What I Use – July 2014

I’m not sure why, but recently I’ve had a number of questions around where i work, and what equipment I use day to day.

The Office
Like many of us that work from home, my office was once a second bedroom. However, this is no longer the case as now I’ve filled it with all my kit, there’s no room for a bed any more.

I live in a rented cottage, so don’t really have the opportunity to build fitted furniture, but have instead turned to Ikea to provide most of the furniture in the office (and indeed the house).

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As this is somewhere i spend most of my working days (and evening’s) i decided to try and make it feel as much like an office as possible, which is why its painted in a dull office like colour. As a home worker, I find i need to have a dedicated space to work which feels different from the rest of the house. I’ve tried to work from the dining table and the sofa, but I struggle to keep any concentration if I’m not somewhere that feels like an office.

Equipment – Hardware

Main PC
This is a custom built workstation. Currently it is running:
Dual Xeon X5560 CPU’s
96GB Ram
1x 256 SSD
4x 1TB HDD’s in Raid 10 and a 2TB HDD
ATI Radeon HD 7800 (driving 3 monitors)

Monitors
Currently, I use 24″ Monitors on my deskop, of 3 different makes and ages, all running at 1920 x 1080.

Various Peripherals
Headset – Sennheiser PC-7 USB
Speakers – Creative T10
Microphone – Samson C01U
Skype Phone – RTX4088

Laptop
My primary laptop is currently a Dell Precision M4600, running an i7, 256GB SSD and 8GB of Ram.

I also use a Surface Pro (1st edition) as my tablet

Phone
My Phone is currently a Nokia Lumia 920 running Windows Phone 8.1 Dev Preview

Software
I use a multiple of software, but here I’ve listed the things I most commonly use, and couldn’t work without day to day.

Desktop OS – Windows Pro 8.1
I use Windows Pro 8.1 as my OS of choice on all of my machines (including my Surface Pro)

On my desktop I use 8.1 as my primary OS, but then have a VM built specifically for work purposes (also 8.1), which is hosted in VMWare Workstation.

Virtual Machines
I use Virtual Machines quite heavily in my work day to day. I’ve been using VMWare Workstation for a number of years now and still do on my Desktop. I’m looking into Hyper-V though and am quite liking it on my laptop.

Day to Day software
Every day I use a very similar set of software to do my work…

Notepad ++
I have used Notepad ++ for a number of years now and have always been a big fan of what it can do. It’s one of the pieces of software I would struggle to work without.

Office 2013
Apart from the obvious uses of Office, as a business we communicate via Lync quite a bit, so I use that. I also use OneNote exclusively now as my note taking software, and have almost completely eradicated the humble pen and paper.

File Management and Backup
I use SugarSync as my software of choice currently for managing and maintaining all my files across my computers and VM’s. I love the way that I can sync only the folders I need onto each machine, and also they way I can dictate where the folders should go on each machine (as this varies)

Remote Working
As I do most of my ‘site’ work remotely, I need to be able to access servers all over the world with ease. To do this, I will generally try to use RDP or TeamViewer.

I use Royal TS to manage my RDP connections. Highly recommended.

Worth a mention:
CyberDuck – Free and Easy FTP
Visual Studio 2013 Premium
SQL Management Studio
Windows Snipping Tool – Great for the odd screenshot that I need.
Skype with a Skype Number

Windows Phone – New toy :)

In Mid-May I got my hands on a Windows phone for the first time. A Nokia Lumia 920.

Although its not currently my daily use phone, it will be soon and I have been gearing up to use it, and I have to admit, I like it very much.

My previous phone was an iPhone 5, which has been a very good phone, but it was time for a change.

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Features
In phone terms I’m a fairly basic user compared to many these days. I’m rarely more than 20 feet from a desktop PC or a Laptop, so do most things through those.

I use my phone as, almost unbelievably, a phone. Its calls people, sends text messages and that’s generally it.

I will do the odd email from the Sofa or in bed if i can’t be bothered moving, but they are rarely more than a few words.

I have used office on it though to briefly read some documents, and expect that I’ll use One Note on it quite a bit when I’m not in the office.

It may be missing some of the features of the latest handsets, but nothing that will affect me.

Wireless Charging
My favourite feature by far is the wireless charging ability. I bought the Nokia DT-900 charging pad soon after getting the phone, and haven’t used a cable since.

Even in it’s quite large case (OtterBox Commuter), the wireless charging has been working flawlessly and I dont know how i’ve lived without it.

No longer am I scrabbling around trying to find the charger, just plonk it on the pad and off you go.

I’d read reports that you had to be careful how you placed it on the pad to make sure you get a connection, but so far I’ve just been dropping it on the pad in any position and its been running fine.

Verdict
I’ve now been using my Nokia Lumia as my daily and only phone for over a month now and have found it to be great.

I’ve found somethings that I used to like on my iPhone which are not quite a good, such as the timer (which i used instead on a kitchen timer) and the flashlight.

The first was easily fixed as i know have a proper Salter kitchen timer. The later is slightly more annoying, but as a camper, i’m rarely more than a few feet from some form of torch.

I’m very much enjoying the larger screen, and have found the Sound quality to be very good. In-fact, better than the iPhone’s was.

It may not be quite as ‘shiny’ as the iPhone, but it does make a great phone.

Camping Season is here!

Easter Weekend marked the beginning of the Camping Season for many, and for me, was the first real opportunity of the year to get out and play in the woods. I’ve had a couple of little camping trips this year, but it has also been a busy few months, so it’s been difficult to get out and play.

First trip out
The first trip out was not too extravagant, infact, it was more of a kit check after the winter, camping in the woods just a few hundred yards from the house.

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After a night of making fire, eating burgers and generally playing around, I think I could call the first trip out a success. Next time, ill be getting the Dutch oven out, and being a bit more adventurous with the food.

New Skillet
Unfortunately, my new Skillet didn’t arrive in time for this trip. Its currently on its second run through the oven being seasoned ready for the next trip. It’s only a small 8.5″ skillet, which might sound tiny, but its just the right size to fit on my wood stove at home too, so its a bit of a compromise.
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Lego Mindstorms

Since I moved house, I’ve been meaning to get my Lego Mindstorms set out for a bit of a play, but have only just got round to it.

The set I have is the NXT 2.0 Education Base Set and it’s really quite good. Its old hat now with the EV3 systems, but I can’t bring myself to lay down the cash for that.

The NXT 2.0 Base set though still have enough stuff to get started with a decent robot. You get an 3 motors, an ultrasonic sensor, 2 touch sensors, 1 light sensor and a sound sensor (which my kit is sadly missing), so the opportunities for playing are actually quite good.

Building my first bot
I’ve decided to keep it simple for now and have just built the basic kit as per the destructions. Quite quickly I found my self with a working bot, which was good. Now I just needed to get a couple of sensors hooked up and get it programmed to do some stuff.

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Software
Once I’d got my bot built, I needed to get it programmed and set-up. I put the software on my desktop and had a bit of a play. Within a few minutes, I had it whirring round the office, and responding to light input.

So far, so good…

What’s Next?
Now I just need to find the time to have a play with it properly, and see how much I can get it to do. I’m yet to find a design that will allow it to wake me up with a fresh cup of tea in the morning, but i’ll figure something out.

Windows 8.1 Update – Thoughts

I’ve been using windows 8 since it was in beta and have always liked it, but it has its issues. 8.1 did a lot to remedy this and now its time for 8.1 Update 1 to have a go at addressing the issues.

Due to a number of leaks its been no secret that this has been coming, or that it what it was going to address.


Although I’m tempted, I’m not going to write about this in-depth, partly because I can’t be bothered, but mostly because there’s already plenty of writing about this and I’d just be copying that. My favourite is Paul Thurrott’s Review:

http://winsupersite.com/windows-8/windows-81-update-1-review

My Favourite Features
There are loads of new features to play with the 8.1 update, but my favourites are.

Power button and Search on the Start screen

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My primary device is a desktop, and Virtual Machines under that, and one of my biggest issues has been easily getting to the power options without fuss.

I regularly run 3 or 4 VM’s on my desktop across multiple monitors, which has made getting to the charm’s for the power options a bit of a pain.

Yes, i could use the quick access menu (WINKEY + X), but this doesn’t always give me the menu for the machine I want and I have, on more than 1 occasion, rebooted my main desktop rather than the 1 VM I wanted to 🙁

As such, I really love having the Power button up on the start menu, and the Search button is great when I’m working on my surface without the keyboard.

Title bar and window Controls

8.1U-storeTitlebar
As I use windows mostly from a desktop with a keyboard and mouse I have found the full-screen metro app a little frustrating at times. With 8.1 Update, the mouse users among us now get a title bar with proper window controls when working in a full screen app.

Boot to desktop
Not a feature I’ve been using, but i know there is much love for being able to boot directly to the desktop, bypassing the start screen.

This, and a couple of other options are now available in the Taskbar properties.

8.1U-taskbar

Surface Pro – One week in

After much deliberation, 7 days ago bit the bullet and bought a Microsoft Surface Pro. I’d been toying with the idea for months as I was getting fed up of swapping between my IPad mini and a laptop all the time.

I spend a lot of my time working in Outlook and OneNote, but also use other Office applications quite extensively. I also tend to run things like Visual Studio (not that i’m any good with it) and some other windows ‘desktop’ apps.

Initial disappointment
To be brutal, my first day or so weren’t the happiest of experiences, and I found myself underwhelmed with the touch experience in outlook and OneNote especially. I also really really hated the browsing experience. I use chrome as my primary browser on my laptop and desktops, so immediately installed in on the new surface. Not a smart move. Its rubbish!!

Overall I felt a little cheated by the whole experience.

What happened next
Up to this point, I’d been trying to use it as a small touch screen PC. As I would my desktop of laptop. It took a while before it clicked… This is a tablet, treat it like one.

I installed the Mail app, the OneNote app and got them all setup and switched to using internet explorer in ‘app’ mode. What a difference that made. Immediately found myself using the surface like it was meant to be, and for the past few days have tried to use it exclusively.

I had an all day meeting on Saturday, writing documents and reviewing excel spreadsheets and other data. A task, which would normally have me reaching for my laptop, I could do on my Surface, and without much difficulty, and while moving around the various meeting rooms.

On too many occasions have I needed to reference something quickly and spent longer getting the laptop out, booting it up, logging in. Not a task that takes long, but compared to the surface feels like a lifetime. My laptop isn’t slow, and on paper should walk all over the surface, but for simple tasks like finding a document, the surface has really shown its worth.

I’m still getting used to it and there is definitely some more work to be done on the office touch experience, but I’m pretty confident that this will become my primary ‘secondary’ device. It will never replace my desktop, but I’m liking its chances for replacing the laptop.

I’m only a week in, so I’m not going to jump in a shout about the things that are wrong with it, or praise it for changing my left, but reserve the right to at some stage further down the line once I’ve got to know it a little better.

NASCAR – SPC14 Attendee Party

I realise that i’m out in the US on business, but when there is a FREE party as part of the package, you can’t complain.

The party in question was at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway which is most commonly used for NASCAR.

Leaving the hotel by coach, we headed out to the speedway, and upon arrival were immediately given the opportunity to have a ‘ride round’ the track. Not in NASCARs unfortunately, but in some normal ‘stock’ Mercedes E-Classes.

Still, who would say no to that!
We only got 1 lap round, but it was still an experience that most would never get.

After the ride round, we walked round the speedway to see what else was on offer. In short we had:

    • As much free food and drink as we could manage
    • A live rock tribute band (which were actually pretty good)
    • A garage full of supercars to look at
    • A Ferrari F430 that we could have our photo taken with
    • and some more stuff I didn’t look at

All told, a good night out, for free which was well needed by all.

Having to be in a session at 9am the following morning though, not so good!

Las Vegas – I wasnt expecting this!

I’ve just arrived in Las Vegas, ready for the SharePoint conference 2014.

Since this is my first trip to the US, I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I was somewhat surprised by what i found in Las Vegas.

You see bits of it in films and the like, but that doesn’t prepare you for this. If you like ‘shiny things’ then this is place for you!

I’m staying in one of the cheapest hotels in the city, and yet i still have a 1 bedroom suite, with a kitchen, separate living area, a bedroom with a king size bed, a bathroom, walk in wardrobe and free WiFi. Not bad for £58 a night!

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My LV Hotel room

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Not a bad view from the Hotel Bedroom!


Its not all moonlight and roses though

However, dig a little deeper and you get to see more of the ‘real’ Vegas. Just like any other big city I’ve been to all over the world once you can get under the skin, its a very different story. I’ve not seen so many homeless people since i was in Cape Town, which is appalling when you consider how much money there is here.

If you want the Vegas experience, then roaming the streets is not the way for you. Instead, stay in one of the big hotels, and you’ll be able to hide away from the reality.

Flying to Las Vegas for SPC14

After almost 4 years since I flew, I was a little curious as to how bad it could be and ever conscious of time, I left the village at 2pm, heading to Manchester. First a walk, then a bus into new mills, then the train into Mcr. All told, just over an hour. Great! I thought, but now wast do I do for the next 2 hours before my train to London??

Beer, that’s the answer!

After a swift pint in the pub, I went into the virgin trains lounge, expecting to have a coffee. Champagne?, for free?

Yes, totally free. Well, I don’t have to drive for a week, so why not.

Let’s just say I was nicely relaxed by the time tea time came around and I got on the train.

So, far so good, and as usual, the Virgin first class carriage was pretty quiet, and he food was ok. More free beer and my thoughts of getting a couple of hours work done, completely decimated.

Now , I’m in London it’s a Friday night at 7pm, and I need to get to the other side of the city, to get to the airport.
After a swift Google, it became clear that there were 2 ways, tube cross London and then a train.

It took a while, in fact nearly 2 hours, but i made it through to Gatwick, dropped my luggage with BA and went to the hotel for a pint before bed. Not looking forward to the 6am start and 11 hour flight ahead tomorrow 🙁

My Cottage – settling in

Its now been 2 weeks since i moved into my first home, and its coming together.

I found the first few days quite a bit harder than id expected, and had a few low moments.

It didn’t take long for this to come good though, and i’m now at the point where i’ve been in the house for 14 days and am beginning to see it as mine home. There’s still a long way to go, but its getting there.

The only down side is that im now in the US, spending 9 days away with work. I could really do with spending this time ‘bonding’ with my house.

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Office coming along. Still not finished though