The online home of John Pollard

My Next Challenge

So I’ve left Microsoft/Bing once again (lost count how many times I’ve come and gone).

My contract had expired at the end of June, and I think it’s time to do something away from search for a while. I’m currently looking for contract work where I can be more flexible in my location - which I guess means working at home for most of the time.

Over the last few months I’ve been working hard on the all-new iPad version of Daily Optimiser app. I’ve learnt a hell of a lot about iOS development in the process, and am really proud of what we’ve built. Checkout the website for full details of what the app does.

It should be in the App Store within days (assuming it passes the review process), but if you want to be a beta tester for this or future versions, drop me an email and I’ll set you up.

Now I have a bit more time I’m hoping to blog a lot more about what I’m learning along the way. We will see as I’ve said that before :)

Consolidating Old Blog Posts

I’ve been thinking for a while I have too many blogs I’ve created over time, so I decided to try and consolidate them in just a couple of places.

This blog seemed the most sensible place to hold my “technical” blog posts, and the real challenge was to pull in some pretty old posts going back to 2005(!) from my old MSDN Blog.

The Jekyll RSS importer did a reasonable job of getting the “newest” 15 posts, but they weren’t the fill articles, so a major copy and paste job entailed to get everything working.

A couple of things I noticed when going through these old posts are:

  • Old HTML editors based on IE Trident are terrible - some of the saved HTML was truly horrendous
  • I’ve hated the Visual Studio unit test runner for ages, and it’s still not any better

One of the earliest posts about XML namespaces is still getting comments on MSDN every so often, and is surprisingly the most useful thing I’ve ever written.

Anyway, it makes me happy that all these posts are now in one place and in HTML and Markdown files, so I can easily port them whenever I want in the future.

Total Remote Working

I’m now doing almost all of my computing remotely (and “device independently”), so I thought I’d share what I’ve done and a few roadblocks I had to avoid along the way.

Accessing my Mac remotely

My first attempt to access my Mac Mini from outside my home was via VNC and the built-in screen sharing (plus No-IP and opening up a few ports on my router). This worked just about OK, but all of the VNC clients I found were all a bit useless.

Now I’ve switched to using LogMeIn, which has proved pretty good so far. There is a nice native client on my iPad, plus a Chrome extension for access on any PC.

Windows VM on Azure

One of the excuses I used to buy my new iPad Mini was to save me taking both a Kindle and my personal PC laptop on the road.

However I still need PC access for a few ASP.Net sites I do the odd bit of work on now and again, so I’ve setup a Windows VM on Azure using the credits I get from my MSDN subscription.

It’s running Windows Server 2008 so setting it up with everything I needed was a little fiddly …

Setting up Google Drive on an Azure VM

I keep a backup of my business documents and a few Excel spreadsheets on Google Drive, so need access to them via a PC. However I just couldn’t get the Google Drive Windows client working on the Win2K8 VM.

The solution was found in this discussion group, where it turns out you need to install the x86 Microsoft Visual C++ 2008 SP1 Redistributable Package - even though the servers are amd64 machines for the Google Drive client to work

Access on 64 bit machine via IIS

One of my really old sites still uses an Access database to hold the data (yes I know!), but it turns out there are no native 64 bit drivers for Access.

As explained on this page, the solution is to set the Application Pool to enable 32-bit applications, and all is right in this old fashioned world!

Doing everything in the cloud?

I’m pretty happy with almost always using my small but high-resolution iPad Mini to do the odd bit of development when away from home. The iOS Remote Desktop client is truly excellent (as is the MacOS one), and the times when I’m opening up my Windows laptop are less and less.

I’m thinking off possibly getting a small bluetooth keyboard - as extended typing on the the screen is pretty painful - but other than that it’s working surprisingly well.

Storing most of my data across a combination of DropBox, Google Drive and SkyDrive, code in Git at BitBucket and Github, and any odd notes in Evernote, really means I can now be pretty platform agnostic for most tasks, both on where the work is being done and the screen I’m viewing it on.

Starting with Xcode

I’ve been trying to spend an hour every day getting up to speed on iOS development, which has meant exploring Xcode.

I’ve done some Windows Phone development before and spend a good deal of my life in Visual Studio, so it’s really interesting to compare the different tools.

Working through the Getting Started guide on the Apple development site, it been fascinating how easy it is to develop nice looking UIs almost out of the box.

Compared to WP8 development (and the disappointment of Eclipse for Android coding) it seems really powerful, and other than getting used to the still slightly bizarre Objective-C syntax, I’m looking forward to developing some magically beautiful apps :-)

Day One with my Mac

So I finally gave in and decided to buy a Mac Mini - to start doing some iOS development.

It’s been a long time since I did much on a Mac - probably 1991(!) on a Mac Classic with a tiny screen - but I have used them a bit in various jobs since.

Other than the initial strangeness of finding my way around, it’s been quite fun so far. Using a Windows keyboard probably isn’t ideal, and I’m still trying to decipher some of the control key combinations. Also the scroll wheel on my mouse works in the opposite way than in Windows, which is also taking a bit of getting used to.

Setting up my various dev projects has been fine so far. Having Ruby already installed helped me with my Jekyll-run blog, and installing node.js was trivially easy too. Heroku toolbelt gave me Git along the way, and the Azure CLI tools work via node so they work nicely too.

One slightly tricky thing was getting a local copy of MongoDB running. This mainly meant going into UNIX mode and hacking a couple of config files post un-TARing the downloaded files, but there was enough support on the web to make that reasonably understandable.

I’ve also setup VNC so I can remote in via my Windows laptop if necessary, so I think I’m good to go with starting with Xcode and the horrible syntax of Objective-C!