Category Archives: Technology

Technology

Short takes: missing keys, closing apps and taking screen grabs

Another post with a few things I’ve collected in my browser tabs over the last few weeks…

Locating the hash (#) key on a Mac keyboard

I love the Apple wireless keyboard that I use with my Mac Mini but tweeting without a hash key can be challenging at times…

So much for the Mac’s simplicity when I have to Google to find the hash key (it’s at Alt+3, BTW)!

Closing Windows 8 apps with the Surface/Surface Pro touch/type covers

And, talking of missing keys… the Surface/Surface Pro touch/type covers have function keys that double up as media keys so, if you want to Alt-F4 to close an app, remember that’s Alt+Fn+F4.

Snipping from “Metro” apps in Windows 8.1

If you want to snip a portion of the screen in Windows 8.x and you’re running a full-screen (“Metro”) app, then you’re out of luck – the Snipping Tool only works in desktop mode. The workaround is to take a screenshot with PrtSc and then edit the resulting clipboard contents. Hopefully this gets better in Windows 10?

So where is the PrtSc key for the Surface/Surface Pro touch/type covers?

There isn’t a PrtSc key, but Fn+space will grab the whole screen (as PrtSc does on a normal PC keyboard) and Alt+Fn+space will grab the current window and copy it to the clipboard (as Alt+PrtSc does normally).

 

Technology

The OneDrive that’s really two drives…

Jamie Thomson and I have long since lamented the challenges of Microsoft’s two directories for cloud services and it doesn’t stop there. Take a look at cloud storage:

  • OneDrive is Microsoft’s cloud-based storage offering, accessed with a Microsoft Account (formerly a Windows Live ID, or a Passport if you go back far enough…)
  • OneDrive for Business is Microsoft’s cloud-based storage offering, accessed with an Organizational Account (which lives in Microsoft Azure AD)

Similar names, similar purpose, totally different implementation – as the OneDrive for Business product is still Groove (which later became SharePoint Workspace) under the covers (have a look at the filename when you download the client).

And look what happens when you have both products with the same email address used to access them:

Still, at least the site detects that this has happened and gives you the choice. And there is some hope for future convergence as Jamie highlights in this blog post from earlier in the year.

Earlier this week, I was helping a customer to get ready for an Office 365 pilot and they were having challenges with the OneDrive client. The version available for download from the Office 365 portal is a click-to-run installation and it didn’t want to play nicely with their .MSI-based Office 2013 installation (which should already include the client anyway). Actually, that didn’t really matter because the OneDrive client is also included in Windows 8.1, which was the operating system being used.

The confusion came with setting up the connected services inside Office:

  • To set up a OneDrive account, click on OneDrive – but that will only accept Microsoft Account credentials and, after configuration it will show as something like “OneDrive – Personal”.
  • To set up OneDrive for Business, don’t click OneDrive but select SharePoint instead. After logging on with your Organizational Account credentials, that will be displayed as “OneDrive – organisation name” (with SharePoint sites appearing as “Sites – organisation name”).

Some illustration might help so, below is a shot of my connected services. Because I’m connected to multiple Office 365 tenants, you can see that I have multiple OneDrive [for Business] and Sites entries:

If you’re trying to get hold of the OneDrive for Business sync client for SharePoint 2013 and SharePoint Online, Microsoft knowledge base article 2903984 has the links for the click-to-run install.  If you want an MSI version, then you’re out of luck – but you can create a customised Office 2013 installation instead as OneDrive for Business (formerly SkyDrive Pro) was originally released as part of several Office 2013 suites (as described in Microsoft knowledge base article 2904296.

Finally, if you’re trying to work out how to get a OneDrive for Business app on Windows Phone, the OneDrive app can connect to both OneDrive and OneDrive for Business.

Confused?

Technology

Some patience required when changing a display name for an Exchange Online mailbox

Mrs W and I have been married for a long time but, until last week, she was still using her maiden name for work. Now, for a variety of reasons, is a good time for her to switch and, as we use Office 365 for her business email, I said “Yeah, it’s really simple; just let me know when you’ve told your contacts about the name change and I’ll switch it over.”

So, when the time came, I changed the display name in the Exchange Online Exchange Admin Center (no changes to her SMTP addresses were needed) and thought that would be it. Nope. Test emails sent came from the original display name. The same happened with another account that I changed the name on. Wondering if this was an Outlook issue, I tried from Outlook Web App: no difference. Test emails were sent back and forth to email addresses outside our Office 365 tenant (like my work account) and the original name stubbornly stuck – I even looked in the message headers and, there it was.

I’m not sure, but I think the issue was related to the offline address book as, the GAL reflected the change immediately but the offline GAL was still showing the old display name.

Unlike in an on-premises Exchange installation, I couldn’t update the address book: connecting to Exchange Online via PowerShell and asking for Get-Command *Offline* told me that the Update-OfflineAddressBook cmdlet is not available in Exchange Online (confirmed in the TechNet reference, which only refers to Exchange Server 2013).

Like so many things in Exchange (and I remember this from my original Exchange 4.0 training course in 1996), it proved to be one issue that’s best left for a few hours to fix itself. The offline GAL updated overnight and emails were then sent with the new display name (not sure why this affected OWA though…).

Technology

One month with the Surface Pro 3

When I started my current job and tweeted about my new “laptop” (a Microsoft Surface Pro 3), I was a little surprised at the reaction from some people, including one of my friends whose words were along the line of “give it a month and then then tell me if you still like it…”

Well, it’s been a month, so here we go…

<tl; dr> I really, really, like it.

That’s not really much of a review though… so here’s some of the things that are good, and some that are less so…

Starting out with the positives:

  • It’s a fully-featured PC. Every time I see someone comparing the Surface with an iPad I cringe. I tried using an iPad as my primary device and it didn’t work for me. I can see why it would for some people but I need to work with multiple applications and task switch, copy and paste text all of the time. The Surface Pro runs Windows 8.1 and does everything I expect of a Windows PC, plus the benefits of having a touch screen display and a tablet form factor.
  • The display is fantastic. Crisp, clear, 2160×1440 (as Ed Bott highlights, that would be called a retina display on an Apple device).
  • The type cover keyboard is really good. Backlit keys, easy to type on, a good size. Combined with the kickstand on the tablet itself, it becomes a fully-featured 12″ laptop and it’s far more stable than many tablet/cover/keyboard combinations.
  • I live in OneNote. I can draw with the Surface Pen now – and that is incredibly useful.
  • It’s light. I haven’t checked how light, but light enough to carry with ease.
  • The power supply is not too big – and it has a USB charging socket too. Having said that, I can usually manage on the battery to catch the train in/out of London and get through a customer meeting.

On the downside though:

  • There aren’t enough USB ports and the use of a Mini DisplayPort means I need to carry adaptors. To be fair, I carry quite a few for my other devices too.
  • The price of accessories is way over the top: type cover is a penny under £110; Surface Pen is £45; Docking station is £165. Really? Add that to the cost of the device itself and you could buy a pretty good laptop. (The Surface Pro 3 range starts at £639 but the Intel i5 model with 4GB RAM and 128GB of storage that I use is £849 and the top of the range Intel i7 with 8GB RAM and 512GB storage will set you back £1549).
  • The type cover trackpad is awful. I use a mouse. That’s how bad it is.
  • The pen takes some getting used to (this post from Microsoft helps) – and I ran through the first set of batteries in no time (this support page came in useful too).
  • I’ve had some worrying issues with resuming from standby, sometimes not resuming at all, sometimes having to go through a full reboot. I suspect that’s the Windows build it’s running though – I can’t blame the Surface for that…

I’m more than happy with the Surface Pro 3 (at least, I am until the Surface Pro 4 comes out!). I was given the choice between this and a Dell ultrabook and I’m pretty sure I made the right choice. Maybe if I was a developer and I needed a laptop which was effectively a portable server then that would be a different story – but for my work as a Consultant/Architect – it’s exactly what I need.

If you need a Windows PC, your work is mobile (and not too taxing in terms of hardware requirements), and your employer has the facilities for effective remote working, the Surface Pro 3 is worth a look. I’d even go as far as to say I would spend my own money on this device. That’s more than I can say about any company-supplied PC I’ve had to date.

Technology

The tools of a mobile worker… including a plethora of cables and adapters

One of the great things about working for my current employer is that they provide me with the devices I need for mobile working and we use all of the software that we are helping our customers to adopt. My tools are a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 tablet and a Nokia Lumia 830 smartphone, together with the latest released versions of Windows and Office and I consume services from the Microsoft Cloud including all of the Office 365 workloads as well as some on-premises apps like Skype for Business. Using the full Microsoft stack does mean I’ve had to go back to using Internet Exploder though… and I am at last getting used to Bing and weening myself of the habit of using the big G for search – at least on my work PC!

I’m not saying that the use of a Surface Pro 3 was the reason I took the job – but it may have been a factor and not lugging around a heavy laptop has some major advantages (even the small form factor laptop I used for my last job was pretty weighty).

Unfortunately, with such a svelte device comes a down-side… namely that I now carry a plethora of cables and adapters, as illustrated by my former colleague Dom Allen (who now works for a rival Microsoft Partner):

Superb hardware. Spoilt slightly by the need for an appendage.

A photo posted by Dom Allen (@domejallen) on

So, what’s in my bag these days alongside the Surface Pro and its charger?

Maybe not quite the portable computing panacea I might have hoped for… but at least they all fit inside a pencil case!

(Unrelated to work, I also carry a 10cm Apple Certified Lightning to USB cable and an Anker Astro E1 5200mAh external battery power bank to keep my iPhone alive all day…)

Technology Waffle and randomness

Milton Keynes Geek Night – three years on and going from strength to strength (#MKGN)

I don’t remember how I first became aware of Milton Keynes Geek Night but, three years ago, I turned up in a room above a converted bus station to see what this new event would be like. 13 Geek Nights later (plus a special Geek Mental Health event too) and I haven’t missed a single night*, being described as a “groupie” by one of the founders. I even brought my wife along once…

In the early days, I used to blog about the topics of discussion. More recently I’ve struggled to find the time but the audio from the talks is on SoundCloud (well, all of the talks from Geek Night 3 onwards, that is).

Last night’s MK Geek Night lived up to expectations. Not being a designer or a developer, I tend to find that some of the talks are a little beyond my knowledge but still good for an IT architect to understand at a conceptual level.

I thought that, as MK Geek Night celebrates its third birthday, now would be a good time to look back on some of my favourite talks:

…and then there are Ben Foxall (@BenjaminBenBen)’s talks which are in a category of their own – they need to be on YouTube not SoundCloud! I just cant do them justice in words but how he gets 200 people to join in on their devices and illustrate some amazing functionality inside a browser I do not know. Similarly, Sii Cockerill (@siicockerill)’s dynamic art based on maths/environmental considerations was incredibly visual but you can at least see the results on the web.

I’ll sign off with massive congratulations and a huge thank you to Richard Wiggins (@RichardWiggins) and David Hughes (@DavidHughes) who organise and MC these events – and to all of the sponsors (without whom they wouldn’t be able to take place) – and of course to the speakers too! Here’s to many more years of #MKGN.

 

*There was also an MKGN All-Dayer which I was unable to join but hey, that’s not a “geek night” is it?!

Technology

Short takes: Symbols in Office applications and converting numbers to text in Excel

A few snippets I found on scraps of paper whilst sorting out my office this week…

Shortcuts to symbols in Office applications

Many people will be familiar with typing (c) to generate a © symbol in Microsoft Office applications but you can also use (R) or (TM) for trademark symbols ® and ™. One more that’s useful to know is (e) for the European currency symbol € (at least, it’s useful if your keyboard doesn’t recognise the Euro!).

Another useful code to know is the shortcut to create the symbol used to denote “therefore”, which is ? (and doesn’t appear in any dialogs I’ve seen to insert a symbol/special character). In Office applications running on a Windows PC, it’s possible to type ALT+8756 to generate the symbol.

I’ve tried these in Word and OneNote but see no reason why it shouldn’t work in other Office applications.  Unfortunately the functionality is limited to Office rather than part of the operating system – it doesn’t seem to work in a browser, or in NotePad for example.

Converting numerical data to text in Excel, or SharePoint, or something like that…

A few months ago I was creating a SharePoint list and wanted to display a unique ID for each entry but couldn’t use calculated values in the title column to base it on the actual ID for the list item (at least not when provisioning via the GUI). I can’t remember the exact circumstances but, looking back at my notes it appears I used the following formula in Excel to create a text version of a numerical cell:

=TEXT(A1,"0000")

I probably then uploaded that to SharePoint as a list and messed around with the columns displayed in a particular view… although it’s all a bit vague now. I no longer have access to the list I was working on, but it might jog my memory if I have to do something similar again…

Technology Waffle and randomness

Some observations on modern recruiting practices

The weekend before I start a new job seems like an ideal time to comment on my experience of searching for the right role over the last several months.  It’s been a long time since I had to seriously look for work – all of my interviews since late-2003 have been internal, or with organisations where I already had a working relationship – and boy has the world changed!

In many cases, writing a covering letter and attaching your CV seems to have gone out in favour of automated recruitment systems. Recruitment consultants can help get you in the door (the good ones can, anyway) but many organisations only work with certain agencies – so you need to build the right contacts. And LinkedIn is all over the place…

But it’s not all bad – the interview experience should be two way – for the candidate to gauge the potential employer as well as the other way around. That’s why I’m going to write here about two roles I applied for. In both cases I was unsuccessful – for different reasons – and both left me with negative feelings (about the organisation, or about the process). Written at another time it might have sounded like sour grapes; today I hope it won’t!

Organisation A

A friend who works for a large financial services company commented that he’d seen some Solution Architect roles advertised on their job site. Sure enough, there was one which looked a good fit on paper – and it sounded extremely interesting. He referred me internally and I navigated the company’s Oracle Taleo-based job site to apply for the post.

A few weeks later, I was invited to a telephone interview to “describe the role in some more detail and get a better understanding of my experience”. With just a 30 minute telephone interview (and having done my homework on the company’s interview process), I was expecting a fairly high-level discussion with subsequent interviews going into more detail.

What I got was a technical grilling, without any context about what the role entailed, and when I tried to ask questions at the end of the interview (to understand more about the role), it was clear that the interviewer was out of time and overdue for their next appointment.

It was probably the worst interview of my career – I hadn’t performed well, partly because the questioning was not what I expected in a first-stage telephone interview; but also bad because the interviewer was pretty poor at managing the time, representing the company in a good light and allowing the candidate to discover more about the role.

My last contact with the resourcing team was over seven months ago, when they promised that they “would let me know as soon as they have feedback”. That feedback has never come, despite internal chasing and we’re now way past the time when it would have any value (the interviewer won’t remember anything useful at this late stage).  What it has done though is set me a poor impression of this particular financial services company – and that impression is one I’m likely to share with others in my professional network. No-one wins in this scenario.

I’ve logged in to the recruitment website this evening and my application is still there… showing as “Submission Status: Interview Process” with the last update dated the day before my interview. Meanwhile the position remains open for applications.

Organisation B

The second job application was with a major national infrastructure organisation. I do admit I allowed myself to get very excited (and then very disappointed) about this one but imagine my joy when I found out that the only person I know in that particular company worked in the department that was hiring. We met up and they told me more about the role, I made sure that my application was the strongest it could be – and then it failed at the first stage.

Even though I’d made sure that the team recruiting for the role knew my application was on its way, analysis of the communication I received from the HR department leads me to believe it failed a keyword search from the automated screening systems. That might sound like a candidate who thinks they are perfect and I’ve seen enough CVs pass over my desk to know that first-round screening can be hit and miss; however, using your network to make sure that the application is expected ought to help a little. Unfortunately it wasnt to be the case for me. I’ve since learned that one commonly-used trick is to paste the entire job spec into the end of your application, in white text, and a tiny font.

A piece of LinkedIn advice

One piece of advice I received from a recruiter, which seems to have been very worthwhile, is to turn on InMail in LinkedIn (it’s under Privacy and Settings, Manage, Communications, Member Communications, Select the types of messages you’re willing to receive.

Since I enabled InMail, the volume of contact I’ve received has hugely increased. There’s a lot of noise but some of it is worthwhile (especially now recruiters are having to target more carefully) and it may just bring you a contact that leads to a great new opportunity.

And finally

The good news for me is that I have a new role – one I’m really looking forward to starting on Monday. I applied directly via the company website and the interview process has been enjoyable, just as when I was growing my team at Fujitsu and I recruited people who I genuinely enjoyed meeting and talking with about how they would fit in and what we could do to help them achieve their goals.

Now I have a six-month probationary period to navigate but logic tells me all should be well.  The difference with the company I’m joining on Monday is that they were as keen to make sure they would fit me as that I would them. Good recruitment works for all parties – it’s the human part of “human resources” that needs the emphasis!

Technology

Windows Media Player keeps re-opening? Stuck key on keyboard?

Being at home this week means that I have had a stack of “jobs” to get through (and I haven’t completed most of them… although at least the decorating is done) but it also means I’m “on call” for family IT issues.

This morning, my wife exclaimed that Windows Media Player was “throbbing” in the taskbar on her Windows 7 computer. Sure enough, there it was, pulsing away to suggest an alert but there was no dialog asking for input. I closed Media Player and it came back; I killed the process via Task Manager and it came back; I did what every self-respecting PC support guy would do and asked when she last rebooted the computer and Mrs W replied that she had already tried that (as every self-respecting user will respond to such advice!)…

Fearing a virus I decided to search the net for advice and found a Tom’s Hardware forum post which suggested it might be a stuck media key. Sure enough, examining the external keyboard shown that was the problem! A quick nudge on the key and Windows Media Player started to behave itself again…

Technology

Replacement PSU for an LCD monitor? If only these things were standardised…

Sod’s law says that, a few hours after I handed in all of Fujitsu’s kit in preparation for leaving the company, my own monitor would stop working…

I had spares, but only old 15″ 4×3 flat panels with VGA connections – this was the only monitor I have that will take an HDMI/DVI signal from my Mac Mini, or my Raspberry Pi so VGA was no good to me here.

As it happened, further investigation showed it wasn’t the monitor itself (although it is 9 years old now) but the power “brick”. I’m sure there are websites that specialise in selling universal power supplies for laptops but I haven’t found one yet for LCD monitors (I needed a 60W/12V/5A supply with a 2.5mm centre-positive tip).

Thankfully, my local Maplin store had something that would do the trick – a little expensive at £37.99 but far cheaper than a new monitor…

It does beg the question though – all mobile phones (except Apple iPhones) come with a standard USB charging cable. Why don’t all TVs/monitors/laptops have similarly standardised power supplies?

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