Weeknote 6: User group and MVP events; a new smartwatch; ghost trains; and the start of Christmas (Week 48, 2017)

Milton Keynes – Rochdale – London – Leicester. Not quite New York – London – Paris but those are the towns and cities on my itinerary this week.

Every now and again, I find myself counting down the days to the weekend. This week has been different. It was manic, squeezing work in around lots of other activities but it was mostly enjoyable too.

The week at work

My work week started off with an opportunity to input to a report that I find quite exciting. I can’t say too much at the moment (though it should be released within the next couple of weeks and I’ll be shouting about it then) but it’s one of those activities that makes me think “I’d like to do more of this” (I already get referred to as the extra member of the risual marketing team, which I think they mean as a good thing!).

Bills have to be paid though (i.e. I need to keep my utilisation up!), so I’ve also had some consulting in the mix, writing a strategy for a customer who needs to modernise their datacentre.

On Wednesday evening, I managed to fit in a UK Azure User Group (@UKAzure) meeting in London, with Paul Andrew (@MrPaulAndrew) talking about Azure Data Factory – another opportunity to fill some gaps in my knowledge.

Then, back to work on Thursday, squeezing in a full day’s work before heading to the National Space Centre in Leicester in the afternoon for the UK MVP Community Connection. I’m not an MVP anymore (I haven’t been since 2011) but I am a member of the MVP Reconnect Programme, which means I still get invited to some of the events – and the two I’ve been to so far have been really worthwhile. One of my favourite sessions at the last event was Tony Wells from Resource IT (the guys who create the Microsoft Abbreviation Dictionary) talking about storytelling. This time we had a 3-hour workshop with an opportunity to put some of the techniques into practice.

The evening started with drinks in the space tower, then an IMAX film before dinner (and a quiz) in the Space Centre, surrounded by the exhibits. We returned the next day for a Microsoft business update, talks on ethics and diversity, on extending our audience reach and on mixed reality.

Unfortunately, my Friday afternoon was hijacked by other work… and the work week also spilt over into the weekend – something I generally try to avoid and which took the shine off things somewhat…

Social

I’ve had a full-on week with family too: my eldest son is one of six from Milton Keynes who have been selected to attend the Kandersteg International Scout Centre (KISC) in 2019 and, together with ten more who are off to the World Scout Jamboree in West Virginia, we have a lot of fund-raising to do (about £45,000 in total). That meant selling raffle tickets in the shopping centre for the opportunity to win a car on Monday evening, and a meeting on Tuesday evening to talk about fundraising ideas…

So, that’s out every evening, and a long day every day this week… by Friday I was ready to collapse in a heap.

The weekend

No cyclocross this weekend (well, there was, but it clashed with football), so I was on a different sort of Dad duty, running the line and trying not to anger parents from the other team with my ropey knowledge of the offside rule

It’s also December now, so my family have declared that Christmas celebrations can begin. Right from the moment I returned home on Friday evening I was accused of not being Christmassy enough and I was forced to listen to “Christmas Music” on the drive to my son’s football match (the compromise was that it could be my Christmas playlist).

Even I was amused to be followed in my car by a certain jolly chap:

My part in decorating the house consists of getting everything down from the loft, putting up the tree and lights, and then finding myself somewhere to hide for a couple of hours until it all looks lovely and sparkly. Unfortunately, the hiding time was actually spent polishing a presentation for Monday and fighting with Concur to complete my expenses… not exactly what I had in mind…

New tech

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that we now have a teenager in the house and my eldest son has managed to save enough birthday money to buy a smartwatch. He was thinking of a Garmin device until I reminded him how bad their software is when we sync our bike computers so he went for a Samsung Gear Sport. It looks pretty good if you have an Android phone. I have an iPhone and an Apple Watch (as you may recall from my recent tales of woe) but if I was an Android guy, I think the Gear Sport would be my choice…

Ghost trains

I forgot to add this tale to last week’s week note but I was travelling back home from Stafford recently when I noticed a re-branded Virgin Pendolino at the platform. My train wasn’t due for another 10 minutes so I didn’t check out where this one was going, so I was a little surprised to pass it again as I arrived in Milton Keynes two hours later, after I’d gone the long way (via Birmingham) and changed trains…

Checking on Realtime Trains showed me that I could have caught a direct train from Stafford, but it wasn’t on the public timetable. Indeed, although it stops at several stations, it’s listed as an empty coaching stock working (which is presumably why it is pathed on the slow lines including the Northampton loop). So, in addition to trains that stop at Milton Keynes only to set down (southbound) or pick up (northbound), it seems that Virgin run “ghost trains” too!

Listening

I listen to a lot of podcasts when I’m in the car. This week I spent a lot of time in the car. I recommend these two episodes:

Twitter highlights

I’m no GDPR expert but this looked useful:

Company branding is great until it makes the information you give out next-to-useless:

Credit is due to the social media team handling the @PremierInn account for Whitbread, they quickly confirmed that it is a J not an I (though I had worked it out).

@HolidayInn were equally on the ball when I complained about a lack of power sockets (and traffic noise insulation) at their Leicester City Centre hotel. Thankfully they replies were limited to Twitter and email – not midnight calls as my colleague Gavin Morrisson found when he tweeted about another Holiday Inn!

This made me smirk (I haven’t “elevated” my Mac yet…):

If you don’t get the joke, this should provide context.

I like this definition of “digital [transformation]”:

This short video looks at how we need to “debug the gender gap”:

The full film is available to stream/download from various sources… I intend to watch.

And, to wrap up with some humour, I enjoyed Chaz Hutton’s latest Post-it sketch:

(for more like this, check out InstaChaz on Instagram)

Finit

That’s it for now… more next week…

Seasonal greetings and festive fun!

So, it’s Christmas Eve, and my backlog of technical blog posts is no shorter than ever… even so, I thought I’d share some of the more humorous items I’ve seen recently. You’ve probably seen them before (both of the videos have gone viral) but the first is an idea of how the Nativity may have been, had we been using social media at that time:

The second is a clip from The One Ronnie show – due to be aired over Christmas on the BBC. Those of you in the UK will almost certainly remember The Two Ronnies as part of the Christmas TV schedule and, although Ronnie Barker passed away, Ronnie Corbett teams up with Harry Enfield in this IT-related sketch:

It might not quite be up to the standard of Four Candles but I still think it’s funny, in a very British kind of way (judging my the number of times I’ve seen it tweeted this week, I’m not alone!).

My last festive offerings come from Liz Male Consulting (@LizMale), whose Christmas cards always provide much amusement in my house. Two years ago we had new building regulations for Christmas (Liz’s work is largely in the construction sector) and last year she was tweeting the Christmas story (a whole year ahead of the video above). For 2010 Liz has produced the Ministry of Austerity Ration Card which features such delights as the ConDem Christmas Cake and a special Seasonal Carol reflecting the times in which we live.

Thanks to everyone who’s supported my blogging/tweeting/other online ramblings this year. In a short while, I’ll be signing off for a few days with my family (and my new Xbox!) but I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you all an enjoyable festive season and all the best for 2011.

Web 2.0 according to Mitch Benn (and I’ve given in and signed up for Twitter)

According to The Guardian, primary school children in England are going to be taught about web 2.0 technologies. This is probably a good idea, but I have some reservations too… after all, I’m the head geek in our family and it’s only a matter of time before my son tells me that blogging is passé and that I really should be doing something else that I haven’t even heard of yet!

Fans of The Now Show may have heard Mitch Benn‘s ditty from a week of so back, which highlights all the key points of web 2.0 technology in about a minute:

“A blog is just a diary you post on the Internet so everybody in the world can read along.
It means you’re under the impression that your every waking thought is a source of fascination but you’re wrong.
Then there’s MySpace which is mainly full of dreadful Indie bands who want a record deal although it’s a lost cause.
Then there’s Facebook which is mainly a way to reassure yourself that your buddies’ lives are just as dull as yours.

A podcast is a radio show you make and post yourself so it doesn’t matter if it’s really crap.
MP3s are just a clever way of stealing people’s songs which is why the record industry’s collapsed.
Wikipedia is a site where you could have looked all this up for yourself if you weren’t such a lazy git.
And twitter is for messages that last 140 characters or less and I’m the King of it!”

[Mitch Benn, The Now Show, 27 March 2009]

I thought it was worth sharing… and if you like to hear Mitch’s irreverant musical satire then you might be interested to know he has a gig in London this June which could be a giggle.

Anyway, if my son (who is due to start school in a few months) is going to learn about Twitter, I thought it was about time I got an account… I can’t promise I’ll update it (any more than I do my Facebook status) but, for those who really are interested in the minutiae of my life (are you? really?), I’m @markawilson and Mitch Benn just got a new follower…

If you still haven’t got a clue what I’m talking about, this video explains Twitter in plain English:

A sneak peek at the Vista SP1 source code?

Sometimes I get criticised for writing positively about Microsoft products and being critical of Apple – hey, with the MacBook Air, it’s hard not to notice the lack of substance – what next? an invisible Apple notebook? (thanks to Alex for sending me that – and he used to evangelise almost everything that Cupertino produced before Apple products started to get popular and they began putting shareholders ahead of customers). I like to think that I’m pretty objective but then again my day job does involve consulting on Microsoft technologies so just in case there is any bias around here I thought I’d redress the balance with a little spoof about some Windows Vista SP1 source code that seems to have escaped into the public domain:

/*
  TOP SECRET Microsoft(c) Project:Longhorn(TM) SP1
  Estimated release date: 2008
*/

#include "win95.h"
#include "win98.h"
#include "leopard.h"

char chew_up_some_ram[10000000];

void main() {
  while(!CRASHED) {
    if(first_time_install) {
      make_10_gigabyte_swapfile();
      do_nothing_loop();
      search_and_destroy(FIREFOX|OPENOFFICEORG|ANYTHING_GOOGLE);
      hang_system();
    }
    if(still_not_crashed) {
      basically_run_windows_xp();
      do_nothing_loop();
    }
  }

  if(!DX10GPU()) {
    set_graphics(aero, very_slow);
    set_mouse(reaction, sometimes);
  }

  //printf("Welcome to Windows 2000");
  //printf("Welcome to Windows XP");
  printf("Welcome to Windows Vista");

  while(something) {
    sleep(10);
    get_user_input();
    sleep(10);
    act_on_user_input();
    sleep(10);
    flicker_led_promisingly(hard_disk);
  }

  create_general_protection_fault();
}

(I got this from multiple sources but they all seem to lead back to a Linux Format advert for TechRadar).

Now, the reason I’m posting this is that most Microsofties can appreciate the geek humour and have a chuckle. Sadly the Linux guys at FedoraForum chose to demonstrate their geekdom by descending into discussions of “the M$ tax” and other such ramblings in the vein of “my operating system is better than your operating system”. Yawn! One even commented that slow Vista sales were good for Linux (hmm… how’s that then? There may be a Mac revival going on in the consumer marketplace but I haven’t heard about a massive defection of dissatisfied Windows Vista users moving to Linux – quite the opposite in fact with many people simply reverting to using a familiar Windows XP installation).

I wrote over a year back how, rightly or wrongly, Windows XP would be around for a while yet and with Vista SP1 just around the corner it really does feel as though corporate customers are starting to get ready for Vista now. Personally, I’m looking forward to getting my grubby paws on a beta of Windows 7 (hopefully later this year).

Urgent client request

So here I am, last Friday before Christmas… trying to clear out my Inbox before the holidays and an urgent client request comes in…

We have received a late requirement for a virtualised global distribution system based on a traditional Linux Red Hat (with Red Nose) operating system utilising fat-client vertical drop-off delivery systems. The solution must be delivered by 24 December in order for the client to meet business deadlines and avoid massive disappointment to his customers.

The solution must be capable of scaling to meet global demand and have capacity to cater for worldwide overnight silent delivery.

Pull technology must be utilised using the open-source “Reindeer/Sleigh” principle and customer satisfaction is usually measured via the proprietary mince pie/brandy method. Alternative e-satisfaction measures have been tried but failed to satisfy the client.

Our client operates from a single site classified at top secret level using the latest encrypted/ virtualised addressing regime. I am allowed to tell you that the operating components (EL-VE-S) are highly resistant to frost.

Storage Area Network Technology Architecture (SAN-TA) is the essential core component.

Any design templates for a solution such as this from previous deployments (last December?) would be welcomed.

All those replying are guaranteed to have a great Christmas. The client has promised.

Happy Holidays

(Thanks to DT for letting me share this)

Dara Ó Briain talks about IT

So there I was, lying in bed in my hotel room, when Dara Ó Briain comes on the telly and starts talking about IT… it made me laugh a lot. So much that I thought I’d reproduce it here:

“[IT is] full of amazing bullshit job titles that didn’t exist 10, 20 years ago. You’re a developer for Christ sake eh! Do you have a web master in the office? [Yes] Of course you do. Yeah. Web master is my favourite of all of those – walking around the office going ‘I Am A Web Master. I Am Master Of The Web. Feel The Power Of My Fire Wall. It is not actually a wall of fire, no it is more of a protocol for e-mails, anyway, nevermind – I Am A Web Master. I am not social situation master – no I can’t do that at all no. I am not talking to women master – no there are too many variables in that situation as well I can’t be handling that’.

That, and my favourite thing about your industry by the way is ‘solutions’. You do love the solutions don’t ya? You know, when your computer’s not working and you’re kinda going, ‘ah, it’s not working, get the guy’ and one of your people arrives, in a cape, going ‘I, am a Solution Provider. You, you’re a problem provider, back away problem provider – you would not understand my solution, it is too technical for you, get out, get out of the room. Do not look at the computer – your eyes hurt the computer – get out! Have they gone? Lovely. Control – Alt – Delete…'”

[Dara Ó Briain, Comedian]

A light-hearted look at infrastructure optimisation

I’ve written before about Microsoft infrastructure optimisation (IO), including a link to the online self-assessment tool but I had to laugh when I saw James O’Neill’s post on the subject. I’m sure that James won’t mind me repeating his IO quiz here – basically the more answers from the right side of the table, the more basic the IT operations are and the more from the left side, the more dynamic they are. Not very scientific (far less so than the real analysis tools) and aimed at a lower level than a real IO study but amusing anyway:

The rest of my company… …involves the IT department in their projects. …accepts IT guys have a job to do. …tries to avoid anyone from IT.
My team… …all hold some kind of product certification. …read books on the subject. …struggle to stay informed.
What worries me most in the job is… …fire, flood or other natural disaster. …what an audit might uncover. …being found out.
My department reminds me of… …’Q branch’ from a James Bond movie. …Dilbert’s office. …trench warfare.
Frequent tasks here rely on… …automated processes. …a checklist. …Me.
What I like about this job is… …delivering the on the promise of technology. …it’s indoors and the hours are OK. …I can retire in 30 years.
If asked about Windows Vista I… …can give a run down of how its features would play here. …repeat what the guy in PC World told me. …change the subject.
New software generally is… …an opportunity. …a challenge. …something we ban.
My organization sees “software as a service” as a way to… …do more things. …do the same things, more cheaply. …do the same things without me.
Next year this job will be… …different. …the same. …outsourced.

XKCD

Make me a sandwich.  What?  Make it yourself.  sudo make me a sandwich.  OkayThanks to a Red Hat geek gift guide that I stumbled on whilst writing another post, I just found a very amusing (I’ll resist the urge to say cool) T-shirt for sale featuring this cartoon – there’s more like this at the XKCD store.

If you like it, check out the XKCD comic too. Very funny. If you are a geek. I believe that I am.

Mac vs. PC (vs. Linux)

A few months back, I wrote a post about the Mac vs. PC ads (which, funny as they are, as a user of Macintosh, Windows and Linux PCs, I find to be a little misleading sometimes and downright untruthful others) before following it up when I heard an amusing Mac vs. PC parody on BBC Radio 4’s The Now Show. It was interesting to hear that Mac Format magazine judged the ads as ineffective because the largest group of consumers to whom they appeal are already Mac users (although Apple’s continuation of the Get a Mac campaign would suggest that it is working for them) and, in the comments on my recent post about some of the consumer-targeted features in Windows Vista being just as good as the functionality offered by Mac OS X, I was criticised for saying:

“Apple’s Get a Mac campaign draws on far too many half truths that will only become apparent to users after they have made the decision to switch, splashed out on the (admittedly rather nice) Apple hardware and then found out that the grass is not all green on the other side.”

Regardless of the effectiveness (or honesty) of the original ads, late last night, whilst researching for my rebuttal of those comments, I came across some more Mac vs. PC ads:

I’ve said before that the whole “my operating system is better than your operating system” nonsense is quite ridiculous really but the TrueNuff guys have it all just about summed up:

“Why would you love a Mac? Computers are computers. Macs are great. So are PCs. So are toasters – what’s your point? It’s just a computer – get over it.”

I’m enjoying the spoof ads though!

My computer is better than your computer…

A couple of weeks back, I posted some clips of spoof Mac vs. PC ads, as well as pointing out that the Apple campaign is a little… how can I put this… untruthful… at times. I couldn’t be bothered to report Bill Gates getting annoyed on US television over the whole Mac vs. PC thing but I can tell this whole episode has gone mainstream when British comedians start poking fun at the Mac vs. PC ads on BBC Radio 4.

I was laughing out loud when I heard last Friday’s The Now Show – so much so that I thought I’d share a short segment of the show here – thereby illustrating that the whole “my operating system is better than your operating system” nonsense is quite ridiculous really:

Jon Holmes: Let’s take two letters at the same time…

Mac: Dear Jon, I’m a Mac.
PC: And I’m a PC.
Mac: I wonder if you could settle, once and for all, the controversial debate that’s been raging as to which one of us is better for the home and which one is better for the office?
PC: Well it really is a tricky one that, isn’t it? Umm.

Jon Holmes: But the Mac or PC argument has of course been a source of techie conflict for years; personally I couldn’t give less of a t*ss either way – they both let you download p*rn don’t they – what’s not to like? But speccy computer enthusiasts on either side treat the Mac and PC divide like open war…

(gunfire/explosions)

Admiral Horatio Nelson: The Battle is won Mr Hardy. Those Mac-loving scum have taken their stupid mouse that has only one clicky button and turned tail and fled. We can claim victory over those who would dare prefer an OS X operating system that utilises GUI and Unix underpinnings.

(explosion)

(Windows exclamation sound)

Arghh!

Admiral Horatio Nelson: Mr Hardy! I’ve been hit by a spam e-mail! I thought this ship’s Windows anti-worm and virus software had been configured to prevent unsolicited e-mails. I am done for.

Captain Thomas Hardy: Sorry Sir, the ship’s firewall was down. IT say there was a .DLL file error in the hold.

Admiral Horatio Nelson: It is over Mr Hardy. My battle is lost. Kiss me Hardy.

Captain Thomas Hardy: No thanks Sir, someone might film it on their phone camera and put it on YouTube and we’d look well gay.

Jon Holmes: PC or Mac, Mac or PC it’s causing a national divide pitching brother against brother, cousin against cousin, spoddy geek against spoddy geek…

Geek: At my signal, unleash Dell.

Jon Holmes: However, Mitchell and Webb aren’t the first double act to advertise computers either. Punt and Dennis did one some years ago, back when they were famous, in which they too had to pitch computer against computer but back then, there was no real contest as to which was the best…

Sinclair ZX-81: Hello, I’m a Sinclair ZX-81.
Space Invaders machine: And I’m a Space Invaders machine in the pub.
Sinclair ZX-81: I’ve got up to 1K of memory, an external cassette recorder (not supplied) and a lead to connect me to the back of the television.

(pause)

Space Invaders machine: Yeah but I’m in the pub.

Jon Holmes: No contest!

Notice
The above work has been copyrighted by the British Broadcasting Corporation and the author believes that the republishing of the script and low-quality recording on this page constitutes criticism, review and news reporting under the terms of fair dealing in the United Kingdom Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA). It also represents free publicity for one of the BBC’s excellent programmes!