CES 2015: Day 0 Report

January 5, 2015 2 comments

Today (Monday 1/5/2015) started off a tad bit later than expected, most likely thanks to that second glass of wine from the last night’s dinner. Nonetheless, by 9:30 I was off and running from SLC on the final leg of my drive from Seattle to Las Vegas for CES. I’ve driven from SLC through to Moab before, and I can confirm that southwest Utah is just as amazing. Here’s a sample…


While this is intended to be a series about CES itself, I have to share how completely AWE INSPIRING the drive on I-15 was as it pass through the Virgin River Gorge in northwest Arizona. To be honest, I didn’t really pay close attention to the map when planning the route and I didn’t even realize I’d be jutting into AZ at all, so the “Welcome to Arizona” sign caused me a slight bit of consternation at first. Shortly thereafter the scenery turned AMAZING as the highway transitions from the ~6000’ high basin of Utah down to the ~2000’ Mojave Desert. You must make this drive some time in your lifetime. There was some construction in the area, and I’ve never been so thankful for a rolling slowdown. This is just a small sample of why:

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A couple hours later this was my view at Harrah’s Las Vegas.


And then I got what I’ve been after for years – my CES credentials!


After getting settled I had a several hours before attending one of the opening keynote speeches. The Samsung presentation was alluring, but I didn’t think I’d have enough time to eat and get in line, so I opted for the Mercedes-Benz shindig over at the Cosmopolitan, grabbing dinner over there.

I had great seats right in the middle of the stage but in a raised section just beyond the tech desk and TV cameras. I’m pretty sure the guy to my left was running one of the MB Twitter accounts live-tweeting the event. M-B used the event to lay out a vision for autonomous cars and future technology. They also rolled out a brand new concept vehicle to the world right before our eyes. The geek inside me was overjoyed at being at a breaking tech news event; it was a great show too. You can watch it via this link.

Mercedes CEO Dr. Dieter Zetsche is every bit the German businessman stereotype you’d want him to be. He even perfectly landed a joke in the opening video “Are you a robot?” he was asked? “No, I’m German.” There were a few other good zingers in the presentation as well, including a nice discussion of tech features already shipping on existing C, E, and S class models (we see what you did there). The future Mercedes proposed didn’t come off as much groundbreaking as “OMG this technology is real and could hit the road within the next decade, if not sooner.” The concept car’s design was HOT, but I was just as impressed with the massive display screen that served as the backdrop for the stage. Here are a few pics if you don’t want to watch the video.

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After a long day I enjoyed a nice stroll back to my hotel, including a couple shows of the Bellagio’s fountains.


Total walking distance: 5 miles (most of it from Harrah’s to Cosmopolitan and back for the MB Keynote)


CES 2015: Travel Days 1-2

January 4, 2015 2 comments

This is my very first Consumer Electronics Show (CES) experience. I’ve wanted to come to this show for a very long time, and it’s the third year I’ve actually registered (my previous attempts were thwarted by either a new human joining our family or a new role at Microsoft on the near horizon). Unfortunately, and unlike my previous attempts, this year I don’t have any close contacts from Microsoft or elsewhere attending … that I know of … so I’m effectively going stag and figuring things out on my own.

I drove from Seattle, which is typically a two-day affair if it’s just me driving (18 hours), but with a big storm moving in to the Northwest I didn’t want to get stuck with the mountain passes closed or slow traveling through snow and ice so I left a day early broke the trip up into 3 days. I stayed the night in Ontario, OR and then Salt Lake City. Ontario didn’t really have much notable about it, other than being on the OR/ID border on I-84.

Salt Lake City, however, was really nice. I’ve driven through a couple times before and made a connection in the airport, but this was my first actual stop in the city itself. It’s very modern and new, quite clean, and seems well planned with wide boulevards and lots of trees, etc. It reminded me a LOT of Charlotte, NC actually – where my wife and I went to high school. Similar to Charlotte (at least back in the 90’s), SLC seems to close up in the evenings and on the weekend. It was dead – hardly any traffic, even on Monday morning when I left.

I took a nice walk from The Gateway area where my hotel was up a few long city blocks past the basketball arena (I wish Seattle still had a team) and up to Temple Square, effectively Mecca for the LDS Church. I’m not Mormon, but I can at least appreciate what they’re trying to do. There were a lot of people like me milling about. Although there are a few visitors centers I didn’t enter, preferring to walk around the gardens and take in the sculpture and architecture. The Tabernacle is open to the public, which surprised me. Assembly Hall and the big cathedral were not, however – but that’s okay. The Tabernacle is what you see on TV when you see a choir concert. The organ, orchestra stage, and choir lofts are huge, but what shocked me was how small the rest of the building felt. I would have pegged the seating capacity at around 2000 or 2500, but Wikipedia says it’s actually about 7K – and we all know the Internet is never wrong. 😉

Here are a few pics from Temple Square.

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After my self-guided tour I strolled back down towards my hotel and had a fabulous dinner for 1 at Fleming’s Steakhouse. Highly recommended and it induced the necessary food coma I was after for a good night’s sleep. Off to Vegas in the morning!

Categories: travel Tags: ,

Passion vs Pride: Swapping my Windows Phone for an iPhone

December 19, 2014 Comments off

It’s been a month and a half since I made a dramatic change in my life, one that I would never have believed possible just 6 months prior: I started using an iPhone as my primary mobile device.

This is a big deal. I’ve worked at Microsoft for 6.5 years and have been a Microsoft-centric infrastructure professional my whole career (including a stint working for BillG). I have been a proud Windows Phone user and advocate, and I ate more than my share of "dogfood" (Redmond lingo for internal beta testing our products). I’ve owned multiple Nokia Microsoft Lumia devices and run every OS from Windows Phone 7 through yet-to-be-released builds of 8.1. I like the platform and still recommend it to people if it fits their needs.

But on November 11th I swapped my AT&T account over to an iPhone 6 and I haven’t regretted it one bit.

Before I go further I want to point out the disclaimer on my blog – you can see it over there on the right. I have an employer (Microsoft) and an opinion (my own). What follows is my opinion alone – in no way am representing Microsoft. I’ve been very careful to only discuss publically available information here, so don’t go hunting for insider nuggets – there aren’t any.

Now I know a Microsoftie jumping ship for a competitor’s platform comes off as sacrilegious to some, including me earlier this year. Hell, I grew up a Microsoft fan boy long before I ever worked for the company, and I still have a great deal of pride in what we’re trying to deliver to our customers. I take it personally when friends slam the company and/or our products, or we’re the butt of jokes. That’s not to say I have blinders on – in some ways I’m even more frustrated then an external customer/user because I can dogfood products and provide feedback … that in a number cases has been ignored. Trust me – I’ve felt the pain of crappy OS and app builds, and I’ve opened quite a few product bugs.

All that being said, things at the end of 2014 are vastly different than what I just described, and that includes – to a certain extent – the culture inside Microsoft. I have not been immune to those changes. Microsoft has, over the past year under new leadership from Satya Nadella, moved to embrace the multi-platform mobile-first world that is the reality of today’s smartphone ecosystem. It’s no longer tenable for Microsoft product groups to sit in the Redmond Bubble and create products with an "if you build it customers will come" attitude (yes that’s an old article – but I don’t think the point is outdated).

Today’s Microsoft has (finally) woken up to the fact that we’re one of many options consumers and businesses have – and that means that means our products probably won’t live in a homogeneous Microsoft-centric environment. We’ve launched versions of Office on iOS and Android that are far superior to their Windows Phone brethren (and largely don’t exist yet in the wild on Windows’ modern app platform for tablets). We’re making great headway with OneDrive offerings for Apple and Google platforms, and just recently we launched versions of the excellent Bing MSN apps for non-Windows mobile devices too.

These changes have shown up in the Microsoft culture as well. Previously some folks were hostile towards blue-badges who walked around with iPhones or Android smartphones. I don’t see that as much anymore, though I’m sure it still exists. I certainly don’t personally feel that way anymore (no, I didn’t smash anyone’s phone before my change of heart). And I can even meld both worlds together, helping break down the bubble by not just dogfooding our iOS apps, but also living in a competitor’s experience and having that help shape my feedback on our first-party offerings. To quote my old friend and coworker Dare,

“Learning about your competitor’s product is a great way to understand your target customer’s base expectations. So you can exceed them.”

Great advice to follow.

My background

A review is only as good as the source, so I thought I’d take a few paragraphs and outline my smartphone resume. I’ve used more than my fair share of mobile devices in the last 15 years. I’ve run enterprise mobile phone accounts and have a knack for being able to quickly find the pros and cons of a device and make recommendations on whether to deploy a fleet or pass.

rim_950I got my first mobile data device back in 2000 – a glorious RIM 950. It was AWESOME! I was able to get my email in real time, my calendar and contacts were sync’d too, and because it was one of the first devices to leverage the cellular data network instead of the analog voice network it kept working in natural disasters. My wife and I moved to Seattle the day before the Nisqually Earthquake in early 2001, and after it struck all of the cell phone lines were jammed. But my RIM 950 was rock solid and never faltered. I was even able to send a text-to-voice message out via a RIM service that called our families back in North Carolina to let them know we were okay.

When RIM-turned-BlackBerry introduced the 6210 model in 2003 that integrated the same data functionality with a phone I jumped onboard quickly. I was lucky enough to be in a position to actually speak with a couple representatives from RIM about their new phone right before it was announced, play with the device for a brief time, and give some feedback. I clearly remember asking them if you could change the ring tone (something my high-end Nokia “candy bar” phone at the time could do, and with polyphonic realistic sounds to boot). Their response was classic: “This isn’t a consumer device. Business users don’t want those kinds of features.” Remember, 2003 was long before the “bring your own device” revolution, but I politely pointed out that business users are consumers too and that they should reconsider. They didn’t, and RIM/BlackBerry was forever chasing the marketplace instead of leading it because of that very attitude. Sort of sounds like Microsoft’s attitude at the time too…

My point is that to be successful in today’s marketplace a smartphone has to be the best of both worlds: a powerful business device and a feature-rich consumer satisfier.

I was a BlackBerry user until I joined Microsoft in July 2008 when I lost access to a corporate BES server to link my device to Exchange. Windows Mobile, which was our offering at the time, was complete crap, so I dinked around on a couple (horrible) WinMo devices before I finally got an iPhone, then iPhone 3G. I didn’t flaunt it and was keenly aware of the Apple stigma inside the halls of Redmond. I was on an iPhone for a couple years inside Microsoft until Windows Phone 7 launched in October 2010 when I got a Samsung Focus, then a Nokia Lumia 900, and lastly a Lumia 920. Here’s a pic of my *partial* collection back in October 2011…


Hi, my name is Nathan and I’m a mobile tech addict. From L to R that’s a RIM 950, BlackBerry 6210, BlackBerry 8700c, Cingular 3125 (aka HTC Startrek running WinMo 5.0), BlackBerry 8820, Dell Axim X51v (Windows PDA – remember those?), Samsung Blackjack II (WinMo 6.0), iPhone, iPhone 3G, and Samsung Focus. Missing are at least 4 BlackBerry models that I upgraded from (and by upgrade I mean I got a new model and someone else at my company got my 4 month old phone), and both my more recent Lumia 900 and Lumia 920 … and of course my current iPhone 6.

So anyway, I spent months weighing whether to make the jump from my trusty Lumia 920 to an iPhone 6, and I can honestly say that in the end I made the jump with a clean conscience. So without further ado, here’s my comparison and impressions of the iPhone 6.



I’m not going to bore you with a in-depth dive into the specs of each device. If you want that check out Versus.com’s comparison page or a similar table on findthebest.com. Effectively they’re relatively similar phones. The iPhone 6 is notably thinner and lighter (about 30%) – and I really appreciate both differences on the iPhone. It just feels way more comfortable in my hand. It’s also nice to have a plethora of cases and other accessories available for my device, versus hunting for a cool case only to find it isn’t available for my phone.

Swapping out the Windows button for the Home button wasn’t a big deal, but I do miss the Windows Phone standard back button occasionally. The Home button almost seems gesture overloaded (single press, double press, hold down, touch and rest all do different things) and I wonder if having a single physical button take so much use will impact longevity. That said, on my Lumia 920 the power button is noticeably "softer" in click response than the other, less frequently used buttons … and it still works. Maybe a more broken-in click action on the Home button will be a good thing over time.

I also miss having a dedicated camera button to use as a trigger. Yes, you can use the volume buttons on the iPhone to trigger the camera but I honestly keep forgetting that – to do so requires a 90 degree rotation to the right, but on the Windows Phone it’s 90 left. Old dog; new tricks. 😉 My assumption is I just need to retrain my brain and I’ll be fine. Ironically I tried to use the volume buttons with my bank’s app last night to take a picture of a check to deposit it, and the app expected the left-rotation by default; it didn’t recognize the rotation to the right at all.


Speaking of the camera, much has been made of how great the Lumia cameras are. The older 920 is an 8.7 MP F2.0 lens, whereas the new iPhone is 8.0 MP and F2.2. Neither rival the Lumia 1020’s awesome camera (41 MP F2.2), but frankly I don’t think it matters. I certainly can’t tell much of a difference between the two. The iPhone’s HDR mode is substantially easier to engage (I’ve honestly never figured it out on the 920, even though there are settings for it), flash works just as well, and let’s face it – most people pump their smartphone pics through an app filter that makes them look like a shitty 1978 Polaroid snap anyway. I’ll let the bean counters argue this one – for me I’m just as happy with the iPhone 6’s camera as I was with my Lumia 920’s.

When viewing said pictures, and apps, and websites, and email, and whatnot the screen size is roughly the same between the devices as well, as is resolution. 4.7" at 1334×750 vs 4.5" at 1280×768 (iPhone/Lumia). Brightness and readability are fairly similar to me; I’ve used both devices in my car with a dashboard mount (maps – never texting and driving!) and readability in bright sunlight was never an issue on either.


My Lumia 920 is a 32GB device (there was also a 16GB flavor but I can’t remember if AT&T ever sold it) with no option for additional storage. While the iPhone can’t add additional storage either, there are at least a couple larger flavors: 16GB, 64GB, and 128GB. Apple want’s a hefty premium for the extra storage compared to micro SD card prices, but you’re going to want the 64GB flavor at least to avoid storage issues on iOS upgrades, etc. My wife had a 16GB HTC 8X Windows Phone and was forever complaining about running out of room. Don’t put yourself in that situation. Spend the extra $100 and avoid yelling at your device for running out of capacity for the next 2 years. Your blood pressure will thank you.


One of the biggest gripes I have with Apple is that they go off and do their own standard for just about everything. Where that pisses me off on the iPhone is the charging/sync cable. The Lightening connector is great – you don’t have to worry about it being reversed, etc. BUT EVERY OTHER DEVICE OUT THERE (including speakers, portable batteries, my Bose noise cancelling headphones, and just about everything else we own) uses the MicroUSB standard connector. Hell, the EU effectively required all manufacturers to adopt this as the standard to avoid the proliferation of chargers getting dumped in landfills as people upgrade. Apple isn’t playing ball … yet. Why they haven’t yet is simple – they want royalties for their own proprietary connector. $$$ Bastards. 2017 can’t come soon enough. Until then I’ve had to fork over a few bucks for a couple new cables and adapters.

Pro-tip: these little adapter caddies are awesome. Have one in each car since for now we’re a dual-connector-standard household.


Still, it must be noted that even with the proprietary connector the accessory ecosystem for iPhone is alive and well. Windows Phone … not so much.

Other hardware notes

Here are a few other points on the hardware front I wanted to share…

  • I love having a physical switch to go to vibrate mode rather than having to toggle a switch in the UI. This was one of my "I really miss this" when I moved from my original iPhones to the Samsung Focus (Windows Phone 7) 4 years ago.
  • I miss having Qi wireless charging built into my phone. Yes I could get adapters and retrofit my iPhone to use my wireless chargers, but I’d be giving up easy accessibility to the Lightning connector port, and I use that every few weeks to upload songs for my practice playlist when I’m drumming at church. Yes I could set up wireless iTunes syncing on my home network, but I’d rather stay flexible.
  • I’m getting better battery life with my iPhone 6, and it charges faster too. This may have something to do with the age of my 920 and/or running dogfood phone bits on my Windows Phone, but I can’t deny I’m enjoying better battery performance.
  • Audio quality on the iPhone 6 is far superior to the Lumia 920 to my ears. Whether I’m streaming via Bluetooth from Spotify in the car or listening to something with my ear buds everything sounds amazing. I don’t think the Lumia 920 sounded horrible, but the difference made me take note the first time I fired up some tunes in my car (no pun intended). And while the Microsoft ads may make fun of Siri for sitting on her speaker, that speaker sounds a million times better than the built-in speaker on my Lumia.

Touch ID and Apple Pay

The last hardware feature I want to touch on is Touch ID (see what I did there?). I’ve been using a biometric fingerprint scanner to authenticate on my laptop and my work desktop for years. It’s super convenient and relatively secure (nothing is unhackable). Plus it’s fast – swipe (or in the iPhone’s case hold for 1 second) and you’re in. Combined with Apple Pay, the iPhone 6 is simply the most secure payment platform I carry around with me these days. It’s true two-factor authentication for every purchase I make with Apple Pay, versus handing your card over to a stranger and hoping for the best. How many times have you wonder what’s up when your server takes forever to charge your card? And when’s the last time someone validated your signature against the back of the card (and that’s to fake – you remembered to sign your new card, right)? Checking against a driver’s license doesn’t offer much of a barrier either. At least with Apple Pay plus Touch ID I have to have my device (i.e. the card) PLUS provide a private/secure auth token via my fingerprint (a signature that’s required and much harder to forge).

Rant: I still don’t know why the US hasn’t moved faster to how credit card payments worked in Europe 7+ years ago. When I was in the UK in 2008 I never handed over my card – even in restaurants they brought a mobile reader to me and I had to be the one to swipe it. Plus they had certificate + PIN authentication on their cards (we didn’t, and largely still don’t). Replace PIN code with fingerprint and you’ve got Apple Pay.

Wait – yes I do know why this hasn’t changed here, US financial institutions think it’s cheaper to eat fraudulent transactions than it would be to do the right thing. Behold the almighty dollar…. Anyway, Apple Pay (and similar tech) is the future. Now we just need retailers to stop blocking it for BS reasons.

Okay, I feel better now. 😉


iOS Experience

In general I’ve been very pleased with iOS. There’s of course been a learning curve to remember/figure out how everything works, where various settings are squirreled away, etc. – but everything has functioned as expected. I haven’t really used any of the iCloud offerings (in fact I’ve disabled even photo backup in favor of using OneDrive via our iOS app [thanks Jason!]). I haven’t used Facetime either, but I have had a few shocked replies as my text messages to friends change from green (SMS) to blue (iMessage).

Most importantly in just the last 6 weeks I’ve received 2 incremental update packages from Apple for iOS. Microsoft has never released small incremental patches for Windows Phone to the best of my recollection, no matter how much that possibility was lauded when WinPhone 7 first came out. Even moderate “point” releases have come out on a 6-9 month time scale if you’re lucky (Verizon seemingly stopped approving all updates for the last year or so until very recently). This has been a very frustrating fail for Windows Phone from my perspective.

Dated UI

I’m not going to hold punches: I miss Live Tiles and the modern Windows Phone home screen look and feel. This is perhaps the biggest downside to my migration. The iOS interface was awesome if not revolutionary when it first came out … 7.5 years ago. It hasn’t really changed since other than a false 3D perspective effect of moving the background image slightly as you tilt the phone (that’s cool the first time you see it, but never ever registers again with your eye). How much processing power – and battery – is being eaten to do that? Waste of electrons IMHO.

Yes, I can move icons for apps around on the various pages, but I have to match a strict grid. What if I want all my icons on the right 2 columns? Or just the bottom? Nope. And on those app icons there’s no info besides the occasional badge that tells you there are so many new emails or podcasts or whatever. I loved having my calendar, weather, stock, headlines, etc. info at a glance without diving into the apps. It is a longer process to figure out what room my next meeting is in on the iPhone. I’m really hoping they make some big changes here in coming releases – and so do a lot of iPhone enthusiasts I’ve seen online.

The aging UI is actually the biggest gripe my wife has as well. That being said, I saw online somewhere in the last week (sorry, I can’t find the reference now) a very valid point: on today’s smartphones how much do you really care about the core interface when the vast majority of your time spent with the device is in apps? Even on Windows Phone with Live Tiles it’s not like I’d unlock my phone just to stare at the Start screen (other than to get that next conference room). For that reason I have to look at the last 2 paragraphs and say “Yup, I agree – so what?”


iOS is far more stable than Windows Phone in my experience. Yes this may be influenced by dogfooding OS updates, but even on retail builds I found myself having to reboot my Lumia at least once a week to fix some issue or another (usually a crippling battery drain from some unknown source). In the last 6 weeks I’ve had to do that on my iPhone once when network connectivity on WiFi and cellular just stopped working. Not perfect, but an 83% reduction.

Bluetooth connectivity on iOS is rock solid, much more so than on my Lumia 920. I have a Ford Edge with My Ford Touch that runs atop the Microsoft Auto platform (which I also dogfooded – I’m serious about testing software!). Even on final/retail/gold bits on my Windows Phone and car I still had random connection issues at the start of perhaps 10% of my drives (that’s one per week or so). In the last 6 weeks I’ve had 1 connection issue with my iPhone – and I’m pretty sure that was the car. Ironically Ford seems to have come to the same conclusion I have. :-/

Contact issues

The biggest pain point I’ve had was actually integrating my Microsoft accounts – both public (Hotmail Outlook.com) and corporate (O365), and specifically around contact sync. This is especially frustrating to me because I spent a year and a half running Microsoft’s consumer address book platform that powers contacts for Outlook.com and Messenger/Skype, and syncs contacts from Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I’ve still got good friends running the service.

Anyway, from what I can tell on the user side of the service is that while there are some great features in the AB platform to present a unified view of your contacts when you’re on a Microsoft app platform (Outlook, modern Contacts, Windows Phone), all of that falls down pretty hard when you go to sync your account with 3rd party device. And don’t go through and delete all those duplicate contacts that magically appeared because then you start nuking your Messenger/Skype buddy relationships inadvertently. Thankfully there’s a deleted contacts recovery function available on http://people.live.com.

On top of all that there’s a Lync desktop client bug that under certain circumstances (which I evidentially hit on a regular basis) creates multiple duplicate contacts from your Lync buddy list in a special Exchange contacts folder, which is sync’d to your iPhone by default (you can hide these contacts, btw). You used to be able to disable this Lync contact create feature, but that option went away a couple years ago – I have no idea why, or even how this contact feature (without the dupe bug) is useful.

20141229_224258000_iOSThe result of all this isn’t fatal, but it’s a gigantic PAIN IN THE ASS! I had a TON of duplicate contacts that showed up on my iPhone when I first set up my accounts. Thankfully the iPhone lets you merge multiple contacts together so the end result is that I had to spend some quality time with my address book merging dupes, as shown to the right. Note, I only have 1 account each for Exchange, Facebook, iCloud, and Hotmail. Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t an issue caused by iOS; I have to lay blame for this squarely on Microsoft’s shoulders (including myself since I was on the feature team that helped create this mess). In fact, this is why having Microsofties dogfood experiences on other platforms is a GOOD thing! If I had been on an iPhone 2 years ago I could have helped prioritize getting this fixed; instead we didn’t really even know this was a problem at the time.

Continuing with the contacts theme, I do miss the excellent and deep contact integration from Facebook and LinkedIn that Windows Phone gives you. It was really nice to be able to search my contacts and have phone numbers and email addresses from people I know on those two networks included in the results, even if I don’t have them as a full-fledged contact in one of my address books.

I also wish the iPhone would “translate” the business phone numbers that Microsoft publishes via our internal global address book in Exchange. Your phone number gets stored as a 10 digit number (direct line) and then an “X+5” where the +5 are just your extension. For example, if my desk phone was 425-555-1234 my business phone number would get stored as “+1 4255551234X51234”. Windows Phone has the built in smarts to deal with this stupid convention and just dials the 10 digit number, but iPhone just sends the whole damn string to your wireless carrier and their phone switch legitimately replies with the technical equivalent of “WTF is that?”. Annoying, but not insurmountable – and likely a very Microsoft-specific feature that was built into Windows Phone to deal with our internal idiosyncrasies.


I’ve never been a fan of iTunes, so frankly I try not to use it as much as possible. I know for a fact I have a lot of company in this camp so I wont belabor the point. Unfortunately I do have a use case that forces me to use the desktop iTunes app with my iPhone: I create rehearsal playlists from MP3s for upcoming set lists with my worship band (I’m a drummer for Bellevue Presbyterian Church). I listen to the playlist for the coming Sunday throughout the week to get the tunes into my head. On Windows Phone I could download the practice tracks to a computer (that’s any Windows computer, mind you – sometimes my laptop, sometimes my work desktop, sometimes my home desktop) and copy the folder for that week’s songs directly onto my Lumia by drag-and-dropping them just as if the phone was a portable hard drive. I can then create the playlist on the phone and reorder the songs as needed.

With my iPhone that’s not possible. For whatever reason Apple thinks that 1 person = 1 computer, so you can only copy songs onto your phone from a single installation of iTunes. Right now I’ve got that set up as my work desktop since about 60% of the time I do my playlist creation during lunch on Mondays. Further, there’s no way to get music onto your phone other than via the iTunes app, so I have to do the playlist creation and sync operation via iTunes. I’m getting used to these limitations, but IMHO Windows Phone makes this scenario a hell of a lot easier.

Other iOS notes

Like I said above, I’ve generally been very pleased with iOS versus Windows Phone 8.1, even though I think of all the topics I cover in this write-up this area is the one where I’ve had the most negative experience. It’s not bad enough to make me want to go back, especially with the superior hardware and app ecosystem, but herein lies the biggest opportunities for Apple to make enhancements and for Microsoft to better support our customers on iOS.

It should be noted that I also gave up the ability to VPN into the Microsoft network from my phone since Microsoft IT requires some pretty complex encryption configurations that the iPhone doesn’t support (it can to basic VPN, so odds are you’re covered as long as you don’t work for MS). Frankly I used this all of 3 times on my Windows Phone, and that was just to approve a trivial request in an internal web app. I’m not missing the ability to VPN at all.

One other feature I do genuinely miss is incoming text messages automatically triggering Cortana to read the message and let me respond via voice-to-text. That’s SUPER helpful when you’re driving. I can get nearly the same functionality by reaching for my phone and holding down the Home button to invoke Siri, then asking to read new texts, but it would be great to have a setting toggle somewhere to automatically jump into “You’ve got a new message from John Doe, do you want me to read it?” I for one would turn it on, and from my searching online a lot of other folks would too.


This is where I’m going to start sounding like an iOS fanboy a bit. I’ve got some criticisms to be sure, but the app ecosystem on iOS is so far ahead of Windows Phone it’s not even funny. This isn’t news to anyone either. Honestly this was the tipping point for me in deciding to move away from WinPhone to iPhone – I was tired of not having access to interesting and relevant apps. I’ve always been a gadget geek (see phone history above), and frankly being on Windows Phone meant that I was locking myself out of a flourishing ecosystem that I really wanted to play in. I also wanted to be able to deposit a check at my bank without leaving home – that’s just too damn cool!

The other part of the app equation is the realization that I’m a consumer when it comes to a smartphone, not a pure business user. Even though I was smart enough to point out that obvious combination to BlackBerry more than a decade ago, somewhere along the way I forgot. Or the Microsoft culture made me forgo cool shiny new toys to support our own offerings. Or more likely both. My point is I wanted to have access to the awesome apps everyone talks about, not the stale feature-stripped versions that get published to the Windows Phone marketplace – if at all. As one of my coworkers put it just this afternoon, “I put up with app my friends talking about this cool Instagram thing for over a year before it ever showed up on Windows Phone.” Lame.

I’m going to break down the apps I’ve been using by area to help organize my thoughts.

Business functionality (email, contacts, calendar)

The built-in apps for Mail, Calendar, and Contacts are actually quite good. The biggest issues I’ve had are with contacts (as noted above in the iOS Experience section). I’m using all 3 as my daily drivers and am quite please with each. The UI for calendar is especially nice and easy to read, but I’ve found the accept/decline flow confusing as to whether I’ve actually accepted or not. Contacts work smoothly and, as discussed above, let me overcome issues generated by my data sources (Outlook.com and Exchange). I do the vast majority of my email and calendar work on my desktop via the full Outlook client, but I’ve been very pleased with my ability to quickly triage email and check my calendar. I still wish Contacts would pull from my full Facebook and LinkedIn lists though.

I of course also have Microsoft’s OWA for iPhone app installed so I can access DRM-restricted emails. I thought at first I’d use this app as my regular email client for business email, but it’s far too clunky. The calendar and contact UI is complete crap, and contact sync doesn’t seem to reliably work to the phone’s main address feed. While the contacts list is supposed to be able to show up in the main contacts app, the calendar completely lacks that integration point – meaning that if you run multiple calendars (work, home, travel, birthdays…) you’d have to check multiple apps to see if you’re busy or not. Not functional. I ended up connecting my phone directly to Exchange for contacts … then calendar … and finally email. I really don’t use the OWA app unless I have to.

I’ve tried Acompli as well (Microsoft actually just bought them) and it’s a highly-functional app as well, though I found I can’t adapt to it’s “we’ll show you what we think is important and file other messages elsewhere” feature. That’s why I have inbox rules set up on my Exchange server for – to filter all that crap out. I do like their “hovering undo” UI that lets you quickly restore an email that you accidentally swiped into the trash and I wish the regular Mail app had that.

One note with all 3 of these mail apps: I’ve always had one complaint with emails sent from folks on iPhones – the mail app ruins formatting in email threads with text showing up as Times New Roman 12pt. I’m picky – and that font looks like crap in email. I always thought it was the default iOS mail app screwing up, but I discovered both the OWA app and Acompli do the same thing. After a little digging I found the problem isn’t necessarily these apps, but rather the Outlook desktop client itself. It figures – Outlook’s HTML rendering engine is notoriously horrid. If you’re like me and want to fix this check out this great post on how to do it.


On the average day my 1-way commute is about 45 minutes … less if I skip the morning rush and stop for breakfast instead. 😉 To pass the time I listen to a number of different podcasts, including The Nerdist, Radiolab, The Alton Browncast, Stuff You Missed in History Class, and a few other one-offs. I started off using the built-in podcast app that comes with iOS and was pretty pleased. It downloads new episodes, let’s me easily manage subscriptions, read/unread, etc. I was also impressed with the cloud sync feature that lets me listen in the car and then pick up in the exact same spot from my iTunes desktop app, and vice versa. NEETO! I used it twice.

The pain came when I tried to listen to podcasts at 1.5x speed. My wife taught me this trick on Windows Phone – you can listen to people talking at 1.5x speed and still clearly understand what’s being said. Plus you get through an hour podcast episode in about 45 minutes. GENIUS! But the Podcast app that comes with iOS can’t handle producing a clear audio track at anything other than 1x. There’s some bug that generates a horrible “warble” in the playback that’s just on the edge of annoying at 1.5x, impossible to deal with at 2x, and downright laugh out loud funny at .5x speed. This was true via the internal speaker, headphone jack, and Bluetooth streaming.

I searched for this issue online and couldn’t find any discussion of it anywhere. I wondered if I had a bad device (perhaps something’s screwy in the processor or sound chip) so I stopped by my local Apple Store in Bellevue, WA. After a brief wait I got hooked up with their resident podcast expert who didn’t even know that feature existed. When I reproduced the issue he laughed and said, “oh you’re using the built in Podcast app – that thing is shit!” Heh. He was able to reproduce the problem on his device so he pointed me to http://apple.com/feedback (which I used) and then made some recommendations on alternative apps.

I’ve been using Overcast for the past week or so and love it. It has a cloud sync feature as well, though I haven’t tried the web playback function yet (not sure I will – I need music when I’m working – I tend to zone out voices and I subscribe to podcasts to actually hear them). The nice thing with Overcast is that cloud-based service is what’s checking for new episodes, not the app, so this should save battery life. Best yet it’s got a multi-speed playback feature with a granular slider bar that lets you hone in on exactly how fast you want to listen. I’ve settled in on 1.4x. The UI is a touch confusing at first without a clear option to mark an episode as listened to or not (something important when rebuilding your subscriptions), but I quickly figured it out. To get some of the advanced features there’s an in-app purchase of $5, but frankly I think the app is worth it. I’m more than willing to support great independent devs – that’s how I originally met Dare Obasanjo. I used his RSS Bandit desktop app way back when, provided feedback, struck up a relationship over email, privately reported a massive security hole in a newly-launched Microsoft online service, and eventually leveraged that into an interview and job at Microsoft. Networking at its finest.

Anyway, ditch the built-in Podcast app and use something else. My vote is for Overcast.

Microsoft Office

Word and Excel are good on iOS, and OneNote is especially fantastic (OneNote has a solid 5 star rating on the App Store!). WAY better than the versions provided on Windows Phone. That’s a shame, but it tells me that the Office group is investing in apps where the users are … just like other developers in the mobile app ecosystem. Catch 22 anyone?

I don’t use it on my mobile device much (on purpose), but even the Lync app is far easier on the eyes and highly functional on iOS.

I mentioned OneDrive earlier – it’s very similar to the Windows Phone version, but that’s a good thing. It can do most everything you want it to … well, there’s not much of a feature gap between platforms, though there are a number of OneDrive features I wish would launch (hi again Jason – you have my list!). I use the OneDrive app to back up my photos to my OneDrive account and then sync to my various PCs. iPhone pictures end up in the same folder my Windows Phone pictures so my workflow is exactly the same. The big bummer for picture backup is that I have to remember to launch the app every once in a while so it can upload those pictures. On WinPhone that happens in the background, but on iPhone the OneDrive app has to be in the foreground. This is obviously a first party vs. third party feature gap that likely won’t be closed; photos are uploaded in the background just fine on iPhone if you’re using iCloud. I can live with it, though.

Camera app

The iOS camera app really whips the llamas ass (that’s a good thing). It does the essentials, makes important settings easy to change (flash on/off, HDR on/off, front/rear lens) and has some really awesome features like easy high-quality panorama pictures (the Lumia panorama app always gave me fits) and allows you to do slow-mo or time lapse videos. I know there are some other, fancier camera apps out there that would let me do all sorts of other incredible things like mess with exposure and F stops, etc., but for me if I’m taking a pic with my phone I just want it to be quick and easy. If I want a pro-quality image I’m busting out my prosumer-grade Nikon DSLR.

By contrast, while most of the same features (and more) exist on the Lumia camera app, that UI is just too cluttered. By contrast I think it gives you too much control and can be overwhelming. It also lacks built-in support for panorama photos and slo-mo videos aren’t available at all. Interestingly the Lumia camera app, assuming you download it from the Store, is way better than the overly-spartan default WinPhone app. The iOS offering feels like a good middle ground.

I won’t rehash the camera hardware discussion above, but it’s relevant to read if you skipped it.

Social networking

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. are all far superior experiences on iOS. Because of the much larger user base of the platform these apps are getting new features quite often. Facebook has a standing 2-week release cycle. On Windows Phone these apps are getting updated a handful of times per year and simply don’t have feature or quality parity. This is again the central catch 22 of the Windows Phone platform: developers have a tough time justifying the return on investment for a third platform (behind Android and iOS) when the user community is so small.

Other apps I frequent

These are some of the other apps I find myself using at least several times a week, if not daily.

  • Instagram – on par with the Windows Phone app, surprisingly, though it did take over 3 years from the service’s launch for even an official app to reach beta on Windows Phone. For the record, the app was last updated 9 months ago as of this writing (3/22/2014) and still isn’t out of beta mode. That’s just sad.
  • Spotify – my wife and I share a number of playlists between each other. As a 2-musician household, we love having access to all sorts of music from around the world. And no, we’re not missing Taylor Swift’s collection.
  • Waze – crowd-sourced mapping and traffic data. This is available on Windows Phone but lacks many of the social features, which is a shame (Google bought Waze and killed off development on WinPhone). It’s fun to earn points while you drive, fix the map yourself when you need to, and report traffic incidents or disabled vehicles to look out for. I’ve found it offers better traffic-based route suggestions than my car, which also gets traffic data sent to it. Waze also lets you share your drive with contacts so they can see where you are along the route and when you’ll get there. Oh, and you can look up destinations from your contacts, Facebook events, calendar entries, Waze’s own database, or the web.
  • MyRadar and Weather Underground – I’m a weather geek. These are great apps. The WU app’s user interface is a bit dated, but it provides access to the NOAA scientific forecast discussion which I love to read and can be quite funny at times. [pushes glass back up nose and adjusts suspenders]
  • MSN Apps: News, Money, Sports – these are great apps and I’m happy to see them launch recently on iOS. The News app especially curates articles from many different sources. I also use USA Today’s app as well as NBC News.
  • Flipboard – another late entrant to the Windows Phone ecosystem. I’m trying to work this into my app rotation more and haven’t used it as much as I’d like to. It’s another great news aggregator, but unlike the MSN app where “they” curate the feed for you, with Flipboard you tell it keywords, topics, and sources to track and then using that data it builds your feed.
  • LastPass – password management platform that stores your password library in the cloud as an encrypted blob (they don’t have the key and cannot decrypt). I use desktop browser plug-ins for LastPass as well. This is also on Windows Phone, but here on iOS you can authenticate to the app with Touch ID instead of your password if you so desire (way faster – you desire!).
  • ESPN SportsCenter – another app also on WinPhone, but somehow the UI on iOS just feels so much more polished and smooth.
  • Personal finance
    • Mint – great financial summary and reporting tool. Took forever to show up on WinPhone and isn’t nearly as polished or feature rich there. Have you heard that before?
    • Amex – account info and alerts, Apple Pay integration, Touch ID app authentication. Doesn’t exist on Windows Phone
    • my bank – no I’m not saying on the Internet where I bank, but suffice to say it’s one of many institutions that doesn’t have a Windows Phone app. I love depositing checks from my couch!
    • Starbucks – I live in the Seattle area. Duh.
  • Amazon Fresh – we use Amazon Fresh for grocery delivery. This app is actually easier to use than their website and makes putting our next order together super-easy. Not available on WinPhone.
  • UPS Mobile – links with my UPS My Choice account to show me what’s on the way to our house … most comes from Amazon. Not available on WinPhone.
  • TripIt – Great service if you travel a bunch (I don’t for work, but 2015 is shaping up to be a busy year on the personal travel front for our family). Technically there’s a WinPhone version of this app – last updated in March of 2012.
  • Skype – have it because before running the address book service I spent 4+ years running the Messenger service platform, and Messenger merged with was replaced by Skype (back-end service is still the same). The Messenger integration into Windows Phone 7 and 8 was awesome and blended into the same “messaging” app as SMS text messaging. Unfortunately Messenger was removed from the messaging app in Windows Phone 8.1 and not replaced with Skype. With Messenger my wife and I could seamlessly migrate a conversation between the Messenger app on a computer and Cortana voice/text interaction in the car; all that broke down with Skype. If I uninstalled the Skype app on my iPhone I probably wouldn’t miss it, and I probably need to replace it on my home screen dock with something I use more often. I’m not convinced this app always stays connected to the cloud and that I’d get notified if I got an IM or call if I hadn’t run the app recently. That probably corresponds to the horrible rating in the App Store.
  • Xfinity Home – pretty cool to be able to manage our home security system from anywhere. Not available on WinPhone.
  • Xfinity Connect – voicemail on the go and I can technically place/receive home phone calls from anywhere. Way better than Vonage’s crappy iOS app (and non-existent WinPhone app). We’re currently migrating our home phone back to Xfinity.

There are a few others I’ve installed and use from time to time, but they’re specialized and not broadly relevant so I’ll leave them out.



As you can tell I didn’t return my iPhone 6 within the 14 day return window. Please know I have done that before – most notably with a 2004 Windows Mobile device that didn’t even make it 8 hours in my possession before I packed it back up to return – the manufacturer and reseller weren’t happy. It was a piece of crap.

Like I opened with lo all those many words ago (8000 or so), I really want to support Windows Phone and see the platform succeed. Hell, I’m not just an Microsoft employee but a shareholder as well. But I have to face facts – Windows Phone isn’t where I should be right now. I’m not giving up on Windows Phone like Tim Warren did (great read over on The Verge by the way), but for me I have two bigger picture reasons for moving to, and staying with my new iPhone 6:

1. Microsoft is only going to be successful if we provide awesome experiences on every platform our users want to use. That’s not always going to be Windows. To help support that sea change I can use another platform but still use Microsoft apps and services. Not just use – test, debug, and provide constructive feedback to the product teams. Dogfood.

2. I’m a tech enthusiast and want to be on a platform that is “getting the love” from developers and services everywhere. After 4 years and slow, incremental, but of course meaningful, growth I just don’t see the Windows Phone platform as hitting that critical mass anytime soon. It’s a great platform if you just want to have solid essential functionality and have a “cover the bases” app ecosystem. There are a LOT of people in markets all over the world who that brand placement targets and who are okay with flagship devices effectively stagnating while low-end phones that skimp on features proliferate. I wish Windows Phone every success in that marketplace. I’m not in that target market.

What this guy is, for at least the next year if not longer, is a happy iPhone user in the heart of Redmond.



PS – yes that’s a Lego caricature portrait on my wall. 🙂

Panama Canal Time Lapse Video

May 24, 2013 2 comments

My wife Alicea and I just took one of the best vacations ever – 2 weeks on the Disney Wonder cruise ship from Miami to LA via the Panama Canal, with stops at Disney’s Castaway Cay in the Bahamas, Cartagena, Puerto Vallarta, and Cabo San Lucas.  HIGHLY recommended if you get the chance!

The focus of the cruise was of course the transit of the Panama Canal from the Atlantic/Caribbean side to the Pacific.  We made the crossing on Sunday, May 12, 2013 and I rigged up a camera on our balcony to capture the event.  Check it out!


I’ve had a few folks ask how I did this, so here’s the rundown…


  • Microsoft LifeCam Studio – I was hoping to take 1080p quality pictures, but ended up taking 720p pics due to processing power on the laptop I was using (more about that below); the biggest benefit of this camera over the LifeCam Cinema is it has a tripod mount receiver to screw it to a stand
  • Joby GorillaPod GP3 – flexible tripod that’s sized for our Nikon DSLR (way overkill for a webcam, but I didn’t want to buy a single-use device)
  • Joby BH1 Ball Head w/ Bubble Level for GP3 – allows you to adjust the angle of the camera independently from the flexible tripod, which is critical for fine-tuning the picture direction and level without compromising the security of the legs gripping the railing
  • USB 2.0 extension cable – I knew I didn’t want my laptop exposed to the elements, so I got a long cable to snake through the door to our veranda.
  • Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch Ultrabook – I was originally hoping to run the camera from my Microsoft Surface RT, but the LifeCam Studio isn’t supported on the Windows RT platform. So I brought my work laptop: Intel Core i5-3427U 1.8GHz, 4GB RAM, 180GB SSD
  • Disney Wonder – DCL’s second “Magic-Class” ship: 11 decks, 965 feet long, 106 feet wide, 83,338 gross tons, 5 main engines producing 78,000 horse power, max speed 23 knots (26.5 mph), launched in 1999
  • Panama Canal – infrastructure used to allow ships to pass between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans without going around the southern tip of South America (saves ~8000 miles of travel); ~48 miles long channel (ocean to ocean), 3 locks up – 3 locks down, 85 feet above sea level


  • Webcam Timelapse from TNL Enterprises – free app that can both capture the pictures from the camera over time and compile them into an AVI video file
  • Windows Movie Maker from Microsoft – free app part of the Essentials Suite used to add music and onscreen text to the video

Concept and Testing

There are effectively two levers you can “pull” for a time lapse video: picture capture rate and the final video’s frame rate.  The capture rate is probably the one you will want to play with the most (see discussion below).  I left the video frame rate at the Webcam Timelapse default of 15 frames/second.  It’s ever so slightly more choppy than Hollywood movies (24 fps), TV broadcasts (30 fps), or your computer screen (60 fps or better for gaming), but with time lapse video everything is choppy so I don’t think it matters.

The length of your movie is just math:
duration of event (minutes) / captures per minute = total number of frames
total number of frames / frames per second = seconds of video

So if you take 4 hours of an event and take a picture every 10 seconds, then render a video at 15 frames per second, your final movie will be 1 min 36 sec long.
4 hrs = 240 mins
captures per min = 6    (60 seconds in a minute / 10)
240 min * 6 cpm = 1,440 pictures
1,440 frames / 15 fps = 96 seconds of video

The biggest point of advice I can make is to do some test videos before you try to capture your big event.  Make sure your webcam drivers are installed and your app can see/use the device.  Figure out how big each picture will be and ensure you have enough hard drive space to save them all.  Make sure you have line power or enough battery to last the full event you want to capture and make sure you have a way to disable any sleep timers your computer or OS may have.

For your test videos, play with the frame capture rates (how many seconds between pictures) to get something that’s both smooth and not too slow.  If you’re watching flowers open taking a picture every second is too fast, but if you’re shooting boats moving in a harbor capturing a frame every minute is likely way too slow.  There’s also the frame rate you use for the playback of all those shots to factor in to how fast people will see time pass in your movie (and how long it is).

I hooked everything up at home before we even left Seattle to make sure the apps and drivers were all in order.  I discovered then that I couldn’t run the webcam at full resolution because it kept grabbing lots of garbled or black frames.  The specs for the camera say you’ve got to have a quad-core processor to do 1080p video and my laptop is a dual-core, but I thought I’d be okay since I was taking stills.  I’m not sure if it’s the time lapse software, drivers, or combination, but the 1080p was not working well.  Perhaps the camera is slower to initialize 1080p and ever picture captured is a fresh “initialization” since I’m taking stills and not video??? Either way, the 720p setting looked just fine and in the spirit of not freaking out during vacations I just rolled with the punches.
Winking smile

We had a port of call in Cartagena, Columbia (beautiful city by the way) a couple days before the Canal crossing and a cargo ship pulled in next to our berth so I decided to set up the camera right and play around.  I’m glad I did since for that video I captured a frame every 15 seconds, which turned out to be a bit too coarse as I evaluated the output.  I tweaked the capture settings down to every 5 seconds and that looked perfect – that’s what I used through the Canal.  You can see this test video below.  15 seconds was great for some stuff (clouds, the big cranes moving along the wharf, the incredibly slow opening of the cargo doors opening on the ship), but it largely missed the tugboat going in and out a few times. The last ~2 seconds of this movie are fames every 5 seconds, and you can noticeably see the motion get smoother.

That’s actually an interesting point with the rig and method I used here – I can’t change between time-lapse and real-time in the final movie unless I sit with the computer and tweak the capture rate on the fly.  Ideally I’d love to capture everything in real time and then speed it up for large swaths of time.  That would have let me have more time to annotate some things onscreen in the Canal video (like the Chagres river followed quickly by Noriega’s prison), or use real time video at the start/end of the video.  But hey, I did all this for <$150 in hardware and free software; you get what you pay for!

My Setup

DSC_0939I set up my camera the night before we started our Panama Canal crossing to make sure I could get the sight line and horizon adjusted properly with daylight (we started the crossing before sunup) and to make sure the camera was acclimated to the outside conditions.  If you haven’t cruised in warmer climates before you don’t know the “joy” of waiting 20 minutes for your camera lens to acclimate to the high heat and humidity of outside from your cool and dry inside stateroom (it instantly fogs up).  Here’s an attempt to take a picture of a tugboat at the entrance of the Canal with our DSLR before the lens had acclimated.

DSC_1267Our stateroom on The Wonder was 8080 – nice and high on the port (left) side towards the back.  It’s also a 1br Concierge Suite that we scored as an upgrade when we checked in, but that’s a different story.  The nice thing for our purposes was that it has a double-veranda (essentially it’s two rooms side by side) so we had plenty of room to hang out on the deck and take pictures with our regular camera and stay out of the way of our time lapse rig.

As you can see, I used the Joby GorillaPod to get a nice and secure hold on the railing and then leveraged both the Ball Head and the webcam’s own “foot” to adjust the picture angle.  I actually wish the webcam’s foot wasn’t adjustable – it would have been easier to just tweak the ball joint and not accidentally move the camera itself; it took me quite a few tries to get the horizon fairly flat (and it’s still just slightly off).  If I had to do it all over again I’d want to find some sort of extension pole that would have allowed me to get a bit more out over the railing to maybe see down to the water line (there’s only 2 feet of clearance on either side of the ship in the locks!).

I knew from my testing in Cartagena that I wanted to use 5 frames per second max quality; the Webcam Timelapse app has some sliders for compression and image quality – I just maxed everything out.  I got the software settings dialed in, put my laptop to sleep, and set my alarm for 5:00a (the captain said that was about the time we’d be hauling up the anchor and heading towards the first lock).  As soon as my alarm went off all I had to do was power up my laptop, run the USB cable outside, plug in the webcam, and click the “start capture” button.  If you do this make sure you carefully route the USB cable through the door jam to optimize getting as best a seal as possible to keep the cold air in and hot air out at the same time you don’t break your USB cable.  The Disney ships use sliding doors so it was pretty easy to do if you let the cable hang vertically as you close the door.

The Webcam Timelapse app has a nice video monitor window that opens during capture so I could validate what the camera was seeing.  Note: it’s not super obvious, but you can resize that window.  After everything was up and running I took our DSLR and went up on the top deck to take pictures of the locks, etc.  Alicea went back to sleep.  Smile  The app ran all day without a hitch and captured 8,431 frames from 5:09a through 5:03p, or about 3.6GB (350KB to 550KB per picture).

Before I did anything else I made a complete copy of the frame capture folder and marked it as read-only.  Call me paranoid.  Then, with the Webcam Timelapse app still open, I ran through the convert to video flow.  It only writes .AVI files; there’s another quality slider (again, full up) and a frame rate selector (15 fps is default).  Please note this app doesn’t prompt you if you use the same file name as an existing file – use extreme caution and make sure you don’t overwrite a video file!  It took about 20 minutes for my laptop to render the movie, but when it was done I had a 3.77GB AVI file.  I dumped that on a USB stick and brought it and my Surface to dinner to show off – big hit!

Once we got home from the cruise I created a project in Windows Movie Maker and imported the AVI file in along with a couple tracks from MUTEMATH (awesome band by the way, if you’ve never heard them).  I also annotated the video with onscreen text with content sourced from our fantastic onboard lectures during the cruise by Capt Ken Pucket, a docent/narrator who came onboard with the pilot and spoke through the day on the PA system on deck, and a few reference tidbits from Wikipedia.  The final movie was bounced down in .MP4 format (693MB) and uploaded to YouTube (where I finally learned how to unblock a movie that has licensed songs in it – though unfortunately Warner Brothers blocks mobile devices from accessing the video as a result … whatever).


I think that’s about it.  This project actually got me pretty interested in doing more time lapse movies.  I too another one on the cruise of a sunset as we sailed from Puerto Vallarta to Cabo San Lucas, but the auto-adjust features on the webcam software kind of killed a lot of the colors there.  It’s still pretty cool though – check it out!

We’ve got an older Nikon D40X DSLR that I want to see if I can can run directly from a computer so I can better control color, focus, etc.  We’ve got a great view of Mt. Si from our bedroom and some beautiful sunsets from time to time – looking forward to experimenting!

Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions in the comments.


Final Stats

Panama Canal Transit video:

  • 8431 frames (3.59GB)
  • raw video length: 9:22 (3.77GB)
  • edited video length: 9:59 (693MB for YouTube 720p MP4, 1.6GB for 1080p)

Panama Canal traversal:

  • 04:53 – anchor aweigh (up)
  • 05:09 – video capture started
  • 06:10 – vessel entering Gatun Locks
  • 07:45 – vessel leaves Gatun Locks
  • 08:31 – let go anchor (we were “holding” for traffic to clear the Pacific side of the canal)
  • 09:38 – anchor aweigh, continue crossing
  • 13:53 – vessel entering Pedro Miguel Lock
  • 14:38 – vessel leaves Pedro Miguel Lock
  • 14:51 – vessel entering Miraflores Locks
  • 15:51 – vessel leaves Miraflores Locks
  • 16:55 – start of sea voyage (pilot departs the ship)
  • 17:03 – passed sea bouy marking end of channel (video capture stopped)

Cruise details:

  • Fuel oil consumed: 444,300 gallons (main engines)
  • Diesel oil consumed: 1,663 gallons (generators during shore days)
  • Fresh water consumed: 3,127,608 (created by onboard desalinization plant)
  • Total nautical miles: 4,479
  • Departure: 6 May 2013 16:58 – Miami, FL, USA
  • Day 1: Disney’s Castaway Cay, The Bahamas
  • Day 2: at sea
  • Day 3: at sea
  • Day 4: Cartagena, Columbia
  • Day 5: at sea
  • Day 6: Panama Canal crossing
  • Day 7: at sea
  • Day 8: at sea
  • Day 9: at sea
  • Day 10: at sea
  • Day 11: Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
  • Day 12: Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
  • Day 13: at sea
  • Day 14/Arrival: 20 May 2013 06:15 – Los Angeles, CA, USA

The end is the beginning

September 14, 2012 4 comments

What a long day.  Today I closed a chapter in my career and started writing the next.

As many of you know for the last 4+ years I’ve been on (or leading) the ops team for the Windows Live (aka MSN) Messenger server platform.  In the last year we’ve also launched the Windows Notification Service that powers live tiles and messages delivered to modern apps on Windows 8.  And oh by they way we’ve also leveraged our Messenger platform to power Skype

What a wild ride and a lot of work.  I’m both incredibly proud of the products we’ve delivered and continually humbled by the amazing talent that I get to call my friends and peers at work.  I want to extend a huge thanks to everyone on the Messenger/WNS team for making the last 4 years so enjoyable, especially Seth and Curtis for giving me a shot at it in the first place and mentoring me along the way.  I’ve made some great friendships that I will always cherish.

That being said, the great news is that I’m not going too far!  Moving forward I’ll be leading the service engineering team powering the address book, account profile, and social network feeds that light up your Microsoft Account across nearly every major property and device Microsoft offers. 

No pressure.  Winking smile

But between now and Monday I’m a free man! I’m not on call for my old team, I’m not ramped up on my new team, and I’ve unsubscribed from all the email lists I don’t need to be on anymore. I don’t think my phone will know what to do without all those emails flooding in. Time to relax and celebrate my son’s first birthday this weekend! 

Onwards and upwards to new challenges!

Categories: job, Microsoft, Personal

Starting over: being a geek

December 18, 2011 Comments off

I’ve always identified myself as being a geek.  I’m highly technically oriented, I love computers and took that avenue for my career, I’m a passionate musician, and I can be a little socially awkward if not shy towards situations and people I don’t know.

But maybe I’m a highly-functional geek since I also love sports and “back in the day” used to play basketball, and even played a season each of organized football and baseball.  On weekends in the Fall you’re very likely to find our TV tuned to a football game, be it college or NFL.  I’m also able to force myself to work through times when I need to be social for business, etc.

Worse for my geek creds, If you want me to build you a computer I find that a daunting task with too many options; I’d rather buy a Dell or HP box than build my own.  I’ve never gotten into some of the more popular geek/nerd TV shows; I’ve seen the Star Trek movies but never religiously watched all the TV series.  I’ve played D-and-D once in my life (back when I was 12 or so), and didn’t quite get what all the fuss was about.

But lately I seem to be reconnecting with the geek/nerd roots I’ve never had.  My wife Alicea has me reading a massive historical fiction series (Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander novels) and I’m loving it.  I’ve been spending time on some home tech projects like running network cables through the walls, upgrading our NAS, a power supply on our Media Center PC, and planning some other big projects.  I’ve started exposing our daughter Kaitlyn to the Star Wars movies – she loves them.  And I’m finally starting to get into Dr. Who.

The Who I remember from growing up were the episodes broadcast on PBS here in the States in the 80’s.  They had crappy production quality (even for that time) and just seemed way too weird.  But over the last year or so I’ve been periodically listening to Chris Hardwick’s Nerdist Podcast, and Chris is nothing if not a complete Whovian.  On top of that, over the last 3 months of being home with our newborn son, Alicea has been blowing through all the modern Dr. Who episodes on Netflix – and I’ve seen a few of them and loved it.

Today is a turning point.  When we got home from church I had a serious debate on whether to put on the Seahawks game or starting watching more Dr. Whos (I started watching the modern series yesterday with Kaitlyn).  Football won for a little while, but Dr. Who is on now.  Maybe we’ll watch some more football later – maybe not.

So it seems this is the season of rediscovering my geek roots.  Let’s build a computer and watch nerdy shows.  Will it last?  I’m not sure, but I hope so.  This body’s done playing sports. Smile

Categories: Personal Tags: , , ,

Personality test

April 10, 2011 Comments off

My wife just sent me a link to a personality test.  You can take it too: http://www.hypnoid.com/psytest2.html

This is one of the weirdest tests I’ve ever taken – it shows you a bunch of shapes and asks you questions that are not related to those shapes, but your answers are to choose between the shapes.  Sounds bogus, right?  Well, I think it nailed me pretty darn well.  WEIRD!

Here are my results…

Verbally and mentally fluid, you are refreshing and illuminating to those around you. This is occasionally somewhat discounted by the obvious pleasure that you take in exercising your mental acuity. Although generally peaceful you can often take a verbally aggressive tact in relations with the world, which can often be misunderstood by those around you. Innovative in the extreme, you can often think yourself right out of the correct answer to a given problem. Many times you are referred to as your own worst enemy. You tire very quickly of routine and so make poor clerks or administrative help. You also have no respect for authority and little patience for those you regard as inferior, most especially those in charge. Experimentation is your watchword and can occasionally lead to experience for its own sake and shallow decadence. Your thought can sometimes be scattered and disconnected.

Categories: Uncategorized

An open letter to United Airlines

September 8, 2010 1 comment

I’m so glad this happened today, and not tomorrow (my birthday). Now where did I put that bottle of scotch…

From: Nathan Novak
Sent: Wednesday, September 08, 2010 8:52 PM
To: xxxxxxxx@united.com
Subject: Huge thanks to Louis for saving a horrible United experience

I called into the main United phone line this morning hoping to get our reservation (XXXXX) changed since we’ve booked an extra couple days at Disney World.  I was told by the rep I spoke to that there were no seats available on Dec 14th for awards travel, and that the next available date to change the return flights to was Dec 20.  The agent then asked if I was willing to upgrade to Economy Plus “for $132”.  I pointedly asked 3 times if doing that upgrade meant I could fly on Dec 14, and I was told yes each time.  So I gave a credit card number and the transaction was completed.  I was told the flight numbers were the same with the upgrade – which reinforced the idea that the date had also changed.

I waited a few minutes after getting off the call for United.com to reflect the changes, and when they showed up the return flights were upgraded but were still booked for Dec 12.  The outgoing flights on Dec 3 remained in Economy.  I immediately called back and explained what had happened, and was again told that there were no seats available on Dec 14.  I was told to check back periodically to see if anything freed up.  I asked a few times if there were any regular seats available (not on miles) but I kept getting the same answer.  I also said that I wanted the upgrade backed out since I was misled into purchasing it.  I asked to be transferred to a supervisor but the agent got defensive and assured me he could help; I kept getting the same answers though – they wouldn’t let me even buy 3 seats at regular price. I gave up for the moment and said I’d call back after conferring with my wife.

We decided that we really wanted to fly on Dec 14 since there were some special activities we’d booked (and paid for) at Disney on those extra days, so I called back.  I got the same run-around where I couldn’t get a straight answer.  I asked to be transferred to a supervisor because the agent again was not answering my questions, and after some considerable back-and-forth the agent relented and transferred me … to a dead-end in the system that hung up on me after 25 minutes.

An hour or so later I called yet again.  By that time we had decided to give up on United for the return flight and I had already booked return travel for my family on Alaska Air (non-stop for roughly the same cost as the $150 change fee United would charge us anyway).  I wanted to get my return trip cancelled and the upgrade refunded.  The agent again pushed the “call back again another day” line and I again asked to be transferred to a supervisor, and predictably they didn’t want to do that.  So the agent cancelled the return flights on Dec 12 (I saw them disappear on the website) and then transferred the call to the refunds department.  I explained the situation after I was connected and the rep didn’t know what to do.  She put me on hold for a few minutes, then came on line and said she was going to transfer me to a supervisor.  I was on hold for about 45 minutes … and then the same rep came back on.  She said she couldn’t figure out the phone system or had some technical issue, and then she tried to help again, and then tried to transfer to a supervisor again.  I was on hold for another 15 minutes and someone finally came on, heard what had happened, and said she had credited me $279.

I went to lunch, and when I got back I checked the reservation again and the return flights on Dec 12 were back, and now not only the 12/12 but the 12/3 flights were also upgraded to Economy Plus.  I checked the e-receipt online and found I had been charged twice – once for $279 and then again for $264.  Keep in mind that I was told the upgrade was $132, and of course that the upgrade would also get me on flights for Dec 14.  At that point I was fried, and I had real work to actually get done.

I called again tonight and was eventually connected with Louis.  He was the first person I talked to who could fully speak and comprehend English, and he quickly realized the pickle I was in and vowed to do what he could to help out.  He also let me know the ins and outs of the Mileage Plus travel program (1-way and round-trip flights are the same cost in miles) and that to get a 1-way ticket would be a change fee of $150 (I’m assuming per seat).  Louis worked with his manager to properly note the account with the erroneous upgrade charges and got our tickets put back in Economy and got seats assigned.  He also worked with me to get the security questions answered for the itinerary and let me know how to contact the refunds group via email.

Needless to say this has been a completely horrible experience with United Airlines, and this trip is likely the last I’ll be taking with United.  All that being said, I want to commend Louis for being exceptionally understanding, level-headed, comforting, and helpful.  Louis was remarkably professional and let me know that he’d do whatever he could to ensure things were set straight.  As I’d say to one of the guys on my team, Louis had a “gold star” moment.  Please thank Louis again for me, and share his commendable devotion to customer service with your management chain.



Categories: travel Tags: ,

Slow Going

January 23, 2010 Comments off

It’s not quite 2 weeks since surgery, but I thought it was time for an update.  Things have been going as expected … slowly.

Tuesday morning we saw the surgeon (a day earlier than scheduled due to the ER visits) to get evaluated.  Everything is going really well with my knee.  Just getting from the car to the doctor’s office was the worst part of the trip – I had to go probably 300-400 feet on my crutches.  That’s a long way to go for someone in pain.

They took all of the staples that were holding together the incision – about 20 of them.  This was a bit uncomfortable because a few had started to have my skin grow over them, but it wasn’t too bad.  Most I didn’t feel, and the ones that were the worst just felt like someone was pinching you really hard.

After the staples were out I had a few X-rays taken so the doc could see what’s up.  It was weird being outside of the brace and standing up (with my crutches).  Definitely unnerving and scary.  But it went well and everything is healing inside just fine.  In fact I’ve been very surprised with how well my knee is doing after surgery.  I think if I didn’t have the hematoma causing all the pain and swelling in my lower leg that I’d be absolutely fantastic, and probably back at work.

Unfortunately, I DO have that damn hematoma, and it’s been the source of 80% of my pain and issues.  As long as I’m sitting with my leg up I’m okay.  But as soon as I have to get my foot below my hip-level to stand or sit in the car or whatever, I can literally feel my lower leg swell and it turns into a huge source of pain and discomfort.  The doc said he wasn’t too worried about the hematoma, and that physical therapy (massage, stretching, etc.) will help alleviate that.  That being said, it’s going to add 2-3 weeks onto my recovery.

Because of this extended recovery period it’s going to be a lot longer than expected for me to become independent (I can’t really move without help).  My wife Alicea has been absolutely awesome, but I know she’s had to make a lot of sacrifices for her work and personal time, plus take care of our daughter.  Thankfully my folks are going to be able to come out and stay with us and help out.  They should be here middle of next week (they have a trip to Myrtle Beach this week).  It will be great to see them and have the extra help around the house.  Shhh – don’t tell Kaitlyn.  🙂

I had hoped to be working from home a lot this week, but that didn’t materialize.  My team has been reluctant to task me up with anything, and frankly I’ve been too doped up to be really useful anyway.  I did get a chance to start working through the hundreds of emails that I got and started to make some small contributions though.  Maybe this next week will be better.

Friday (yesterday) was a long day.  It seemed like my pain was worse than it had been and the frustration of my situation really bore down on me.  I missed a dose of pain meds overnight and that just made everything worse.  Mentally it was a very hard day for me and I broke down before Alicea had to go to work.  In the evening me leg was super-itchy and we decided to do some brace-off time to let things air out.  Alicea also gave my leg a massage and put some lotion on to help the dry skin.  In hind sight we probably should be doing that more often to help with the skin and itchiness.

By the time Friday night rolled around we decided to try to get me upstairs.  After 11 nights (and 12 days) on the couch I REALLY wanted to lay down in a real bed.  The problem is that our bedrooms are all upstairs and our stairs have a few steps that are very shallow (tough to maneuver on crutches).  We figured out a solution, though.  I sat on my rear at the bottom of the stairs and Alicea held my bad leg up.  I used my arms to lift me up to the next step up, sat, moved up, sat, etc.  We had to stop a few times because I got so tired, but we finally made it.  Then I had to stand up, but couldn’t figure out how.  I ended up just scooting over to the bed and using the bed frame to get me up.  Not pretty, but effective!

Lying down for the first time in the bed (we have a Tempurpedic mattress) was like being in heaven.  I even got to cuddle with my beautiful bride for a little bit.  Wow, had I missed her.  She’s been so busy and I’ve been in so much pain and out of it that we really haven’t had too many chances to talk or have some “us” time for the past couple weeks.  It was great.

In the morning we figured out how to get me into the tub (we got a shower bench for me to use) and I took a shower.  Ahhhhhhhhhh.

That’s about all there is for now.  Physical therapy starts on Tuesday morning and my parents fly in from North Carolina on Wednesday evening.

Week 1: The Expected and the Unexpected

January 17, 2010 10 comments

It’s been just about a week since I had my patellar realignment surgery on Monday 1/11/2010.  I was hoping to update more often, but I’ve been “busy” with a few things.  But I’ll start from the beginning…

The surgery actually went very well and as-expected.  Well, that’s not true, there was something unexpected – the anesthesiologist offered me a nerve block in my left leg in addition to everything else.  This has never been an option I’ve known about in my previous procedures, and let me tell you: IT’S FRIGGIN AWESOME!  Essentially right before they knock you out they put a nerve block into your hip through an artery (either near the groin or your butt – or in my case it ended up being both).  It doesn’t really hurt at all, but what it does for you is gives you about 12-24 hours of ZERO feeling in your leg.  No pain, and the first day is always the worst!  After we learned of this option it made sense why this surgery is now outpatient, where as in 2001 I stayed 1 or 2 nights.

The weird thing with the nerve block is that you have absolutely NO control over your leg for about a day.  It’s like a dead appendage down there.  But it doesn’t really hurt, so it’s well worth the trouble.

Getting home I realized I forgot to do something – practice with my crutches going up and down the few steps to get from the garage to the house.  Oops.  If it’s been a while since you’ve been on crutches get some practice time in before you go to surgery.  Also make sure to set up where you will be when you get home.  I’ve been on the couch for a week now, but we’ve made it pretty comfortable.

Home after surgery on Monday 1/11/2010Monday night went pretty well.  I didn’t know when the block would wear off so I made sure to keep up with my pain medications, but only at the low-end dosage.  I woke up about the time for a medicine dose and was very sweaty.  I had my wife take my temp and it was 100.5.  I usually run colder than normal, but a minor fever is expected after surgery. 102F fever is the red line for when to call the doc.  I also started noticing some discomfort at the bottom of my calf on my left/surgery leg, but nothing major.  I figured it was just how my leg was propped up so we adjusted some pillows. 

Alicea took Kaitlyn to daycare on Monday morning and while she was gone I was able to get myself to the bathroom without too much trouble – great!  My calf was still hurting though – bummer! The block wore off sometime overnight so I was totally on my Percocet for pain management now, but I was keeping up.  I slept a lot during the day from the pain meds, etc. but every time I woke up I was sweating.  My temp got up to 101.8.  Hmmm – that’s not good.  Also my calf was starting to be more painful than my knee.  HUH?  We did some looking online and started to match some symptoms up with a possible blood clot in my leg.  Pain in my calf when I moved my foot up/down, massive swelling of the calf and foot and toes, and my calf was VERY painful to the touch.

We talked to the surgeon’s nurse, a 24 hour nurse line, and a few other resources and decided that we needed to go to the ER and get this checked out.  The last thing I wanted was a blood clot to break loose in the middle of the night when I was asleep and do some nasty stuff.  On the way to the Swedish ER in Issaquah I started having a bit of pressure (not pain) in my right chest; like someone had their thumb on the right side of my sternum.

The Swedish ER in Issaquah is absolutely fantastic.  If you’re in the area and need an ER I highly recommend you go there.  Staff is very professional, knowledgable, and super friendly.  The ER doc said he was pretty sure I had a clot in my leg as I had all the telltale signs and pain.  They took off my leg brace and wraps and everything looked normal with my incision site – though there had been significant “seeping” of blood into the gauze pads, which is expected.  With the chest discomfort they decided to do a CT Scan with some special radioactive dye in my veins to find any clots.  But none were found.  The ER doc said that was about 98.5% definitive that there was no clot, and that the best thing to do was wait and see what happens.  They put humpty dumpty back together again and said I should see my surgeon or primary care doc again at the end of the week.

Wednesday and Thursday were more of the same … lots of pain in my calf and not too much in my knee.  We got a urinal from the ER on Tuesday so I didn’t have to get up to go #1 any more.  This little piece of plastic is a life saver.  My calf was pretty bad for the pain so I was on max Percocet, to a mostly positive impact on pain.  We also called the surgeon and he said seeing my primary care on Friday was fine, but to keep him posted.  Our scheduled follow-up with him isn’t until this coming Wednesday, 10 days out from surgery.

At my doc’s office (www.villagefamilyclinic.com – Kristina is absolutely an incredible care giver for my family) we unwrapped everything again and found lots more seeping.  I’m not sure if that much on top of what was there at the ER 3 days before was expected, but there were definitely a few spots still seeping a little blood between the staples.

Kristina didn’t think it was a clot anymore since she found my whole leg was swollen and hot, not just my lower extremities.  She called and talked with my surgeon and they decided to put me on a high-powered antibiotic thinking that perhaps there’s some infection deep within the joint system (the incision looks totally fine).  She also wanted me to go on a more powerful pain medication and get an ultrasound of my leg to completely rule out a clot.

Due to scheduling and resource availability we ended up having to go the pharmacy, then get Kaitlyn from daycare, and then roll to Bellevue’s Overlake Hospital for an outpatient ultrasound.  The timing was bad and I missed a dosage of pain meds.  Unfortunately my leg “went downhill fast” with pain and we ended up going to the ER at Overlake first.  They were able to get my pain under control after an hour or two and wheeled me back for the ultrasound.

The ultrasound on my leg was not able to show any blood clots – hurray!  But what they did find was a large hematoma – a pool of blood – between the muscle layers in my calf.  This is likely from internal bleeding after the surgery that made it’s way there via pressure from swelling.  Another possible cause is a tear in the calf.  In fact I talked with the on-call doc from my surgeon’s group today and he said that we’re effectively battling two different injuries now: knee and calf.

There’s not much to do about the hematoma over the weekend.  I’ll be seeing my surgeon or someone from his group most likely tomorrow.  I’ll know more in the morning when I can talk with my doc’s nurse to see what his schedule is like.

Home after 2nd ER visitThe bottom line is that I’m in some minor-ish pain (2-4 out of 10) from my knee and calf as long as I’m lying down with my leg propped up.  If I need to get off the couch as soon as my leg dips below my hip level it feels like someone has lit off a pain grenade in my whole leg; definitely a 10 on the pain scale. 

But these issues are not surprising for me because this was my 4th surgery on my left knee.  The more you mess with the joint the more issues surgery can cause.  If this was my first surgery and just having a patellar realignment I would be doing great, most likely independent for movement within the house and maybe brave enough to go upstairs to sleep in a real bed.  I’d definitely be ready to start working (from home) in the morning to feel like I’m actually still involved in the world out there.

Instead, I’m not sure when I’m going to be okay to work from home.  I’m hoping it will be sometime later this week, but time will tell.  Until then I’m going to be stuck on the couch taking Dilaudid 4-8mg every 6 hours for pain, 800mg of ibuprofen every 8 hours for swelling, and a horse pill of antibiotics every 12 hours.

I’ll try to write another update in a few days.  In the mean time feel free to follow me on Twitter – @nanovak.