A month later: The 2018 Windows 10 experience isn’t that bad..

.. except if you add an Active Directory into the mix – but that’s a whole different blog post.

So now I’m fully committed to Windows 10 – like I was back in 2016.  But that failed because Windows 10 just wasn’t right for me back then.  But my, how things have changed considerably!  I no longer use a Mac at work due to circumstances beyond my (or my employers) control – a long story.  One of biggest challenges for the move has been the ability to connect to remote computers via SSH.  Thankfully back in 2016, I renewed a maintenance contract for SecureCRT/SecureFX – a superb terminal emulator for Windows and Mac.  I actually used it on the Mac as its site manager feature was easier to manage substantial numbers of servers than a series of command aliases.

The next challenge was performing Linux style commands locally.  While Windows has its Command Prompt, it isn’t really good enough for my day to day tasks.  So thank goodness Microsoft invested in the Windows Linux Subsystem for Windows 10.  It’s still quite early days, and you can’t really use stuff like “mtr” that requires privilege escalation between the subsystem and Windows (amongst other things), it still gets stuff done 95% of the time.  Combine this with Chocolatey, a Windows package manager,  and you’ve got yourself a very nice platform on which to develop and maintain systems.

My only complaint is with Rackspace’s AWS service.  It uses ScaleFT as a method of connecting to AWS EC2 instances through a special client.  And it’s a bit of a pain in the arse.  I do wish third-party terminal emulators such as SecureCRT could integrate with it.  It’s not a terribly elegant solution in my view, and I’d wish both Rackspace and ScaleFT would do more to support Windows-client based SSH sessions.  It feels very rough right now.  I’d go as far as saying that I’d much rather just have a VPN instead.

Otherwise, Windows 10 has been pretty good.  The April 2018 update went smoothly, though we have now discovered why several laptops were locking up – there’s a bug which affects Chrome and Microsoft’s own Cortana. I’ve not experienced it myself across two (now three) machines, but it is definitely there.

Of course, the Alienware desktop is nothing short of remarkable when it comes to games thanks to its Geforce 1080 Ti.  He’s me in Fortnite getting one of my very rare first kills.  It’s a bit like a horror movie version of Mary Poppins.

So Windows 10 – it’s come a long way in the 2 years that I last used it in anger.  I will never rule out switching back to Mac, but for now, I’m happy, and the cost of ownership is significantly cheaper than Mac, even if you were to factor in any repairs (I have three onsite warranty for my desktop).

6 core blimey guv’nor, your 12 threads look mighty fine!

The Alienware desktop (an Aurora R7) arrived yesterday.  And jolly nice it is too.

Ignore the plastic on top, look at those lovely USB ports on top, including a USB-C port too.
And behold – a DVD drive! I can listen to CDs again!
More USB ports then there are stars in the heavens. Okay, just 10.
Since it is technically a gaming PC, I thought I’d bling things up a bit..

I also bought a Corsair Strafe Silent MX keyboard.  It’s a mechanical keyboard that utilises Cherry MX Silent keys, offering a much quieter experience above other types of mechanical keyboards that sound as if mice wearing stilettos are on a rampage across a wooden floor.  This keyboard feels great, and the colours are fully customisable.  Also includes special keys for gaming and tool to remove any keys on the keyboard for cleaning/replacement/custom keys.

Alongside that, I have a Corsair MX65 Pro gaming mouse.  It too lights up and is weighted.  This gives the mouse a much “sturdier” feel.  It makes the Apple Magic Mouse feel anaemic.  At first, it felt as if I were dragging a brick around, but about a minute later and after calibrating it, it felt as natural as anything.  The whole hand feels comfortable working with it.

To round things off is the 27″ Dell S2716DG monitor that is capable of 144Hz refresh rate, 2560×1440 resolution, and comes with Nvidia’s G-Sync technology for super smooth gaming.  It’s a shame the monitor isn’t an IPS display – thus blacks aren’t as good as they could be, and viewing angles do suffer a bit.  But overall it’s still a very good monitor.  I expect nothing less from Dell.  And speaking of gaming, the Nvidia GeForce 1080 Ti is nothing short of amazing.  Fortnite runs around 120-139fps at the highest resolution supported by the monitor.  I’ve not had a chance to time No Man’s Sky, but at Ultra settings, this thing seriously impresses.

The 8th generation Core i7-8700 processor with its 6 CPU cores and 12 threads do an amazing job of keeping up with everything I throw at it.  Watching four rows of graphs in the Task Manager when the system is doing something is quite impressive.

To think that the MacBook Pro which had cost MORE than this system, only had a dual-core processor (and 4 threads) and no discrete graphics card.  This is why I made the decision to go back to the PC, and on the desktop too.  Better hardware for the money.

Windows 10 is questionable in terms of value (I paid £46 to upgrade to Windows Pro because that is the version of Windows which supports drive encryption – Mac users get it built in with MacOS – but then again, you pay handsomely for lower spec hardware – you pays your money and you takes your pick).  I also paid £20 for a USB restore stick.  There is a bit of controversy over this as a PC recycler has just been fingered by Microsoft for selling CDs with Windows OS for the purposes of restoring the OS when the hard drive is wiped clean (which is freely available to anybody download and burn to a CD or USB stick from Microsoft’s site – albeit you’d still need to purchase an activation key, use the activation key found within your PC’s BIOS, or be in the position of a product key somehow).  I think Microsoft is being bloody stupid here, but then I think the same of most US IT corporations.  Too many lawyers, not enough sanity.

Overall I’m delighted with the new set-up.  It comes with 3 years on-site premium warranty as well, so no more trips to the Apple Store for me (which, in all the years of owning a Mac – I never had to go to – the iPad, yes, but not the Mac).

I’m all about that bass, ’bout that bass, no treble..

.. except there’s a decent amount of treble in Apple’s new HomePod “smart” speaker.  But that bass!

The press has certainly not been wrong in stating that this is perhaps the best quality of speaker of the current generation of “smart” speakers.  The bass and response of the sound emanating from this tiny, yet tubby speaker definitely has put my now redundant Alexa-enabled Echo Plus to shame.

The fibre mesh is lovely to touch, it’s almost difficult not to walk past and give it a bit of a stroke..

Set-up was extremely easy – just plug it into the mains and then hold your iPhone (it must be an iOS device – forget buying one of these if you’re not heavily tied into the Apple iOS ecosystem) near the speaker.  Set-up begins on your iPhone and ends when Siri fires up and prompts you to try her out.

The biggest weakness of this speaker aside from no physical inputs or outputs, plus no Bluetooth support?  Siri.  It has yet to get any of my requests of songs or playlists right (I’m an Apple Music subscriber – albeit using the 6 months free subscription with EE at the moment – I’ll have to start paying again in April) – but I can AirPlay stuff directly from the phone without any bother.

However, what Siri can do is interact with my Philips Hue lights far more quickly via Apple’s HomeKit than Amazon’s Alexa ever could.  I have been extremely impressed with HomeKit’s performance on iOS and Siri so far.  While HomeKit support is still fairly limited within the “smart” devices industry – for example, British Gas’ Hive could REALLY benefit from such support – it does mean that for many devices would have to be refreshed in order support a specific chipset that HomeKit requires.  So we may not see Hive support for quite some time.

If you’re curious to know what’s going on inside the HomePod, this iFixit teardown will show you that it’s next to impossible for the average consumer to fix.

It’s funny how the music industry has changed over the past few decades.  When I was a kid growing up in North East London, I was over the moon with the hand-me-down Amstrad tower system which compromised of a turntable, an FM/AM radio/tuner, dual deck tape deck (Amstrad was famous for this).  I didn’t even have a CD player for quite some time.

Now we tend to subscribe (monthly or annually) to music services rather than paying for individual tracks or albums, listen on mobile phones or computers, or stream music to speakers.  While many people who take music seriously will still have an amplifier with built-in equaliser (another thing that the HomePod does away with – it’ll automatically “equalise” the music for you), a great many people will still be using these smart speakers in place of a traditional hi-fi set-up.

I’ve been a big fan of Apple’s audio products over the years.  I started off with a 3rd generation click wheel iPod and have made my way up to the iPhone X.  I’ve also bought three types of Beats headphones – the Beats Solo 3 wireless, the Beats EP and the granddaddy of them all, the Beats Studio 3 wireless – and perhaps my favourite of all – the AirPods.  None of these is cheap, and none are the absolute best in class, but I’ve always found a use for them (the Studio 3 wireless is ideal when the neighbours are doing late evening DIY, the Solo 3 for general computing use, the AirPods for daily commuting, and the EP for anything else (I originally bought it in Edinburgh when the Solo 3 unit suffered a charging problem and I had to send it to Apple for repair).

Porgy and Mess: Star Wars – The Last Jedi

I finally went to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi this week after waiting it out and trying very hard to avoid internet spoilers.  My patience was rewarded (of sorts) as I went to see it outside of peak hours at the local Guildford Odeon.

ALAS!

Using my Odeon Limitless pass to book the showing was one of the most difficult things I’ve experienced so far during the time I’ve had the subscription.  I wanted to go to an earlier showing, but for some reason, the Odeon’s website was playing up.  I wasn’t able to book the same slot again, or the later slot.  For some reason, Odeon’s website locked off all uses of the Limitless cad and refused to let me use it.

More error codes then there were stars in heaven.

As the Odeon is now very heavily reliant on the website for bookings, the availability of customer service via telephone is rather limited (9am – 4pm Monday – Thursday, 9am – 5pm Friday at all other times).  I was booking this on Friday evening.

What really got my goat was that Odeon does not publish email addresses.  Internet standards are ignored – an email to [email protected] bounced.  This is extremely bad practice, Odeon.  Let me, as a customer, choose how to contact you.  Web forms aren’t always appropriate.

I had to wait until the following morning to call and try and sort this out – and even then, not much could be done.  The system enabled me to book for the later Monday performance, but there wasn’t confirmation that credit I used from an Odeon Gift card to upgrade seating would be refunded immediately.

I popped along to the Odeon on Monday and found this:

As I didn’t use a debit or credit card for this booking, I usually pick up tickets at the Box Office.  So I had to go to the confectionary counter to figure out what was going on.  I was told that the ATM machines can dispense tickets with a booking reference, but it’s not entirely obvious from the choices on display:

Perhaps Odeon needs to reword that third option – just say that if you have a booking reference, you can pick up tickets using that rather than implying it may only be for Tesco and Business Voucher holders.

The third complaint was that it appears Odeon do not sell Butterkist Toffee Popcorn.  I’m not a fan of the sweet or regular flavoured stuff served in buckets the size of my head.  In the end, I chose Aero mint balls and the smallest Coke Zero at the extortionate price of £6.68.  I’ll pay it, however, because I do like the Odeon and would still like to see cinemas remain in business.  But if I had a family, kids and all, this would definitely bankrupt me if we visited regularly.

As for the film?  It was alright.  I think the sooner the main franchise moves away from the Skywalkers, the better.

Back to basics!

With the news that practically all modern Intel, AMD (though to a lesser extent) and ARM CPU architectures are vulnerable to attack, it’s time we ditched our fancy pants computers and go straight back to the glory days of 80’s computing prowess:

My beloved (and also very crash prone) ZX Spectrum +2A. Notice the mouse in the right hand corner of the photo…

Or pre-Mac Apple:

I was an Apple fan long before it was fashionable to be so…

I’m very glad I don’t work for a hosting company anymore because I’d hate to have to coordinate and apply the forthcoming patches across a big estate.  That’s not to say I won’t have to do something since my work involves the system management of several large sites and as such, will need to work with the hosting partners to ensure that patching is performed correctly.

At least Apple is on the ball as – allegedly – MacOS already contains mitigation patches in place within the latest release of High Sierra.  Still, the news wouldn’t make me feel any better if I had spent up to £12,500 on a new iMac Pro (which contains Intel’s new Xeon W processors – which I’m guessing are also vulnerable).