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

How to daisy chain multiple monitors on a Surface Pro 3 running Windows 10

I finally decided to create my dream home office setup however it wasn’t without complications due to a strange limitation with the new Windows 10 display settings. I thought the idea of daisy chaining multiple displays on my Surface Pro 3 dock using the single DisplayPort was not going to be possible.

Let’s step back a few months. I recently upgraded to a Surface Pro 3 (SP3) and a dock to use when I’m working in my home office. I read from a few online sources that it was possible to connect multiple monitors to the SP3 through a single DisplayPort. This I thought was great, as I really dislike seeing lots of cables! While researching this subject I didn’t fund any specific reference any Dell U2913WM monitors and the SP3 happily working together. This post on the Surface blog was particular helpful as it outlines the different ways multiple displays can be connected to the SP3. With this all this in mind, I filed DisplayPort Daisy Chaining to the back of my head to accompany my home office setup. Jump forward a couple of months and there’s no unboxing video of two 29″Dell (U2913WM) monitors but instead a post to describe how I managed to setup two external displays with my Surface Pro 3 running Windows 10 via single DisplayPort and DisplayPort daisy chaining.

Here’s a summary and sketch of how I’ve wired my Surface Pro 3 with two monitors:
– SP3 dock (mini DisplayPort out)
– Dell U2913WM #1 (DisplayPort in)
– Dell U2913WM #2 (Mini DisplayPort out from Primary to DisplayPort in)

Sketch of my Surface Pro 3 with two external displays
Sketch of my Surface Pro 3 with two external displays

I was pretty confident this would all be straight forward to setup, so much so I fixed the two monitors onto a vesa desk mount (more on this later) and carefully squirreled all the cabling out of sight, before I’d even switched them on, but who am I kidding! I docked the Surface Pro 3 only to find that two monitors would only allow me to duplicate them. For some reason I just couldn’t get the new display settings menu on Windows 10 to allow me to run these as two separate displays even though it recognised them both.

Windows 10 Display Settings recognising three displays but only displaying two.
Windows 10 Display Settings recognising three displays but only displaying two.

After a little poking around, I discovered a setting (DisplayPort 1.2) in the control panel of the monitors. After enabling this, the displays all went blank for a moment while they reconfigured. But still no luck, I now had just one of the two external displays working, the other had no input.

Enabling Display Port 1.2 through the Dell U2913WM setting.
Enabling Display Port 1.2 through the Dell U2913WM setting.

This is the point I thought it just wasn’t going to work. I’d checked drivers. Restarted my SP3. Changed cables. Toggled Display Port 1.2 off and back on. As all techies would, I clicked round a fair bit. I found that from the new Windows 10 Display Settings screen, there were hits back to the old Control Panel. It was on this screen I noticed the winning link – Adjust resolution!

Enabling monitors on Windows 10.
Enabling monitors on Windows 10.

It was here I noticed that the third display was disabled. After enabling display, my SP3 was using all three displays! Excitement levels peaked at this point! It seems the new Windows 10 Display Settings screen does not display disconnected displays nor does it make it obvious to that you should use the Control Panel method. This is something I’ve shared with the Windows team via #WindowsInsider feedback and I hope is made easier in the future.

All three displays available.
All three displays available.

About that mount. I’m using a triple monitor vesa mount due to the sheer width of two 29″ monitors. The trick is not to use the middle mount that attaches to the upright bar but instead use the two side arms. The two monitors sit together perfectly with this mount! They’re sitting about 40cm high off the desk which gives me plenty of clearance underneath to use the physical desk space I have and at this height I get support from the headrest on my high-backed chair.

One thing to note with this setup is that once DisplayPort 1.2 (DP 1.2) is enabled on either of the two monitors, the Dell Display Manager willl not detect that display. The only way I’ve been able to get the tool working is to disable DisplayPort 1.2 on the secondary display. It’s a shame I can’t get the Display Manager tool to work as it is a really helpful tool to maximise on all the space the Dell U2913WM gives you. It allows you to easily snap windows to different areas of the display. I spent a short time researching the issue and it seems to be on Dell’s radar – not sure if this is specific to Windows 10 or DisplayPort 1.2 daisy chained monitors or how soon it will be fixed but there was some guidance on the Dell Support forum .