Saturday, 1 December 2018

Digital Nomads

Technology has changed the way we travel and see the world. For some people, the intersection of travel and technology has actually created lifestyle choices in which permanent residence almost anywhere is no longer a factor in life.

Over recent years I have noticed a lot more activity promoting a nomadic life travelling. People working and travelling at the same time.  The existence of ultra-portable laptops (ultrabooks), mobile devices and service based applications.

With a "carry on" backpack, you can store a camera, laptop and pretty much all you need to work anywhere.  AirBnB seems to be the "hotel" of choice for the digital nomad. Sorelle Amore is an Australian YouTuber who promotes the nomadic lifestyle. There are videos of how to live out of a suitcase, how to find cheap flights, how to find cheap places to stay. In a world where us ordinary people are stuck on commuter trains, traffic jams and are paying mortgages or rent the global travel lifestyle seems a big contrast.

Other travel and lifestyle vloggers are all across Youtube too. Sorelle is not unique.

However, although anyone can become a mobile worker, the idealised opportunities for making money out of photography in Bali are not a mass industry. I am a little cynical about the real-life possibility of nomadic working being a mass movement or available to all. Questions like how you earn money are left hanging. You sometimes wonder if you are watching a pyramid marketing scheme where viewing the nomadic lifestyle on YouTube generates the advertising revenue which generates more clickbait videos to generate money. What is clear is that technology is constantly re-inventing work and how we define it.

So as we see Uber, Deliveroo, Amazon and the like generating uncertain work for people who want certainty, regular wages and a set career path we also see digital nomads seeking alternative insecure lifestyles. Technology creating new Victorian conditions where vast warehouses have workers monitored by artificially intelligent apps. Drivers controlled by requests on their mobile phone. However, for a self-selecting few, an international free-wheeling aspirational lifestyle of constant holiday and choice. The contrast is stark and is two worlds created by technology.

Thursday, 1 November 2018


As a technology consumer it was always tough to get my head around the Internet Of Things. I have never really seen the point of wifi lightbulbs, self-drawing curtains or an internet fridge. However, I recently took an IOT step.

For consumers the idea is simple. You start connecting stuff in your home to the Internet. To the world of AI, machine learning and potentially some benefit managing your home.

For me all this happened by accident. My old Honeywell combi boiler controller just stopped displaying properly from time to time. It was a wireless thermostat that required programming and adjusting periodically. It was pretty good 11 years ago when it was fitted but was getting old.

To replace this old technology would cost about £130. To get a new thermostat that connected to the Internet about £200. However, the latter option did include "learning" about me and having an idea about the outside temperature.

I chose a learning thermostat from Nest. The pack you buy includes a connector for your boiler. You need a professional installer to help with this. My gas fitter was left alone for 30 minutes and got it done.  There are basically two wireless connections running. One is from the boiler controller "heatlink" to your thermostat and the other is the wifi link from your thermostat to your wifi router.

You can program a schedule of on and off via the website and via an app on your phone. You tell the device what temperature you want, where it is located, what times you want it to work. Off it goes.

So far it keeps track of how long your heating works for. It keeps track of the outside temperature via the Internet. It also is quite easy to adjust. The termostat can also work with voice assistants like the Amazon Alexa device and the Google Assistant.

My first realisation that this was different was waking up early, leaning over the bed, picking up my phone and switching on the heating with an app. When I actually got out of bed it was warm.

This is very much a "first world" technology problem. My main hope is that the new device will control the efficiency of my home heating to save money and maybe even reduce my impact on the planet's resources through controlling my gas consumption.

One obvious issue is that every Internet connected device can be hacked. I am not sure if a smart thermostat is significant target. People could just have a laugh by increasing the heat or switching it off. I haven't yet investigated whether it can be controlled enough to allow access to other device. Its a concern.

So far so good. I think over time the "smart thermostat" will just become the thermostat everyone has. For now it's a bit of a novelty and something I am watching closely.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018


I have switched on https proper on these minor pages in a remote part of the Internet. Google will love me for it. Secure your site with HTTPS is the title of their advice. Not only is it good advice the Google search algorithm now pushes your site up the queue if you use https.

Configuring the site to use https was easy here. I host the domain on Google itself so it just works. If you have your own small website you may have looked at using secure certificates. However, they normally cost money. If you just run a site for a club or yourself spending £60 a year for a certificate is more than you really want to spend.

The answer I have found is free ssl certificates. The site will give you an ssl certificate for free if you can prove you own the site. An easy way is just to put a TXT record in your DNS that recognises. The only downside I can see is that you need to renew the cert every three months. Not a problem for the amateur blogger.

Secure sites mean that people get end to end encryption, more privacy when they browse and Google gives you a higher ranking. SSL has been around for a while but now everyone can afford to encrypt.

Saturday, 4 August 2018


One of the ways many people use their mobile phones is text messaging. Apple “disguise” the differences between text messages and instant messages, that use the data network, is through their iMessage that uses either depending on your connection. However, text messaging has still some way to go yet.

If you use and Android phone then you are firmly in the Google messaging camp and iMessage doesn’t exist. One trick for android users is to get away from just using their phone keyboard when creating a text. You can go to Messages for Android located at; .

A number of people have done short YouTube videos to demonstrate how to do this. Search for “messages for web” on YouTube.

You need to be using the Google messages app for your texts. You also need to have a wifi connection connected to the phone and PC. After this go to the website and, from the messages app, click on the thrTee dots on the top right corner as if you changing settings. Then select “Messages for Web” to connect the website to your phone.

That’s it. You can now text from your PC!

Sunday, 15 July 2018


Andromeda is not just a galaxy far, far away. It is also a code word for new Microsoft products according to a number of well-known Microsoft bloggers and journalists. We don’t know what the product will look like but many of the bloggers are illustrating their articles with pictures of a possible two screen device with a digital pen.

Almost everything about Andromeda is speculation. However, it comes with a lot of anticipation because of the complete mess Microsoft made of the mobile phone market. Without a mobile device of some description, Microsoft is suffering from the fact that the mobile phone, running operating systems from Google or Apple, is dominating the market for personal technology. The switch to mobile phone usage as the primary computing device reduces the PC to a more minor position. Typically people now take a laptop out to do something that requires a keyboard – what we might call “real work” for want of a proper definition. Mobile is more than just a piece of hardware. It has become an ecosystem. Your mobile device becomes an entry point to music, books, films, banking and even paying for parking or bus tickets. Microsoft has effectively got no presence in a technology many consumers use daily.

Microsoft started in PC operating systems by having the bold ambition of putting a PC on every desk. It largely succeeded. In mobile, which is a PC in every pocket, it is almost nowhere. From 30% of the mobile market OS in about 2006 it now has effectively 0%. More than a decade of decline with a couple of blips in Windowsphone.

Many enthusiasts who used Windowsphone, including me, were forced off the platform as Microsoft simply abandoned the market. The only official word being a couple of tweets from Microsoft employees. Since 2016 Microsoft product enthusiasts have been wondering if Microsoft would try to get back into mobile.

Andromeda is apparently it. In a rather confusing name drop, the word Andromeda refers to both some possible hardware product and also some software.

The software looks to be something called Windows Core OS. It probably won’t have that name in the future but it is Windows 10. Strategically Microsoft wants to get rid of the sort of Windows that dates back almost 30+ years. The Microsoft Windows of today has been built on code that runs WIN32. The name for applications that most people associate with Windows for decades. These applications allow developers a lot of control over the PC and, as well as the powerful applications this allows, this also has let in the malware and viruses that have plagued Windows. Microsoft would like to move towards a mobile apps application model where people get software from an online store run by Microsoft. The apps would be touch-friendly and curated. The Microsoft Store on Windows 10 offers this but the model makesthe most sense in some future world where WIN32 traditional applications don’t exist. This brings us to Windows Core OS.

Windows Core OS is Windows 10. However, it’s Windows 10 that only runs these modern touch-friendly applications. It does have the ability to access WIN32 but in a controlled way. It has components so the operating system will include extra pieces that can add a function – like making phone calls. It is that last bit that people are getting excited about. Will Andromeda, the hardware device, be some kind of phone.

Microsoft has had some success in hardware making premium priced tablets and laptops under the “Surface” brand. A Surface is characterised by being an aspirational device deliberately highly priced to allow Microsoft hardware partners to innovate at a lower price. Microsoft fans have added rumours about Andromeda software to Andromeda hardware and called it the Surface Phone.

In reality, most informed journalists are talking about a dual screen mobile device running Windows Core OS and an ARM-based chipset. Whether it will really make calls or just have an internet connection is unclear. It is likely to be focused on note-taking, Continuum, and possibly mixed reality. It’s not certain to ever be released as a real product and if it does eventually become available for purchase if it contains the “Surface” name it will be way more expensive than a phone. Current opinion is we may see it in late 2019. This is also the date when Windowsphone support ends too.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Microsoft does Git

This week Microsoft announced it was buying GitHub for $7.5 billion. Many computer users won't have even heard of GitHub or know why Microsoft might want it. However, it's probably one of the most significant acquisitions made by CEO Satya Nadella because it genuinely breaks the link between his vision of Microsoft and his predecessors.
Git was originally a bit of software devised by Linus Torvalds the creator of Linux. He created it to manage version control in the Linux operating system. Version control is how software developers keep track of changes they make while creating software. It is also used elsewhere in areas of change management and during the life-cycle of documents. The idea is that if you make a change you need to document what the change is, who made it, when and also how to go back to a previous edition. Torvald's created Linux but many people wanted to contribute. So he created a tool called "Git". It has no specific meaning.
Git was open source. So anyone can create a version for themselves and use it within its license conditions. It was "free" in the sense of "freely usable". GitHub is one place where Git is used. A user of GitHub can create a repository of software that he is working on, manage changes, allow contributions from others and essentially run an entire software development project. Other services running on Git exist but GitHub is the largest.
Microsoft, when run by Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, didn't like Linux. Ballmer famously referred to Linux as a "cancer". His objection was primarily because Microsoft made money from licensing software. People paid Microsoft a fee to use Windows. Windows that comes on a computer is not free. Someone paid for it and it's included in the price. The idea that people could download Linux, install it on a PC and pay nothing undermined that model. In practice few normal users would know how to install Linux or use it so the danger was tiny in a world that people expect help and support from their computer supplier. In the PC world the reality was that Linux was not much of a threat. Many servers ran Linux and Unix operating systems but Microsoft had 90% of the PC operating systems.
The world changed when applications were delivered over the web and the most popular mobile phones didn't run Windows. Developers of applications began to use more and more open source tools and use things that were not Windows. Their code was stored in places like GitHub. This was the very opposite of Microsoft wanting developers to run their tools and work on their services.
When Satya Nadella took over Microsoft started a journey towards recognizing the changes that meant Windows was now just one possible operating system that coders could choose. That journey included moving Windows own code to a private repository on GitHub.
The purchase of GitHub is really a bigger message. The message is that Windows is not the only game Microsoft plays. Microsoft is friendly to Linux, Android and anything else coders want to work with. The new Microsoft is not a Windows only Microsoft. They have just spent $7.5 billion to deliver that message to coders.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Nested VMs in Azure

Azure is Microsoft's cloud environment that it likes to sell to business. The cloud is a name designed to conjure up nebulous space that is just there and available for people who need business computing. It's a little like making a sausage - it's nice to eat but you really don't want to know how it is made.
Azure consists of a number of services you can rent and pay for by the minute, hour, month or year. You don't need to go buy a large room, electrical power, lots of servers from Dell or HP, software etc up front. Instead, your Azure subscription pays for what you need.
If you work for a company that has a Microsoft developer subscription (MSDN) then you get some free credit each month to learn about Azure and set up some of your own Azure services. Usually, this is for self-education and building custom solutions.
One thing you can do is create virtual machines. Azure is a number of large data centres in the US, Europe, Asia and elsewhere. Microsoft puts in lots of servers, routers, power and internet connectivity for you to rent. When you decide you need a Windows server you just choose one from a menu and it starts running a couple of minutes later and starts charging your account. In reality, you haven't rented a physical server for yourself you are just one of a number of users of the server. It is a virtual server running inside some hardware. Since it's virtual Microsoft can move it inside the datacentre as required invisibly to keep everyone working 24/7.
The problem with the MSDN subscription is that it's never enough to run all the things you want. In the non-Azure world, you can spread your resources by virtualising your own servers in HyperV. Running servers inside servers. They don't know they are running on another server and it gives you more flexibility. On Azure, it would also hit your budget less.
Azure is a virtual environment. If I was to do the same as a real data centre I would run a virtual computer in Azure. It would then run HyperV that would have virtual servers running in it. What we call nested VMs in Azure. With some configurations, Azure lets you do this.
The first step is to create a Windows 10 Pro machine on Azure with 32gb of memory, 8 cores and a second 1tb hard disk. You have to use slow HDDs rather than SSDs to keep within budget. Once done add HyperV to the machine.
Using the guidelines you need to create a virtual switch so you can create a network of static IP addresses that your HyperV VMs are going to live in.
Create a virtual machine and make sure it's off. I am assuming you are going to create a Windows 2012 or 2016 server.
If the name of the server is "server1" then run the following command in PowerShell as an admin.
Set-VMProcessor -VMName server1 -ExposeVirtualizationExtensions $true
This just allows the vms to be nested.
Get-VMNetworkAdapter -VMName server1 | Set-VMNetworkAdapter -MacAddressSpoofing On
This gets the network adaptor to fake mac addresses.
Next you need to create a virtual switch that does Network Address Translation (NAT)
New-VMSwitch -Name VmNAT -SwitchType Internal
New-NetNat –Name LocalNAT –InternalIPInterfaceAddressPrefix “”
I am going to use the for my servers on my HyperV VMs running on my big Windows 10 Pro Azure machine. The virtual switch itself gets the address
You can confirm the adaptors by running this command
You will get an output showing all the interfaces. Look for the "ifindex" column to get the ifindex for the switch you just created. You will need that for the next command.
New-NetIPAddress -IPAddress -PrefixLength 24 -InterfaceIndex 25
Replace "25" with the actual ifindex number you got from running the Get-NetAdapter command.
Each VM you create needs to have a static address and use the gateway at
If you want your first server to be a Windows Domain Controller then after you get it running you need to do this on your first VM in Powershell.
Set-ExecutionPolicy Unrestricted
This is very bad for proper non-test environments. The execution policy should be "RemoteSigned" or "Restricted" but it doesn't matter for testing. If you want better security use "RemoteSigned".
Add-WindowsFeature -name ad-domain-services -IncludeManagementTools
This command adds in Active Directory.
Install-ADDSForest -DomainName "example.local" -ForestMode 5 -DomainMode 5
Change "example.local" to the actual domain you want to create. You get to create some domain recovery passwords that usually dont matter a lot in test environments that you delete later. They do matter in real production. Note them down.

That's it. Nested VM complete. Domain controller ready for your virtual domain inside a Windows 10 PC running on Azure. I haven't covered everything but the main thing is to know that this is all possible.

Sunday, 29 April 2018


After hardware and software we now have Neverware.

It's a marketing thing. Neverware isn't a computer science concept but it is an idea that is based on the Chromebook. Chromebook's are Google's idea of cloud computing. You have a laptop, and most of them are laptops, which is little more than a browser. Traditional PCs rely on an operating system that can stand alone in the world. Traditional PCs can connect to networks but are defined by having access to applications that function on their own. They can store significant amounts of data without an Internet connection. They can do real work, play music and play games without needing to connect to anything.

A Chromebook is the opposite. It has a minuscule operating system. The operating system is primarily there to run the Google Chrome web browser and connect to Google services on the Internet. No internet connection means it can do very little. There are grey lines. Chromebooks can store some stuff and do have some offline capability. However, these abilities are seen as complementing what is expected to be an "always online" experience with occasional disconnection.

While Chromebooks can be bought in retail stores there is inevitably an open source project to reproduce the experience. This is called Chromium. Chromium was started by Google to provide open source code that feeds into the propriety Google technology around Chrome and Chromebooks.

Back to Neverware. Neverware is a version of Chromium that allows almost anyone to convert a laptop to Chrome OS. In effect turn old laptops that might be heading for recycling into usable devices you grandmother might like. If you have an old laptop running Windows Vista or something equally as unloved you can create a USB installation kit and turn it into a Chromebook. It will even boot from the USB so you can have a "PC on a USB stick".

You can literally buy an old laptop suitable for conversion for under £50 on ebay. With Chromebooks starting at £199 new giving an old laptop a Chromebook conversion with Neverware might be just the thing to revive an old PC.

Monday, 2 April 2018

Why Windows isn't the future

Windows isn't the future and Microsoft have said so.

Yes, Microsoft has abolished the Windows and Devices Group. In a structural re-organisation Terry Myerson, the head of Windows is departing from Microsoft. Myerson's job is also going. Windows client development is now being put in with Windows server and Azure cloud services. Windows "experiences", the user interface and how we actually interact with our PCs is being put in the hands of Joe Belfiore.

In one way this is really just a Microsoft internal re-organisation that isn't going to affect how I use my computer next week. On the other hand, this is kind of revolutionary. For the first time in about 30 years, Windows is being demoted to a sub-part of Microsoft. It's not going away but Microsoft now earns the most money from businesses via cloud services, server products and Office software. The largest growth being in subscription-based Office 365.

Myserson was formally chief of the Windowsphone division and took over Windows itself to overcome the negative reaction to Windows 8. As consumers have moved to phones as their primary computing device, only turning to PCs to get real work done, Microsoft's failure in the mobile phone market has pushed it out of consumer services. Closing down the phone business, Groove Music (formally Xbox Music, Zune), and anything that might attract consumers is the rebranding of Microsoft as for business only.  If you want consumer services then look to Google, Apple, Spotify and the like.

Windows itself is now receiving "S Mode". Microsoft wants a Windows for consumers that run Microsoft Store apps and not random software downloaded from the web. If an app isn't in the Store then it can't be installed. Google products are not currently in the Store so the Chrome browser is out and Edge is in. Web apps using PWA will be available and older apps prepared for Store distribution. The new simpler managed Windows experience will be like mobile phone experiences. A Windows that doesn't run Windows application software.

Business can opt out of "S Mode" and get regular Windows. They already use Systems Center to manage software or Intune. The latest idea is Microsoft 365 where Microsoft bundle cloud Office with Windows licensing as a service subscription for business. The first step to enterprise services management in Microsoft's cloud.

Windows, as it is now, will be de-emphasised. It won't go away for years but the re-organisation confirms the trend. Microsoft is looking for a way to move away from Windows after 30 years of it being central to its strategy for making money.

Meanwhile, as if to say exactly the opposite, Windows 10 1803 update comes out in April 2018. However, it really just confirms that Windows is now just a service with OS updates delivered regularly instead of buying a new version every three years in a box or on a DVD.

Something called Windows will still exist in the future but it will not be the thing that leads Microsoft's development process.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Google without Gmail

It might seem crazy but you can have Google services without Gmail.

Gmail is the Google Email service that scans your incoming mail so you can receive relevant adverts. You can find stuff with Google search by "Googling" but to pay for the "free service" you are the product. You are sold to advertisers, your searches are monetised, the results are prioritised to fit Google's business needs.

That's the deal. Google services paid for by advertising. Some people do have a moral stance on this and don't use Google but others want to just use services that are genuinely useful.

The problem with signing up with Google is you will often get an unwanted and unnecessary email address. Windowsphone users that have moved to Android probably only need the Google Play Store to download apps. Most everything else they use is in Microsoft apps - including email. Although, to be fair to Google, the Maps and Photos apps are pretty great!

What people don't realise is you can actually sign up for Google services with other email addresses such as, Hotmail or Yahoo.

Just go to sign up for Google without Gmail and use any email address you have. You can even use a work email address if the only thing you want to do is sync your browser bookmarks in Google Chrome.

Another legitimate reason for having an extra Google account might be a teacher wanting a YouTube channel for showing videos created for students that are separate from their regular account. There could be many others.

If you have a reason to tie Google services to another account. This could be the way to do it.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Victory in the virtual assistant battle seems to be in sight

The battle of the virtual assistants could be over.  This battle started on the smartphone but progressed, in 2017, to smart speakers and home automation.  On smartphone, your virtual assistant could be activated by voice or touch, answer questions, read email, advise on the weather, provide directions, tell you about your appointments and much more.

The technology was based on the idea that consumers are no longer storing their data on their PC or on a memory card inside their mobile phone but in the cloud. In this instance for "cloud" substitute Google, Apple or Microsoft.

Apple's Siri was one of the first. It debuted on the iPhone 4S. Microsoft announced the most personal assistant on Windowsphone. The Microsoft entry was called Cortana - after the helper in it's Xbox games series Halo.  Google launched Google Now followed, in 2016, by the Google Assistant.

All of these mobile tools could talk to you or you could ask queries. In effect replacing search. The other side of all this help was that your data was now in the cloud. Your location, preferences, transport choices, work place etc. Google, for example, could now target an advert for a special offer based on where you were each lunchtime. The vast data volumes created allowed all kinds of new opportunity for services to end up being useful for consumers but also useful for the cloud service providers.

Amazon had no mobile platform so it created the Amazon Echo. A digital speaker that, among other things, could let you buy stuff from Amazon just by talking to it.

The important features of a virtual assistant is that it's always available, it's everywhere, it learns new stuff and it's genuinely useful. It also needs to understand context. So if you ask about the weather in Paris and then ask how far "it" is then the virtual assistant needs to understand what the "it" is and you still mean Paris.

Microsoft decided in 2017 that it was now out of the mobile phone market. This relegated Cortana to the PC. Google and Apple retain their virtual assistants on mobile. Amazon has effectively created a new market for an assistant in the form of the smart speaker. Moreover, both Google and Amazon have allowed people to add functions to their devices as "skills".

No one is sure where this is going. What seems to be happening though is that Microsoft is falling behind for consumers. Absence from mobile, the smart speaker market, lack of context for Cortana and lack of availability in many markets is making it less useful. it may have a second life as a business service being a virtual assistant for office 365. However, in January 2018 the virtual assistants that have most consumer traction are Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa (Echo).

Cortana won't disappear because it's really just an interface to the Microsoft Bing Search engine. It's most likely future is in the enterprise rather than in the smartphone or smart speaker.  Apple is an unknown quantity but it only seems to be interested in Siri as a phone helper for iPhone users.

Monday, 1 January 2018


There was a time when every computer had its own operating system. Then gradually, over time, the main computer operating systems got to a smaller number. This became Windows on the PC and server with Mac OS and varieties of Unix/Linux. For most computer users, 90% of PCs ran Windows.

When mobile phones started connecting to the Internet a whole fresh set of operating systems turned up including Android (a Linux variant), IOS for iPhone and iPad, Windowsphone for Windows devices. It was recognised that mobile devices would not be using a keyboard and mouse but fingers or a pen-like device. For users, this meant an OS that would respond to gestures.

Most people see Microsoft in a poor light compared to Apple. Apple styles itself as an innovator and, in terms of the iPhone, this was true. However, when Microsoft released Windows 8 it had an almost revolutionary aim. It was going to create a PC interface and applications environment that was touch first and worked on mobile. Windows 8 and Windowsphone 8 would be one core OS would run on both devices. With Windows 10 Mobile the Universal Windows Program (UWP) ecosystem allowed developers to create software on PC, Mobile, Xbox One and other places that were essentially the same.

The vision was largely killed because they lost the mobile battle, Windows 8 was received poorly and their application store never took off. Whether UWP will succeed is still an open question. Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, described merging PC with mobile as a cross between a fridge and a stove. You could say he wasn't impressed.

In 2017 Google is trying to bring Android apps to ChromeOS. Similarly, rumour has it that Apple is trying to bring IOS apps to Mac OS X.

There are problems with trying to get apps that normally run on a 5.5-inch screen with touch to work on a 14 or 15-inch laptop. Bear in mind that Apple has no touch interface on any PC. What does seem to be true is a degree of merging the mobile application experience with the conventional PC. Who would have guessed that Microsoft's idea for Windows 8 may become the mainstream in the next couple of years across all PCs? I am sure that Apple, rather than Microsoft, will ultimately claim the credit.