But it works on my PC!

The random thoughts of Richard Fennell on technology and software development

Windows Media Center issues again

Today was my day for semi annual Media Center (MCE) problems. As usual they seemed to start with an unexpected power issue, a local power cut, maybe the answer is a UPS for the TV setup? Once the PC was rebooted it had forgotten it had any tuners. If I tried to view live TV or re-setup the TV signal it just hung with a spinning ‘toilet bowl of death’ cursor. Corrupt TV data DB I suspect, I have seen it before

I tried clearing the DB content in C:\programdata\windows\ehome, but no luck. In the end I did the dirty fix of

  • Going into Window features
  • Remove media center
  • Reboot
  • Re-add media center
  • Re-run MCE setup – this took over an hour, it is slow to find Freeview channels

Downside of this is that it has the issue it resets all the series settings, media locations etc. but it does tend to work.

My MCE seems to have been getting slower and generally needed more reboots for a while, strange is it has been on the same dedicated hardware for a few years.  Given Windows 10 is on the horizon and it has no MCE I guess it  is time to revisit an MCE replacement (or leave my MCE box on Windows 8). Last time I looked the issue was PVR support for Freeview and general ‘wife friendly operations’. It does seem that fewer and fewer people are prioritising terrestrial broadcast as media source, it all seems to be about streaming. Just don’t think I am there yet, I like my PVR. But there is no harm is a trawl of the other current offerings, I might be surprised

Updated 9pm  when the setup wizard actually finished – turns out my media library settings were not lost, just series recording settings

After a few days living with a Microsoft Band…

I have worn a Polar s610 heart rate monitor as my watch for years (probably 15+), as I write it needs another battery swap, which means sending it to Polar, something I have done a couple of times in the past for servicing The batteries in the watch last 5 years or so, in the associated heart rate monitor strap maybe a bit more depending on usage.

The point is I am used to having a device that ‘can’ give heart rate information, it seems normal, but I do need to remember to put on the heart rate strap, something I would only usually do for a race or specific training set. Now don’t get me wrong having the s610 does not mean I am a talented athlete, but I do have good idea of my heart rate for any given sporting activity

So this week I got hold of a Microsoft Band, nice timing as my s610 needs that new battery, but how has the Band done?

Microsoft Band in Watch Mode

Whilst in the USA last year I had tried on other people’s Bands and felt them cumbersome, but mine is a small (previously I had only tried on large or mediums). Actually I find it little worse on the wrist than the s610. So tip here – it seems sizing is critical, especially if have spindly little wrists like me. Like compression sport wear, if in doubt err to a smaller size.

Beyond being a watch, I have been using it to track my runs and cycling and the HR seems accurate, at least the numbers are within a few beats of what I would expect on the s610, and it is so much easier than remembering the monitor strap for my Polar. It is great that it gets so much information so easily, and that it  can push it onto other services as I want without me having to play with modem style audio based Polar SonicLink (I did say my s610 is old)

But of course I do have some issues:

  • The obvious one is battery life. I am seeing 6 to 48 hours depending on how much GPS I used. For the first two days it was great, when I used it as a watch, no charging needed. However, yesterday I did a a 5K Parkrun and a 40K bike ride, so after less than 3 hours of GPS, HR and screen on etc. it needed a charge. I can live with this I think, I do need to make sure the screen is off and see how that helps. I don’t want it dying on a half day or so cycle ride.
  • Turns out I glance at my watch a lot – as by default the screen is off I have to press button to see the time – it took me back to the LED watches of the 70s. Again this comes back to battery life. I know I can leave the screen on, but it just needs to much power.
  • When running the splits are in km, it would be nice to have my own trigger e.g laps.  For example on my local Parkrun we do 3 laps, and I know my target splits. On the Polar I have a big red button to press for each lap to get a lap time,  on the Band I have to do maths in my head. Now there might be a way to do this, but I have not found it yet.
  • Finally my major issue is it is not waterproof so can’t wear it to swim, so not useful in a Triathlon as it is as something else to have to put on in T1. Also I do use the time splits in the pool on my S610 when training, again counting laps not KM (I don’t swim that far!). Not sure how they would make it fully waterproof, but it would be a great feature.

So first thoughts, loads better than I expected, all my niggles are minors and are more to do with current battery technology than the device itself. For the price, £169 at Amazon UK for pre-order, an interesting alternative to Garmin or Polar. Certainly got some interest at the 10K race I did this morning.

Great book full of easily accessible tips to apply the concept of user stories to your team

As with many concepts it is not the the idea that is hard but it’s application. ‘Fifty Quick Ideas to Improve Your User Stories’ by  Gojko Adzic and David Evans provides some great tips to apply the concept of user stories to real world problems. Highlighting where they work and where they don’t, and what you can do about it.

I think this book is well worth a read for anyone, irrespective of their role in a team; it’s short chapters (usually a couple of pages per idea) means it easy to pickup and put down when you get a few minutes. Perfect for that commute

‘The Circle’ a good read

Seven whole years ago I wrote about re-reading [corrected – getting old and forgetful not William Gibson’s it was]  Douglas Coupland’s  Microserfs and how it compared to his then new book JPod. And how they both reflected the IT world at their time. Speculative fiction always says more about the time they are written than the future they predict.

I have just read ‘The Circle’ by Dave Eggers which in many ways is a similar book for our social media, big brother monitored age. I will leave it to you to decide if it a utopian or dystopia but it is well worth a read

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The return of Visual Studio Setup projects - just because you can use them should you?

A significant blocker for some of my customers moving to Visual Studio 2013 (and 2012 previously) has been the removal of Visual Studio Setup Projects; my experience has been confirmed by UserVoice. Well Microsoft have addressed this pain point by releasing a Visual Studio Extension to re-add this Visual Studio 2010 functionality to 2013. This can be downloaded from the Visual Studio Gallery.

Given this release, the question now becomes should you use it? Or should you take the harder road in the short term of moving to Wix, but with the far greater flexibility this route offers going forward?

At Black Marble we decided when Visual Studio Setup projects were dropped to move all active projects over to Wix, the learning curve can be a pain, but in reality most Visual Studio Setup project convert to fairly simple Wix projects. The key advantage for us is that you can build a Wix project on a TFS build agent via MSBuild; not something you can do with a  Visual Studio Setup Project without jump through hoops after installing Visual Studio on the build box.

That said I know that the upgrade cost of moving to Wix is a major blocker for many people, and this extension will remove that cost. However, please consider the extension a tool to allow a more staged transition of installer technology, not an end in itself. Don’t let you installers become a nest of technical debt

And the most ridiculous packaging award of the day goes to…

CPC who managed to send two resistor-capacitor balances for LED lights, which as about 1cm in size

in a box as shown here

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Other than loads of that inflatable packing material there was a huge CPC catalogue, with the interesting sticker

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So an online electronics company, that provides free shipping (a really good thing when the components were only a couple of £s), chose to also send a very heavy catalogue that they know is out of date, when I have already used their quick and easy web site.

You have to wonder why?

Review of ‘Software Testing using Visual Studio 2012’ from Packt Publishing

I have just been reading Software Testing using Visual Studio 2012 by Subashni. S and Satheesh Kumar. N from Packt Publishing

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This book does what it says on the cover, it is a general introduction to the testing tools within the Visual Studio 2012 family. My comment is not about how well it is done, it is a clear enough introduction, but why produce a book that really just covers what is in MSDN, Channel9, numerous podcasts, blogs and ALM Rangers documentation?

I suppose this is a question of target audience, some people like to browse a physical book for ‘new’ technology, I can see that (though I tried it on Kindle, more of that later). This book certainly does cover the core areas, but sits strangely between a technology briefing for a manager/person who just needs an overview (it is all a bit long winded, list all the features and flags of tools) and not enough detail for the practitioner (the exercises do not go deep enough unlike those provide by Microsoft in Brian Keller VS/TFS demo VM series)

Given this concern I wonder who the target audience really is?

A real issue here is that Microsoft have gone to quarterly updates, so the product is always advancing, faster than any print book can manage (Microsoft’s own MSDN documentation has enough problems keeping up, and frequently is play catch up). For a book on testing this is a major problem as ‘test’ has been a key focus for the updates. This means when the book’s contents is compared to Visual Studio/TFS 2012.3 (the current shipping version at the time of this review) there are major features missing such as

  • The improvements in Test Explorer to support other non Microsoft test framework, playlists etc.,
  • SKU changes in licensing, MTM dropping down to Premium form Ultimate
  • Azure based load testing
  • The test experience in the web browser (as opposed to MTM)

The list will always grow while Microsoft stick to their newer faster release cycle. This was not too much of a problem when Microsoft shipped every couple of years, a new book opportunity, but now how can any book try to keep up on a 12 week cycle?

One option you would think is Kindle or eBooks in general, as at least the book can be updated . However there is still the issue of the extra effort of the authors and editors, so in general I find these updates are not that common. The authors will usually have moved onto their next project and not be focused on yet another unpaid update to a book they published last quarter.

As to my experience on the Kindle, this was the first technical book I have read on one. I have used the Kindle App on a phone for a couple of years for my novel reading, but always felt the screen was too small for anything that might have a diagram in it. I recently bought a Kindle Paperwhite so though I would give this book a go on it. I initially tried to email the book from the Packt site straight to my Kindle, but this failed (a file size issue I am told by Packt customer support), but a local copy of USB was fine.

So how was the Kindle experience? OK, it did the job, everything was clear enough,  it was not a super engaging reading experience but it is a technical book, what do you expect? It was good enough that I certainly don’t see my getting too many paper books going forward whether thet be novels or technical books.

So in summary, was the book worth the effort to read? I always gauge this question on ‘did I learn something?’ and I did. There is always a nugget or two in books on subjects you think you know. However, ‘would I say it is a really useful/essential read for anyone who already has a working knowledge in this subject?’, probably not. I would say their time is better spent doing a hand on lab or watching conference recordings on Channel9.

Leave this book to anyone who wants a general written introduction to the subject of Microsoft specific testing tooling.

A week with a Nokia 820

I have been using a Nokia 800 (Windows Phone 7.8) for a year or so and been happy with it. It does what I needed i.e. phone, email, media player mainly for podcasts. So given all the  reported issues with WP8 and podcasts (no Zune client to manage the subscription/sync and you can only subscribe through the store if you are in the USA) I was not too keen to ‘upgrade’

Anyway last week I was persuaded to give a Nokia 820 a try, I did not want to try the 920/925 as I don’t like too larger phone. The fact the 820 is bigger than my 800 I thought that might be an issue.

So how did it go?

The first couple of days were horrible. However, turns out many of the problems I had were due to poor quality USB cables. Once I used the short one that came with the phone as opposed to one I had used for months connected to my laptop base station, all the sync issues I had went away.

The 820 only had 7Gb of usable memory as opposed to 13Gb on the 800, so I had to put in a MicroSD

The 820 did not come with a rubber bumper case in the box, unlike the 800. I think these are essential to deal with the inevitable drops the phone will suffer, and the couple of millimetre bezel lifts the screen to avoid scratches, so I bought one.

I had to install the language pack before all the speech based functions worked. Now I really can’t remember if I had to do this on the 800, but I don’t recall it, I thought they were preinstalled.

But all these are niggles, the real issue was the podcasting, it was awful. Now I know podcasts are either a feature you use or not, there is little middle ground, what we in the UK call a Marmite feature. if you listen to podcasts it is probably the primary use of your phone. What was in Microsoft’s head when they cut the Zune functionality and suggested using ITunes for the sync I do not know. The current release of the Windows Phone Desktop is meant to address this issue allowing podcasts to be sync’d from iTunes for folders (which in turn can be sync’d via Zune). The problem is it just does not do the job, it does not honour the played flag, just syncing what it finds in the folder whether it is played or not. This becomes a real problem when you have about half the free space I had on my 800 (until I put in a MicroSD).

I did try with the Windows Phone Desktop for a day or two and gave up. So I moved to an App. The best I found was i Podcast, it just works. It is a shame it cannot drop the files into the phone media hub or make use of the MicroSD card, but these are minor issues. I did have a problem that it crashed and wiped out my subscriptions but I am told by the developers that this exception related bug was fixed in 2.1 which was released this week. Their email response to my query was excellent. Other than that it has been great. I would recommend purchasing the premium features so that it can store you subscription/playlist and sync them between device – very nice

I await with interest to see if the GDR2 update addresses the horror story that is WP8 out the box podcasting.

So one week down, will i go back to my 800? I think not, actually the 800 screen felt a little small now. However I will still say I am not using any of the new WP8 feature, so I would not pay a premium to upgrade? I would hold off, at least until the free upgrade point on my phone contract.

Experiences with a Kindle Paperwhite

I wrote a post a while ago about ‘should I buy a Kindle’, well I put if off for over a year using the Kindle app on my WP7 phone, reading best part of 50 books and been happy enough without buying an actual Kindle. The key issue being poor battery life, but that’s phones for you.

However, I have eventually got around to getting a Kindle device. They key was I had been waiting for something that used touch, had no keyboard,  but most importantly worked in the dark without an external light. This is because I found one of the most useful features of the phone app was reading in bed without the need for a light.

This is basically the spec of the Kindle Paperwhite, so I had no excuse to delay any longer.

Kindle Paperwhite e-reader

 

This week was my first trip away with it and it was interesting to see my usage pattern. On the train and in the hotel I used the Kindle, but standing on the railway station or generally  waiting around I still pulled out my phone to read. This had the effect that I did have to put my phone into WIFI hotspot mode so the Kindle could sync up my last read point via whispersync when I wanted to switch back to the Kindle. This was because I had not bought the 3G version of the Paperwhite, and I still don’t think I would bother to get, as firing up a hotspot is easy if I am on the road and the Kindle uses my home and work WIFI most of the time.

So I have had it for a few weeks now and must say I am very happy with it, I can heartily recommend it. I still have reservations over having to carry another device, but it is so much more pleasant to read on the Kindle screen. So most of the time it is worth carrying it and for when it is not I just use my phone.

Great experience moving my DotNetNuke site to PowerDNN

I posted recently about my experiences in upgrading DotNetNuke 5 to 7, what fun that was! Well I have now had to do the move for real. I expected to follow the same process, but had problems. Turns out the key was to go 5 > 6 > 7. Once I did this the upgrade worked, turns out this is the recommended route. Why my previous trial worked I don’t know?

Anyway I ended up with a local DNN 7 site running against SQL 2012. It still was using DNN 5 based skin (which has problems with IE 10) which I needed to alter, but was functional. So it was time to move my ISP.

Historically I had the site running on Zen Internet, but their Windows hosting is showing its age, they do not offer .NET 4,  and appear to have no plans to change this when I last asked. Also there is no means to do a scripted/scheduled backup on their servers.

The lack of .NET 4  meant I could not use Zen for DNN 7. So I choose to move to PowerDNN, which is a DNN specialist, offers the latest Microsoft hosting and was cheaper.

I had expect the migrate/setup to be awkward, but far from it. I uploaded my backups to PowerDNN’s FTP site and the site was live within 10 minutes. I had a good few questions over backup options, virtual directories for other .NET applications etc. all were answered via email virtually instantly. Thus far the service has been excellent, PowerDNN are looking a good choice.