Fitbit One

Fitbit One

In December I got a Fitbit One activity tracker, and I have been using it with my Surface every day since.

So far, I have been really enjoying reviewing the extra information I have been collecting. While I am certainly not the most athletic, like most people I want to keep fit and knowing how I’m doing certainly helps.

By either keeping the Fitbit in my pocket or attached to my belt, I’m able to keep track of the following statistics:

  • Steps
  • Calories Burned
  • Distance
  • Very Active Minutes
  • Floors

The device itself is small and nice in the hand, but people have noted to me how easy it would be to lose. At the time of writing, I have only forgotten to clip it to my jeans once – and I quickly remembered to get it before I went too far.

With iOS and Android the Fitbit One can talk directly to the phone via Bluetooth. On Windows, the device synchronises with the Fitbit service through a USB dongle and some software, though this may be improving through the Windows 8 app. Currently, there’s no Windows Phone software but the rumours are that it will be coming soon.

Fitbit Software

At this time of year it’s quite difficult to do extra exercise, so I’ve actually reduced the default goals which means that with an extra walk every day I’m meeting the goals. With the original 10,000 steps, I’d have to walk around my village twice. While that goal seems reasonable for the future, I figured I’d start off slow.

I spent a lot of time looking around at the various options before deciding to go with Fitbit. There biggest factor was the fact that it synchronises with Microsoft HealthVault – a service that I already use to keep track of my weight and diet intake.

I decided to go for the clip-on style tracker for now, because I would rather wait and see what else could be put on my wrist before giving up my G-Shock. Though I believe that ultimately, using the wrist would be more useful than a clip-on – especially when used sleep tracking.

Hopefully Microsoft will produce a watch based device that will work with activity tracking as will as more general things – half way between a Galaxy Gear and a Fitbit Force. I’ve always been super interested in wearable form factors, and as a Windows user I look forward to seeing what Microsoft bring. Currently, I wouldn’t be willing to use my wrist for something as simple as health tracking.

Update

A couple of weeks after posting this I managed to lose my Fitbit One while on a walk, and I was unable to find it even after spending a few hours retracing my steps.

Immediately I realised how important tracking my activity had become and decided to purchase a replacement. I have learned a lesson to ensure that I have secured the Fitbit One in my pocket rather than my belt when doing any real strenuous activities.

But this also goes to show that the Fitbit One is so useful, I’m willing to spend the £70 on a replacement right away.

My Multi-Tools

There is something I really like about multi-tools. Especially ones that fold up into neat packages. Here are all the multi-tools that I own, and each one has its own purpose:

Victorinox Cyber Tool

Victorinox Cyber Tool

My Victorinox Cyber Tool was the first real Swiss army knife I got, and I was lucky enough to win it through a radio show. This version of the Cyber Tool is the most complete version that Victorinox made, and has 41 tools by their count. While I must admit I don’t use all of them, a great deal have been extremely useful over the years. The most unique features of this particular knife, is that it has a socket driver, which has been used to open and repair computers and other electronics. It has now been discontinued.

Wenger Ranger

Wenger Ranger

My Wenger Ranger 55 knife has gone camping with me many times, and has been used for a very large amount of tasks, including cutting cardboard, rope, opening tins and sawing fire wood. I decided to get the version that included a bottle opener – rather than a screw driver – because it seemed more likely that I would need that tool when camping, however I think all of the wine I have enjoyed while camping was either a screw top, or in a box. I originally ordered a black version of this knife, but received a version with camouflage themed scales. I decided to keep it.

Sigg Cutlery

Sigg Cutlery

Also for camping, my Sigg cutlery set has been very handy. Personally, I would have preferred it if they hadn’t included the bottle opener on the fork – as it seems that almost every other multi-tool has a bottle opener already. But, despite the strange shape of the fork and the sharpness of the knife, it has served me well. It turns out that the spoon gets most of the eating action in this set – and the knife and fork are more often used while actually cooking.

Victorinox Classic

Victorinox Classic

The tool I use the most by far is my tiny Victorinox Classic pen knife. This little knife usually lives inside a bag which also contains various medications and nail clippers. I’m guessing this is also the most used pair of scissors I own – outside of my kitchen.

Leatherman Wave

Leatherman Wave

Around the flat I tend to use my Leatherman Wave for a number of tasks, the pliers have helped out when fixing handles on doors, and the large blade has been very handy for cutting cardboard. I have a number of bits which can be used with the screwdriver which are great. This is also the sharpest blade I have.

Leatherman Squirt

Leatherman Squirt

When I am out doing astronomy (or hanging around our observatory) I always take my Astronomy Every Day Carry tools with me. Included in the kit is my little Leatherman Squirt PS4. The pliers, knife, screwdrivers and scissors all get plenty of action with this tool, and I’m always pleased to have it when I need it.

Swiss-Tech Utili-Key

Swiss-Tech Utili-Key

The Swiss-Tech Utili-Key 6-In-1 is the smallest of all my multi-tools, and the one that goes with me literally everywhere. There’s no chance I’d go for anything larger, as keeping my keys small is the top priority… but thanks to the small size of the Swiss-Tech Utili-Key, it is no worse than carrying one extra key. I mostly use the blade on this tool, but the tiny screwdrivers have saved me on a number of occasions.

Knomo Kilkenny bag for Microsoft Surface

Knomo Kilkenny

I spent a lot of time looking around for a bag that will suit my current computing habits – I found myself taking my Surface with me when I went to see friends and family quite often. I used a bag I already owned which was not really designed to hold a computer – and I worried about it. I knew I needed something that would keep my computer safe.

First I thought about what I wanted to be able to carry and came up with a list of must-haves and optional extras that would all need to be able to fit – though not at the same time.

  • Surface Pro (10.6 inch screen)
  • Surface Mini (when they make one!)
  • Arc Touch Mouse (Surface Edition)
  • Mechanical Pencil and Surface Pen
  • USB sticks & USB cables
  • Moleskine Notebook
  • Amazon Kindle
  • Nintendo 3DS XL
  • Surface Charger

I decided I wanted it to go one of two ways:

  • Backpack
  • Cross-Body Messenger Bag

Eventually, after whittling it down to two* very different options, I decided to go for the Knomo Kilkenny cross body messenger bag, designed for laptops and tablets with screens up to around 11 inches. While it is not designed to be used with the Surface as such, it fits really well without being so tight that I wouldn’t be able to switch the computer out to something of a similar in the future. It’s also leather, which means it will hopefully last even longer than the technology it will hold.

Here’s how I’m using it…

The padded back compartment is specifically designed to hold a laptop or tablet, there’s no extra pockets in here and my Surface Pro 2 fits really nicely. This will be the only purpose for this back section to ensure I never accidentally scratch or damage the computer.

Knomo Kilkenny

The middle compartment is probably going to be the most changeable, and there is plenty of room for a second Surface tablet, Amazon Kindle, or Nintendo 3DS XL. There are two pockets a nice amount of padding as well as a zipped compartment providing a number of options for storing cables, devices or chargers depending on what I need.

Knomo Kilkenny

The front compartment is protected by a zip, and has a couple of small pockets as well as two loops for pens. I must admit the space for the pens is a little shorter than my other backpack, making both my Surface Pen and my Koru Toga fit tightly – but they do fit.

There’s also a back pocket and while I wouldn’t use it normally, it is ideal for picking up mail or storing documents for quick access. Very pleased to have it.

Knomo Kilkenny

I’m really happy with this bag. The quality is high, and it contains just the right mixture of storage verses size that I wanted. Especially when compared to the bag I was using, I’m sure that the Knomo Kilkenny will protect my most important electronic devices.

* the alternative was the Grid-It backpack. It is super cool, but a little big for what I needed.

Windows 8.1 – Ultrawide Multitasking

When I recently decided to set up a new workstation at home, I had a look at the available monitors. Without really thinking about it I assumed I’d just get a standard 16:9 monitor, but then I stumbled upon an article about an LG all in one PC with a crazy wide 21:9 screen. This really sparked my interest. Not in the PC itself – but how these ultra wide screens work with Windows 8.1.

Being a fan of Dell monitors, I decided to invest in a 29 inch Dell Ultrawide – so far it has done everything I’ve wanted, and I’ve been very happy with it.

Dell Ultrawide

Windows 8.1′s snap feature allows you to use up to four different applications at the same time with one of these Ultrawide screens. This extra horizontal space has drastically changed how I use Windows at home.

All of these screenshots are real examples of how I use Windows, and were taken over a few weeks of actual use. Basic tasks like email and note taking aren’t included, as I didn’t want to have to censor the content.


Writing a Blog Post

Writing a Blog Post

  1. Xbox Music
  2. Internet Explorer
  3. Internet Explorer

Arranging Tasks & Calendar Appointments

Arranging Tasks & Calendar Appointments

  1. Mail
  2. Calendar
  3. OneNote
  4. Xbox Music

Finding New Music

Finding New Music

  1. Internet Explorer
  2. Xbox Music

Looking for a Computer New Bag

Looking for Computer Bag Ideas

  1. Flipboard
  2. OneNote

Watching Windows Weekly

Watching Windows Weekly

  1. Twitter
  2. Twit.tv

ultrawide-10

Exploring the World

  1. Bing Maps
  2. Star Chart

The Best PC is not always The Best PC

When I was a teenager and still learning about the computer industry, my friends and I were easily caught up in the marketing of the latest Intel processors or Nvidia graphics cards. But quickly I learned that as long as the software can do its magic, I am contented with the hardware specifications.

I do require a quality user experience though, which is why I tend to get computers and form factors that are ahead of their time, then stick with them until they just can’t perform the tasks any more, and one of the best examples of this was my old Sony Vaio C1.

Sony Vaio C1 PictureBook

I got a Sony Vaio C1 back when they were brand new. Using the Crusoe processor, it was capable of running Windows 2000 and Windows XP without too much trouble. It’s actually running Windows XP beta in the above photograph (next to some early Windows CE based mobile computers).

It was small, very small. Much smaller than any of my friends laptops. Initially it was to be used as a companion to my desktop computer, but it became my primary machine when the desktop eventually failed. It mostly kept up to the task, but the biggest problem was multi-tasking. Once you had some programs running in the background, the machine started to get sluggish. It was difficult to use PaintShop Pro when you’re trying to download the latest episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer on Kazaa.

For the size the keyboard was pretty good, and the mouse pointer was certainly acceptable – though the mouse buttons were a little bit poor. The overall the hardware experience was actually very impressive, especially with the built in camera features (example photo below) and dedicated capture button. The extreme portability of this machine enabled me to take it out of the house more often than any other computer I’d owned previously. For me it really was the start of a different kind of computing, as well as my first taste of the kind of disposable photography that we all take for granted on smartphones and tablets today.

More C1's taken with a C1

The rest of the world hadn’t quite caught up though. While this was one of the first wave of computers to have built in Bluetooth (great with the Ericsson T28 as above), it didn’t have built in wireless networking. In fact, it didn’t have any networking built in at all (unless you count Firewire) and everything had to be added on by means of PC Cards. It didn’t matter too much though, as most people did not have wireless at home, and free wireless (like you get at Starbucks) wasn’t a thing yet.

Windows XP on Sony Vaio C1

Using this small and underpowered computer for nearly all my computing tasks taught me something. It doesn’t really matter how powerful the computer is, as long as you are capable of performing your tasks. As long as the hardware and the software can do their magic together, everything is good.

With my recent use of Surface devices I am at the start of another new type of computing freedom. I’m reminded that while these cutting edge devices may not be the ultimate machines in terms of specifications – they certainly can be used as primary computing devices. Like the Vaio C1 back in 2001, the Surface Pro 2 is the best PC for me at this time.

Windows Phone’s Driving Mode

My alarm is usually set for either 6:27, or 7:00 in the morning, but if I ever do wake up before my alarm then I usually set off to work anyway.

And here’s the problem: The most annoying thing my phone ever does is start playing my morning alarm while I’m driving my car. It’s way more frustrating than a phone call while driving, because I can’t just ignore it – it will keep getting louder and louder until I turn it off.

Unfortunately, turning it off is not simple when it’s in your tight jeans pocket, and you’re trying to drive. In fact, I’d say it feels like I’m being punished for getting up early – not very good psychologically.

Windows Phone Driving Mode Setup

Windows Phone’s new Driving Mode has come to the rescue. Quite simply it’s now one of my favourite features about the operating system, and here’s how it works:

When you first enable Driving Mode you step through a wizard which asks you to select your car’s Bluetooth device and choose if you want to ignore phone calls and text messages. (I ignore everything!) You can even set your phone to automatically reply to text messages, if you like that kind of thing.

Once you’re all set up, your phone will simply let you know it is enabled by vibrating in your pocket when you set off on your journey, and you’ll get no notifications at all while you’re connected to the car – no ringtones or vibrating text messages… and no alarm clocks! But don’t worry, you can continue to listen to Xbox Music through Bluetooth or use HERE Drive as expected. It just works.

Windows Phone Driving Mode On

To get Driving Mode you need to have the GDR3 version of Windows Phone 8. If you’re an app developer, you can download the Preview for Developers app in the store.

Surface Pro 2: Development Workstation

Surface Pro 2

After five years of faithful service, I have finally replaced my old MacBook with a new computer. I got myself the Surface Pro 2 with 256 gigabytes of storage, and 8 gigabytes of memory.

Frankly this small computer is the fastest one I have ever owned, and performs better than my higher spec work laptop. This is especially noticeable when using Visual Studio and other development tools, but it’s also faster doing every day things like Mail and OneNote.

Development Workstation

The purpose of this computer is to be my development workstation, and to run all my x86 applications. Due to the tiny size of the tablet it will probably spend a good deal of its time attached to external devices. A full size monitor, keyboard and mouse combination will allow me to be as productive as possible at home, while still being able to take everything to other locations in even the smallest of bags.

While thicker than my original Surface RT, the Surface Pro 2 shares the same design language, and I find that it looks almost indistinguishable when I’m facing the screen itself. Picking it up it certainly feels thicker, heavier, and warmer. But it’s still a Surface, and feels extremely well made and very sturdy.

So far, I’m very impressed. I’ll be writing up some of my experiences of using the Surface Pro 2 as a development workstation as I spend more time with it.

Surface

So if this device is meant to replace my MacBook, what does it mean for my Surface RT?

Having two 10.6 inch tablets is not ideal, I know. But I’m going to continue to use the Surface RT for things like Skype, Netflix and general carrying around in my backpack until there’s a 7 or 8 inch Windows RT based tablet that catches my eye.

Windows RT devices tend to have much better battery life, and the operating system itself certainly better suited to mobile devices. For example, Connected Standby allows Windows RT to collect email and other notifications over Wi-Fi even when ‘off’. A feature that is sorely missed on Windows 8.1 Pro x64.

I’m also not convinced that the 10.6 inch screen size of the Surface RT is what I want from a Windows RT tablet anyway. The relatively large screen is great for using with the Type Cover and being productive – but I’d rather have something smaller for using mostly with touch.

Surface 2 & Surface Pro 2

As expected, Microsoft recently showed off two new Surface tablets, both next generation replacements for their existing offerings. The Surface 2 offers updated specifications and thinner body aiming at personal productivity with Windows RT 8.1 and the Nvidia ARM platform, while the Surface Pro 2 caters more for the professional with Windows 8 Pro and the low power Haswell based Intel Core i5. Both offer a new two position kickstand, which apparently makes it more stable to use on your lap.

Personally, I find the Surface Pro 2 very compelling, and I’m certainly considering it as a possible successor of my old MacBook as my personal software development machine. Though even with the updated lapability, I’m not sure if I would be productive on one as a laptop – when not using a desk.

Surface Pro 2 offers the portability and simplicity of a tablet when you want it…

Surface Pro 2

…and the power and flexibility of a laptop when you need it.

Regardless of if I decide to buy or not, both products look like good solid updates to the line. The real new stuff is a little more subtle though – the updated accessories really fill out the Surface experience, and a clearly the differentiator that puts Microsoft’s tablet into a league of its own. A few worthy of mention are as follows…

Docking Station

This was going to happen, and I’m glad it did. Personally, I’d love to have a setup with a Surface Pro 2 and one of these fancy new Docking Stations – my biggest problem with that is that I don’t currently have the space – though that’s something I’m thinking about changing in the near future. I’m glad they have finally made this accessory, and it would certainly factor into my plans if I decided to get one of these devices.

Power Cover

As well as updates to both the Touch and Type covers – that include backlights, thinner designs and better performance – the Power Cover also includes a large battery that’s meant to increase the life of the new tablets. Personally, I think I’d really have to need one of these before I got it. Maybe even being caught powerless a few times before investing.

Arc Touch Mouse

The Surface Edition of the Arc Touch Mouse interests me quite a lot. I still have mine and I still use it regularly. But the single thing that interests me the most – is the fact that this thing is Bluetooth now. Why wasn’t it already? I don’t know. Also, I find the design way cooler than the Surface Edition of the Wedge Touch Mouse which they previously released.

Surface Music Kit

Surface Music Kit

Finally, this is the cover that interests me the most. It’s a sign of change, a real differentiator on Microsoft’s part – they’re designing a pressure sensitive touch surface that’s tailor made for music tasks. Specifically around their Surface Remix Project. I see a bright future in these kinds of accessories, and I’m looking forward to see what comes next.

Jupiter and The Moon in August 2013

Jupiter and The Moon

I woke up around half five this morning to see a nice view out the window.

Jupiter was just to the left of the moon, providing a lovely and familiar sight that I hadn’t spotted for a while.

The Moon

Here is a close up of the moon itself. It is too bright to make out much in the way of surface features, but you can easily see the earthshine lighting up the rest of the surface.

Jupiter

And here is a close up of Jupiter from the same photograph. You can even make out the moons around it. (Just!)

You can see the full picture on my Flickr page.