Believe in your dreams

Almost ten years ago I was lucky enough to be invited by my college to attend a Microsoft conference called “A Glimpse into the world of a computer scientist”. It was held at the Microsoft Research building in Cambridge. Can you remember something you were doing ten years ago?

My certificate of attendance to "A glimpse into the world as a computer scientist", a Microsoft Research Cambridge conference
My certificate of attendance to “A glimpse into the world as a computer scientist”, a conference held at Microsoft Research in Cambridge.

The conference gave me grant insight into Microsoft and the world of computer science. Frankly it was rocket fuel and really kick started my career off in IT! I volunteered to participate in a research project discussed during the conference. My family and I were selected a help test a product called the Whereabouts Clock (pictures below) – imagine the Harry Potter clock! A few months later we were working with a Microsoft Research Employee called Alex Taylor –  a researcher in the Socio-Digital Systems team. The clock was designed to display the whereabouts of everyone in the family. This was achieved through location data transmitted from smartphones and shared with an application. Each member in the family were then placed in a pre-defined segment of the clock, Home, Work or School. You can read more about the Whereabouts Clock on the Microsoft Research website.

The Microsoft Research Whereabouts Clock, 2006
The Microsoft Research Whereabouts Clock, 2006
Find my Friends iOS App ten years on from The Whereabouts Clock
Find my Friends iOS App ten years on from The Whereabouts Clock

Scarily ten years have passed. While Microsoft never released “The Whereabouts Clock”, their work directly or indirectly can be seen on the smartphones in our pockets today. Google launched their Latitude app, although this has now been retired, Apple have their Find my iPhone and Find my Friends apps (picture above) and Microsoft have their Find my Windows Phone. Other applications exist to manage scenarios similar to those of the “Whereabouts Clock”, one such example is Life360 Family Locator. Ten years on, I also still have my bright orange Microsoft Research bag (picture below) – you know how much I like my bags!

I still have my Microsoft Research conference bag ten years on!
I still have my Microsoft Research conference bag ten years on!

Back in February I got my dream blue badge and started my new job with Microsoft. working in the Microsoft Consulting Services (MCS) group. I emailed Alex a few days ago, ten years on he still remembered me and my family and the research we did with him. He was so happy to discover I’m now working for Microsoft! Alex still works for the Microsoft Research in Cambridge. I hope to meet him in person soon as he has kindly offered to give me a tour of the labs in Cambridge.

I’d like to leave you with one last message, inspired by a wonderful article published by Scott Hanselman when he was hired by Microsoft. I was particularly lucky to attend the Microsoft Research conference in 2005 and to be involved with “The Whereabouts Clock” research. But all that aside, I worked very hard at college and spent the last ten years working equally as hard developing my career, doing something I thoroughly enjoy and am passionate about (see Scott’s dream job Venn diagram in his post). All this enabled me to achieve my dream to work for Microsoft – thank you to all those who have helped me along the way – massive kudos to those who have helped me along the way such as Marshall Aerospace and ClearPeople. If you have dreams – don’t stop believing in them!

Discover what’s inside my man bag…

Ok, it’s time for me to confess that I like a man bag or two. I really appreciate a stylish and high quality bag and have to admit I have a few. I don’t buy them at a rate like my partner does (along with her shoes) but when that time arises, I take a trip to France! Join me in this post to discover my various bags and what’s in them bag – inspired by one of my favourite blogs Lifehacker.

Inspired many years ago by the various stories of ‘Featured Bags’ from Lifehacker and ‘What’s in our bags’, I’ve always wanted to write one of these posts for myself at the right time – that time is now!

As a SharePoint Consultant who is often on the road, it is important for me to have various pieces of technology & equipment and those other ‘things’ with me for when the need arrises. Equally as important as having the right things with me at the right time is having a bag that is high quality, elegant in design, durable and comfortable to carry around. Let me share with you my collection of bags…

The bag collection

I have two French laptop bags, an overnight bag and a Crumpler Good Boy 13″ sling bag. My favourite is the smaller, more recent laptop bag. I received this for Christmas from my girl friend (thank you, thank you, thank you) along with the overnight bag. They’re both from the same town in France where I brought my first laptop bag a year or so ago.

My favourite bag (Francinel 13" laptop bag)
My favourite bag (Francinel 13″ laptop bag)
The workhorse (Katana 15" laptop bag)
The workhorse (Katana 15″ laptop bag)
The sleeper (David Jones overnight bag)
The sleeper (David Jones overnight bag)
Undercover (Crumpler 13" Good Boy sling bag)
Undercover (Crumpler 13″ Good Boy sling bag)

Where do they come from? Well the Crumpler I brought in the Crumpler store on the Strand, London a few years back. The other bags…I cannot say. It’ll give away my secrets – I can say though that they came from France!

What’s inside my bag?

Lots of people have asked me what I carry in my bag…here is your chance and theirs, to see what’s inside my bag (on a typical day):

Itemised:

  1. Good book to read – at present I’m reading “The man who knew too much” (Alan Turing) by David Leavitt
  2. My favourite watch!
  3. A strong umbrella
  4. Oakley Sunglasses
  5. Cacoon Grid-it organiser
  6. Canon PowerShot SX280 HS
  7. Beats Headphones
  8. iPhone 5 (this may become a Lumia soon)
  9. MacBook Air 13″ (although I’m sure this might change to something less Apple-based like a Surface Pro 3 soon)
  10. Microsoft Arc Touch Mouse
  11. Huawei 4G Mi-Fi
  12. Leatherman Titanium
  13. Powerbank (RavPower Deluxe)
  14. Western Digital Pocket drive and various flash drives (all but one encrypted mind!)
  15. Various adapters (USB to Ethernet, Miniport to VGA etc)
  16. Logitech R700 presentation remote
  17. Laptop lock cable (for the bag not the laptop)
  18. Moleskin notebook
  19. Bluetooth speaker with microphone – great for conference calls
  20. Pens. Pens. Pens. Particularly my Parker fountain pen and a really good white board marker.
  21. Welfare stuff like tissues, hand cleaner, wet wipes and some Nurofen!
  22. Envelope to stash receipts
  23. Peter Rabbit and Paddington Bear – when I travel I like to take pictures of these two in front of recognisable and special places to send to my daughter.

There you have it…my bags and what’s in them.

Home brew grain milling with a coffee grinder

I unpacked all our ingredients and equipment to start the home brew project off today, only to find I made a very silly mistake. I had ordered 3kg of Maris Otter uncrushed and had no way to crush it. No problem, I’ll just order some more I thought. It got me thinking though, and not waste this grain, was it possible to mill the grain ourselves before the online order arrived?

Maris Otter uncrushed grain
Maris Otter uncrushed grain

First home brew disappointment

Hoping to start our first brew off on Tuesday evening, I was doubtful that the online order would be delivered in time. The order was dispatched and estimated to arrive within two working days. The race was on!

Local breweries, forums & rolling pins

The research began. I reached out to two local micro-breweries and asked them if they had a grain mill available, unsurprisingly they didn’t! One suggested using a pestle & mortar or a rolling pin which I tried but I felt the result wasn’t great. While attempting the pestle & mortar method I questioned whether we needed a grain mill to crush the grain or can we use some other tool?

Home brewer Research & Argos

I did want any home brewer would do and reached out in search of an answer in the home brewer forums. It seems we’re not the only ones to have made this mistake! One method suggested by many home brewers was to use an electric coffee grinder. Staying clear of any internet suppliers to avoid any further delays with delivery etc, I leapt on the Argos website, where I found three different coffee grinders available. I read their product descriptions and reserved the one with largest capacity and easiest access (De’Longhi KG40 Coffee Bean Grinder). Within 20 minutes of making the reservation, I had the thing unboxed on the counter, grain loaded and all!

Milling grain with coffee grinders

A few test grinds indicated I needed to grind for 12 seconds to get it to the consistency I needed. I was able to grind just over a 100g each go and milled our batch of 3kg in less than 15 minutes. The coffee grinder solution does work!

Crushed Maris Otter
Crushed Maris Otter

The solution is not all perfect as we’re not able to grind, mill or crush grain consistently as you might be able to with a true grain mill but we do have an efficient tool for those rare occasions when we need it. Bonus, we can grind coffee beans as well!

3kg of Maris Otter crushed using a coffee grinder
3kg of Maris Otter crushed using a coffee grinder

We beat the online order!

It is Tuesday, our uncrushed grain is now crushed. Two working days have passed and the online order still hasn’t arrived. Nothing can stop us from starting our first brew as planned this evening.

Grandads carrot soup recipe

A few friends have asked me to share my Grandads carrot soup recipe with them but I decided to share it here instead. It’s a recipe that originates from grandad Callaghan hence the name. Often this Carrot Soup recipe is served for Christmas dinner but great all year round. More recently I make this as a quick start for dinner parties with some homemade bread rolls.

Grandads Carrot Soup - Simmering
Grandads Carrot Soup – Simmering

Grandads Carrot Soup Recipe

Serves: 4
Prep: 15 mins
Cook: 45 mins
Ready in 60 minutes

Ingredients

  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1 lb carrots, peeled and grated
  • 8 ozs potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 2 small onions, finely chopped
  • 1 ½ pints of vegetable stock
  • White pepper to taste
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp double cream
  • 2 tsp of Paprika
  • 1 tbsp of fennel seeds

Method

  1. In a medium saucepan melt the butter over moderate heat.
  2. Reduce the heat to low and sweat of the chopped onions.
  3. Add the carrots and potatoes and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent the vegetables from sticking to the pan.
  4. Add the Fennel seeds and optionally the Paprika to add a slight smokey taste to the Carrot Soup.
  5. Pour in the vegetable stock and simmer for a further 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft.
  6. Season to taste with the salt and white pepper
  7. Remove the pan from the heat and either press the Carrot Soup through a strainer placed over a medium sized mixing bowl or alternatively use a blender directly in the pan (tip: place cling film around the top of the pan and blender to avoid making a mess).
  8. Return the pan to a simmer uncovered until the soup thickens.
  9. Stir in the cream and add more seasoning if necessary.
  10. Serve Grandads Carrot Soup in hot bowls with a swirl of cream and sprinkle of fennel seeds.

If there is excess Carrot Soup consider freezing some in suitable containers to have for a quick meal when such a time arrises.

It’s a pretty straight forward Carrot Soup recipe and I hope you enjoy as much as I do. The hardest part is all the peeling and grating and lets be honest that’s not that hard! Enjoy on behalf of Grandad Callaghan

Some light reading after the SharePoint Conference

I’ve managed to pickup some reading materials while in America that are going to keep me busy for some weeks.

Microsoft SharePoint 2013 Administration

First up was a book (Microsoft SharePoint 2013 Administration) I picked up at the AvePoint during a book signing during the SharePoint Conference.

Two of the Authors Randy Williams and Chris Givens kindly signed it for me – it was really great to meet these two authors after many years of reading their books.

Authors Randy Williams and Chris Givens at AvePoint book signing.
Authors Randy Williams and Chris Givens at AvePoint book signing.

Alcatraz 1259

Second up was a book (Alcatraz 1259) from Alcatraz Island signed by the author Willam G. Baker himself who happened to be there just after finishing his parole aged 81. He is one of the last living cons who served in US Penitentiary Alcatraz and shares his account of life there in the book.

Alcatraz 1259 author William G. Baker during book signing.
Alcatraz 1259 author William G. Baker during book signing.

I hadn’t appreciated the history of the Island, the Penitentiary or the prisoners and guards up until the audio tour. Up until this point I had just seen it as a prison in America that featured in the movie The Rock but the Island has a fascinating past – one that I am looking forward to learning more and more about.

I’ve struggled to put Bill’s account of life on the Island down since we brought it – once done I’m going to find a guards account of life on the Island among others.

MCSA Windows Server 2012 exams

During the SharePoint Conference I took the opportunity to update my Microsoft Certifications – more about that another day.

To complete the Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) in SharePoint I have to pass 70-410, 70-411 and 70-412 also making me a Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) in Windows Server 2012.

MCSA Windows Server 2012 reading
MCSA Windows Server 2012 reading

Happy reading I guess.