Obligatory Blog


Surface RT review update 14 months in

I've had my Surface RT now for 14 months, and wanted to update my earlier review so that I can provide a clearer look at my experience so far.

I will say that I flip flopped many times between using my iPad more and the Surface more in the last 14 months.  I find that it can replace most of what I was using my laptop  for (light word document editing, email, remoting into my work network, etc.) but I still find I prefer the iPad for casual web browsing, Facebook, Twitter,  and games.  I even bought the iPad Air to replace my aging iPad 2.

One thing that is great about the Surface RT vs the iPad is the presence of Flash.  This was the one thing that always sent me back to my laptop / desktop with the iPad, now I can rely on IE in Windows RT to use websites that rely on flash.  IE in Windows RT makes a lot more of the web accessible than with mobile Safari on the iPad.  Having a keyboard attached makes any task requiring typing more than a few words much better.

Many software updates that came out from Microsoft over the last 7 months have improved the usability of Windows RT, but the biggest is the release of Windows RT 8.1 last fall.  The user interaction changes shared with the main build of Windows 8 have made many things easier to accomplish.  I especially like the inclusion of Outlook 2013 in this release.  That makes interfacing with my office Exchange server much more pleasant.

There have also been a lot of updates on the App front as well, including a native first party app for Twitter, an app for my Bank (RBC), the new Skydrive app for RT 8.1 now supports syncing files locally, etc.

On the hardware front, this thing seems very durable, the only issue I had was the felt backing of the type cover keyboard separating at the connection to the tablet.  I happened to be near a Microsoft store while on vacation and they swapped it out for me no problem.  I've had excellent dealings with both the online support and the in person support.  6 months later and the same thing is happening again.  Maybe they've fixed this in the Type Cover 2.

As for my initial complaint about finger prints, they are still hard to fight, but I bought a screen protector that boasted finger print resistance as a feature and this seems to be an improvement over the raw screen.

I do have one warning to folks on data usage, Windows RT and IE 10/11 are for all intents and purposes Desktop browsers, and Windows store apps are not mobile apps, this means that websites and services don't seem to concern themselves with being cautious regarding data usage.  Therefore when tethering to your mobile phone you need to watch your data consumption closely. I was travelling last summer and watched a fair bit of Netflix while tethered to my iPhone, and I burned through my 6GB data plan in the first few days.

I question the long term validity of Windows RT on ARM given the amazing power performance of Intel's newest Haswell processors (9 hours on the 11 inch MacBook Air) I think the Surface Pro 2 is an amazing device, and it makes the Surface RT and Surface 2 a questionable proposition aside from the consideration of cost.

All in all, I do still use my Surface, but more of a laptop replacement than a iPad replacement.


Microsoft Surface RT Tablet Review

Note: This review was written on December 18th, 2012 but not published till July 2nd, 2013... not sure why 🙂

Full disclosure, I received my Microsoft Surface RT as a registration bonus at the DevIntersection conference last week.

I've had the tablet for a week now and I'm trying to use it instead of my iPad 2 as my go to mobile device.  I've had the iPad 2 nearly 2 years now, and I'm still loving it and using it everyday for those 2 years. I'll highlight some of the things that I like about the Surface and the things I miss from my iPad.

One thing to note right off the bat about the Surface is that it has more in common with a full windows 8 laptop than the iPad.

Things I really like about the Surface:

  • The keyboard: I purchased the Touch Cover initially, but after 2 days decided on swapping it for the Type cover.  With the type cover I can type just as fast and accurately as I can on my regular laptop keyboard or Apple Bluetooth keyboard.  There is a reason that these keyboard covers feature predominantly in all Microsoft marketing materials.  It really begs the question as to why it is an add on purchase and not included by default with the device.  To buy a Surface RT without one of the covers wouldn't make sense to me.
  • Full Microsoft Office 2013: While it shipped with a preview version (I suppose the RTM version wasn't available during manufacture) there was an update immediately after initial setup (available on day one for the first purchasers) that upgraded to the full edition.  When I say full Office I mean it, all the capabilities of the desktop edition on a tablet.  There are some drawbacks to it:  it's the Home and Student license by default so no commercial use, it runs in Desktop mode, and not in the same Modern UI that other windows store apps use, the interface while having some touch optimizations isn't particularly finger friendly (luckily the type and touch covers have a touchpad built in for fine control)
  • Kickstand: This is another awesome hardware inclusion in the device, it props the tablet up at just the right angle for typing or watching movies, etc.  The only drawback is lack of adjustment, so for cases when that angle is not perfect, you have no options.
  • Full USB Support: With a full size USB port and software support for many types of USB devices it beats the iPad hands down.  I've tried mice, speakers, thunbdrives, hard drives, and never had a hitch getting any of them to work as expected.
  • Software Development Tools: I've been using Microsoft development tools for years in my current job, and I can apply all my experience, even my web development experience into writing applications for Windows 8 and RT.  This is in contrast to the iPad where I attempted to learn development, but got bogged down in learning new tools and languages.
  • Full Windows Experience: While Windows RT has some differences from regular Windows 8, they are surprisingly few and far between.  Of course the biggest difference is the ARM Processor instead of the x86 processor that windows has relied on for the last 25 years.  This windows is a recompile for ARM and includes everything from Notepad to Regedit, Command Prompt to Windows Explorer, but you won't be able to download and run any software that doesn't either come pre installed, or available for download from the Windows Store.  This is one restriction that I hope Microsoft allows advanced users to bypass.  I would gladly accept the risks and put non store software on my device.
  • MicroSD Expansion: this is big, especially since the Surface's advertised size (32 GB or 64GB) includes the space reserved for the OS, recovery partition as well as the pre installed applications.  This means that out of the box a 32 GB Surface RT has roughly 16GB free space.  Adding a 128GB MicroSDXC card will greatly help that.  There are some limitations such as you can't add media from the card in your libraries by default, with a little command line foo and some poking around you can get Windows to index the card into your libraries.


Things I really don't like about the Surface:

  • Fingerprints: Oh the fingerprints: on the glass, on the back, on the keys of the touch cover, even the power brick is prone to it.
  • Restriction to adding software only from the Store:  I understand Microsofts motives here, one altruistic: Prevent malicious software from running , and one greedy: Force software purchases through the App store model so they get a cut of the sale. As a software developer I can already deploy any code I can compile into a Windows Store app directly to the Surface tablet using the Remote Debugger.  Why not let me go one step further and deploy non Windows Store Apps.  This could be an explicit agreement that I need to agree to.
  • The necessity of using the Desktop mode so often: While I count the full windows experience as a big plus, the need to switch from the Modern Windows Store UI model of all full screen touch friendly applications back to the tried and true windowed desktop application mode is jarring at times. It is almost like having two Operating Systems running at the same time.
  • Speakers: While I pluralized that word (the Surface has stereo speakers, where my iPad has a single Mono speaker) and it should be a plus over the iPad, the sound is lackluster at best.  The max volume is low, and fidelity not so great.
  • Touch sensitive Windows Key on bottom bezel: In a move that cements the fact that the Surface is a landscape centric product where iPad is portrait centric there is a Windows Key (the Surface equivalent to the iPad home button) in the central part of the bottom bezel on one of the long sides of the tablet.  Most unfortunately is how sensitive this button is.  When holding it in your hands it is very easy to strike that button and end up out of your current app and back to the start page.  Luckily a second press brings you right back to where you started.

Things I miss from my iPad:

  • Native Twitter Client: There are third party Twitter clients in the Windows store, but I haven't found one that I would say approaches the Twitter app for iPad.
  • Native Facebook Client: The same goes for Facebook, the best experience on RT so far is the Web version, which is not exactly touch friendly.
  • Mail Client: Windows Mail is preinstalled app on Windows 8 / RT and it's not a bad client for a first effort, I do not feel it has the support and capabilities of the built in Mail App on the iPad
  • iSSH: this app is great, it combines a full ssh terminal client (including tunneling) with a VNC client.  I hope that the developers will port to Windows 8/RT
  • Full Cisco VPN Client: While Windows RT has the same VPN support as Windows 7 / 8, supporting IPsec and PPTP it doesn't support the Cisco specific features that my office uses such as Group Name and shared secret.
  • Citrix Receiver support for older versions: The Windows Store version of Citrix Receiver on Windows 8 / RT does not support older versions of the Citrix server software.  Because you can't install desktop software on RT there is no way to connect.
  • LogMeIn: I use LogMeIn every day for remote access to my various machines. I had hopes that even though there was no native application for LogMeIn on the Surface as there is on the iPad that the web version would just work like it does on Windows 8.  However I was disappointed to find out that another difference between Windows 8 and RT is plugin support for Internet Explorer (and additionally a lack of competing browsers.)


At this point I like the Surface RT very much, and look forward to updating my review as the software situation improves, my usage goes up (or down) etc.



iPad App Review: Notetaker HD

This App was recommended to me by my uncle, an avid writer, and also a recent convert to the iPad. I had been looking for an app to replace the pen and paper notebook I always carried with me at work, I went through a few free options before arriving at Notetaker HD and sticking with it.

Some of the features that really sold me on the app were in no particular order:

  • Ability to add shapes, images, and typed text along side the handwritten notes (see first image)
  • Inovative "Edit 2" mode where you get a palm pilot style writing area at the bottom of the screen that represents a zoomed in portion of the full page. When writing in this area you can wrap around and write long lines of neat and small text. Hitting the return button brings you to the next line starting at your left margin that you have set.
  • Pages of notes can be grouped together to form a sort of running notebool.
  • Annotate PDFs, sure you can do this with GoodReader (another favourite must have app) but with the "Edit 2" mode it is much easier to fill out forms, etc.
  • Export as PDF, you can export 1 or all of your pages to PDF and open them in any other compatible app, or e-mail them.
  • WhiteBoard Mode, it's not officially called that, but when you hook up an external display the application outputs only the contents of your page (an Area which you define) and doesn't clutter it up with the user interface. This will be very usefull for design sessions using a projector, or large TV.

See for detailed description and sample pages.

It is available for $4.99 CDN in the iTunes Store



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New Blog Direction

I'm hoping to change the direction of this blog somewhat, it has had a meandering purpose ever since I first started it on BlogSpot years ago and I want to solidifty it.

It still might be a little disjoint, but so are the interested in my life.

At work I'm a Software Engineer working with Microsoft products such as Visual Studio and ASP.Net, Sharepoint, Biztalk, Windows 7, ADFS, etc. and would like to share some things I learn back to the internet community at large, as I rely on similar help in my day to day job to learn and figure out new and diverse technical skills.

At home I have a varied selection of hobbies and interests as well, from computers to music to woodworking to photography. Here at home my world is Apple centric, between my iMac and Macbook to my array of mobile apple devices including iPods, iPhones, and iPads I'd like to share my experiences and knowledge here as well.

I'm an avid photographer as well, when I get the time to do it. I love being behind the lens making photographs, and though I'm a little behind the times in terms of the latest and greatest equipment I might share a thing now and again if it pops into my head.

Woodworking I use as a way to get away from computers to a certain extent, there is just something great about the making of something with your two hands. Sometimes the woodworking can be combined with the other aspects of my interests, such as the attached image. I made 7 of these last week, of various designs and sizes (some iPad and some iPad 2) and gave them to friends and coworkers who have iPads. I'm actually using one right now and composing this blog post using my bluetooth keyboard and the WordPress app on my iPad. (I adapted them from this post

So I'm hoping to do a fairly regular posting schedule where I might alternate between posting Microsoft technology related posts, Apple related post and whatever else pops in my head. Some of the upcoming posts I know I plan to do are a series of App reviews (iPad and iPhone) and perhaps some hardware reviews of various products I try. I also have a couple technology articles that I hope to finish and post.



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Ipad 2 — don’t panic

An awesome deviantART user made the best lock screen wallpaper for the ipad :


DON'T PANIC iPad Wallpaper by ~haloz3ro on deviantART

In other news I bought an iPad 2... loving it!


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Apple iPhone/iPod Touch Development

I'm starting to teach myself iPhone development... I'm not sure what I'll come up with in terms of Apps, but I've got a few ideas, and an interest to learn.

In order to give myself more motivation I paid to join the developer program.  Now that I have money on the line, I've got to get my but in gear and learn this thing and see if I can't come up with a winning App that'll make a couple bucks.

Thats about it for now, work is at a crunch stage so thats taking up very significant pieces of my day outside my regular hours...



Oh What an Interesting Evening!

So, I had an interesting evening tonight...  I headed down to Christians to meet up with Dave and Ginny, for a couple drinks and some conversation.  I show up a little later than I said I would, and Dave and Ginny had already tucked away a pitcher of Keiths.  As I approach their table I see that they have 2 people sitting with them that I do not recognize.  One of them hands me a glass of beer, a good start to the evening, and I sit down to clear my glasses of condensation.

One of the women gets up and leaves, but I am introduced to the other (the one who handed me a glass of beer) woman.  I assume shes some friend of Dave and Ginny that I had yet to meet, but it turns out Andrea is a stranger who arrived at Christians from the Beer Fest and proceeded to sit at their table and bring a pitcher of beer and a dish of popcorn with her...

A few of her friends arrive and proceed to sit with us, then some more arrive and they decide to head upstairs.  Andrea  proceeds to pick up the remains of her pitcher and head upstairs, with a few "nice to meet you's" along with her circle of friends.  Except one dude who stuck around.  I head to the bar to buy my pitcher for the table, and when I get back our new friend is still sitting down chatting with Dave and Ginny.  He seems like an alright guy, talkative but friendly.  All I remember is he was a townie, not from "Bay the fsck knows where".  Shortly after some of the friends come back down and he's whisked off.

At this point we decide to take over the jukebox and Ginny gets up to put some money in and choose some tunes.  She proceeds to be cornered by one very skeety looking dude with a shaved head, who looked to be mid to late 30's.  He's all in her personal space, and she trys her best to politely converse with him while picking her songs... A few songs (Radiohead, Nirvana, etc.) later we;re having a good time and enjoying some good conversation about music and the strength of lyrical vs. musical driven songs, etc.  we feend to box a time or 2 more getting into some Van Morrison, U2, The Smiths, all good tunes.

All of a sudden our friendly neighbourhood personal space invader plops him self down at our table (I think we were magnets for crazies tonight) he starts hitting on Ginny, and I'm trying to do my best "ignore him and he'll go away" tactic.  he gets a little more serious into the deal when he takes off his coat and sidles up next to her.  She promptly moves closer to Dave, who takes up the "She's mine go the fsck away" defense and I try to ignore him.

Not once, not twice, but 4 times he tries to drink from the glass of wax encrusted coffee beens that had moments before held the tealight candle that had since burned out and been tossed.  Four times, complaining at least once that the "coffee was solid"!  He starts a incoherent train of conversation that jumps from confusing the Jukebox with a VLT (claiming it can be deceptive and take all your money!).  The conversation segues into pokemon (gotta unite the dimensions or something).  I'm chatting on my blackberry with Jared telling him about this crazy dude and trying to ignore him.  He notices that I'm ignoring him and starts talking to Dave and Ginny about me being too serious, which somehow turns to me being a vampire...  Around this point he picks up the pitcher of beer (only a small bit left) and proceeds to drink straight from it... he's so wasted he doesn't give a crap about what he's doing.

All this time he keeps trying to get closer to Ginny and put his arm around her, and Dave is doing his best to play the boyfriend... arm around her, fending off this psycho and she plays the "fall asleep on Daves shoulder" card...  I get tired of the dude and realize the ignore him and he'll leave approach isn't going to work... so I say to Dave and Ginny that it is time to leave...  we get up and make our way to the bar to pay our tabs, quickly leaving the crazy dude behind...

Our last image of him was passed out with his head on the table.

What an adventure, I'm so glad I went out... you never can tell what you're going to find on George St.

A hotdog and a car ride later and here I am writing this crazy story down so I don't forget the details.

Hope your Friday night was as interesting as mine, if not so crazy.

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Big Day

So today was a big day... I woke up to find that the Tax faerie had kindly left my tax return in my bank account... so I promptly used a portion of it to acquire some new gear. I first purchased a new lens, the Nikon 80-200 ED 2.8D, here she is (attached to my film camera, as I'm using my digital to take this snap:
New Lens

It has now become my pride and joy 🙂 I also purchased a new tripod/monopod head (it's barely visible in the above shot) and a monopod.

My gear is now rounding out nicely. I'm going to put the rest of my tax return squarely on my student debts, so as to quickly beat them down.

After my spending spree I went hunting for something to shoot. My hunt took me through Logy Bay, Outer Cove, and Middle Cove. I found icebergs and animals to shoot at all those spots. The first iceberg that I found was at the marine lab in Logy Bay. It's shape reminds me of a cruise ship.

Here are a few shots from today:
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Spring in Newfoundland — RDF

Rain Drizzle and Fog

This has been a very typical spring for St. John's, which means Cold and Wet. Myself and a couple friends (Brian Kidney, and Geoff Holden ) tried to do a little photography yesterday, in the west end of the city (where we work) is was beautifull... when we got to the east end it was blanketed in fog. I got a few shots, however nothing spectacular... We were going to try again today, but the fog is there again.

Here is the album of three shots from yesterday:

CuckholdsCove-7651 (Large)DSC_7652 (Large)DSC_7664_filtered (Large)

Hopefully more photography will happen on the weekend, it's supposed to be nice on Saturday.


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As of yet I haven't had much of an opportunity to get out doing any photography this winter, my last serious outing was late fall just as things were starting to freeze. Last weekend I was out in Kings Cove (in Bonavista Bay), Newfoundland visiting, and spent a couple hours driving around and shooting. I need to make myself find the time to sit down with the computer and plug away at the images and post the good ones.

We've had a very snowy winter, and on the weekends it's hard to get the weather just right to get out the camera. Of course week days are a write off since it's dark when I get home.

I went to Camera 35 the other week with Brian Kidney and Geoff Holden and enjoyed myself. Camera 35 is a photography club that holds it's meetings on the MUN campus. Actually they've now got a fairly permanent arrangement with the School of Medicine to use a class room in the basement of the Health Science Centre. I think I'll probably join, bring some of my photos to get some feedback...

Look for new photo galleries to be posted in the next couple weeks... I need to clean up my home office, and then I'll tackle "cleaning up" the digital side of things 🙂


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