Monthly Retrospective: March 2024

I managed the weeknotes for 9 weeks. The last one was posted as I was sitting on a plane, about to take off for a long weekend away with my wife. And then I started to take stock. I don’t have time for them. What had been a weekly reflective activity had become a chore.

And then the unwritten thoughts started to build in my mind. There were still things that I wanted to share. And the feedback had been positive, though the weekly cadence was probably too much.

So here we are. A new concept: Monthly Retrospective; 12 posts a year instead of 52. Maybe a better chance of me getting it out of the door on time too? I don’t promise it will be published exactly on the end of each month (I’m a week into April as I finish this post), but it will be there or thereabouts…

So what’s up this month?

Here’s a quick summary of what’s in the rest of the post

  • We have the tech – both at work and at home. Plus a few of the many interesting things I’ve spotted on my Internet travels (I still post most of them on X, and a more professionally curated set of posts on LinkedIn).
  • We have the events – typically evenings, attended to expand my knowledge.
  • We have the entertainment – music, film, TV.
  • We have life – family and friends.
  • And we have the photos – snapshots of life viewed through my iPhone.

So let’s get started…

In tech: at work

I’m busy, busy as always at work, with more organisational changes to keep me on my toes. One thing I’ve tended to avoid in recent years is working on bids. This is partly because I find there’s invariably a slow start and a mad rush to complete before the deadline, and partly because I prefer to work on a consulting-led sell where I have helped to shape the solution. In a competitive tender scenario someone else has influenced the client, so you’re already on the back foot, second-guessing what the client needs cf. what the invitation to tender says they want. In this case, one of my colleagues asked me to help out, and we have a few weeks to create our solution. It’s also a really interesting project so I’m enjoying pulling this solution together.

Meanwhile, the ransomware service is also moving forwards, though not as fast as I would like (or, more to the point, as fast as my boss would like). All being well, I’ll have something to shout about in next month’s retrospective.

In tech: at home

I’m still playing around with Meshtastic, with one node travelling mobile with me and another soon to be set up at home. Here’s the thread with the progress:

In addition to the excellent Meshtastic website, Andy Kirby’s YouTube channel has tons of information.

Other home projects include researching which CCTV cameras to put up (almost certainly from Reolink) and how to get an Ethernet cable to them…

In tech: some of the things I stumbled across this month

Some bits and pieces:

  • Advice to help build genAI prompts:
  • One of the many issues with QR codes:
  • Remembering some security advice I used last year:
  • One of my favourite design projects:

In events

March saw me getting out to a few tech events in the evenings

  • Milton Keynes Geek Night (MKGN) is always a good night out. In truth, it’s not really geeky these days – more creative – but I enjoy most of the talks and after a dozen years of attendance, I know a lot of the people in the crowd. This was the thread I created with the highlights from MKGN number 47:
  • A few days later, I headed down to London for the Windows Azure User Group Meetup. Unfortunately, I couldn’t use Node4’s London office, so I worked from the British Library and other locations for most of the day, before heading over to Elastacloud for the event in the evening. After Richard Conway (in/richardelastacloud) introduced the evening, Steph Locke (@TheStephLocke) from Microsoft talked about AI Landing Zones before Andy Cross (in/crossandy) gave a hilarious demonstration of how the death of coding is a little way off yet, even with multiple AI agents collaborating…
  • Towards the end of the month, I went to the inaugural NN1 Dev Club event, mostly to see what it’s about. I’m not a developer (though I might like to be…) and it seemed a good opportunity to get to know some of the tech folks in another nearby town. I enjoyed the talks – both PJ Evans (@MrPJEvans)’ tales of home automation (“Boiling Nemo”) and Dr Junade Ali (/in/junade)’s tales from the world of security research (“The Science of Software Engineering”) – so I’m sure I’ll be back for more events in future.

In entertainment

Cover image for The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier

When I was about 8 or 9, I read a book at school. I couldn’t remember much about it, except that it was about some children travelling across Europe, it was set in WW2, Warsaw was a part of it, and I really enjoyed it. I asked a group of friends if they remembered something like this and one asked ChatGPT. ChatGPT thought it might be The Silver Sword, by Ian Serraillier. I read the synopsis and that was it! Why I never thought to ask an AI, I have no idea, but it worked. I then had a very enjoyable few hours in the car listening to the audio book…

On the subject of books, some more reading has arrived:

This month’s TV has been about:

  • Explosive action (deliberate pun) Trigger Point, S2 (ITV).
  • Laid back and delightfully silly Detectorists, S2 (Netflix).
  • Stunning landscapes mixed with murder mystery Shetland, S8 (BBC).

None are new, but they had been on the list for a while. The jury is still out on Shetland without Douglas Henshall in the main character role though.

I’ve also decided that I need to get out to some gigs. My wife’s not into the electronic music that I enjoy so much and I was thinking about heading down to Greenwich with my youngest son for a Day with Chicane. Unfortunately the gig is 18+ and he will be 3 months short of adulthood, so maybe that will wait a while longer.

In life: a trip to Tallinn

The month started with a trip to Tallinn, Estonia. Nikki and I were celebrating 21 years of marriage and we had a fantastic weekend exploring a new city. As a country that’s been in and out of Soviet control several times in modern history we were not sure what to expect. What we found was a beautiful medieval city, food that seemed more Scandinavian than Eastern European, and public transport that was cheap and plentiful.

Our hotel was only just outside the old town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so we didn’t actually need to use the transport much (the city is compact enough to walk). Even so, €2 each way for a bus to/from the airport seemed amazing value.

Similarly, we ate and drank well at remarkably good prices compared with the UK – whether that was hot chocolate in Pierre Chocolaterie, hot wine in Ill Draakon (a medieval-themed bar), or one of the modern Estonian restaurants that we dined in. (For future reference, they were: Kaerajaan, Rataskaevu 16 and Pegasus). I came home thinking that, for the most part, the UK is a very dull and overpriced culinary destination.

Other highlights were a visit to the top of the tower at the Niguliste Museum for views across the city. We also enjoyed a walk along the old town walls. Outside the old town, we took a short walk to Telliskivi and visited the photography exhibitions at Fotografiska.

If you’re inspired by this and you fancy a trip to Tallinn (highly recommended), we flew with Wizz Air from London Luton and the Visit Tallinn website has a mine of information.

Oh yes, and linking back to tech for a moment, I forgot that the delivery robots I see in Milton Keynes and Northampton have Estonian cousins…

…and was amused to see people out and about experiencing virtual reality headsets in the centre of Tallinn…

In life: a Welshman in Twickenham

I may have been born in Northampton, but I identify as Welsh. And certainly when it comes to international Rugby Union, my team plays in red. I wasn’t going to say “no” though when I got the opportunity to watch England host Ireland at Twickenham. What a game! The final drop kick was at the other end of the pitch to me, but it was a brilliant match to be at.

In life: sporty teens

As ever, my sons are a huge part of what I get up to outside work. With Matt away in Spain, I was able to get to watch Ben play Hockey a bit more, including the Eastern Counties U17 tournament. Now Matt’s returned and he’s racing as much as he can, trying to get his Category 1 (and maybe Elite, if he can get enough points) road race licence. That needs my support sometimes (passing bottles, driving on the longer trips). At the other end of the scale, it was exciting to be able to watch him pick up a win at our local race:

It’s fantastic to see the support he gets from his own teammates and some of the guys he’s racing against too (the video cuts off Richard Wiggins exclaiming “he’s got it!” just as I hit record). #ProudDad

After a couple more races that I didn’t get to see (and didn’t exactly go to plan), he wrapped up the month with a particularly eventful weekend. On the Saturday, a couple of punctures meant his race only lasted a few minutes, but that was probably lucky as we then found the steerer tube at the top of his fork had a huge crack in it…

That afternoon and evening, he rebuilt onto one of the spare cyclocross frames that were waiting to be set up, and then raced the Fakenham town centre crit’ on Sunday. It was a wet afternoon and my heart was in my mouth for the whole race but coming in third after an early break and leading for a good chunk of the race was a great result.

In photos

That’s all for this month… please let me know what you think in the comments and I’ll be back in early May to recap on April… plus, hopefully, with extra time for some other posts in between.

Featured image by 139904 from Pixabay.

Weeknote 2024/03: missing cyclocross; digitally transforming my family; installing Ethernet and much, much more

Another week has flown by – this time I kept notes to keep track of it all in the hope it would speed up the weeknote writing. It didn’t, so I need to work on the format. Anyway, this is how it looks this week.

My week at work

Understandably, I can’t write much about what I do in the day job. Suffice to say, it’s been busy, busy, busy. I’m preparing for a presentation to the Node4 Go To Market (GTM) team next week. This will be me, along with my colleague Bjoern, presenting to the entire salesforce and trying to convince them why they should be selling more of the services we’re responsible for. And, in parallel, I’m refreshing the collateral to support the sales of those same services.

I also spent some time on a call with one of our business partner this week, learning more about how they are developing their offers and how we can potentially do more work together.

My week in cycling

I know, this blog is supposed to be about tech, but I also have two very sporty teenagers that I’m very proud of. Their sports activities are a big part of my week (and my life in general).

Last weekend, I should have been in Falkirk, supporting my eldest son, Matt, at the 2024 British National Cyclocross Championships. As things transpired, that was not to be…

At 2023’s National Champs (Matt’s first senior year), Cameron Mason was so dominant in the Elite/U23 Men’s race that only 7 riders were permitted to finish the race (under the 80% rule). It’s a big investment of time and money to travel the length of the country for a short race but we would have been there, if Matt felt he was ready for it. Unfortunately, after a challenging few weeks with a return to racing after spending the autumn leading cycle tours in Greece, he decided to end his cyclocross season early. Apart from podiums in the local Central Cyclocross League (CCXL), third place in the Central Regional CX Champs was to be his only significant result this season. He’s preparing to build two new bikes for the 2024/25 cyclocross season – and he has plans for the 2024 road season too. I’m sure those plans will end up in these weeknotes in due course.

Just as a side note, after the demise of GCN Plus, it’s great to see BBC Scotland providing mainstream TV coverage of the national champs!

My week in technology

Adding AirPlay to an old Hi-Fi amplifier

With a bonus weekend at home, I got to finish up a tech project that’s been on the list for a while – adding AirPlay to my old 1990s Technics amplifier. When I moved in with my wife, my mid-range Hi-Fi stack was labelled “black loud crap”. As a result, it was banished from the house, but still lives on in the Man Cave. Adding an old Raspberry Pi 2B running as an audio gateway has provided the necessary tech to cast audio, without needing to invest in more Sonos (or IKEA Symfonisk) as I have in the rest of the house. This is the guide I followed, at PiMyLifeUp.

There’s the odd stutter, which I think may be due to a weak 2.4MHz Wi-Fi signal. It could also be down to running on a relatively old Pi 2. It certainly beats connecting Spotify via Alexa which used my account and so only worked for me and not the whole family. Plus it also works with other apps, like Pocket Casts and Audible.

Wilson family digital transformation

Late last year, I convinced Mrs W that we could use the family calendar on our iPhones to manage our busy family life. Previously, the paper calendar on the kitchen wall was the single source of the truth. That’s not too helpful when we’re not at home. This digital transformation of the Wilson family has been a huge success but it’s also shown me that people use calendars in different ways!

For example, our eldest son is currently away skiing. Is that one long appointment for 2 weeks? Or do we just need to know the dates he leaves and returns? And how do we record our youngest son’s Hockey training sessions? Is it the actual session times, or the times we leave the house and return? I’m trying not to be too “Mark” about this, but it’s an interesting insight into how other people think!

On a related note, I also learned this week that not everyone sees pictures in their mind, like I do. I don’t know what they do “see”, but it explains why not everyone can visualise what something will look like when it’s finished!

AirTag all the the things

After a trial with an Apple AirTag in my luggage (very useful when it wasn’t put on the plane at Stansted one holiday), I’ve been expanding our use of these devices. One use case that’s been particularly helpful is my youngest son’s keys… as he’s already had to replace at least one set that he lost before I tagged them. Now I regularly hear the “FindMy sound” as he searches for them before leaving the house.

On a similar note, for Christmas, my eldest son bought me an Apple FindMy-compatible tracker for my glasses. It doesn’t have the Precision Finding feature of the AirTag, but it does tell me where they were last seen, and lets me play a sound. Now, when I leave them somewhere, I can listen for the chirp of the Orbit sensor. It’s a bit strange charging my glasses though, but this is relatively infrequent.

Other bits and pieces of tech

  • After seeing a thread about date formats, ISO standards and RFCs, I thought about my frustrations with people who write dates “the wrong way”. By the wrong way, I mean not putting the most significant portion first. The US convention of mm/dd/yyyy is nonsensical. UK dd/mm/yyyy is better, but I generally name files using yyyymmdd etc. because they appear in order. On that basis, I realised that my naming for these weeknotes should be year/week number (inspired by Sharon O’Dea). Previously I had erroneously named them week number/year. From this week forwards, that is corrected.
  • After watching a YouTube video, I successfully resuscitated an apparently-dead Li-ion battery pack (the on-board circuitry needed its capacity recharging before it would accept a charge). This is potentially dangerous – I’m not responsible for anything that happens if you try it, but it worked for me, and saved me quite a few quid. Some say to use a resistor for safety. Others stress to only “jump start” momentarily (as I did).
  • I was looking at some communications from Vodafone about the 3G switch off… and wondered if that is the same part of the spectrum as 4G… i.e. more channels freed up for 4G/5G or will 4G/5G have access to extra spectrum now? Twitter helped me out with that…
  • Hopefully that section between the hall (OpenReach ONT) and the garage “datacentre” (ISP router) is all the Ethernet I need to run, but I have plenty of spare cable if I need to pull any more for a potential CCTV project… (I’ve been watching lots of videos about Reolink cameras).
  • Oh yes, one more thing. I finally changed my LinkedIn profile picture… my previous professional headshot was taken when I was in my late 30s, I think. I’m nearly 52 and afraid it’s time to look my age. This may not sound like news but it took me ages to find something suitably professional that I liked!

My week in TV

I’ll spare you all my YouTube highlights this week but, over in streaming TV land, Mrs W and I wrapped up three excellent series:

  • Mr Bates vs the Post Office (ITV);
  • Slow Horses (Apple TV); and
  • The Crown (Netflix).

This last season of The Crown has been criticised for being too dramatic but I thought it was well done. There will be no season 7 and it feels like it was left at just the right point, at the marriage of Charles and Camilla (then Prince and Princess of Wales) and the early days of William and Katherine’s relationship (the current Prince and Princess of Wales). It even contained a nod to Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral, with her involvement in the plans but also some scenes that linked to the actual events last year.

And in case we hadn’t had enough Toby Jones, we’ve started watching season 2 of Detectorists, for some light hearted relief from the more serious stuff.

Other things that should probably be a blog post on their own

I was going to write some more, but I’m getting bored of writing this now – goodness knows how you feel, dear reader. So there may need to be an overflow post or two about these topics, or maybe the tweets will say enough:

  • Well-paid IT folks moaning about the inconvenience that strikes have on their lives… playing to the “them and us” narrative.
  • Rebooting the car to get Apple CarPlay to work again!
  • CTOs with 30 years of industry experience being approached about a job that claims to need a technical degree.
  • Storytelling. And how pictures can convey messages that words alone cannot. Or bring meaning to words when they are in another language that you only have a passing knowledge of.
  • Rail fare “simplification” and the very different approaches taken by LNER (UK Government-owned) and ScotRail (Scottish Government-owned).
  • Public sector IT contracts, and the need to be a good client – it’s not all about the supplier.
  • The increasingly anti-social nature of social media.

My week in pictures

Featured image: author’s own

Weeknote 2/2024: time flies

Writing this weeknote may explain why this week has felt so busy. I clearly try to squeeze far too many personal projects in around my work and family life…

This week:

  • I spent quite a bit of time looking at ways to reduce the cost of moving to Azure for our clients. I’m not going to post the details here, but I think my colleagues and I made some good progress. I’ll have more to share soon, but in the meantime, you can always get in touch. Here’s my Microsoft Bookings link if you want to have a chat about how Node4 could help your business.
  • Talking of which, I set up Calendly to try and pull my various calendars together. It’s kind of like Microsoft Bookings on steroids. Sadly it didn’t do the thing I’m really struggling with and show me my work, home and family calendars in one place. Outlook does that for me, but the family calendar in iCloud doesn’t seem to update…
  • I have been staying up far too late watching too much YouTube. Last night the algorithm decided that I needed to know how to install a French Drain. Actually, it was right… it might help with some of the drainage issues in our back garden. Other gems have included:
  • I did try to create a static archive of my tweets though. It’s not quite as I would like, so let’s just say that’s “work in progress”. Maybe more next week, when I have a working solution.
  • And I questioned how “normal users” must feel when presented with nonsensical or jargon-filled computer messages:
  • The photos are still uploading from my NAS to Azure. Several people have recommended other solutions (e.g. Backblaze or Synology C2) but the granular charging on Azure means that I think my current solution may well cost a little less if I tick over the 1TB mark…

I’ve been watching…

As well as the YouTube content I mentioned above, and the dramas I wrote about last week… 3/4 of my family watched the Barbie movie together last weekend. I really quite enjoyed it. Actually, Mark Kermode’s Guardian review nails it: “It’s a riotously entertaining candy-coloured feminist fable that manages simultaneously to celebrate, satirise and deconstruct its happy-plastic subject. Audiences will be delighted. Mattel should be ecstatic.”

And, away from the screen, I got to watch my youngest son play Hockey at Bedford last night.

I’ve been reading…

Not enough. But I am slowly reading the materials for my amateur radio foundation licence exam… and I’ve made the Man Cave a better place to kick back and relax (including a place to read, or listen to an audiobook):

Some thoughts that won’t make it to a full blog post…

The ITV Drama about the Post Office Scandal is a brilliant illustration of the power of storytelling. Graham Chastney wrote about this before I got around to it and his post about how we are wired for stories is pretty much what I wanted to say. Dan Barker’s tweet looks a bit deeper at why years of quality journalism wasn’t enough and it took an ITV Drama to bring the story to the masses.

Rachel Coldicutt examines why we seem inclined to believe the machine, not the person:

I’ve certainly experienced “management by dashboard”, when a report, which was believed by so many, was flawed and presented bad insights on data.

And, whilst I’m still embarrassed that my former employer is so deeply embroiled in a scandal that led to so many miscarriages of justice, I’m more and more inclined to think that software is imperfect, and that the failure of leadership (and consequential mismanagement of the issues) was the main problem here, as outlined by Professor Damien Page:

What else?

Not enough writing. No press coverage this week. Still working out what my new content strategy is as I try to use less “social” media and make blogging less of a time hoover. Next week’s weeknote might not be such a rush…

Featured image: Author’s own
(screenshot from Microsoft Visio)

Weeknote 1/2024: A new beginning

Wow, that was a bump. New Year celebrations over, a day off for the public holiday, and straight back to work.

After a lot of uncertainty in December, I’ve been keen to get stuck in to something valuable, and I’m not breaking any confidentiality by saying that my focus right now is on refreshing the collateral behind Node4’s Public Cloud offerings. I need to work across the business – my Office of the CTO (OCTO) role is about strategy, innovation and offering development – but the work also needs to include specialist sales colleagues, our marketing teams, and of course the experts that actually deliver the engagements.

So that’s the day job. Alongside that, I’ve been:

  • Avoiding stating any grand new year resolutions. I’ll only break them. It was literally hours before I broke my goal of not posting on Twitter/X this year. Though I did step away from a 453-day streak on Duolingo to focus my spare time on other, hopefully less gamified, pursuits:
  • Doing far too little exercise. A recurring health condition is impacting my ability to walk, run, cycle and to get back to Caveman Conditioning. It’s getting a bit better but it may be another week before I can have my new year fitness kick-start.
  • Eating badly. Logging everything in the Zoe app is helping me to see what I should avoid (spoiler: I need to eat more plants and less sweet stuff) but my willpower is still shockingly bad. I was also alarmed to see Prof. Tim Spector launching what appeared to be an ultra-processed food (UPF) product. More on that after I’ve got to M&S and actually seen the ingredients list for the Zoe Gut Shot, but others are telling me it’s not a UPF.
  • Redesigning the disaster recovery strategy for my photos. I learned the hard way several years ago that RAID is not a backup, and nothing exists unless it’s in three places. For me that’s the original, a copy on my Synology NAS, and copy in the cloud. My cloud (Azure) backups were in a proprietary format from the Synology Hyper Backup program, so I’ve started to synchronise the native files by following a very useful article from Charbel Nemnom, MVP. Unfortunately the timestamps get re-written on synchronisation, but the metadata is still inside the files and these are the disaster copies – hopefully I’ll never need to rely on them.
  • Watching the third season of Slow Horses. No spoilers please. I still have 4 episodes to watch… but it’s great TV.
  • Watching Mr Bates vs. The Post Office. The more I learn about the Post Office Scandal, the more I’m genuinely shocked. I worked for Fujitsu (and, previously, ICL) for just over 15 years. I was nothing to do with Horizon, and knew nothing of the scandal, but it’s really made me think about the values of the company where I spent around half my career to date.
  • Spreading some of my late Father-in-law’s ashes by his tree in the Olney Community Orchard.
  • Meeting up with old friends from my “youth”, as one returns to England from his home in California, for a Christmas visit.

Other things

Other things I found noteworthy this week:

  • Which came first, the chicken or the egg scissors or the blister-pack?

Press coverage

This week, I was quoted in this article:

Coming up

This weekend will see:

  • A return to Team MK Youth Cycle Coaching. Our local cyclo-cross league is finished for the 2023/4 season so we’re switching back to road cycling as we move into the new year.
  • Some home IT projects (more on them next week).
  • General adulting and administration.

Next week, I’ll be continuing the work I mentioned at the head of this post, but also joining an online Group Coaching session from Professor John Amaechi OBE. I have no idea what to expect but I’m a huge fan of his wise commentary. I’m also listening to The Promises of Giants on Audible. (I was reading on Kindle, but switched to the audiobook.)

This week in photos

Featured image: Author’s own
(this week’s flooding of the River Great Ouse at Olney)

Weeknote 7: Traffic, snow and an awesome party (Week 49, 2017)

This content is 6 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Another week means another weeknote and this one finished on a high because last night was the risual Christmas Party!

risual does Christmas parties rather well and I won’t go into the details here but suffice to say, a good time was had. I knew the weather forecast though and needed to be sober today (Mrs W wasn’t too happy about the idea of driving home in the snow) so I can bask in the delight of not-having-a-hangover.

Anyway, it was a joy to wake up in a Country House hotel this morning and see how the landscape was transformed. I took quite a lot of photos on my iPhone but Dropbox is currently refusing to upload them for me, complaining that one is corrupt (but not telling me which one!). I’ll edit them next week and post them then…

Then I drove home in the snow and ice. England can’t cope when it snows (or indeed with any other extremes of weather: too wet; too sunny; too windy). We do mild-grey really well though.

The week

My week was the usual mix of consulting (paid work), training and pre-sales. I was fortunate to spend a day at Microsoft in Reading on Tuesday, topping up my Microsoft 365 (Office 365, plus Windows 10, plus Enterprise Mobility + Security) knowledge. I’m hoping that, time permitting, some blog posts will come out of that.

I’ve been driving around the UK almost 30 years, and driving for work for most of them. This week drove home to me (excuse the pun) just how overloaded the UK’s road infrastructure is, when it took me more than 5 hours to drive to Reading and back (about 75 miles each way), then around 4.5 hours the next day to drive 190 miles on nothing but motorways and trunk A roads (180 miles of which were dual carriageway). It seems likely that the first place autonomous vehicles can take a hold is on major routes like this and I for one can’t wait. Maybe one day we’ll have segregated autonomous driving lanes on the motorways, where the cars can drive closer together (in constant communication and not constrained by human reaction speeds) and maybe even faster (if the law is changed).

This week also saw the quarterly Milton Keynes Geek Night, which I’m proud to have attended every one of! I’ve made a lot of contacts over the 5½ years it’s been running – some of whom I can now count as friends and this event had one of the best set of talks in a long while including:

  • Simon Collison (@colly) on “The Internet of Natural Things”
  • Laura Sutton (@L_Coull)’s “Non-geek’s guide to the Galaxy”
  • Dr Neil Smith (@neilnjae) showing us “Beatles vs. Rolling Stones: using data science to prove which band is best”!
  • Joe Leech (@MrJoe) wrapping up with “UX, Psychology and the Power of 100”

The next one clashes with my wedding anniversary, and Mrs W has even agreed to come along with me as an honourary geek!

At home

We’re hoping to convert our loft next year and the initial notice has been submitted for planning purposes. It seems that, now that councils are better at sharing information, marketers are scraping it to bombard us with offers of storage, home improvements, etc. Apparently, our neighbours will be getting mailshots from lawyers too… all very irksome…

Around town

I missed this event which was part of Milton Keynes’ 50th birthday celebrations – a floating carnival of decorated boats looks like quite a spectacle on the canal!

It’s really noticeable how many people are now sleeping rough on the streets of Milton Keynes. The Bus Shelter are trying to do something about that – but they need to raise funds to convert a double-decker coach to provide emergency shelter. To quote from their website:

“Homelessness can hit anyone – most of us are just three pay packets away from losing our home. With your help we can provide over 5800 safe, warm nights for people forced to sleep on the streets and help them find a positive future.”

Look out for the bus in the Intu part of the Shopping Centre (Midsummer Place) and please donate, if you can:

At the other end of the scale… I passed a man on the mean streets of MK proudly proclaiming that the best place to get a car parking space is the electric charging bays… it may not be illegal to park a petrol/diesel car in an electric space but it is selfish (especially as there are normal spaces free)…

Other stuff

Barclaycard sent me a new credit card “for security reasons”. It was nice to find that my Apple Wallet updated automatically on my phone and my watch. Sadly the many websites where I had the details stored for recurring payments (Apple iTunes, Microsoft, Amazon, M6 Toll, Transport for London, etc.) didn’t.

That reminds me… I wonder when my Curve card will show up… It seems I’ve been stuck with about 1500 people ahead of me in the queue for weeks now… in fact, the number seems to be going up (but if you use my referral link above, I can move back up the queue…)!

On the topic of referrals, my energy switch to Bulb completed this week. It was painless (though I will have to wait to get my credit from First Utility, my previous provider – who seem more interested in selling broadband to me now than reducing my energy bills…). Unfortunately, neither I nor my friend have received our promised referral credits from Bulb. Enquiries are ongoing…

My son and I needed to force-quit an app on my Amazon Fire TV Stick but weren’t sure how. This blog post helped by pointing us to Menu, Settings, Manage All Installed Applications where Force Stop is one of the options.

Sadly, Amazon and Google’s inability to play together nicely means my Fire TV Stick won’t play YouTube videos from 1 Jan 2018. One is not amused:

I’ve been watching Channel 4’s series about Donald Trump’s rise (An American Dream). I’ll leave the politics aside but it’s fascinating to see how the wealthy can grow to take such a position of power…

I noticed that my Nextbase Dashcam was showing the wrong time (1 hour ahead) and every time I changed it, it reverted after the next power cycle… then I realised there was a timezone setting and it was still on GMT+1 (BST). After changing to GMT, all was good. It seems that it picks up the time from the GPS, so the timezone is the important setting…

I’m torn about the use of the new HEIC image format on my iPhone. On the one hand, I want to store the best quality images I can, on the other, I need them to be readable on all my devices

Whilst I was at MK Geek Night this week, I spotted that War Horse is coming to Milton Keynes Theatre next autumn. I enjoyed the film and I’ve heard good things about the National Theatre production too, so tickets are booked for a family cultural treat:

My phone has decided that, when I get in the car, I’m headed for the local Tesco Express… that’s a little worrying (I wonder how does Siri determine my travel patterns?):

Podcasts

I’ve mentioned before that I listen to a lot of podcasts. One of these is the Microsoft Cloud Show. Sometimes, it can be a bit too developer-focused for my tastes but I enjoyed Episode 223, which pretty much encapsulates the conversations I have with customers as an Architect working with the Microsoft cloud!

I also got the chance to catch up with Matt Ballantine this week (one half of the WB-40 Podcast). It’s been a while since Matt and I had a chat but I really enjoyed bouncing around our thoughts on modern collaboration and team working. and team-working. Like Matt, I’m finding myself drawing/writing on screen more (at least when working, using a Surface Pro – my MacBook lacks any sort of touch capability) though it’s also showing how unpracticed I’ve become at writing!

Wrap-up

Anyway, before I get too far into Sunday evening I need to sign-off and check my children haven’t continued building their snow-wall across the neighbours’ drives…

Next week looks like it should feature a lot less travel (at least by road) and a return to cyclocross with my son. I might even be home a few evenings and maybe, just maybe, I’ll write a blog post that’s not one of these weeknotes! I live in hope…

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

This content is 6 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

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)

This content is 6 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

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)

This content is 6 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

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…

2017-07-08 22.36.21.jpg

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)

This content is 6 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

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!

_DSC7044

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!

2017-10-27 16.43.07

2017-10-27 16.58.00

2017-10-27 17.08.54

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.

Bulk renaming digital photos for easier identification

This content is 7 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Managing digital content can be a pain sometimes. Managing my own photos is bad enough (and I have applications like Adobe Lightroom to help with my Digital Asset Management) but when other family members want help whilst sorting through thousands of photos from multiple cameras to make a calendar or a yearbook it can get very messy.

For a long time now, I’ve used a Mac app called Renamer to bulk rename files – for example, batches of photos after importing them from my camera.  The exception to this is my iPhone pictures, which Dropbox rather usefully renames for me on import using the date and time, suffixing as necessary to deal with HDRs, etc. I only have a couple of gigabytes on Dropbox, so I move the renamed files to OneDrive (where I have over a terabyte of space…). The problem with this is that there needs to be enough space on Dropbox for the initial import – which means I have to use a particular PC which recognises my iPhone and remembers which photos have previously been imported. If I use another PC it will try and re-import them all (and fail due to a lack of available space)…

My wife has a different system. She also uses OneDrive for storage but has some files that have been renamed by Dropbox (to yyyy-mm-dd hh.mm.ss.jpg), some that have been renamed on import by something else (to yyyymmdd_hhmmsssss_iOS.jpg) and some that are just copied directly from the iPhone storage as IMGxxxx.jpg. My task? To sort this lot out!

Multiple images with the same time stamp

We decided that we liked the Dropbox name format. So that became the target. I used Renamer to rename files to Year-Month-Day Hour.Minutes.Seconds.jpg (based on EXIF file data) but the presence of HDR images etc. meant there were duplicates with the same time where a whole second wasn’t fine-grained enough. We needed those fractions of a second (or a system to handle duplicates) and Renamer wasn’t cutting it.

The fallback was to use the original filename as a tie-break. It’s not pretty, but it works – Year-Month-Day Hour.Minutes.Seconds (Filename).jpg gave my wife the date/time-based filename that she needed and the presence of the original filename was a minor annoyance. I saved that as a preset in Renamer so that when I need to do this again in a few months, I can!

Renaming digital photos in Renamer using a preset

No EXIF data

Then the files with no EXIF data (.MOVs and .PNGs) were renamed using a similar preset, this time using the modification date (probably less reliable than EXIF data but good enough if the files haven’t been edited).

Thousandths of seconds

Finally, the files with the odd format. Mostly these were dealt with in the same was as the IMGxxxx.jpg files but there were still some potential duplicates with the same EXIF timestamp. For these, I used progressive find and replace actions in Renamer to strip away all but the time a RegEx replacing ...... with nothing allowed me to remove all but the last three characters (I originally tried .{3}$ but that removed the 3 characters I actually wanted from the tail end that represent thousandths of seconds). One final rename using the EXIF data to Year-Month-Day Hour.Minutes.Seconds.Filename.jpg gave me yyyy-mm-dd hh.mm.sssss.jpg – which was close enough to the desired outcome and there were no more duplicates.

What’s the point? There must be a better way!

Now, after reading this, you’re probably asking “Why?” and that’s a good question. After all, Windows Explorer has the capability to provide image previews, the ability to sort by date, etc. but it’s not up to me to question why, I just need an answer to the end-user’s question!

Using Renamer is reliant on my Mac – there are options for Windows like NameExif and Stamp too. I haven’t used these but it appears they will have the same issues as Renamer when it comes to duplicate timestamps. There’s also a batch file option that handles duplicate timestamps but it doesn’t use the EXIF data.

Meanwhile, if anyone has a script that matches the Dropbox file rename functionality (including handling HDRs etc. which have identical timestamps), I’d be pleased to hear from you!

[Update 1 January 2017: These Python scripts look like they would fit the bill (thanks Tim Biller/@timbo_baggins) and James O’Neill/@jamesoneill reminded me of ExifTool, which I wrote about a few years ago]