2017: More Stuff

I don’t tend to do the “blogging about blogging” thing very often, and I’m not keen to get into a situation where I am regularly apologising for not publishing often enough… but I have not been publishing often enough.

It is a bit sad to look at the amount of unfinished articles I have in OneNote, some which were good enough for publishing but just weren’t for whatever reason.

At the end of 2016 I had 25 unpublished drafts, and only 22 published articles. Ouch.

I have no delusions of grandeur, and the primary reason I write is for myself, but unpublished drafts are no good for anyone.

So here I am stating for the public record that I am going to write and publish more content over the next 12 months.

A weblog on life with technology

The original premise for this website was “A weblog on life with technology” and it was a platform for me to express my thoughts about using technology in all aspects of life. I’d like to get back to that core vision and publish more of my thoughts – whatever they are – in a timely way.

As I look back at some of the things I wrote a decade ago I can see how my thinking has changed along with the technology landscape. The old content (some of which I’ll dig out for future articles) produced an interesting mix of feelings as I looked through it.

I want to look back on this year’s content in a decade and have the same feelings of “did I really write that rubbish?” and “wow I can see the start of some big changes!”

So expect more stuff from me in 2017. (Just don’t expect it all to be great.)

What’s in your bag? 2016

I’ve always been a fan of these kinds of posts so every couple of years I do an update of what I keep in my work bag and what I have as my every day carry:

Knomo Kilkenny

The Bag

The bag itself a messenger bag designed for “11 inch laptops” by Knomo. I’ve had a look and it appears that it is now discontinued but it’s still going strong for me.

I got it back in 2014 to use with my Surface Pro 2. In my original post I speculated that “it will hopefully last even longer than the technology it will hold.” and I was right. It’s a perfect fit the Surface Book too.

I usually wear it just on one shoulder when going short distances but it it works fine across my body too. Previously I’d had larger backpacks for work, but these days the stuff I carry is so small and light that a messenger bag is the best option and just using one shoulder doesn’t cause any physical issues for me.

Surface Book

The main compartment of the bag is used by whichever Surface Book I am using at the time; I have one for work and another one for personal use.

The Surface Book is a beautiful machine and way better than the clunky and huge Dell or HP laptops I used to use for work.

It’s worth mentioning here that I do not carry a power adaptor with me by default. I have Surface power adaptors both in my home office and at work, plus the battery life is just fine for most situations where I am out and using the machine for work.

What's in your bag?

Notebooks

The middle compartment sometimes gets used for other things, but mostly it is where I carry my notebooks.

As a huge stationery nerd I often try out new pens and pencils – but one certainty is that I’ll have my Arts & Science leather case containing my Hobonichi, Field Notes, and whatever my pen of choice is at the moment.

Analogue Note-Taking

Check out my analogue note-taking setup for 2016 for more information on the setup I had at the start of the year, or follow me on Instagram if stationery is your thing.

Analogue and Digital Pens

In the front compartment there are a couple of pen slots – at the moment it is currently holding:

  • Surface Pen
  • Zebra Sharbo X ST3

While the Surface Pen has a magnet to clip to the side of the device, I find that I prefer to keep it in it’s own place when I am storing it in my bag. I don’t want there to be any chance of it falling off and scratching the laptop.

The Sharbo X is probably my favourite multi-pen and I use it a lot when taking notes in meetings. It’s really handy to keep this one in my bag so I have a pen, pencil, and highlighter to hand at all times.

small-items

Small Accessories

Finally, there are also a small number of other miscellaneous items I carry in a zipped pocket:

  • Small USB Cable
  • USB Type C adapter
  • micro SD card and USB adapter
  • Pen knife
  • Cleaning cloth

And that’s it! I really love how much lighter my bag is compared to previous years.

What’s your every day carry? 2016

I’ve always been a fan of these kinds of posts so every couple of years I do an update of what I keep in my work bag and what I have as my every day carry:

Every Day Carry

All-Ett Wallet

I’ve been using the same All-Ett leather sports wallet for just over four years now and I still love how small it is. I would definitely recommend this kind of wallet to someone who’s looking for something minimal.

I usually carry between four and six cards, some folded money, and any receipts or note cards I have recently collected.

The thought of replacing it has crossed my mind… not because it is in any way defective, but because I think I’d like to get a wallet which blocks radio signals passing through. This would block the contactless card inside from being used unless it is removed from the wallet.

Of course, All-Ett do a version which is just like the one I have with the addition of this blocking technology. I’ll probably get one of these next time I feel like I need an upgrade.

Windows Mobile

I’ve used Windows mobile phones for over a decade now, and I still feel most productive when I have a Windows device on me at all times.

I got the Lumia 950 XL a year ago and it’s still one of the best Windows phones on the market. Yes, I know that for many people the platform isn’t moving fast enough for them, but I don’t currently have any interest in switching – most of the apps I want are already here.

The top uses for my phone are productivity (Outlook, OneNote, Wunderlist), communication (Slack, Skype, Messenger), and entertainment (Groove, Audible, Pocket Casts). It has 200 GB SD card loaded up with tonnes of music and offline maps for use while driving. It’s also the the camera I use the most, and I have it synchronised with OneDrive so that everything goes up into the cloud.

One of the biggest complaints about the Lumia 950 XL was that it isn’t particularly eye-catching. I tend to agree, and the standard plastic back was quickly replaced with a premium cover by Mozo. I find it makes the phone feel significantly nicer in the hand, and the real leather on the back gives the phone a warm feeling and a nice grip.

Wallet and Phone

As well as the Mozo cover, I also use a leather sleeve from FitBag. I mostly use this when I’m travelling or putting my phone in my bag or my jacket pocket. It protects the screen complements my leather wallet really well. I have actually found that putting the phone in the sleeve makes me less likely to check it for no real reason – when in meetings, for example.

Overall I’m happy with the Lumia 950 XL for now, and I hope it’ll keep me going until Microsoft builds an ultra-portable Surface which includes ink support.

Microsoft Band

Since my last every day carry post there have been two versions of Microsoft Band, and I’m currently using the Band 2. The old Fitbit got me started with health tracking, but having a device on my wrist is much better.

I really like the Microsoft Band, but it’s possible that this might be the last version of it. Rumours are that the Band 3 has been cancelled and there’s no replacement coming. I have a spare Band 2 to keep me going for now, and I’m just going to hope that there is a Windows-power wearable device in the works.

Band and Lumia

KeySmart & Car Key

And last of all… keys. Everyone has to have some keys in their every day carry.

I got a KeySmart in June last year when I moved and had the opportunity to reduce the number of keys I have to carry around. I’ve dropped it a couple of times since and they’ve been just fine – and I’ve never had them come apart in my pocket or anything like that.

I love how they don’t jingle and move around when I run, but the lack of jingle also means I often double-double check I have them with me! As before, I keep them separated from my car key.

What’s next for Microsoft Sticky Notes?

The desktop version of Windows has included Sticky Notes for a while; the Tablet PC edition of Windows XP included a Sticky Notes application, Vista included a Sticky Notes gadget, and then Windows 7 introduced the Sticky Notes app that most people are familiar with. This version was also included with Windows 8, 8.1 and the first version of Windows 10.

The Windows 10 Anniversary Update featured a number of improvements with the Windows Ink Workspace. One of the new features included was an updated Sticky Notes app, now rebuilt for the Windows Store and upgraded with ink and some basic integration with Cortana and Bing.

It’s worth mentioning that some users of the original Windows 10 Sticky Notes may have been a bit grumpy as the new app didn’t migrate notes properly. It also uses different fonts and generally behaves differently to the previous version. Overall, this upgrade wasn’t completely welcome to existing users and therefore the app store ratings are fairly low (1.8 out of 5 at time of writing).

sticky

I used the original Sticky Notes occasionally, but after the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, it became a bit of a curiosity of mine and I’ve been wondering what future it has in store for this kind of short term digital note taking.

Right now, the features are as follows:

  • Create Sticky Notes – A simple and smart design that makes capturing all your notes – small and big – easy, quick and fun.
  • One click access – Access your Sticky Notes with just a click of your Surface Pen to bring up the Windows 10 Ink Workspace.
  • Type or write, the choice is yours – Use your Surface Pen with Sticky Notes to capture your ideas in your very own handwriting or if you prefer to type, tap away.
  • Create Cortana Reminders – Never forget a note again with Cortana. Simply jot down a time or date with your note and it will be highlighted. You can then tap on it to create a Cortana reminder.
  • Added intelligence – Get to where you need to go with one click. Sticky Notes detects addresses, emails and cell numbers so all you have to do is tap the highlighted text to open Maps, Mail or Skype.
  • Track your flights & stocks – Keep an eye on an upcoming flight or stock option by typing a flight No. or stock ticker with ‘$’ at the front. Bing then delivers the information you need to your note.

Something new is coming…

Recently, the development of the Sticky Notes application has moved into a new Notes team over at Microsoft. According to the Microsoft Careers website, the Notes Team has been founded by some of the creators of OneNote and Wunderlist, and they are working on a new service to power new mobile apps and a web experience.

The Notes team also seems to be on GitHub, which makes me wonder if they’ll be open sourcing any of their next generation app.

By the sounds of it, their focus is on short-term note taking. I’m thinking this is just a continuation of Sticky Notes up in to the cloud and mobile devices.

Hopefully, this new Sticky Notes will bring some of the following features I’d be interested in seeing:

  • Synchronisation across machines
  • Mobile apps (including Windows 10 Mobile)
  • Move a note into OneNote or Wunderlist
  • Integration with other upcoming productivity offerings

As well as a next generation of Sticky Notes, I’d be interested to how it all fits together with Microsoft’s next generation to-do app (Project Cheshire?) and their upcoming universal clipboard / collection app (Cache?).

Keep in mind all of this is yet-unreleased and speculative. I get the feeling that Microsoft is trying a lot of different things in an effort re-enforce their desire to be known as the productivity company.

Controlling the Xbox One S

With my Xbox 360 I always enjoyed the fact that there were plenty of ways to interact with the console and the same is true for the new Xbox One S.

The New Controller

The most obvious way of interacting with the console is through a controller. Microsoft’s controllers are widely considered to be some of the best controllers on the market. The Xbox One S comes with a new controller which is a slightly improved version of the original Xbox One controller.

This time the Xbox team managed to reduce the number of components making it cheaper and easier to manufacture. One of the benefits of this new process means that Microsoft provide the option of completely custom controllers: you can choose the colours.

I loved using different coloured controllers with my Nintendo Game Cube, and If I need to get myself another controller any time soon I will be going for the custom designs. The only tricky thing will be deciding which colour to get!

The New Xbox Controller

Another benefit of the new controller is the Bluetooth support. It works with Windows PCs without the need for a dongle and I’ve used this controller with my Surface for a couple of games and has worked really well.

The Elite Controller

While Microsoft found a way to reduce the costs of manufacturing their standard issue controller, they also found a way to appease the more hardcore gamers with the Elite controller. I’ve lusted after this thing since I first heard about it. The plastic feels a lot nicer to the touch with a soft texture. The triggers and bumpers are made out of metal and the sticks can be customised.

The whole device has a high-quality weight to it.

The Elite Controller

It has a switch on the front which allows you two switch between two sets of custom settings. I use a standard setup in the first position and the second position is configured with a custom setup which works really well for games like Halo and Gears of War.

It is no surprise that this has become my main controller!

I am really impressed by the Elite controller and I wish Microsoft would put the same kind of effort into doing mice and keyboards for the PC. I don’t play PC games with a mouse and keyboard but I do use them every day for software development. I’d really appreciate some high quality gear, especially as I spend so much time using them.

The Chat Pad

Being able to enter text using a physical keyboard and not pecking around on the screen is something that I enjoyed on the Xbox 360 and wanted to have the same experience on the Xbox One too. As soon as I got the Xbox One I was entering text on the screen and looking over at my old controller enviously so I decided to get for the occasions I enter text.

It does add some bulk to the controller but it doesn’t bother me at all. I can always remove it if I wanted to.

Chat Pad

The Media Remote

The top device used to control my Xbox 360 must have been the remote control. I knew that as soon as I got an Xbox One I would have to get a remote to go with it. The Xbox One version is a lot smaller than its predecessor and it lacks the number keys (which I never used anyway).

Most of the time I don’t really need to see the controls, but the new backlight is a welcome addition too.

Using the remote I can turn the Xbox on and navigate around the menus. There are dedicated keys for bringing up the OneGuide television interface, as well as changing the volume of the television itself.

Media Remote

I use the media remote a lot and find it extremely useful for apps like Netflix… but I have to say it is probably my least favourite piece of the Xbox hardware I have. It doesn’t feel that great, it doesn’t look very impressive, and to me the design is flawed by the fact that it is rounded on the bottom and doesn’t sit flat on a table without wobbling.

I’d like to see them release a new version of the media remote to match the Xbox One S style, or at least just ‘premium it up’ a bit and remove the rounded underside. Until then I will be continuing to use this version as it is still extremely useful.

The Xbox App

The Xbox App for Windows 10 has become a very useful way of interacting with the console. Like SmartGlass before it, you can use purely as a controller or for text input. But now it’s a fully featured Xbox experience for the PC, with the ability to stream too.

Xbox App

I’ve used this more than I thought I would already, and I get the feeling I will continue to use it more and more as updates for the Xbox One come out over the next few years.

The Xbox App also works with the HoloLens too!

What I don’t have

I haven’t bothered to get a Kinect. Not because I don’t think it is technically good, but because it seems that Microsoft has abandoned it.

The lack of Kinect’s microphone means I cannot use Cortana on the Xbox One. This is a bit frustrating as she’s something I use all the time on my Surface computer and Lumia phone. As I mentioned in my previous Xbox One S article: I am surprised they didn’t add a microphone to the console itself.

Maybe they’ll add a microphone to an update media remote in the future?