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David Cutler

22 Apr

A brief interview with a genius.


Touchy touchy

10 Mar

Several times recently (actually, since it was released) I’ve had people ask me my opinion on Windows 8. It’s always been a case of “I like it a lot, but it’s not without its issues. Overall I prefer it to Windows 7”

It used to be the case that I would almost be told that my opinion was wrong and that Windows 8 was in actual fact a bag of balls, usually by people who had read about it but not used it for more than a few minutes in PC World (if at all).

I have started to see the negative attitudes soften recently, but the response since I’ve had my Surface has been “Well you’re using it with a touchscreen”

True, sometimes. On the train, taking notes in stand-ups, etc. but mostly I use the surface as a regular set-up with mouse, keyboard and either one or two monitors connected. This is just a natural set-up for me, especially when doing productivity work or coding.

My Work Setup

I guess I use the surface in a conventional configuration about 75% of the time (if not more) as I’m mostly using it for, or at work.

So how well does this set-up work for me?

Fine. In fact I’m impressed with some of the multi-monitor control in Windows 8.1, although less impressed with some of the scaling issues on older desktop software, but it’s an irritant rather than a deal breaker. Other than that I’m happy to have the choice between modern and desktop apps. For me modern apps work well with a mouse, and if intelligently written the layout on a large monitor is used well.

Again, I’ll say it’s not perfect, but it is as good as Windows 7 in many ways, and in others it’s better. But that’s just me, I went in not so sure but with an open mind as I like new shiny things.

Oh, and all those additional cables and extra mice in the photo – there are multiple desktop only machines under my work desk. I’m not currently using them, why would I?

Hotel WiFi

13 Feb

I’ve been staying in a hotel for work over the last couple of nights (the Premier Inn at Bracknell Central, since you ask), so I decided to take advantage of the hotel WiFi at an extra £3 per 24 hours (seriously, when a room is costing £114 per night this should be included).

My Windows Phone 8, er… phone. Connected without issue, but when it came to connecting my laptop (the Surface Pro 2 running Windows 8.1) no dice. The network connection was made, but only offered a limited connection (i.e. no internet so essentially useless).

The redirect/hijacking to the hotel login page was not appearing. Tethering via my phone I searched countless websites for a solution, and ended up trying some fairly exotic admin commands, but nothing worked.


After continuing to try for an hour or so on the second night I stumbled across the solution. My wireless connection adapter was bridged (from memory I think this was to the Windows Phone Emulator adapter), and for some reason this was consuming the redirects (or at least preventing them from appearing).

Deleting the bridge and re-connecting to the hotel WiFi immediately prompted me to enter the password entry page, and from then on everything worked.

A few weeks ago I attempted to connect to the WiFi on London Underground and was a bit perplexed why it wouldn’t show me the login page there, I suspect this will solve that issue too.

So if you ever hit this problem my advice is to check if you have any adapters bridged, and if so make a note of the settings (just like I didn’t) and try deleting the bridge.

Hopefully this will work for you too, if so please let me know.

Killing A Surface Pro 2

11 Dec

In my previous post, Killing Windows 8, I wrote about how I had managed to de-activate the copy of Windows installed on my Surface Pro 2, and how I was waiting for a response from Microsoft customer support.

Yesterday I contacted them and they called me back with an update.

Apparently the Windows key had not been injected into the BIOS of my device, so the only way to rectify this issue is to replace the device.

That’s right – they couldn’t send me a new key to activate Windows.

Nope, only a new device will do.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t particularly mind. It’s a little inconvenient, but hardly the end of the world. But really Microsoft, if this really a cost effective way of fixing this problem, after all a new key for Media Center only costs $10, significantly less than the UPS shipping alone I suspect.

Still, I suppose if it is a manufacturing problem this is for the best.

Perhaps my lack of success with Miracast will be resolved too?

Never mind.

Killing Windows 8.1

29 Nov

What happens when two fools collide? Yesterday I found out.

When Windows 8 was released, unlike Windows 7, it no longer came with Windows Media Centre as standard. This made some sense, as few people use Media Centre, yet every copy costs Microsoft a few dollars in licencing costs for the CODECs. However, those of us that do use it are quite passionate about the product, so to placate those users, such as myself, you could register for a registration key to add it to Windows 8 for free.

Media Centre is classed as a different Windows SKU, so the key is actually a replacement product key for Windows itself.

I registered for four keys, one each for my laptop and desktop, and two spare for future devices.

It seems I wasn’t the only one to request more keys than I could use, and realising (not unfairly) that this was costing money and damaging future revenue stream, Microsoft revealed that any unused keys would become invalid after 1st February 2013.

Fast forward to earlier today, and I decided it would be nice to have media centre available on the Surface. “ah”, I thought, “I have an unused key. If it’s been deactivated it won’t let me apply the update”

Sure enough I as able to enter the key and Media Centre was duly installed, then the machine rebooted.

Everything looked fine. The lock screen had been reset to the default, but all my apps and settings were intact, and Media Center was listed in the application list. So I went into the settings to fix the lock screen.

Then I noticed what had happened.

An ominous message was present on the screen informing me that I couldn’t personalise Windows until it was activated.

So it seems the upgrade checks the key to see what type of additional features are being added to Windows, applies the update (resulting in the new product key being applied), and only after all this is completed does the system check the key is still valid.

Great, thanks.

Remember, this was a key I got directly from Microsoft, it’s not a pirated key, although I should stress again that it had expired, so I’m not completely blameless.

So I now had an unlicensed copy of Windows, with no obvious way of rolling it back, especially since the surface does not come supplied with a licence key anywhere. Off to the internets for advice then…

One of the suggestions was to purchase a key for Media Centre. I was a bit worried about it not working (after all, I would essentially be trying to apply a $10 key to an apparently pirated version of $150 software), so when the message telling me I couldn’t upgrade online because I’m in the UK appeared, I wasn’t overly worried (although I do wonder how I will get a legitimate key going forward).

Other suggestions involved editing the registry, re-installing Windows and performing a refresh. I did the refresh , but it just deleted my desktop applications (as expected) leaving the invalid key intact.

So next I made a call to Microsoft. After navigating the list of options, I finally chose correctly and after a few minutes was connected to somebody who tried to help me.

I should take some time out to say that everyone I spoke to was incredibly polite. The main contact, a man called Chris, went through some steps with me and eventually he got to a point where I had an activation ID (apparently running slui 4 from the command line does the trick) which I could then use to try and re-activate Windows via telephone. He left me to try this and promised to call back 15 minutes later.

So I then duly followed the new onscreen instructions, entered the 54 digits via the telephone keypad, and sure enough…. it didn’t work.

So I tried again, the second time I accidentally typed in an incorrect code about half way through, so hung up and tried again.

Third time lucky? No. I was once again told I was potentially running pirated software.

Shortly afterwards Chris called back, and apologised as further research on his part had revealed that this method would fail, however he had (as part of that research) discovered that he now had to hand the case over to the engineers, who would get back to me in two or three working days with a solution.

Chris took a few more details off me and confirmed some others, then promised to get back to me if they hadn’t called within three days.

So here I am now, running an un-activated copy of Windows and waiting for Microsoft to get back to me.

The whole process has been a bit painful, primarily I don’t understand why I need to wait up to three days to get this fixed, but I haven’t complained too much as it was partly my fault, and frankly the Microsoft support personnel have been nothing but polite and attempted to help.

I do feel that Microsoft should take some of the blame for letting the installation go through in the first place though. If they had only checked the key up front first, we would never have ended up here.

I’ll update (either in the comments, or if anything interesting happens in a new post) with how I get on.

Surface Pro 2 and McAfee internet Security 2013

21 Nov

A few days after the launch last month I decided to get myself a Surface Pro 2, the 256GB version with 8Gb of RAM. As regular readers to this site will be aware, I’ve been putting off getting a Windows tablet for over a year now since my laptop was doing a pretty sterling job.

The thing that finally swung it for me however was the realisation that, whilst the laptop was still very capable, it was sufficiently heavy that most of the time I left it at home. Once I’d made this realisation I finally had the justification I needed to spend the £1138 on a new device, and so the rest is history…

So what do I think of it after a little less than four weeks of ownership?

Well, at first I was in two minds. Yes it was a lovely device, but a purchase for as much as this is not something I do lightly nowadays, so I think that put a bit of a downer on it. Even though I’d thought long and hard about what a Windows tablet would do for me (over a year as mentioned), I still had my doubts that the money was well spent.

However, as time has progressed I’m beginning to feel more like I’ve actually made a good decision. The device has accompanied me almost every day (only missing the days where I had to attend after work events, i.e. the pub) and it has so far done everything I have wanted and behaved itself fairly well (more on this in a moment).

The battery life seems pretty decent, and I’ve been using it a lot at work for taking notes and recording audio in meetings.

The other thing it gets used for extensively while I’m at work is listening to music. The sound produced by this thing to my Bose QC15 headphones is among the best I have heard, to the extent that even the Lumia 920 that I had previously thought delivered an excellent sound, now seems somewhat lacking. The Surface is a little bass heavy, but the overall sound quality is very satisfying.

There have been a couple of negative points however, one of which in all fairness I am (sort of) to blame for.

Firstly, I decided to go for a “Touch Cover 2” as my keyboard of choice, rather than the significantly better typing experience provided by the “Type Cover 2”, my reasoning being that I plan to get the power cover when it becomes available next year, so having two similar keyboards was a bit silly. Additionally, I also wanted to experiment with the cover as a giant touchpad (Verdict: underwhelming). Don’t get me wrong, the keyboard is usable, impressive even in some ways, but I know without even trying the type cover that it is lacking a little in its primary use case. Sure I can type reasonably fast on it, but something is just not quite right and I do end up making slightly more mistakes than usual. Overall I question if this was the right decision. Still, backlighting in something as thin as this is impressive (but that doesn’t help much in normal usage).

Secondly, I have found the device has frozen a few times, but I think I’ve worked out why.

Very shortly after getting the Surface, I heard about the CryptoLocker virus that’s doing the rounds. This insidious virus has put the fear of god into me, so whilst I’ve been well served by Microsoft’s virus software for several years now, I decided the time was right to start paying for protection again.

I purchased three copies of McAfee Internet Security 2013, one for the Surface, one for my old Laptop which Hayley now uses, and one for my desktop machine.

So far I have only installed one copy, that going on the surface.

Shortly after I started to find that “clicks” in the Modern version of Internet Explorer were not always registering. Probably a coincidence I thought.

Then I noticed the file transfer speed of my device was far slower than I had previously seen when copying large files across locations.

Then in a meeting I noticed my battery was draining disturbingly quickly. A quick investigation revealed that despite being on battery power, McAfee had decided to do it’s weekly scan (I can find no setting to alter this behaviour).

Then yesterday whilst editing a file in Visual Studio, the IDE froze for a couple of minutes. On investigation it appeared that the biggest process user was the McAfee on access virus scanner. I feel this was an unacceptably long interruption.

Enough, I thought, is enough, so I’ve uninstalled it from the machine and gone back to the Microsoft defaults. This has left me a little uneasy, and more than a little annoyed that I forked out for three of these licences.

There is a (very small) chance that I’m blaming too many negatives on this application, so I guess time will tell if I see an improvement (it’s only been off the machine a couple of hours now)

I shall try to use this licence on the old laptop that Hayley uses, as I don’t expect she will notice the difference, and I’d like her to have the added protection and see how it works out for her. At the same time I’m hoping that the other two licences will allow me to install an updated version of this software at a later point in time when it isn’t a complete shambles (perhaps a 2014 version?). We’ll see.

In the meantime I’m annoyed I paid for something I am not going to use. Oh well, I guess that I should have read those reviews first…

So anyway, these gripes aside and considering it is missing a few features I would have used (NFC for example), I think I’ve made the right decision now, and look forward to getting some of the forthcoming accessories (power cover, dock, Bluetooth adapter for the keyboards) and using this device for the next few years.

I’m feeling pretty confident I’ll get my moneys worth out of the Surface, and that it will be money well spent… Unless of course I do something stupid like drop it on concrete or lose it entirely. That had better not happen as I can’t see me being allowed to buy another replacement for a good few years now.