (both races take place on the same course at the same time).

I seriously considered not racing last week after a very hard practice lap but then my son instructed me to “put your numbers on and race your bike”. Oh, OK then!

I’m reasonably fit for long distance stuff (I recently completed the rather hilly inaugural Velo Birmingham 100 mile sportive) and my Caveman Conditioning (circuits) a couple of times a week help with general fitness but cyclocross is something else. Particularly when you’re using a mountain bike because your son is riding his CX bike (how inconsiderate!). I think it may be time for an n+1. Certainly if we do this again next season!

Unfortunately, being ignored in the LBS doesn’t leave a very good feeling. Being ignored on social media after sending the tweet even less so…

Shopping

I don’t often wear a suit for work these days – but there are occasions where it’s still expected (first meetings, particular customers, etc.). I’ve been putting off buying a new suit for a while because a) there are two in the wardrobe that I really should slim down into b) I’d rather spend the money elsewhere. This week I gave in and bought something new.

I took one of my sons with me and he happily browsed the John Lewis technology department whilst I was suit shopping. He thinks I spent a lot of money though and suggested I get a blazer with some M&S trousers like his school uniform for a fraction of the price! Welcome to the world of work, son!

Whilst he was browsing the technology, I spotted this:

The Windows Premium collection appears to be Windows 10, running on a selection of higher-end PCs (Dell XPS 13, HP Spectre, etc.). First time I’d heard of it though…

Administration

I spent a good chunk of my week off working through an administration backlog at home. Ultimately that results in a lot of scanning (on my Canon ImageFormula P-215 desktop scanner), some shredding and a little bit of filing (for those few documents that I do retain in paper form).

After hunting around for PDF editing tools (ideally command line) to remove some pages I didn’t need inside some existing PDF files, I found this comment on the MacRumors forums:

“Preview does all of this quite well, fyi.”

Sure enough: open the PDF in MacOS Preview; delete the extra pages; save. Job done.

Karting, photography and train travel

My youngest son wanted to go to a friend’s go-karting party this week whilst my wife and eldest were heading down to Dorset for a few days. No problem, he could stay at home with me whilst I did some of my admin and then we’d follow on by train.

The karting inspired me to get my Nikon D700 out again. It may be big and heavy but I love the control of the DLSR experience and the results. I’ve tried some pro apps on my iPhone (like 645 Pro) but it’s just not the same!

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Afterwards, the train journey to Dorset gave my son and I a mini-adventure (bus, train, tube, another train) to join the rest of the family – and with a Family and Friends railcard it was less than £30!

Walking

Last Friday was a gorgeous day – almost no wind and bright sunshine didn’t seem like late-October! My family took the chance to go for a walk along the South West Coastal Path from Swanage to Studland (for a pub lunch).

Afterwards, I walked back with one of my sons – and what a treat that was! Glorious views and late-afternoon sunlight meant lots of photo stops but it was certainly my favourite part of the walk!

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On the beach

Saturday’s weather was less impressive but, after lunch at our favourite Swanage coffee shop (Java), coincidentally located next to my favourite Swanage restaurant (Chilled Red, where my wife and I had eaten the night before), we took the boys to the beach. They were happy with their wetsuits to keep the cold at bay whilst they played but I decided to stay dry. At least that was the plan.

I was walking out on one of the groynes to take a picture of the boys, when I found that walking boot soles have almost no grip once they meet wet wood and, faced with the choice of falling face-first (or probably chest-first) onto  a large wooden beam or throwing myself towards the sea, I chose the latter… managing to twist my ankle on the way, and then realising that my wallet and my iPhone were in my pockets.

I’m hoping that the phone will be covered on the household building and contents insurance – we have accidental damage cover and I’ll be making that call tomorrow… otherwise I could be getting an iPhone 8+ sooner than planned!

In the meantime, I’ve found out a lot about the water resistance of various Apple products:

Zwift and Android

My son fancied having a go on my Tacx Vortex trainer today, so we tried to get it working with Zwift for him.

Normally, I use the iOS app on my iPhone but, as that’s still drying out, it wasn’t an option. Zwift is currently available for Windows, MacOS and iOS but not (yet) Android so we went back to my original Windows PC-based setup with Zwift Mobile Link as a Bluetooth bridge. After spending a lot of time trying to get it working this afternoon with my son’s Android phone, it seems that I may need to update the firmware on my trainer for it to be recognised as a controllable trainer via the Android version of Zwift Mobile Link and Bluetooth LE (currently they only see it as a power meter and cadence sensor).

Wrap-up

That’s about it for this week… let me know what you think of the whatever-this-is (newsletter? blog post? something else?) and I’ll think about writing another one next week.

Using a VPN to watch ITV content outside the UK

Those who follow me on Twitter (@markwilsonit) will probably be aware that I recently spent some time in mainland Europe – travelling through France, Germany and Switzerland with my family. You’ll probably also be aware that one of my hobbies is road cycling – and that I like to watch the highlights from the three Grand Tours (Giro d’Italia, Tour de France and Vuelta a España) and from the Tour of Britain. With the Vuelta in full swing as my holiday started, I wanted to make sure I could still catch the highlights on ITV4!

Even with the new EU mobile roaming arrangements that mean I can use my mobile data allowance in other EU countries, I didn’t expect to be able to stream content reliably, so I took out a subscription to ITV Hub+, allowing me to download ITV programmes with the ITV Hub app (on Wi-Fi) and play back later, without ads. This worked brilliantly on the ferry to France but not so well once I was in my Paris hotel room, where the app detected I was outside the UK and denied access to content with a variety of error messages:

ITV Hub download error outside the UK ITV Hub download error outside the UK ITV Hub download error outside the UK

I was pretty annoyed – after all, there was no mention of UK-only coverage when I subscribed to the ITV Hub+ and the ITV website says:

“Where can I use a Hub+ subscription?

As long as you’re signed into your account, you’ll be able to use your Hub+ subscription almost anywhere. Watch ad-free telly on our website, download and catch up on the go on your mobile or tablet, or binge on your favourite shows with no interruptions on your Smart TV!”

but I did find the limitation in their troubleshooting guide later:

I am abroad and can’t watch videos
The ITV Hub is only available within the UK as we don’t hold international rights for all of our shows. If you’re lucky enough to be on holiday or you live abroad, you won’t be able to watch ITV Hub until you return to the UK”

After a bit of a rant on Twitter (no response from ITV, of course), I thought about using a VPN (and @JFDuncan suggested Plex).

Unfortunately, my own VPN back to my NAS didn’t work (on reflection, L2TP/IPSec was not the best choice of transport – as @GarryMartin pointed out when I originally set it up) and I was nervous about using a third party service until Justin Barker (@JustinBarker77) suggested TunnelBear:

Recommendations are always good. And TunnelBear seemed more legitimate than some of the sites I found…

At first, I didn’t have much luck – even after following TunnelBear’s troubleshooting advice for accessing content. 24 hours later though, something had cleared (maybe I had a different IP address, maybe it was something on my iPhone) and ITV Hub+ worked flawlessly over hotel Wi-Fi and a VPN back to the UK. I could download my cycling highlights for later playback and the VPN tunnel even seemed to improve the Holiday Inn Wi-Fi reliability – possibly due to QoS restrictions prioritising potential business traffic (VPN) over leisure (downloading videos)!

I did have some challenges with playback – so I put the iPhone into Airplane Mode before watching content, just in case the ITV Hub app detected I was outside the UK again, but each time I wanted to download over the next few days I enabled the VPN and all was good. I also subscribed to TunnelBear for a month’s worth of unlimited data allowance (I soon chewed through the 1GB I got for tweeting about the service!).

Hopefully, this information will help someone else who’s frustrated by paying for a download service and then finding it doesn’t work outside the UK…