It is no secret that I love taking photographs of the sky, but taking my Canon 7D with me is not always possible. The camera you have on you most often is actually the best camera you have. And with the Nokia Lumia 920 I’m in good company…
Windows Phone is a clean and modern mobile operating system created by Microsoft to rival the likes of Android and iPhone.
Rewind to around 2005 – 2006, I had recently discovered the works of David Allen’s Getting Things Done, and I had started looking for more resources and found the likes of Merlin Mann and others. These people were telling me that it was possible to do all the things you want to do by keeping track of all the tasks and commitments in a simple, trusted system.
Just like now, I was living mostly in a Microsoft ecosystem – I had a Windows Mobile Smartphone, I used Outlook & Exchange for my email and all my computers ran Windows.
I read a book called ‘Take Back Your Life! Using Outlook to Get Organized & Stay Organized‘ which took many of the principles behind Getting Things Done and implemented them in Microsoft Outlook to help keep track of what’s important.
- Outlook Tasks – universal capture for all ideas as well as a single place for next actions
- Outlook Calendar – the ultimate way to track professional and personal commitments
- Outlook Email – a large amount of incoming tasks would come through email and processed directly from the inbox
- Outlook Notes – sticky notes that could be used to make lists and capture ideas to be processed later, this was later superseded by OneNote for Windows Mobile – a separate download.
Outlook was ideal for this, because it also synchronised using both Microsoft Exchange and ActiveSync – software that ran on your computer and would sync your Windows Mobile device when attached. As Windows Mobile was my mobile operating system of choice it included Tasks, Calendar, Email and Notes without any extra software. It was Outlook, in my pocket.
Fast-forward to 2012 – 2013, and the importance of Outlook has diminished significantly. Not by my choice.
The support for Outlook or Exchange Tasks in Windows Phone is very low. In Windows RT the situation is even worse, there is no way of getting access to Exchange tasks without third party software, and no way to flag emails to follow up. If I can’t use it on all my computers, it’s not worth using the feature at all.
These days I use a combination of other apps to follow up on actions – the Mail, Calendar, People, and Messaging applications allow me access to Exchange Mail and Calendar – but I manage notes and tasks through OneNote – which is fantastic for capturing but not so hot for reviewing, processing or planning.
Over the years I have actually moved away from using purely digital capturing and planning tools, favouring paper notebooks in some cases. However, I feel that Microsoft has not done enough to keep the functionality that they used to have for task management, and that they’re missing a trick by letting the functionality fall behind.
By focussing their smartphone and tablet efforts on consumer tasks and social networking, I believe they have lost a lot of the value they had by giving users ‘Outlook in their pocket’ – I hope they bring it back.
When you’re an astronomer you see a lot of amazing things through telescopes. Sometimes you just want to capture it on a photo, but taking pictures through an eyepiece can be notoriously tricky. However, if you keep at it you sometimes get some pretty cool results. Some of the pictures I’ve taken look impressive in their own right, and have a quality of their own that’s hard to replicate by doing ‘proper’ astrophotography.
Personally, I find using the small lens of a phone camera a lot easier to line up than an SLR or anything bigger. Here’s a few shots I’ve taken using this method…
This is a very cool picture of the Sun taken with an H-alpha solar telescope.
With this one you can just about make out some stuff coming off the surface of the Sun, though it’s very tricky to get detail when taking a photograph this way!
Another picture of the Moon here, this one was taken with Annette Newby‘s telescope in the early evening.
And finally – I’d forgive you if you mistook this for a picture of the Moon – but it’s actually the crescent Venus, taken later on in the same evening.
Because I got all my computers around the same time, they seem to have aged at same time. This year I plan on replacing all of the general purpose computers in one fell swoop that should keep me going until then next generation.
Here’s what I had at the start of the year:
- Desktop – a 2008 beasty Dell XPS with two graphics cards and lots of fans
- MacBook – a 2008 MacBook running Windows 7
- Phone – a Windows Phone
- Tablet PC – a 2007 Toshiba Tablet PC running Windows 7 that didn’t get much use
Here’s what I have planned for the end of the year:
- Xbox – a living room entertainment system, mostly for music and video
- Laptop – a Windows 8 laptop, probably around the 13 inch mark
- Phone – a Windows Phone
- Tablet – a Windows RT* tablet
I hadn’t really used my Toshiba Tablet PC a great deal in the last couple of years, mostly due to the fact I started using Windows 7 full time on my MacBook and the Tablet PC was only really used for drawing with the Wacom screen. Thankfully, I’ve already handed this computer on to a friend of mine who will no doubt make much better use of its capabilities.
Replacing what was essentially a laptop with a general purpose tablet will definitely be beneficial. As well as enabling new forms of mobility I haven’t really had before (yes, I’m totally jealous of my fellow astronomers with their iPads), it will also sync with my Windows laptop so that all the Metro-style applications are ready to go on either machine. I’ll probably go for whatever tablet most takes my fancy before the Windows 8 launch, but to be considered they’d have to be capable of having mobile broadband, GPS and sensors including accelerometer and compass enabling some of the more exciting Metro-style apps that are expected.
Picking a Windows 8 laptop might be a little bit harder, as I have been spoilt by the excellent craftsmanship in the MacBook. I know that manufacturers like HP and Dell should be capable of making such a machine, but deciding which one is a lot harder than simply choosing another Apple. But – Apple are not going to be an option, unless they include all the new Windows 8 goodness like touchscreen and sensors mentioned above – and going by Apple’s history of ‘quality’ Windows drivers, I’m not holding my breath.
As for right now – the Xbox has been a good replacement from my old, loud desktop computer. People who know me will know that I don’t watch television, so getting a TV screen and an Xbox in the living room is not probably not going to make me start wasting vast amounts of time by sitting in front of the screen, it’s more about simplifying what I was doing on my desktop computer: Surfing the web, doing emails, listening to music and watching video. Surfing the web and doing email can be done on either a laptop or a tablet just as well as on the desktop, so it made much more sense for the entertainment uses to take primary focus.
The Xbox is more than capable of looking after the music and video in my flat, and I’ll write up some of my thoughts about this shortly.
As with everything, I’m always trying to simplify. This solution is definitely simpler than previous setups, thought we’ll see if the numbers will eventually go down. I wouldn’t be shocked to be rocking a tablet/laptop hybrid with a docking station in a few years, reducing the number of computers even further.
My Astrolight red flashlight application has been updated to keep the screen from locking. I had heard from users that sometimes they wanted to set the phone down while playing with cameras and eyepieces – but when they went back to the phone they’d have to unlock again. Which could be pretty bright depending on your wallpaper! Get it from the Windows Phone Marketplace.
I took this picture last night at Clifford’s Tower in York, it shows Jupiter, Venus and The Moon in a line from left to right.
Yesterday I posted my what’s in your bag post, and today it’s time for the every day carry post. These EDC posts have become a bit of an internet trend, with loads of people posting the contents of their pockets for everyone to see.
So Windows Phone is pretty cool right? I’m using a Samsung Omnia 7, though I would love one of those Nokia Lumia phones – I’m quite happy to use this one until it breaks. (it already has a couple of chips out of it – woops)
My current earphones live in the case that came with my Zune earphones way back. I find it extremely handy and they have a cute Zune branded cable tidy.
As for the earphones themselves, I’m currently using some Nokia ones provided to me by Douglas Radburn because my Samsung ones broke. I’m actually on the hunt for some new ones… so I’ll be sure to post my findings.
I got my wallet from All-Ett a few years ago and I absolutely love it. I try to keep the amount of stuff I carry down to a minimum and this wallet suits me just fine. In the picture above it carries a couple of receipts, two £10 notes, and seven plastic cards, yet it is still extremely thin and easy to carry.
My keys are also on the minimal side, carrying only what I need, but I also have a Swiss Tech Utili-Key for opening boxes and fixing glasses.
Again, as usual I try to keep things as simple as possible. I don’t usually carry anything else around with me, apart from the obvious stuff like my watch, my glasses. Oh and clothes…
So a while ago I wrote about some exciting additions to task management in Windows Phone Mango, and I thought I’d touch on what I still think is missing.
OneNote for Windows Phone is pretty good and I use it all the time, I especially like the fact that To Do tags can be shown in notes.
But unfortunately other types of tags that you can add in OneNote for the PC still don’t turn up. They do turn up on the web client though. The same happens with tables and ink and other formatting.
Also you still can’t pin a section to the home screen, but you can pin a notebook or a shortcut to creating a new note.
Tasks in Windows Phone Mango are great, and even support different exchange accounts with highlight colours that match the calendar…
But tasks are hidden away inside the Calendar app. I’d much prefer to be able to pin the tasks directly to the home screen, with a count of tasks due. I’d also like to see a way of pinning ‘new task’ much like you can pin a ‘new note’ in OneNote – unfortunately this hasn’t been implemented in the current release of Windows Phone.
What else is missing
On the topic of being unable to pin things – here’s a selection of things that I’d like to see pinnable in future versions:
- Wireless Settings (on and off)
- Flightmode Settings (on and off)
- Blueooth Settings (on and off)
- Task List
- Individual Tasks
- New Outlook Task
- A OneNote Notebook Section
- Individual Pictures (you can pin an album though)
- Individual Calendars
While this is not a list of everything anyone could possibly want to pin (I’m sure there are lots) these are just the things I’d like to be able to pin today.
My Astrolight red flashlight application for astronomers has been updated with new support for Windows Phone Mango. Astrolight stays true to the simple design that works so well, but now supports better multi-tasking as well as a very slight fade in animation on launch. Get it from the Windows Phone Marketplace now!
It was a pleasant surprise to see that Windows Phone Mango includes some improvements to the Bluetooth stack, which means I now see the name of the currently playing track in my car.
This gets added to the already existing ability to pause, fast-forward and rewind directly from the steering wheel, so now I can do just about everything from the Zune software on my phone while driving.
Very handy – as the built in USB player in my car doesn’t support content downloaded from Zune Pass…
WMPowerUser.com has a more information on what has been the Windows Phone Bluetooth stack, if you fancy being nerdy about it.