BM-Bloggers

The blogs of Black Marble staff

BlogEngine.Net automatically tweeting on new posts

I sadly miss Twitter Notify, the plugin for Windows Live Writer that would tweet when I published a new post. Fortunately, there are a couple of plugins for BlogEngine.Net that purport to do the same thing. I’ve just deployed SocialPublish to our server. Configuration is a bit fiddly, and I’m not sure yet how well it will work with our multi-tennant structure. This is my first post after activation so I’m keen to see if it tweets when I publish!

Update: well, the first test failed. I'm going to use this post for testing and we'll see if I can make it work!

Update: it turns out that the plugins uses the Twitterizer library to do the heaving lifting. The version of twitterizer2.dll in the plugin zipfile was too old  and didn't work with the new Twitter API. We grabbed the latest source from the twitterizer github repository, compiled the dll and replaced the one from the plugin package and it now works fine!

Update: It looks like the plugin only tweets when you first publish a post, as opposed to if you unpublish/republish. Not a big problem, but worth knowing.

Update: Bit.ly integration also works, but you need to get the Legacy API key that can be found in the Advanced tab of your bit.ly settings.

Living with the Dell Venue 8 Pro

venu8prohq

Some time ago I wrote about how disappointed I was with the Acer W3 tablet. I really wanted that small form factor device, but the Acer fell short in pretty much every regard. Late last year Dell launched the Venue 8 Pro – the first of the new generation of 8” Windows tablets out of the gate. I sat on the fence for a while, looking at community comments on the the device, then finally ordered one after speaking to Simon May about his impressions of it.

Overall, I think it’s great. In this post I will go through the good and the bad, but overall I’d still be happy recommending it to others, with a perhaps couple of caveats. Competitors are now starting to appear, but the Dell still holds its own, I think. I’ll also mention a few tips that I have found along the way that will help you get the most from your own Venue 8.

Size and shape

The Dell is smaller than the Acer W3 in every axis, and lighter. I find it comfortable to hold in one hand, fingers on one edge and thumb on another. I don’t have huge hands, by any stretch. The back is covered with a lightly ribbed, rubberised material which makes the device easy to grip and comfortable to hold.

There is no Windows button/key on the front of the device. Dell has placed a hardware button on the top right of the device as you hold it in portrait mode, with the power and volume buttons down the right hand edge. In theory this sounds off, but in practice I find it works well. Placing a button on the front suggests which way you should hold the device – I’ve commented before on how Surface compares to iPad in the way the button placement indicates preferred orientation. The Dell is a device you naturally want to use in portrait mode for tasks like browsing,email and twitter. Watch a video, though and you will probably switch to landscape. The Windows button on the Venue 8 works just fine in either orientation and you don’t accidentally catch it with a finger (as I do with my Surface and Surface Pro when in portrait sometimes).

Ports, Connectivity and Charging

This is another area where the Dell might polarise views. There is no external display connector. That’s a little frustrating, as in all other ways the Dell would make a great device to carry and present from if needed. It does support Miracast, and I have tested it with my trusty Netgear Push2TV so you can output to a TV or projector, as long as that device has HDMI input for the Miracast adapter. In practice, however, Miracast and portrait fails horribly. Don’t try to mirror your display because it just doesn’t work. Extend is OK, but that really limits use to presenting.

Is this really a problem, though? Most places I present only offer a VGA connector, even in this day and age. The number of expensive adapters I carry around for Surface, Surface 2 and my trusted X220T is too numerous to consider. That actually means that I don’t try to present form anything but the X220T, which has both displayport and vga output. Until the world catches up with digital inputs a tiny tablet is not going to be a viable ‘only device I carry’.

I previously lambasted the Acer for needing a separate charger rather than using USB. Here the Venue 8 Pro wins, sort of… The Dell comes with a small charger and USB to micro-usb cable to charge the device. Fantastic! I thought, and immediately tried plugging into a USB port on my X220T. No dice.

It turns out that this is not uncommon. The Dell charger has shorted to pins of the USB connector. Unless the tablet detects that when a cable is connected, it won’t charge. The solution, then, turned out to be a simple three-quid cable from Amazon, originally intended for a Samsung tablet, that allows you to switch between ‘data’ and ‘charge’ mode and when connected in line with a standard cable enables charging from a standard USB port. Also useful to know is that the Surface Pro adapter, with it’s built-in USB charging, has the pins shorted and will charge the Dell.

Don’t think about plugging in USB peripherals and charging at the same time, however. I also picked up a USB OTG hub, which I can happily connect to the Dell, attach a USB device such as keyboard or thumbdrive and also plug in the charging cable. The Dell refuses to switch to charging mode, however, and I have not found any existing cable/hub on sale that might address this problem.

Last but not least is a Micro-SD slot. I bought the 32Gb version of the Venue 8 Pro (the 64Gb one weren’t shipping pre-christmas) and am quite happy with it, but have added an SD card to hold stuff like music for long train journeys.

Screen

The display is lovely. No buts. A crisp, clear 800x1280 IPS panel that’s easy to read in ways that the W3 never was. It’s an interesting talking point in the current ‘higher is better’ resolution war – I’m really not sure that I’d notice much improvement if it were, say, full HD or even higher.

I must point out, however, that the as-shipped Venue 8 Pro suffers from a fairly annoying auto-brightness behaviour due to a too-aggressive setting in software. Dell have an update that fixes this. I’ll come back to that…

I use the Venue 8 for web browsing, reading on the Kindle app and doing light work such as email and reading documents. For that, it’s great. The screen is sharp and clear and text is readable without being too small. It does well in daylight, although the glass is quite reflective so it suffers in direct or very bright light

Performance

A quad-core Atom Z3740D powers the Venue 8 pro. It’s a zippy little thing – more than enough for everyday use of store apps and Office. It also makes a reasonable fist of games – Project Spark runs ok (although the back gets a bit hot!), although Halo: Spartan Assault is unplayable due to it not understanding the screen resolution. 2Gb of RAM isn’t enough for running VMs and heavy photoshop work but it’s more than enough for Store apps and Office.

What I hadn’t realised until checking up whilst writing this post, is that the CPU is a 64-bit-capable one that also supports virtualisation. Having recently installed Windows 8.1 Enterprise x86 on mine (see later), I may now have to try again with Windows 8.1 Enterprise x64…

Networking

No physical network (you expected that, right?) But both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz wireless for great flexibility between range and speed. Plug a USB ethernet adapter in and it will happily use that, if you need to.

Touch and Stylus

venue8stylus

Now comes the rub. One of the biggest reasons I bought the Venue 8 pro was because it offered an active stylus rather than the largely useless capacitive ones most tablets are stuck with. The Dell does not use the largely ubiquitous Wacom digitiser, however. This is new technology from Synaptics.

The stylus, and the debate surrounding it, was why I held off from buying the tablet in the first place. Early users posted scathing reviews of the stylus performance when inking in OneNote (my primary use case). Dell quickly issues firmware updates for the digitiser that improved things and this gave me the confidence to move forward. However, as I write this post my stylus, originally due the first week in December, is now not due until late March. I understand that Dell suspended shipment whilst they addressed design issues.

I find this all very disappointing. Dell stole a march on the competition when they were first out of the gate with the Venue 8 Pro, but it’s clear that the new technology they adopted was not necessarily ready for prime-time. I like the Venue 8 Pro enough even without the stylus that I have no intention of ditching it, but it is currently unable to fulfill my primary use case.

Battery Life

It lasts all day. For my actual use, which is intermittent and currently tends to be consuming information via web/email/etc I charge it every three days or so. I’m very happy with that. The datasheet says something like 9 hours and I have to say I think that’s pretty accurate.

The Competition

I have been very surprised that in the months since launch, only one vendor has announced anything that comes close to the Venue 8 Pro. Acer now has the W4 – aiming to right the wrongs of the W3; Lenovo announced a business-focused 8 inch tablet with a full HD scree resolution. Neither, however, has a usable stylus. Only the Asus Vivotab Note 8 offers the same size, performance and an active digitizer (a wacom, this time) and it’s not expected to ship until March. Providing they can sort their stylus issues I think the Venue 8 Pro is still the one I’d recommend to users like me.

The Use Case

Simon May posted an interesting article the other day where he compared choosing the size of device to choosing the size of notepad. I want to be able to use the Dell in meetings to take notes. In all-day workshops where I’m taking lots of notes I will use my Surface Pro and it’s great. For sales meetings, however, I want something smaller and lighter and the Dell fits the bill. I’d love to reach the point where my everyday back is small and light because I only have the 8 inch tablet in it, along with a small charger. If I’m presenting then I’ll take my X220T and for workshops I’ll take the Surface Pro. The Dell is perfect for conference trips, too. I’m hoping that once I get my stylus the Dell will prove a reliable workhorse that may finally replace my trusty moleskin notebooks.

Enterprise Use

The Venue 8 Pro ships with Windows 8.1 (or 9.1 Pro if you go for the fully tricked out 64Gb with SIM slot version). With Workplace Join, new in Windows 8.1 and Server 2012 R2, I could get some of the enterprise access I want, but to get things like Direct Access I need to reinstall with Windows 8.1 Enterprise. Rather than blog on the process for that, I will simply point you at a great set of instructions to do this ‘the right way’. As you can guess, I now have 8.1 Enterprise on my Dell, with full secure access to all the systems I need.

Summary: Great Device, Rushed to Market

Everything about the design of the Venue 8 Pro reflects well on Dell. Lots of things about the implementation, however, do not. Since launch, Dell has released a number of updates to fix problems with the auto-brightness of the screen and the sensitivity of the touch screen and stylus. Whilst most of the specs are in line with the other 8” tablets – memory, storage, CPU – the choice of Synaptics’ technology for the screen and stylus is one where I think more testing was needed. Almost certainly the choice was made because of cost – I’ll bet Synaptics did Dell a great deal to be first adopter compared to the cost of the Wacom digitiser. However, the customer does seem to be paying the price for lack of testing, as shown by the suspension of stylus shipments.

If you don’t want or need a stylus, I can recommend the Dell Venue 8 Pro without hesitation. If, like me, you are a OneNote user looking for that perfect size of device to take notes then you need to sit on the fence until March. At that point, hopefully Dell will have sorted it’s problems with the stylus and a careful comparison with the Asus device can be made.

How long is my TFS 2010 to 2013 upgrade going to take?

Update 27 Jun 2013 See update version of post with more data

I seem to be involved with a number of TFS 2010 to 2013 upgrades at present. I suppose people are looking at TFS 2013 in the same way as they have historically looked at the first service pack for a product i.e: the time to upgrade when most of the main issues are addressed. That said TFS 2013 is not TFS 2012 SP1!

A common question is how long will the process take to upgrade each Team Project Collection? The answer is that it depends, a good consultants answer. Factors include the number of work items, size of the code base, number of changesets, volume of test results and the list goes on.  The best I have been able to come up with is to record some timings of previous upgrades and use this data to make an educated guess. 

In an upgrade of a TPC from TFS 2010 to 2013 there are 793 steps to be taken. Not all these take the same length of time, some are very slow as can be seen in the chart. I have plotted the points where the upgrade seems to pause the longest. These are mostly towards the start of the process where I assume the main  DB schema changes are being made

image

To give some more context

  • Client C was a production quality multi tier setup and took about 3 hours to complete.
  • Client L, though with a a similar sized DB to Server A, was much slower to upgrade, around 9 hours. However, it was on a slower single tier test VM and also had a lot of historic test data attachments (70%+ of the DB contents)
  • Demo VM was my demo/test TFS 2010 VM, this had 4 TPCs, the timing are for the largest of 600Mb. In reality this server had little ‘real’ data. It is also interesting to note that though there were four TPCs the upgrade did three in parallel and when the first finished started the fourth. Worth remembering if you are planning an upgrade of many TPCs.

Given this chart, if you know how long it takes to get to Step 30 of 793 you can get an idea of which of these lines closest matches your system.

I will continue to update this post as I get more sample data, hope it will be of use to others to gauge how only upgrades may take, but remember your mileage may vary.

Upgrading our TFS 2012 server to 2013

We have eventually got around to the 2013 upgrade of our production TFS server. It had been put off due to some tight delivery deadlines around Christmas.

The upgrade went fine, unlike out some previous ones we have had.

The upgrading of our team process templates, to add the new features, was greatly eased by using Feature4Tfs tool on CodePlex. This meant one command line call and all the projects were done (we had no significant process customisation) as opposed to visiting in team project in the admin console.

For now we are continuing to run with our TFS 2012 generation build and test controllers. These are working fine with 2013, so we can upgrade these when it is convenient, not all in a rush.

Changing targeted .NET version for a project means web.config changes for EF

I am upgrade an internal system from .NET 4.0 to 4.5 so that I can use the Team API features in TFS. The system is based around a WCF web service that links our customer help desk system to TFS to keep bug reports in sync. It uses Entity Framework to access our help desk SQL DB.

When I changed the targeted .NET framework  for the WCF project, I started to get warning to update the Nuget managed references for EF, which I did.

Once this was done, all my unit tests passed, however when i tried to load my test system it got the following  error (when it tried to create the EF DbContext)

An exception of type 'System.TypeInitializationException' occurred in EntityFramework.dll but was not handled in user code

Additional information: The type initializer for 'System.Data.Entity.Internal.AppConfig' threw an exception.

Turns out the issue was a reference to EF in the WCF project web.config

<configSections>
    <section name="entityFramework" type="System.Data.Entity.Internal.ConfigFile.EntityFrameworkSection, EntityFramework, Version=4.4.0.0, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=b77a5c561934e089" requirePermission="false" />
    <!-- For more information on Entity Framework configuration, visit http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkID=237468 -->
  </configSections>

should have been

<configSections>
    <section name="entityFramework" type="System.Data.Entity.Internal.ConfigFile.EntityFrameworkSection, EntityFramework, Version=5.0.0.0, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=b77a5c561934e089" requirePermission="false" />
    <!-- For more information on Entity Framework configuration, visit http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkID=237468 -->
  </configSections>

 

A misleading error message don’t you think?

Fix for intermittent connection problem in lab management – restart the test controller

Just had a problem with a TFS 2012 Lab Management deployment build. It was working this morning, deploying two web sites via MSDeploy and a DB via a DacPac, then running some CodedUI tests. However, when I tried a new deployment this afternoon it kept failing with the error:

The deployment task was aborted because there was a connection failure between the test controller and the test agent.

image

If you watched the build deployment via MTM you could see it start OK, then the agent went off line after a few seconds.

Turns out the solution was the old favourite, to reboot of the Build Controller. Would like to know why it was giving this intermittent problem though.

Update 14th Jan An alternative solution to rebooting is to add a hosts file entry on the VM running the test agent for the IP address of the test controller. Seems the problem is name resolution, but not sure why it occurs

F# Compiler as a Service

With the interesting move for compilers to become services, it is a natural and welcome follow on that F# is now available as a compiler as a service.

The Package contains

  • F# Language tokenizer – tokenizer service
  • Processing untyped AST service
  • Using editor (IDE) services – components needed to build an IDE
  • Hosted F# interactive - allows F# to be embedded as a scripting language
  • Hosting the F# compiler

if F# is your thing (and it should be) or if you are interested in Compiler as a Service as a general idea, you really should check it out.

F# Compiler Services is available from Github here

b

Nokia Update 3, Nokia Black and Apps

A nice surprise today the Nokia Black update appeared on my Nokia 1020. The update brings some great new features but also a hidden fix for those of us running the GDR3 developer preview which now allows correct use of the PlayTo feature.

Updated Nokia Glance

Glance now includes other notifications from apps similar to the lock screen also now in fetching blue and green.

Camera

The Nokia Pro Camera and Smart Camera are have been merged, for 1020 users Raw DNG is now supported and updated imaging algorithms, including a new oversampling algorithm for photos.

There is also support for the Refocus App which is an amazing focus after picture

Driving Mode

Driving mode is great, set up to reduce alerts and noise when driving, for example when my lumia pairs with my car

kit only phone calls and text messages can alert me, simple and brilliant

Nokia Beamer

The new Nokia beamer app

To use Beamer, download the app from the Nokia area of the Store. On the “Target” machine navigate to the https://beam.nokia.com/ page

scan the QR code on the page with the app and when you shake (or permanent view) your phone the image of whatever the phone is showing turns up on the page

this is GREAT news for live demos where visual studio emulation is not viable.

Nokia Storyteller Beta App

This app was only available for 1520 and 2520 units, but now available to all, the app categorises your photos by where and when they were taken along with maps to give a great way to share memories

App Folders

Nokia have also released App Folders which is a downloadable app from the store, App Folders allows apps to be grouped and pinned as a group on the front screen.

Bits and Bobs

Black brings support for Bluetooth LE (Low Energy), which I think will start to have an impact later in the year

Ringtone Support: More locations support custom ringtones

Improved Storage Management: The Storage management is much improved

App Shutdown: Easily done using App switcher

Screen Rotation Lock: At last

b.

Update for Windows Phone Developers

In a wrap from last year I am posting some summary's of key information from the last few months that people may have missed.

Since the Windows Phone team made the update 3 available to developers there is now a new set of Images for Update 3

These images allows you to test on Update 3 at the same resolutions as Update 2 but also at 1080 x 1920 resolution screens for phones such as the Lumia 1520. Get Update 3 for the Windows Phone 8.0 SDK Here 

if you haven't got update 3 on your Windows Phone 8 look here

The  Windows Phone Dev Center also has a very useful change, Beta apps which used to expire after 90 days, however now the apps do not expire and it is up to you as the developer to expire/change/use as needed.This is very welcome change as it will allow developers to run rapid delivery long running parallel Beta/Test programs.

Also the Windows Store and Windows Phone Store have merged accounts and costs (At last) and at the same time reduced the costs significantly to 12 UKP for and individual and 65 UKP for a company. Remember if you have a MSDN subscription there store is free with the code you get from your MSDN subscription page.

b.