Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Windows 8 - Sixteenth Pass: Getting used to Using the @Surface

Using the Surface seemed easy enough but there are a few things that take a little getting used to. Like the keyboard.

I purchased the Touch Pro keyboard, the one that has actual keys you can type on as opposed to the soft touch one where the keys are just slightly raised on the cover. I really like it but it did take some getting used to.

First, the layout is different. The Home, End, and Del keys are not where you’d expect them to be and even now, I have to think about where they are. Second, the backspace key isn’t in the top right corner; I’m constantly hitting Del when I am going for Backspace. Third, the touchpad, while nice, isn’t nice and I prefer to use my Bluetooth mouse whenever possible.

The touchpad requires two hands to click and drag and isn’t as tap sensitive as I’d like. It also suffers from the problem that is universal to all touchpads in that if your wrist bumps it your mouse goes places you’d rather it not. I had an old HP laptop many years ago that had a button on the keyboard itself that allowed you to disable the touchpad to avoid wrist bumps. I haven’t seen that on a laptop since.

The other interface feature to get used to is the pen. While the pen is nice, I find that I don’t use it very much at all. Even when using the Surface as a tablet without the keyboard and using the touch screen interface for things I don’t find myself hunting for the pen. Perhaps it’s because I’m used to an iPad, which doesn’t have a pen, but in the case of the Surface, I don’t find it critical to have. Those that draw a lot may want one but for me it isn’t a big deal and the buttons and touch screen apps are large enough that my finger works fine.

The other challenge is where do you store the pen? If you aren’t charging the Surface the pen fits nicely and holds using magnets in the charging port but if you want to charge the Surface and use the pen there is no on board storage and the pen has to be carried, and then probably lost, separately.

A little tip on the pen: to right click press the button on the side and then tap the screen. The button on the side of the pen is the same part that sticks in the charging slot to hold the pen to the side of the Surface.

There is one big drawback to the touch covers, whether the hard one or the soft one – they tend to drop out a lot while in use. Several firmware updates have been released but I’ve noticed the problem continue on mine especially when I’m working on a soft surface, like typing on my lap or in bed. Randomly the touchpad and the keyboard will stop responding. In order to fix it I have to press the Windows key and go back to the start screen. Opening the desktop again usually fixes this. Sometime it happens when I’m working on a hard surface but that’s not as frequent, hopefully due to the firmware updates.

Another fix is to press the keys harder, which makes me wonder about the longevity of their sensitivity. Sometimes that works and sometimes my wife thinks I’m mad at my keyboard.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

14 Years With Me

Today my wife and I celebrate our 14th wedding anniversary. That is remarkable because that means my wife has lived with me for 14 years.

As is the case for all men, I married up and I shudder to think where I’d be today if it weren’t for my wife. So, since she has lived with me for 14 years I’m going to brag on her a bit.

She's smokin' hot.

My wife works a full time job, 50+ hours a week in addition to fixing all the mistakes I make while helping raise our children. She works because she wants to, not because she has to and she beautifully balances her career and ministry with our family.

In addition to that, she helps me tag team maintaining our home, although to be completely honest I don’t tag her out very often.

My wife is low key. She isn’t worked up very easily and she isn’t full of drama, in fact, she is the opposite of a drama queen.

She's smokin' hot.

She isn’t selfish. She shares our family with folks all over the place and doesn’t grumble about my being gone, working long hours, or occasionally having to miss birthdays and anniversaries. She let me miss our anniversary one year and her birthday another year attending space shuttle launches.

My wife is an awesome mother. She helps teach our kids what’s important in life and what isn’t. She makes sure we have fun together as a family.

She's smokin' hot.

She sets a good example of what it means to work hard, serve hard, and love your family completely. She also sets a good example of what it means to have a good attitude.

My wife is an awesome cook. The only evidence you need there is to look at the size of my belly.

She's smokin' hot.

I look forward to the rest of my life with my wife, although I do hope the belly trend subsides somewhere along the way.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Windows Blue, or Green, or Periwinkle – Just Tell us Already

Can someone explain to my why Microsoft won’t just come out and say what they plan to do with Windows 8.1, or Windows Blue, or whatever other color they are calling it? I fail to see the benefit of keeping us all in suspense as to whether or not they are going to bring back the start button and allow us to boot straight to the desktop.

It seems to me that Microsoft and their users would benefit from knowing what changes they are going to make so they can plan how they might implement Windows 8 in their IT shops, enterprises, and places of work. One of the biggest holdups seems to be the lack of a start button and difficulty in re-training users. If Microsoft would tell us now those plans could be made and sales of Windows 8 might increase.

The only reason I can come up with to withhold this information is that Microsoft doesn’t know what they plan to do yet. They admit they’ve created a problem, they admit something needs to be done but perhaps this close to the release of Windows Blue (or 8.1 or whatever they’re calling it) they still haven’t made up their minds.

I’d encourage them to make us all happy, allow the user to set the mode they want, announce it quickly, so we can all start planning. Summer is a great time for schools to make upgrades and not telling them until the end of June really jams up their schedules.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Codeshare Secrets

When you spend a lot of time on the road, or more accurately, in the air, you learn a few tricks to dealing with the airlines that make spending time in the air possible. One recent learning experience for me was with the whole code sharing of flights between airlines.

As airlines merge and try to compete and increase their offerings codeshares are a big way for them to be bigger than they are and serve more cities than they really do. I fly Delta almost exclusively and they have a codeshare with Alaska Airlines that I’ve found myself using numerous times. I book the flight through delta.com but part of the trip is on an Alaska Airlines plane operated by an Alaska crew.

This really isn’t anything new; it has just become more prevalent as airlines continue to merge. Eventually when they have all merged together and there is only one airline this problem will go away but for now it is something we all deal with.

In the ideal world you don’t even know the codeshare of the flight exists. Your bags transfer seamlessly, you go from gate to gate without issue and as a passenger the only difference is plane livery and crew uniforms. However, there are several things that don’t seamlessly integrate because after all, remember, you are dealing with two independent companies who have just decided to play nice with each other.

In my case the issue arose due to my seat preference. I like to sit in the economy plus section on longer flights to the west coast. On Delta you pay for this privilege but on Alaska they reserve those rows for their mileage elite and premier status customers. My question was how do I get an economy plus seat because on the Delta website all the seats on my Alaska codeshare flight were taken and it wouldn’t even let me select a seat at all.

Here are some tricks:
  • Even though you bought your codeshare through one airline you actually have two separate reservations and confirmation codes, one for each airline. Find out what both of these codes are and then login to the website of the codeshare operator and you can see more seats that are available.
  • In this case I had to actually call Alaska Airlines to get my confirmation number with them. The Delta website only shows your Delta confirmation number but once I got my Alaska confirmation number their site showed both numbers. I also called Delta and found them to be of little help as they didn’t have either my Alaska confirmation or ticket number. I waited 24 minutes to talk to someone at Delta and only 1 minute to talk to someone at Alaska.
  • When you check in for your flight on your primary carrier you may not get all the seat options available due to difference in how each airline allocates seats. For instance, Delta charges for better seats while Alaska holds them for elites and premiers up until 24 hours before flight time. At that point it’s a free for all.
  • In order to cheat the system I actually checked in twice to get the seat I wanted. I checked in on Delta for my Delta flights and then went to the Alaska website and checked in again just for their segment so I could get the seat I wanted.
  • Remember, the 24 hour window starts from the local time of your flight for that segment. That’s why when I first checked in on the Delta site it still didn’t show me the seats I wanted. I waited another 3 hours until my Alaska flight was within check in range and tried on delta.com again and it showed me more seats but it did not let me pick them. I went to the Alaska website and quickly and easily got the seat I wanted. Granted I had a boarding pass from Delta for their flight and Alaska for their flight but at least I got the seat I wanted. Trust me, on longer flights across the country it is well worth it. 
Codeshare flights definitely have a benefit for both passengers and airlines. I personally prefer Alaska flights to Delta flights as the service on board is better, the crews are nicer, and they offer hot food for purchase in economy, the only US airline to do that I think.

Disclaimer: While this process has worked for me it is important to note that even though you can change your seat on the codeshare flights and print a boarding pass with your new seat the Delta site and the Alaska sites will still show you in your old seat.  I tweeted with Alaska to confirm my seat had changed and they confirmed it had, and their website showed it changed once I opened my actual reservation but the apps for both airlines never reflected my seat being changed.

Back to the (insert your own adjective here) skies.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Windows 8 - Fifteenth Pass: Setting up the @Surface

Unpacking and setting up my Surface was relatively easy and enjoyable experience. The packaging was well done and the box is worthy of keeping for when the next generation model comes out and you want to pass your current Surface on down the line. It is obvious that Microsoft has learned a few things from other companies that do a great job with packaging.

I also found the packaging to be very durable. I purchased my Surface in Phoenix and didn’t open it until I got home. The box was placed in my checked luggage and flown across the country. It held up well with no signs of wear and tear from airline baggage handlers throwing my suitcase around.

The next step was to setup my account on the Surface and activate it with my Microsoft account, for me that’s an MSN account. I’ll eventually add my Surface to a domain but for now, it just has a local account. This was a bit confusing as I wasn’t sure if I needed to create a local account first and if I did if that would merge with my MSN account or create a duplicate account on my Surface.

Turns out you create your local account and then when you connect it to your Microsoft account it merges them together so you end up with a single, unified account and not multiples or duplicates. Since I already have Windows 8, running on my laptop it didn’t take long before those settings started to populate on my Surface once I connected me new local Surface account with my Microsoft account. Isn’t the cloud great?

Setting up my apps was very easy however; it did not automatically download my apps from my other Windows 8 machine. Rather it listed them in My Apps in the App Store and I had to select the ones I wanted on my Surface. That wasn’t difficult and it’s great that you don’t have to pay for the apps multiple times to use them provided they are all connected through your Microsoft account. Most of my setup challenges came from learning how to navigate the Surface, use the keyboard, and figure out which apps were happening on the touch screen and which apps were happening on the desktop and which apps could do both.

Windows 8 Pro on the Surface activated itself without effort. I would suggest doing that early on in the process otherwise, you get zillions of prompts that are constantly preventing you from continuing and enjoying the setup process.