With my tech background, my family is more fortunate than many when it comes to finding suitable equipment for the kids to use whilst school is closed. Even so, we’ve struggled with both my teenagers sharing one laptop – they really do both need to use it at the same time.
We thought that one of them would be using a tablet would be OK, but that wasn’t really working out either. Then, a few weeks ago, we thought I’d found a great solution to the problem. My youngest has a Samsung Galaxy S10 smartphone, which supports Samsung DeX. We tried it out with the Apple USB-C to HDMI/USB-A power adapter and it worked a treat:
Looks like we may have just avoided having to buy another laptop to solve a home learning bottleneck – eldest son found that youngest son’s Samsung Galaxy S10 works with my Apple USB-C/HDMI adapter for #DeX. Add a Bluetooth keyboard and #Office365 Android apps and we’re sorted! pic.twitter.com/VX3fibN4xO
The only problem was the keyboard. I tried some Bluetooth keyboards for Android but they all had small keys. And we tried a normal PC keyboard, which worked well but lacked a trackpad and didn’t have a USB port for a mouse. Using the phone as a trackpad was awkward, so I was going to have to buy another keyboard and either a trackpad or a mouse – or find a way of splitting the USB-A socket to run two devices. It was all a bit Heath Robinson so I started looking for another approach…
I had been using an old laptop for Zwifting but, after seeing Brian Jones (@brianjonesdj) tweet about an Intel NUC, I realised that I could get one for not too much money, hook it up to the TV in the Man Cave and release the laptop for general family use.
I did spend far too much time downloading the latest version of Windows 10 because I thought it was corrupted when I didn’t read the error message properly. Actually it was a problem with the USB thumb drive I was using, fixed with a full format (instead of a quick one).
With the NUC in the cave, the laptop has been released for general family computing. My Microsoft 365 Family subscription (formerly Office 365 Home) gives access to 6 copies of the Office apps so that more than covers us the Windows and macOS PCs used by myself, my wife and the boys. (The Microsoft 365 subscription also includes Office mobile apps for iOS/Android and 1TB cloud storage in OneDrive as well as other benefits).
There are people working in offices today who not only claim to be IT illiterate but seem to think that’s acceptable in the modern workplace:
Fascinating to sit in on two handover sessions today for replacement PCs. Feedback from one user: "remember we're not IT literate – I wouldn't use a computer if I could help it"; resistance to change is one thing, but not being prepared to use the tools of the #ModernWorkplace?
That operations teams have a tremendous amount of power to disregard and even override recommendations provided by architects who are paid to provide solid technical advice.
That, in 2018, some conference organisers not only think an all-male panel is acceptable but are hostile when given feedback…
Lesson in how not to engage with influencers in your target audience? When the fact that there were no female speakers other than on the #WomenInTech panel was highlighted to @CIOsynergy organisers, @CXOsync responds that the comments hold no value. Astounding. Welcome to 1968. https://t.co/ETo74xQpIY
Gone on a mini-tour of Southern England working in London, Bristol and Birmingham for the first four days of the week. It did include a bonus ride on a brand new train though and a stint in first class (because it was only £3 more than standard – I’ll happily pay the difference)!
Taken a trip down memory lane, revisiting the place where I started my full-time career in 1994 (only to be told by a colleague that he wasn’t even born in 1994):
This weeknote is a bit of a rush-job – mostly because it’s Sunday afternoon and I’m writing this at the side of a public swimming pool whilst supervising a pool party… it will be late tonight when I get to finish it!
There not a huge amount to say about this week though. It’s been as manic as usual, with a mixture of paid consulting days, pre-sales and time at Microsoft.
The time at Microsoft was excellent though – I spent Tuesday in their London offices, when Daniel Baker (@AzureDan) gave an excellent run through of some of the capabilities in Azure. I like to think I have a reasonable amount of Azure experience and I was really looking to top up my knowledge with recent developments as well as to learn a bit more about using some of the advanced workloads but I learned a lot that day. I think Dan is planning some more videos so watch his Twitter feed but his “Build a Company in a Day” slides are available for download.
On the topic of Azure, I managed to get the sentiment analysis demo I’ve been working on based on a conversation with my colleague Matt Bradley (@MattOnMicrosoft) and Daniel Baker also touched on it in his Build a Company in a Day workshop. It uses an Azure Logic App to:
Monitor Twitter on a given topic;
Detect sentiment with Azure Cognitive Services Text Analytics;
Push data into Power BI dataset for visualisation;
Send an email if the sentiment is below a certain value.
It’s a bit rough-and-ready (my Power BI skills are best described as “nascent”) but it’s not a bad demo – and it costs me pennies to run. You can also do something similar with Microsoft Flow instead of an Azure Logic App.
I hate Black Friday. Just an excuse to shift some excess stock onto greedy consumers ahead of Christmas…
…but it didn’t stop me buying things:
An Amazon Fire TV Stick to make our TV smart again (it has fewer and fewer apps available because it’s more than 3 years old…). Primarily I was after YouTube but my youngest is very excited about the Manchester City app!
My weekend involved: cycling (my son was racing cyclocross again in the Central CX League); an evening out with my wife (disappointing restaurant in the next town followed by great gin in our local pub); a small hangover; some Zwift (to blow away the cobwebs – and although it was sunny outside, the chances of hitting black ice made the idea of a real road bike ride a bit risky); the pool party I mentioned earlier (belated 13th birthday celebrations for my eldest); 7 adolescent kids eating an enormous quantity of food back at ours; and… relax.
I’ve switched the home connection from OpenDNS (now owned by Cisco) to 126.96.36.199 and will report back in a while…
This ad tells a great story:
Regardless that it’s really just an ad for smart energy, it’s interesting to read this story of how the establishment ignored John Logie Baird as he tried to pitch television in the 1920s ? (back page of today’s @MetroUK) pic.twitter.com/Mo5jujYikN
We recently switched back to Tesco for our online grocery shopping (we left years ago because it seemed someone was taking one or two items from every order, hoping we wouldn’t notice). Well, it seems things have improved in some ways, but not in others…
This afternoon, I learned @Tesco Maths. Quite right we didn’t pay more, but we also got 75% of what we ordered, for the same price. Then “Customer Services” had the cheek to tell me I had accepted the substitution… Next time, their driver can wait whilst I check every item… pic.twitter.com/9miZl6fOrM
It seems they got their own back by shipping my wife’s Christmas present with Hermes, who dumped it on the front doorstep (outside the notified delivery timeframe) and left a card to say it had been delivered to a secure location:
Rushed home for @JohnLewisRetail parcel due to be delivered by #HermesUK between 17:00 and 21:00 only to find it was dumped on the doorstep sometime this afternoon…
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!
I did play with some tech this week – and I managed to create my very own chatbot without writing any code:
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:
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.
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…
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…
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…
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.
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.
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…
Self-explanatory. My son’s own creation for his birthday. I challenged my wife for this one.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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!
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…
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…
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).
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!
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!
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).
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:
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).
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.
Unfortunately, after an hour on the trainer, I went to end my ride and Zwift told me it couldn’t log me in (and refused to let me in on the iPhone until I forcibly closed the app). Logging in on another device told me that partial ride data had been captured for the first 10 minutes but that was it. I wasn’t happy and my usual petulant self resorted to a whinge on Twitter, to which I was really surprised to get a reply from the team at Zwift:
If you’re riding on iOS, you can reach your .fit file through iTunes.
1. Plug your device into your computer and open up iTunes.
2. Click on your device in iTunes, then click “Apps” and scroll down to the “File Sharing” section.
3. You should see Zwift listed, and it should have a “Zwift” folder. Click that, and then click “Save To” and save it to a location of your choice.
4. Find the saved Zwift folder, and copy the fit file out of the Zwift/Activities folder.
After this, I could upload the .FIT file to Strava (though not to Zwift itself… apparently this is “a highly requested feature” and “as such, [Zwift are] exploring adding it in the future”):
The trainer I’ve gone for is a Tacx Vortex and it’s proved pretty easy to set up. Ideally I’d use a spare wheel with a trainer tyre but I don’t have one and my tyres are already looking a bit worn – I may change them when the bike comes out again in the spring, meaning I can afford to wear them out on the trainer first! All I had to do was swap out my quick release skewer for the one that comes with the trainer and my bike was easily mounted.
Calibration was a simple case of using the Tacx Utility app on my iPhone – which finds the trainer via Bluetooth and can also be used for firmware upgrades (it’s available for Android too). All you have to do is cycle up to a given speed and away you go!
I found that the Tacx Utility would always locate my trainer but the Tacx Cycling app was less reliable. Ultimately that’s not a problem because I use the Zwift virtual cycling platform (more on that in a moment) and the Zwift Mobile Link app will allow the PC to find my trainer via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. There is one gotcha though – on the second time I used the trainer I spent a considerable time trying to get things working with Zwift. In the end I found that:
The Tacx apps couldn’t be running at the same time as Zwift Mobile Link.
My phone had a tendency to roam onto another Wi-Fi network (the phone and the PC have to be on the same network for the mobile link to work).
My Bose Soundlink Mini II speakers were also interfering with the Bluetooth connection so if I wanted to listen to music whilst cycling then a cable was needed!
“[…] when doing an indoor activity or when using devices that do not have GPS capability, the [Garmin Speed and Cadence Sensor] will need to be calibrated manually by entering a custom wheel size within the bike profile to provide accurate speed and distance.” [Garmin Support]
And, talking of ANT+ – one thing I couldn’t work out before I bought my trainer was whether I needed to buy an ANT+ dongle for Zwift? Well, the answer is “No”! as the Zwift Mobile Link app works beautifully as a bridge on my trainer – it’s worth checking out the Zwift website to see which trainers work with the platform though (and any other gear that may be required).
I’ll probably write another post about Zwift but, for now, check out:
In the meantime, it’s worth mentioning that I started out riding on a 14 day/50km trial. I was about to switch to a paid subscription but I found out Strava Premium members get 2 months’ Zwift free* and, as that’s half the price of Zwift, I’ve upgraded my Strava for a couple of months instead!
So, with the trainer set up in the garage (though it’s easy to pop the bike off it if we do have some winter sunshine), I can keep my miles up through the Winter, which should make the training much, much easier in the Spring – that’s the idea anyway!
*It now looks as though the Strava Premium-Zwift offer has now been limited to just November and December 2016 – though I’m sure it will come around again!