Fondue with friends

This year I will be welcoming in the New Year with friends at home in Manchester. The last year has undoubtedly been a trying year. A year that has seen much change and I welcome all the challenges and change that 2019 will see.

I considered all kinds of recipes and food I wanted to cook for my friends, but a fondue and raclette grill was a clear winner for many reasons. The elves at Amazon kindly delivered an extended raclette grill that includes a fondue pan, grill and twelve raclette grills. I was keen to encourage games and conversation at the table but also have something that would have longevity as with New Year’s Eve, the evening is long. Food that was easy on the washing up was essential, as was the amount of time in the kitchen for me. The fondue and crudités can all be prepped beforehand if not the day before. Additional with the raclette grill and a hot plate for the fondue, the warmth in the food can be maintained throughout the evening. As with a lot of my cooking I really enjoy the research element to recipes and food, finding out what works well and what doesn’t etc but also very much enjoy sharing my recipes.

Fondue and Racelete research.
Fondue and Racelete research.

I wish friends new and old the best of luck for what 2019 brings and I thank you for all that you have done for me 2018.

Food with great friends.
Food with great friends.

Continue reading Fondue with friends

Chicken and vegetable egg fried rice

Last week I enjoyed a lovely Chinese meal out on my birthday in great company. The restaurant was incredible, as was the food. I wanted to eat everything. What I did eat was like nothing else I have had before, but it was the most simple of dishes that really hit my taste buds. A week on and I wanted to make a meal of one of the plates and decided to give Chicken and vegetable egg fried rice a go.

Serves: 2 ½
Prep: 25min
Cook: 15min

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of rice, cooked, drained and still warm
  • 1 large chicken breast, diced
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 spring onions, diced
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp dashi powder
  • 1 tsp crushed chicken stock cube
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 2 tsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method

Heat the wok until hot. Add some oil and once smoking add the eggs. Leave them to whiten before turning and scrambling using a spatula. Add the diced chicken and cook until it is 90% cooked through. Add the carrots and onions and keeping mixing in. Now add the warm rice and break down any large lumps. Now is the time to practice the wok flick!

Add a few pinches of salt and pepper, the garlic, dashi and chicken stock. Once mixed add the unsalted butter and a handful of spring onions. Now add the soy sauce and sesame oil while continuing to combine the ingredients together. Leave to cook for a few more minutes before serving with a sprinkle of spring onions as a garnish topping.

Fried rice ingredients prepared in bowls on a tray ready for cooking
The ingredients can be prepared ahead of cooking
A full plate of chicken and vegetable fried rice
A bowl of chicken and vegetable egg fried rice
Chicken and vegetable egg fried rice

PS the restaurant was called Tattu in Manchester.

Research and Inspiration

Hey friends…I’m back…

My last post was almost two years ago – 7 February 2017. I was writing about SharePoint, Office 365 and me breaking into the scene of IOT, Sonos, HUE and generally hacking around with home automation. These topics have continued to be at the forefront of my world since then and remain close to my heart. And these topics are exactly where I plan to kick things back off!

It’s not to say I’ve had nothing to say, quite the opposite I’ve got a ton to share, but more that I didn’t have the time to post. Excuses, excuses and excuses they are but family, life and work have pulled on me beyond belief. But how have I let almost two years passed?

Well…I’ve had two migration projects. One of them was as badass as they get, taking me back to the world that was SharePoint 2003 for one of the worlds leading banks with an endless amount of complications and customisation’s that we had to unpick and reverse engineer. What a team it was and great friendships formed! Then there is this hugely aspirational and transformational Office 365 Modern Workplace agile project in the heart of the UK government that I continue to lead, and well you could say I am and have been pretty flat out. But that’s just work, it’s been the personal things that have taken their toll the most. Add managing and contributing to two house renovations, relocating from the South of the UK to the North. Then a relationship break-up for all of it to pretty much no longer exist. All that time, energy, DIY, cost and distance you do start asking yourself what was the point? For me, it is quite simple. One beautiful sparkling daughter and a new life outside all of this to create. My daughter is so deserving of all and any of my free time and attention. For all intense and purposes, it has felt like my hands and tongue have been pretty tied up.

For many years I reached certain lows. These last two years included. It is those around me, close and far that I needed the most but during these times I have pushed those I needed the most further away. And for that, I wholeheartedly apologise. For those in similar places. Please talk. However hard you may find it, please reach out to an old friend or family member. You’ll be surprised how many people out there who are willing to listen. A granddad like figure I grew up with also said present me a solution, not a problem when things were going wrong…how his words still stand true. In reflection. I dedicated myself to my family and work commitments too heavily and isolated myself away and alienated my friends and those close to me with silly excuses. I gradually felt that my voice wasn’t worth hearing and that I was somehow less significant than my peers. Slowly this amounts to a horrible feeling of low self-worth and degrades your confidence and any sense of authority massively. Mostly remote working and home renovations in the middle of nowhere often resulted in days passing with little to no contact. This isn’t healthy. Fact. I’m now pushing myself to visit the office more frequently and trying hard to break back into a rhythm of yoga, cycling again and time with friends.

Poppet. A term of great endearment and affection, used to describe in one word all the feelings of warmth, comfort, kindness, generosity, honesty and strength of character you feel every time you are with that person.
Poppet. A term of great endearment and affection, used to describe in one word all the feelings of warmth, comfort, kindness, generosity, honesty and strength of character you feel every time you are with that person.

Microsoft lovingly gives staff a holiday gift. This small amount of money is for us to donate to a charity of our choice, collectively this is a huge and generous donation. This year I am giving my gift to Mind and Shelter and also personally matching it. Thank you to Microsoft, my colleagues and my friends and family near and far for everything you do.

This week I was surprised and shocked to see an email from the Microsoft Ready team telling me that I have been selected to speak at the Microsoft Ready event in Seattle next February. My initial thought was one of fear and worry (it still is). Closely followed by, heck I’ve got to cancel this, but I’m determined to speak there. And friends far…I hope we find the opportunity to meet and enjoy time together! From Attendee to Speaker…flipin heck.

From attendee to speaker. Microsoft Ready speaker invite.
From attendee to speaker. My email from the Microsoft Ready team. 

While I have genuinely missed writing on my blog over the last few years, I’ve continued contributing to some of the most significant communities in the world (in my opinion). The joy and passion shared in these communities are one of the fundamental reasons I keep my blog alive and the drive for me to get back writing again.

I can’t wait to get writing and sharing with you all again, particularly about some subjects close to my heart: STEM, Modern Workplace, SharePoint modernisation and food!

Love and warmest Holiday Wishes.

James

Framing an #IOT thing of beauty

A picture can tell a thousand words. That’s just what I wanted to achieve by placing my Raspberry Pi into a picture frame. This all started with a long trip to IKEA over the weekend. One of those trips where you get to the car and realise you have way too much to fit it all in the car. During this long trip, I spotted a thick picture frame. My mind jumped at the thought of placing a working Raspberry Pi within it. Well, this evening I decided to give it a try and went about trying to house a Raspberry Pi in the picture frame and succeeded.

I researched how others might have tackled this. My searches returned examples where people have made a digital picture frame as opposed to housing or framing a Raspberry Pi in a traditional picture frame. Bizarrely the one example I did find, Digital PI-cture Frame by David Park, was from IKEA Hackers. Great minds! This, although some years old was what I had pictured in my head.

IKEA Ribba picture frame

I love my tech and whilst I appreciate the clean, tidy and organised side of life. Sometimes I hate hiding things away too. This isn’t just any Raspberry Pi, this is one that is the hub of our home automation. One that should be out on display for everyone to see.

I was really torn whether I should house a Raspberry Pi 3b or a Raspberry Pi Zero within the picture frame. They are both absolutely beautiful and remarkable devices. In the end, I decided on the Raspberry Pi (RPi) 3b as it is such a significant device to our home. I may add another frame to house a RPi Zero for another project in a few months. For now, the frame currently sits on my desk but I plan to hang this on a significant wall in the house and make a feature of it including some internal lighting.

A picture frame as a Raspberry Pi case

The list below is a summary of bits I used:

  • Picture Ribba frame – IKEA £3.50
  • Black backboard – cut from a recycled notepad
  • Mounting nuts/bolts – taken from a spare Raspberry Pi case

OpenHab

For those wanting to know what that other bit is that is included in the picture frame. It’s a RF transmitter (315MHz). This RPi runs OpenHab where I have some rules that trigger my projector blind to come down or go back up when using my Logitech Harmony remote. Personally I think the picture frame looks better for having something alongside the RPi rather than having it sat there by itself. I’ll have some more posts on this topic very soon!

My Raspberry Pi at work sending RF codes

Battery powered portable Sonos Play:1

Well my Sonos Play:1 warranty is now void less than 24 hours after being delivered. This isn’t going to be one of those sexy extreme unboxing  it instead my personal experience in making my first Sonos speaker more portable and more accessible by powering it via USB. In short I stripped apart a new Sonos Play:1 speaker and added the circuitry to power the unit using USB.

I love music and listening to a few stations on the radio. We have radios scattered throughout house. This tends to result in me not listening to any of my music or playlists because of the convenience of having a radio in almost every room in the house. I’d say I listen to music or the radio far more than I watch TV. Sonos speakers have always been a ‘thing’ on my ‘for the house’ list and after experiencing them while visiting some friends recently (who highly recommended them mind) I decided to buy a Play:1 and give Sonos a try!

Battery powered Sonos Play:1
A Sonos Play:1 you can move anywhere you like using a portable battery.

I’m now in love with Sonos speakers and question why it has taken me so long to buy one. They’re amazing!

The build quality is great (inside and out!) and more importantly the sound quality is superb (okay so maybe the bass is a bit over driven on the Play:1 which causes excess bass driven vibrations at times). They kick the ass out of any of my other Bluetooth speakers. I will no doubt buy more Sonos speakers to have throughout the house but until then, I just have the one Play:1 to play with. Which is why I wanted more flexibly to move this Sonos Play:1 around the house – from the study to the kitchen to the bathroom, garden and bed room. This is the reason for this post.

I have plenty of sockets I could power the Sonos Play:1 from both inside the house and out, but I felt USB powered comments would give me the greatest flexibility to move it around. We even have those power outlets with USB included in them which this was another reason to add USB power. Plus I just love tearing things apart I guess.

Struggling with power with volume above 80%

So what gives, nothing other than volume at the top end. I have the same issue with the power consumption of the Play:1, if the volume is above 80% the unit requires more power than what can be supplied. This causes sound distortion and is demonstrated in one of the videos that inspired me to do this hack in the first place (Sonos PLAY:1 USB powered, how-to!!). Anything above 80% volume is really kicking it in the first place so I’m not troubled by this compromise.

The wireless performance of a portable Play:1 is really impressive. I moved it throughout the house and garden and I’ve yet to experience the Play:1 stop streaming due to connectivity issues. This in part is down to the quality of my home network but credit where credit is due Sonos have done a great job here. When I travel, I travel with my trusted MiFi device. It replicates my home SSID. This means any of my devices connect just like they would at home and don’t need any more config. I could therefore take my Sonos speaker with me when on the road, staying away or travelling, assuming you have an amazing data plan or a music library accessible by the Sonos speaker!

Hacking apart the Sonos Play:1

I won’t detail the specific steps involved, in part I don’t want to be hit with the bill for replacement Sonos speakers. But also because I managed perfectly by watching two YouTube videos – Sonos PLAY:1 USB powered, how-to!! and Howto open Sonos PLAY:1 – Part 1. Happy for you to reach out to me for any questions or help if you’re trying this out yourself.

Basically I took the Sonos Play:1 apart, carefully pulled the circuitry out. I then added a micro USB socket and step up convertor that takes the 5.5V current from a USB input and increases it to 24V to power the Sonos speaker. The only thing I did differently from these videos was that I included the micro USB socket. This makes the cable detachable like most other devices. I intend to use the Play:1 in various locations and didn’t want to lose the figure eight mains power lead nor have a USB cable attached all the time. Win, win!

Inside a Sonos Play:1
Step up convertor fixed inside a Sonos Play:1

What I used to pull this off.

  1. Micro USB PCB board (remember power out from a USB requires pin VCC to Positive and GND to GND)
  2. Dremal used to drill and shape the hole used for the micro USB socket on both the speak enclosure and the speaker cage cover
  3. Power step up convertor to increase the USB power from 5V to 24V
  4. 5.5mm USB to power socket for testing power from a USB power source
  5. Solderless 5.5mm female socket, again for testing with the above lead
  6. Glue gun – the cables and terminals inside the Sonos Play:1 are very well insulated with what appears to be a PVA like glue gun insulation – I did similar with my soldering joints and used the glue gun to secure the step up convertor
  7. Soldiering skills
  8. Good set of Torx screw drivers
  9. A jenga like mind to work out the best place for the extra step up convertor component and micro USB socket while still being able to put it all back together again
  10. Dappy looking zip bag to enclose the speaker and battery and make it even more transportable and big buggy pram clip – for example hanging the Sonos under the garden parasol
  11. USB power source or a USB battery and micro USB lead to make your Sonos speaker portable – my current battery is a Repower PB19 a 4.5amp 17000MaH
  12. Heavy duty Velcro to stick the battery to the speaker
Portable Sonos Play:1
Portable Sonos Play:1 powered with a USB battery pack in front of my fire place.
Sono Play:1 with battery attached using velcro
Sono Play:1 with battery attached using Velcro

My portable Play:1 will live on.

I completely get why you would have a Sonos in almost every room. Until a time when I have do, this solution will suffice perfectly thank you. Once I am fully Sonos’ed in every room, my Portable Sonos Play:1 will live on with its dappy looking pull string bag.