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A Year in Review 2017


Year In Review 2017

So here comes the year in review blog post

I think it’s fair to say that I’ve never had a year that’s been so head down teeth gritted

Most of what would be considered the fluff or interesting things that you do in a year has been missing entirely, no conferences, no training courses, no anything other than client work. that is not to say I haven’t done new things, each week, each month seems filled with new technology, new things to code, new things to learn but it’s all been work that has to be delivered, work that has to be produced on time.

This resulted in the company itself doing well and thanks to that I’m in a better position then I think I’ve ever been before, a state that is all for the good because what with Brexit happening soon, UK companies now face an uncertain future so using the next two years to prepare for that is something that is going to be really important

Looking forward to the coming year it looks as if I have finally reached a point in my career progression where I do not have a major on-site client, all of my work can be done remotely which is a goal I’ve been aiming for some time but it’s still a little bit stunning to finally reach it, it will mean I need even more focus in how I work and that will give me a couple of extra blog posts as I formalise the way I behave on a day to day basis but I finally have the flexibility I’ve been after.

It’s always good to look back in the year and try and update your CV, what are you an expert in? what can you sell yourself as? what you are aiming for going forward? To be frank, knowing technology by rote plays less and less a part of what I provide my clients (both LDC and None LDC).

What I’m good at is learning new1 things, in adapting and providing clients with what they want when they want, the stuff that I’ve been hired to do going forward this year and stuff that I’ve been doing for the last 8 months at least hasn’t really been solely technologically orientated no one has said “oh are you an expert in x” they have just hired me to solve a problem, to make an issue go away, how that is done has been irrelevant or has already been set in stone by corporate decision.

However, I wouldn’t be me unless I still loved new technology and rolled in it like freshly cut grass.

  1. Javascript frameworks: Javascript is still the internet darling it has been for the last couple of years, but the frameworks come so fast that I now just poke my nose in each one that passes to see if it does anything groundbreaking or if it genuinely replaces one I am currently using.

  2. Networks and encryption: This has been an odd one to go back to and get up to date with, so many of the solutions I have had to provide this year have not been code related, or rather code has not been the best way to solve the problem, hardware and network performance issues don’t just go away with platform as a service if anything they get more complex as they are not as transparent.

  3. Salesforce offshoots: Salesforce continues to keep buying things and integrating them into their ecosystem so things like AMPScript have become commonplace.

But there have been losses and this year I lost my IBM champion status, there was the brief pang of “Bugger”, but writing this I can’t say I disagree with the decision, I did no conferences this year2, and thus no speaking gigs, this blog was very quiet on the IBM front, and all the stuff I did for IBM was behind the scenes at client sites and a Champion really does have to be seen …. C’est la vie

2018

What do I think I will be doing in 2018?

  1. Practical Cloud - The cloud has changed so many things and made them better, but in some ways we have gone backwards and there is a lot of work in such regressions, for example, inter-machine network speed that had reached really rather fast rates on internal networks has suddenly tanked when it is measured between existing onside stuff and new cloud services.

  2. Hard Decisions - Over the last year, I have seen a growing trend of business actually having the budget and gritting their teeth over modernizing apps that have been around for 10+ years.

  3. Security - Even things that have been trusted for years have failed in the last 12 months, and while there are lots of security people around that will load up your network and apps with new standards and firewalls, there does not seem to be anyone that is willing to fix the trashed performance when the heavy boots of the security forces have been in and done their work.

I suspect quite a lot of my year will be spent using both new and old tech to get things working again after someone has enacted the latest company edict……. :)


  1. And by “New” I just mean new to me. 

  2. LotusSphere/IBM Connect/IBM Think was in direct conflict with a client delivery, I’m not travelling to the US unless I have to for personal reasons so that cuts out the regional US conferences, UKICON was cancelled and I screwed up my passport for Engage 

Remote Desktop while away

In a few weeks I pop off on my first holiday for 2 years, for this trip I really do not want to take my laptop, this would seem odd as the darn things have been practically glued to me for the last 20 Years, but:

  1. Time to learn to take a break
  2. As a Member of LDCVia I need to learn to know when to share the work, and how to hand over.1
  3. Errr… welll… There are now countries that were once thought to be friendly, that have now shown a distressing habit of being hostile at their borders and now want to take your clients private data away and look at it for “Reasons” and I figured this would be a great dry run for having to travel to such a country again.

But I’m not insane, nor can I leave my clients, sooo I needed to retain access in some way so that I can support as and when it is needed. someone sort of cloud desktop that I can reach from a cheap laptop or tablet seemed like an obvious answer.

Requirements

  1. It must be able to run a form of VMWARE as each of my clients has to their own separate VM machine(s) with separate security.
  2. It must support Android (large and small screen) and Linux as clients.
  3. Must not cost a bleeding fortune.

Contenders

AMAZON Workspaces: This looked a perfect fit to start with and I use AWS for lots of other services including this blog, but the setup was a right faff was slow and cumbersome and then I realised that it would not allow VMWARE or any virtualisation, undaunted I though I would at least check out the performance, only discover that despite stating “just connects from anything” it only meant large android screens (not my phone) and not from Linux at All.. so in the bin it went.(shame really)

VMWARE Remote Console: Wince!!..I have to own to a bit of paranoia here my self, direct access to the Clients VM’s is just too much of a risk from external, it just stops there. sorry VMWARE, I tried to mentally run through the conversation explaining my actions to clients, and none of them went well.

I started to look at Citrix then got a grip and thought, “OH COME ON” its just one machine. Just get another machine load your VM’s on it and get a good secure remote client… cue another 30 mins wasted looking at online hosting and then a small local server and more swearing comes from the office as I realise “JUST USE YOUR BLOODY LAPTOP YOU TWIT YOU WON’T HAVE IT WITH YOU”…. fsss.

So it just comes down to a good remote connection software

The 3 that stood out were:

Logmein : From my point of view easy to discount as it does not support Linux guests but would have been discarded anyway as it has a small company feel which you again make it a difficult sell to clients

Team Viewer : Used by many of my clients and supports a lot of nice security features, but a bit on the pricey side.

VNC Connect : I was attracted to this as I use the free version for my Raspberry Pi’s, I also like the VNC standard and it has been security hardened by many a grumpy sys admin and dev over the years, the VNC Connect platform provided by Real VNC ticks all the boxes.

I was actually hard pressed to pick between Team Viewer and VNC Connect, on paper they provided all the features/platforms and security that I could want, but in the end VNC Connect won though partly because of price (its is £422 a year vs £384) but mainly the fact that the android viewer on team studio does not support the use of a mouse via Android.3

Security

OK, lets get the elephant in the room out of the way, how are we handling security.

Well VNC Connect is nicely paranoid about security so to get to my laptop now requires 2 logons both different 12 digit ones (1 to login to VNC Connect and 1 to get to my laptop ) then each VM is encrypted and requests a login appropriate to the OS used, then of course the normal password for each client to connect via VPN/Programs etc etc.

I ran that though potential questions via any of my clients and it came out OK.

Phyisical Setup

I have attempted to do this kind of thing before and obviously used remote software all of my career, and thus have sworn at my fair share of thin clients, phones, and tablets

Requirements

  1. Lighter than just taking my laptop
  2. Resolution of a decent Screen
  3. Good keyboard
  4. Good mouse
  5. Either not a silly price or very reusable.

I looked at Chrome books but frankly all in the price range were poo, Microsoft surface laptops were too expensive and I’m not in the IOS ecosystem, So an Android Tablet it is, that meant a Nexus or Pixel as few of the other vendors keep the security patches up to date, thankfully the Pixel C was on special offer (most likely due to being replace in the next month or so) that meant I could get a good tablet with a great screen and a very pleasant keyboard, paired with the new Logitech tracker ball I had something that was very usable thank you.


RemoteDesktop01.png

Testing

So I did 2 basic tests, performance and usability

Performance: I connected my laptop to a VPN in Japan, then tethered the tablet to my phone, then connected via the remote and sat down to work, it was totally usable , there was that slight lag on the mouse you get on any remoting software but no more than I get when I VPN into any clients network, and that was going to be the real test, using a VM via another VPN while remoting to the host PC, here I have to say I cheated like a devil, as my laptop is in the comms room of the office where it has access to the AWESOME least line we use (and is physically secure), so in fact it was actually faster and more responsive than normal, which was a more than pleasant surprise

Usability: Not bad, not perfect but not bad, it worked as well as any remote program, with a couple of extra qwerks, it does not re-size the client desktop as it is a genuine KVM rather than creating a new session, which is both good and bad and easy to work around, the other qwerk I’m still working on, is that the top and bottom bars for the Real VNC client triggers very easily and they don’t always retract cleanly without an extra click, I would like it if you could allocate a special gesture to the client to stop it working in modal form, the same as VMWARE client, perhaps a 3 finger swipe from the top or something like that

Conclusion

OK, I have been doing dry runs of leaving my laptop in the office and just taking the tablet and mouse home at night then working on that and I have to say I am now comfortable just going to Japan without the laptop, this setup works…. wish me luck.. :p


  1. I get told off about this about once a month. 

  2. They do do a cheaper version but I wanted the higher level encryption. 

  3. But I do have to give the Team viewer client credit for handling screen render better than VNC it would have been nice to get the best of both worlds, and I hope VNC improves on that front. 

New Logitech TrackBall

I moved to a trackball instead of a mouse about 22 years ago when I got a twinge of RSI in my shoulder and the best one on the market at the time was the Logitech ps2 Marble TrackMan, since then I have upgraded with each new model resulting in the current M570, a week ago on an off chance and needing a blue tooth trackball I checked the Logitech site, squeeking with surprise I saw the new MX Ergo trackball was just out

A few days later it arrives in my sweaty hands and I discover that someone at Logitech seems to be a mind reader and has added just about everything I wanted. So this review is going to be a bit unbalanced but I will try to point out the good and the bad.,

Good

  • Lots more grip: the M570 had 4 little rubber feet that had a habit of coming off and disappearing into the ether, meaning the mouse would rock slightly until you replaced them, the MX Ergo has a solid rubber foot that nearly glues you to any surface with NO sliding.
  • Multi-Multi connection: the MX ergo uses both Bluetooth and the Logitech Unified Receiver as well as supporting 2 devices swappable with a button click, this means I can swap between my laptop and tablet very easily and with no messing around to re-pair, it is JUST want I wanted and works flawlessly.
  • Easy precision switch: there is another little button that swaps between fast and high precision mode, another feature I have wanted and expect to come in useful.

Bad

  • The Little devil is more than twice as heavy as the M570, which is both good and bad, good in that it feels far more solid to use, bad as in I carry the sod around all the time.
  • Fragile: now I don’t actually think it actually IS any more fragile, but as it feels more complicated I think it could get grubby pretty quick and the base plate would fall off in my bag
  • Expensive: An extra £30~ over the M570 + £20 for the case I feel I needed, makes this a pricy old mouse.


MXErgo02.png

Size and Feel is nearly identical to the M570 (which just shows they got it right the first time) with the addition of the 2 position rocker (Hand flat and hand at 20°)


MXErgo04.png

The underneath of the MX Ergo vs one of my well-worn M570’s you can see the solid foot and absence of battery hatch, the MX Ergo just recharges via USB meaning I no longer have to carry around any spare batteries.


MXErgo03.png

The detachable foot, with sticks on the MX Ergo with 2 magnets, cant say I’m in love with the solution and would like the option to leave it off but there is no denying that it sticks on well and gives both weight and stability.


MXErgo01.png

Given the cost, less rugged nature and “waiting to fall off” base, the investment of a case seemed a prudent Idea I went with a Hard Travel Case by co2CREA

Conculstion

I love this mouse, I REALLY love this mouse, yes it costs more than its predecessor, yes you cant just bung it in your laptop bag anymore, but to use and in particular to use on different platforms, it is just a pleasure, comfortable, responsive and smooth…… Happy Sigh

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