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Hello again everyone. It’s that time of year again when I…wait who am I kidding? What time of year? I post randomly, and we all know it.

I’m about to embark on a bit of a journey this year that is somewhat new and scary to me. I’m about to switch gears entirely and go back to school. I had always intended to go to college at some point and earn a degree. Somehow I kept getting sidetracked along the way. I had originally attempted to attend college 11 years ago when I was living in Ellensburg. At that point in my life I had far too many distractions and ended up having to drop. Shortly after that when I moved back to the Puget Sound region I ran into some more personal obstacles, of the family variety. No, I’m not referring to children, just family.

Fast forward a bit through some minor work here and there, a marriage and a divorce and I finally found myself taking a longer term position on a team at Microsoft. The problem was that although it was a “rock star” team, the pay was not all that much above minimum wage, and I wasn’t being paid for my overtime. Now, before anyone gets the wrong idea let me clear up a very fine point. The fact that I wasn’t being paid overtime was not the fault of the FTEs I worked with at Microsoft. No, that was solely an issue with the contract agency, who shall remain nameless since I don’t want more calls from lawyers. I wish that was a joke.

After well over a year on that team I had a choice to make. There was another team that wanted to make use of my skills, and they were offering to pay me nearly double what I was currently making, and even assured me that overtime would be properly paid. I was really happy and thought that this sounded amazing. That should have been my first warning sign.

I’ve learned that when things seem to be moving along a little too easily that something is coming up around the bend to surprise me. Sure enough right around the time that I was starting to transition between teams I started getting phone calls in the middle of the night. It was some kids calling to harass me because they had somehow managed to social engineer some of my contact details from various companies. This started a period of life where things were stressful for months on end. I had to notify law enforcement to carefully screen any calls they received about my home address as I knew some of the group involved in the calls. They were responsible for harassing others, and ‘swatting’ was a method that they loved to use to cause problems.

This led to some really hard times for me. I wasn’t able to focus nearly as well as I would have liked, and this led to issues both at home and at work. The quality of my work itself never suffered, but my ability to take criticism was definitely impaired. I ended up leaving the team I had transferred to, moved, and took a new position working on a different project. Then just over a month after I started the new positions that team was disbanded.

Since that point in time I have met someone who is truly amazing and has stuck by me through all of the hardships that we have had to endure. Money has been very tight, and finding work has become very difficult for me. It’s rare that I get calls, and far more rare that I land interviews. I had a position with one company that was basically canvassing for a well-known TV/Internet provider. It was basically bundling folks into deals. After months of work where I actually had a decent success rate they handed me a check for $18. I immediately dropped them since this was obviously not going to be sustainable.

I then went to work for another company where I was doing fundraising, actual legitimate fundraising, for various groups. I was doing well there, but was then offered a chance to work on another contracted project for Microsoft. I was ecstatic to be getting back to what I’ve known best. I jumped at it, and within 2 weeks I was unemployed again due to a bit of a legal entanglement related to the family issues I had mentioned form nearly a decade before. The past was finding another way to come back and haunt me.

That was nearly a year ago, and since then I’ve had less than a half-dozen interviews. I’ve put myself out there, and I’ve went for the work that I know I am best suited for. Out of all this time I’ve gotten just a handful of contacts, and it’s usually the same story I hear each time. It’s some variation on, “You’re over-qualified, and we cannot afford to hire someone who would leave us for a better position.” That is one of the most infuriating things that someone can hear that desperately needs work. In my opinion if I am qualified to do the job, and you’re willing to pay me fairly at a rate that we can both agree on, then I’m yours. I have only made a decision to the contrary of that position twice in my life. In one case it was to make a ton more money. In the other case it was to escape a job where you were on shaky ground every single day.

So starting this week I’m actually speaking to admissions at some schools. I’m figuring out which program will work out best for me, and seeking the best level of aid that I can find. It’s time to get out of the position I feel stuck in. I don’t want to be told I’m over-qualified for positions x, y, and z, but under-qualified for a, b, and c. That’s such a frustrating place to be, and I’m done being there. I’m going to be heads down working on things trying to go through school as quickly as possible. I’m hoping to be able to finish with an undergraduate degree, and then a masters within 5 years. I do plan on taking my first set of courses a little slowly so I can get back into the swing of things. However, once I’m back up to speed I fully intend to just dive in and get it done as quickly as possible.

I don’t know where this journey is going to take me, or what I will find along the way. However, I do know that regardless of the outcome I will be a better person for having gone back to school. I will have more knowledge to share, and a better ability to share it. I’m hoping that someday it leads me back to Microsoft, where I feel I belong. However, if someone else decides they want me more then I’m not going to turn it down. The work itself is what I want to enjoy, and if that means doing it somewhere else?

Well, I’m OK with that.

Disclaimer:
The system being reviewed was provided for free by AMD as part of the AMD Test Drive program.

The Parts:

AMD A10-6800K APU w/stock AMD HSF
MSI FM2-A85XA-G65 Motherboard
AMD Radeon 8GB (2x4GB) DDR3-1866 RAM
Kingston V300 60GB SSD
LG GH24NS95 DVD-RAM with M-Disc Support
Fractal Arc Midi R2 Case
Fractal Tesla R2 650W PSU
Windows 7 Professional
Windows 8

The Assembly:

The assembly went smoothly with one exception. The SSD mounts located behind the motherboard tray on the case are not easy to work with. You can only mount or remove the drives when the motherboard is not installed. You will also either need some standoffs to make the SSD’s sit higher, or SSD power cables that are flatter than those provided on most power supplies. Even the included Fractal Tesla R2 PSU made by the same manufacturer as the case didn’t take this into consideration.

So initially my SSD install was going to look like this:

I ended up having to install them in the lower 3 drive bays that you see on the left. This meant having to remove and remount the motherboard.

In addition to the hardware provided by AMD I also installed my 80GB Intel SSD, 1TB Western Digital HDD, a Lite-On iHOS104 Blu-Ray Drive, and a PCI Wi-Fi card.

The final assembly of the internal components looked like this:

Software Setup:

After assembly I proceeded to install Windows 8 Pro (in lieu of the non–Pro version provided by AMD), followed by an upgrade using my Media Center Key for Windows 8 Pro (not provided by AMD). The setup went smoothly and was over within a matter of a few minutes. It was the fastest OS install I have ever completed in approximately 20 years of building my own PC’s.

I installed the drivers for my Wi-Fi card and then installed all of the latest software from the MSI website for the motherboard. After a quick reboot I installed the latest non-beta video drivers from AMD. Everything went exactly as expected with no issues during the installs. I also installed all my programs that I normally use in Windows 8. This includes Netflix, Hulu Plus, Kindle, Nook, & the default Windows 8 apps like Mail, People, Messaging, etc. I then installed Office 2013 Professional Plus (not provided by AMD) and finished by installing all updates for the OS and Office via Microsoft Update.

I enabled Hyper-V as I test system images before I deploy them on production hardware.

 

Initial Observations:

One of the first things that I noticed is that I was unable to use Netflix or Hulu Plus. I had known this was the case on my older system, but I had assumed it was due to that system being several years old. It turns out that when you enable Hyper-V on Windows 8 systems that use an AMD graphics solution it causes apps like Netflix and Hulu Plus to not work due to the DRM used to protect the content. The only recourse is to disable Hyper-V when you want to use Netflix or Hulu Plus. I am hoping that AMD develops a solution for this problem soon, as this is not an issue on systems with nVidia or Intel graphics.

Benchmarks demonstrate a vast improvement over the Dell XPS 410 that I owned for 7 years, with some scenarios showing an improvement of over 120%. They also show a solid improvement over the A10-5800k system I had built recently with improvements ranging from 10% up to 30% depending upon the scenario.

 

Everyday Usage:

I’ve now had this system up and running for a week. Performance around all tasks has been extremely smooth. Office 2013 apps load within 1-2 seconds. Gaming has been nice on the integrated Radeon HD 8760D. All of the games I play perform as expected with no stuttering or glitches at the native resolution of 1680×1050.

 

System Temperature:

The temperature for the system stays fairly low. On a day when it was nearly 100 degrees (37.7 Celsius) the APU temperature didn’t go above 40 Celsius while sitting idle. With an ambient room temperature of 75 degrees (23.8 Celsius) the APU sits at around 35 Celsius at idle. Even pushing the system hard with Prime95 resulted in a max temperature of 56 Celsius with an ambient room temperature of 75 degrees (23.8 Celsius). The system dropped back to 35 Celsius at idle within 60 seconds.

 

Final Thoughts:

I avoided upgrading my system for the last 7 years due to the rock solid nature of my prior system. It was a system where everything just worked with no real effort needed on my part. With the exception of the Hyper-V issues it seems that this system will also serve me well in that regard. I just hope that a resolution for that issue comes sooner rather than later.

After nearly 8 years Microsoft has revealed the next console to have the Xbox name.

Introducing Xbox One

Xbox One Console with Kinect & Controller.

Xbox One Console with Kinect & Controller.

 

The console was revealed in an event presented on the Microsoft campus in the area known as Studios West. It was an invite only affair for the tech press, but was also streamed online for the rest of us mere mortals.

There has been a lot of controversy over details provided at the reveal and in press interviews that followed. I think a lot of this is due to messaging that went out that wasn’t consistent on the part of Microsoft. I also happen to think a lot of this falls upon the media for not making sure they had verification of information before rushing to get the story out.

The fallout from this has been quite honestly horrific to watch unfold. Just view the comments on almost any story and you see a level of venom I rarely see from the gaming community. Some of that ire has been directed towards Microsoft, some towards the gaming press, and some towards other fellow gamers commenting on the stories.

In all of this chaos there’s something that most folks keep overlooking…what was actually revealed.

Microsoft (in my opinion) did a fine job of revealing the console itself, and the features they have worked had to add for this generation. Sure they didn’t do much of a reveal of the gaming aspect, but it was already known E3 would be the venue for that. This reveal was about the machine itself, new capabilities, and hints towards future direction.

The speakers were competent, delivered their message clearly, and kept my attention. I had no questions about the features they demoed as they made them easy to understand, without being overly simplistic. I look forward to the ability to multitask that they are now offering on the Xbox One. For instance, the Skype functionality where a call and a game can be handled at the same time looks nice. It would be nice to have a Skype chat with a friend who is playing a game and we can both see each other as we play.

While I’m not a huge sports fan it would be nice to be able to check in on a game while playing. There are teams that I occasionally care about, and being able to do that without having to switch things around or stop gaming is nice. Maybe I’m biased due to my love of the concept of all-in-one integration. Things that make my life easier, and do so in a way that is seamless and smooth always get me excited.

I look forward to more clarification around several of the more controversial points regarding how games are going to be handled this generation. There’s lots of ideas, concepts, rumors, and conspiracy theories around that. I for one want to wait until we have official word before I decide if I am happy or have a reason to be angry. I also look forward to more details about upcoming titles that will be shown at E3. I feel that this generation it really is Microsoft’s chance to really score a huge win for their 3 screens and a cloud strategy.

Your move Microsoft…

Hey everyone. This is going to be an audio update. Moving forward there will likely be more audio entries than articles for a while.

I haven’t given Podcasting a fair shake, and this feels like the time to do it.

If anyone knows a great free Podcast manager for WordPress please let me know.

Oh, and pointing out a good free Podcast suite would be awesome. I’m using Audacity for the moment since this preview is meant to be very rough.

http://www.rtoadm.com/PreludeToPodcast1.mp3

 

Things have changed a lot (once again) since my last update in September of 2010.

Here’s a breakdown of the big events (focused on the professional side):

  1. Accepted a promotion on the Xbox LIVE team I was working on in September 2010.
  2. Asked for a demotion May 2011 due to my work/life balance being completely out of whack.
  3. Accepted a job offer (still contract) on a different Xbox team in August 2011. It was offering twice the pay, and seemed like a good idea at the time.
  4. Had my contract ended on that team in December 2011. I won’t go into details on why, since it would make them look pretty bad.

The logic I was given for the 4th item still makes me do this about every other day:

I am uncertain as to what my next step should be. I was so confident that Microsoft was where I wanted to be; and I made the classic mistake of not having a backup plan. I spent the last decade preparing myself to work at Microsoft. I tested every piece of software they would let me, made contacts, and even some good friends.

Don’t get me wrong folks, I’m still a huge fan of Microsoft. I still rock a Zune, carry a Windows Phone, and prefer Xbox over other platforms.

I think a portion of why I feel so uncertain has to do with my Dad. The two things he drilled into me growing up were, “Always work like you’re trying to work yourself out of a job,” and “Any job worth doing is worth doing right.” I took those concepts to heart and have tried to make sure that I apply them to every position I’ve ever worked.

For retail this meant studying product specifications, making sure everything in my section was in its place, and that customers were given the correct information. For the answering service/dispatch I made sure that account updates were correct, other agents were notified of changes, and I was available at all hours in case they were short on staff. For Microsoft I always provided my honest feedback, always made my position on security known, and made it clear that it is possible to advocate for both the customer AND Microsoft at the same time.

I was talking to my Dad after my contract ended in December, and he told me something that has actually left me a bit shaken. The rules that he had given me, that had been set so firmly in my mind, no longer apply. He explained to me that employees and customers can no longer afford to be loyal to employers or brands. The reason being that employees and customers are now viewed as nothing more than disposable commodities, numbers on a spreadsheet. Companies no longer care if you’re competent, but if you’re obedient and are qualified on paper. They do not care how long you’ve worked for them, or the knowledge you have gained in that time. If you cannot sit down, shut up, and play the game you’re out.

This leaves me in a situation where I’m having to re-evaluate everything I have taught myself to believe in when it comes to professional ethics. What is the value in doing things correctly if it leaves you unemployed? Where is the benefit of having experience if you are punished for that experience? What is there to gain in being loyal if no one cares?

These are the questions that keep me awake late at night, long after I should be asleep.

 

Do I keep pushing for the life I thought I wanted, or do I start over?

 

It all starts with this…

Life has been crazy the last few months. I’m back working at Microsoft, in a very different position than last time.  I’m working on an Xbox team, as opposed to working at MGS as a tester.  This is still a contracted position, but without a set end date, and I don’t have to take that 100-day break.

For this position I’ve had to move yet again, and have had to get used to living in Redmond again.  This time I’m in a much better location than before.  This place is much more central so getting around without a car is much easier.
I truly love the job I do, and the people I work with. It’s always nice to fit in with such an awesome group of people.  I don’t think I’ve ever had a place in my life where I’ve laughed and smiled so much.  There’s very much a family feel with this group.

So that’s what I’ve been up to and why I’ve ‘gone dark’ the last several months.

I’m hoping to post more often once I’ve got more of a routine going.  It will probably be more personal stuff than tech related stuff, but I’ll probably still sneak in the occasional post about new tech that I’ve acquired.
So I hope those that read my site are well, and always feel free to post comments.

To quote the great Dennis Miller, “Now I don’t want to get off on a rant here…”

However, I think that’s exactly what I’m going to be doing.

I’m of the opinion that in the last decade the quality of journalism in all forms, but especially tech journalism, has been in decline.  This seems to be related to the rise of the web journalist. I’m talking about the new form of instant gratification journalism that has less fact checking, and apparently little to no copy-editing either.

When did traditional media outlets decide that it’s fine to let articles be presented to the wide world without making sure they’re polished and have their facts in place?

Who decided this was a good idea?

Now I’m not going to name individual outlets here.  I will say that it’s ridiculous when a majority of their articles are replete with misspellings, grammar errors, and ‘facts’ that have no sourcing or do not properly credit the source.  The sites I refer to are not simple blogs, but big media sites that are often cited as the source material for other smaller sites.  When did responsible journalism fall out of fashion?

What happens when you call these journalists out on their sloppy reporting?  Often times it’s either met with silence, or with ridicule.  That’s right.  The community of posters, or often times even the article writers will show no respect for your attempt to give them constructive criticism.  The rally cry around these postings is often something like ‘grammar nazi’ or ‘go back to your cave troll’.  When did people become so ridiculous that they equate a critique to the killing of millions of Jewish people?

I know that when I receive a note from someone that is well written, noting a mistake, I’ll almost always thank the person and fix the error.  The only time this doesn’t apply is if it is worded rudely.  Then I’ll take the time to write them back and note that rudeness is not required, and then fix the error.

In fact I’ve had a managing editor at a well known tech site literally curse at me.  He couldn’t handle my critique of their site and how they handle their members. Instead of discussing the situation he decided to fire away.  I have to say that I’m personally tired of this type of behavior. It is irrational and irresponsible.

What do you think?

Zune HD

This post is going to be more of a ‘professional’ review than the earlier ‘Thoughts on Zune HD…’ article.  It will contain my thoughts on it now that I own one and can actually review it fully.

To quote the last article, “I’ve been a huge fan of Zune for the last few years. A fan of the software, device, and web presence they’ve created. Now they are looking to integrate things more deeply with the Xbox 360, and also step up the functionality of the device.”

Here are my observations now that I have some time spent with the device.  They are in no particular order.

1.  I decided to skip on waiting for a 64GB model to show up. I waited almost 3 months, and figured it was time to just get one.  What really prompted this was the fact that Amazon has an amazing deal going on.  If you sign up for a year of Audible.com service at $14.95 per month (which totals about $180 for a year) they will give you an instant $100 off coupon.  The catch is that you can’t cancel the Audible.com service for that year.  In total for the Zune itself I paid $186.67 with Next Day delivery.

2.  There are a few UI inconsistencies and things missing from older versions of the Zune.  For instance when performing a sync with the device, there is no percentage listed on the HD.  Earlier models had this, so why is it missing?  Background wallpapers, also MIA.  MS has claimed it won’t work well on the HD & that we get to use them on the lock screen. I say why not give us the option?  I however do retract my earlier issue with having a tactile control interface.  The touch-only option works really well.  The only thing I miss is from the old Zune in that respect is volume control that doesn’t require the screen.

3.  Another oddity I found is that their web browser while nice has some serious issues, even with the Zune.net website.  I tried to post on the forums there and could do everything but enter post in the text box.  I was also unable to ever successfully login to my bank.  I hope they plan on releasing more updates to make the browser more compatible with sites.  Especially in the case of the Zune.net forums, that’s just embarrassing.

4.  Microsoft has stuck with the WiFi only option here, and did not pursue any sort of 3G connection.  This is truly a shame as it would have made the device unique in its market segment, just as the Kindle is for eBook devices.  As I mentioned in the previous article imagine this scenario.  You’re on a bus and hear a song on the HD Radio that you’ve been trying to track down forever, and you buy it or get it on Zune Pass right there.  That to me would be just as powerful an experience as when I bought my first book directly from the Kindle while on a train.  No waiting until you have a WiFi connection, just instant gratification.

5.  So far on the app front, I’m of two minds.  I feel that the apps they have delivered as of the latest 4.3 update are solid apps.  They work very well, and are fun to play in the case of the games.  In fact I’m hooked on the bowling game.  The downside is that almost 3 months in we have barely over a dozen apps, of which only 3 aren’t games.  Where’s a good Netflix app?  Where’s a good app for surfing the XBox Live Marketplace?  What about a 1vs100 interface for the Zune?  I’m certain it could handle it via WiFi.  There’s so much potential here, and so little initiative taken.

6.  The last topic I want to touch on is Digital Copy support..  It’s one thing that Zune has been missing from the beginning, and they really need to sort it out.  I have so many movies with the Digital Copy logo on them, and I can’t even use them.  The Zune doesn’t work with the old ‘PlaysForSure’ format (gotta love that name eh?) and Zune hasn’t made an attempt (at least publicly) to make this work.  I’m fairly certain it has to do with selling videos via the Zune Marketplace.  This is a huge bullet point that the iPod can still tout over the Zune.  I want to watch the new Star Trek movie on my Zune.  The connection where I currently live is only 320k/64k.  Yes it’s very painful, and to be honest makes downloading a movie from the Zune Marketplace very painful.  Why can’t I just authorize my digital copy for the Zune?  It works on Windows Media Player, and hundreds of other devices.  Why should I have to pay for the movie again?

Why, Zune, why?

New Redundancy

Hello everyone! I’m finally back after a long rest.

Right now I’m sitting at the AMC Pacific Place 11 Theater in Seattle.  They have some Windows commercials on the big screen that are on a repeat while Denali tries to get their presentation up and running.  So far they are 20 minutes late and I have no idea what is going on.

I have to say that so far this year I am unimpressed.  They moved the venue from the Washington State Convention Center (right across the street from here) to this theater.  There are only half a dozen vendors here this year as opposed to the 3-dozen present at the Server 2008/Vista event in 2008.

Denali has finally managed to get their gear working, only 26 minutes late which left me to choose between the Windows Phone session or this Denali session.  I’m sticking with Denali since it was Windows 7 related even though the original agenda would have allowed me to attend both sessions.  The presenters seem like they weren’t prepared to give a session at all.  They rattled off the basic stats about their company.  Then the speaker cracks a joke about how they are terrible at presentations, but that Microsoft is letting them give a way an XBox if we stay and listen.  This does not fill me with confidence or optimism for the quality of the next presenters.

At the end of the “pre-show” vendor presentations there is a drawing for 3 XBox 360’s. So many people have left that they had to keep calling out new numbers for several minutes just to get 3 winners.  Remember folks, this is still before the show starts, so those people who left early also forfeited their Windows 7 discs as well. It feels like it’s minutes to midnight here before it’s even begun. (Kudos to anyone who gets that reference)

The drawing is finally over and there are more technical issues cropping up, as seems to be the theme for the day.  The Windows 7 track (not sure about the Server and Exchange Tracks) is now officially starting late. The presenters finally make their way to the front. They gloss over almost everything, no deep diving into details at this event at all. They don’t stick to the agenda, and end up talking about the same 2 or 3 technologies almost endlessly.

This is “The New Efficiency”?

Starting late, dropping vendors, lowering attendance rates by using smaller venues, lowering the catering to apples, nutrigrain bars, and water, not having your equipment already setup, and having speakers who aren’t prepared to use the actual agenda. Oh, and not providing 64-bit media for attendees while repeating how awesome 64-bit is over and over again throughout the event.

I have to say if this is how Microsoft intends to continue marketing Windows 7 to the IT crowd they are going to have a long road ahead of them.

To anyone reading the site I apologize for not having posted anything in a while.

I promise to have more blog postings up shortly. The last couple weeks have been a bit crazy, and I promise some of the blog posts will be about the last couple weeks, and about a few other things rattling around in the old empty space up here.

Be patient 🙂