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October 2009

Brawn Clinch It

Sunday, October 18, 2009 0

Less than 12 months ago, I was predicting the end of the Honda Formula One team and the effect it would have on Jenson Button, Rubens Barrichello and Ross Brawn.  I also predicted that if the team were to survive, being lead by Ross Brawn, the team would come up with something special and be on course for a few wins.  Here’s what I wrote way back in December:

“There's no doubt that his talent for car design would have catapulted Honda to the front of the race and as Honda F1's team manager would have guided the team to certain victories. IF he can pull off the impossible and find a buyer for the team, his winning credentials will be proven once and for all.”

Three months later, the team had been rescued and both Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello were confirmed within the team – my prediction of Bruno Senna joining the fold wasn’t quite right, but he still remains and untapped talent for F1 and its very likely we will see him in F1 either next year or the year after.  In the build up to the 2009 Season, my suspicions and faith in Ross Brawn’s leaderships and engineering prowess were once again expressed:

“As speculated, the Honda F1 team have been rescued by one of the sports greats: Ross Brawn. The man is a legend in Ferrari circles, and equally well respected by just about everyone else in Formula 1. His new venture “Brawn GP” is already setting benchmark times and it would be quite a sight to see them race their way to the championship in their first year, proving all of those doubters wrong and irking those who failed to buy the team in their most desperate of times. It would be a great story and F1 is full of wonderful and quirky stories.”

Today, it seems that quirky story has further truth to it, as “Brawn GP” were handed their first “F1 Constructors Championship”.  But it goes a little bit deeper into history than first appears.


A few weekends ago I watched a documentary on the great Sir Jackie Stewart and one aspect of the programme focused on his relationship with great pioneer F1 Constructor Ken Tyrrell.  One shot in particular showed Sir Jackie and Ken sat on cardboard boxes within the famous Tyrrell garages, when Sir Jackie turns to Ken and says “What we did back then, winning the championship in the first year as constructors was nothing short of amazing”.  Tyrrell winning their first Constructors championship in 1971. 


Now, when you consider that “Brawn GP” to my knowledge being the first constructor since then to win the Championship in their first season, it really puts the victory into perspective.  Yes, they were helped by not having to start from scratch, taking over the infrastructure left behind by Honda and the raft of rule changes played directly to their advantage, but from zeros to heroes non-the-less. 


Now, as you know before the team became “Brawn” they were “Honda”, but before “Honda” they were in fact “British American Racing” or “BAR” for short.  For those who know their F1 history well, British American Tobacco's team was actually the purchase of the old Tyrrell F1 team back in 1998.  It seems that some of the Tyrrell magic of winning their constructors championship in their first year, has repeated again this time with Ross Brawn the privateer constructor at the helm of the team.    Its a remarkable story for a team that didn’t even exist 10 months ago.


Congratulations to Ross Brawn and to all those at Brawn Grand Prix.  History has been written once again.

I Don’t Know Kung Fu

Sunday, October 11, 2009 0

How do you learn something that is extremely complex without any real dummy guides being available?


I’m trying to figure out the quickest and best way to learning the underlying technology within SQL Server – without having to necessarily learn SQL coding (thought that’s probably something I need to learn one day).  All of the books available on the subject seem to be for developers who are already familiar with the product and therefore completely useless to the guy who wants to learn it from scratch.


My problem isn’t sitting down to figure it all out, my problem is finding the quickest way to figuring it all out.  These last four weeks I’ve found myself with hardly any time to conjure up this “learning time” without being interrupted or just not being in the right frame of mind to focus on a complex subject.


Suggestions on an e-postcard please to the usual address!


There’s a scene in “The Matrix” where “Kung Fu” is simply loaded into the head of Neo.  If only learning SQL were that simple for me!


Microsoft Done? Not By A Long Shot….

Sunday, October 4, 2009 0

Technology has always interested me and I’ve always had a “want” for the latest and greatest gadgets – and usually get them them too! Mr G often used to refer to my “gadget drawer”, where devices to go once they have reached the end of their life with me – similar to “Silicon Heaven”, where the “calculators go to die”.

You’ll also know, that I do love to read a good bit of “TechCrunch” and I was a former regular reader of “The Register” (alas no more), which means that for the past few months I’ve been reading constantly about the iPhone, the iPod, the iPad or Apple tablet depending on whatever they plan to call the thing and about things such as Android and Google Wave. What I haven’t been reading about a lot are the developments that Microsoft have been working on – and that’s mainly because they have been quietly working away whilst the spotlight has been on others.

But there are a few exciting products that Microsoft have launched, which I’ve read about and kinda skipped over – until now! That’s because these products all seem to be coming together now – my task today is to write about them a bit more and spread the same excitement that I do about these products. So, here it goes….

Microsoft Surface

I’m lead to believe that recently on “The X Factor” they’ve had an interactive computer table on the show, it generated a huge amount of tweets and speculation. I’ve not actually seen the clip, but I know that it wasn’t Microsoft’s Surface table, but something very similar.

Now, not many outside of the Tech arena may be aware of the Surface and it’s capabilities (judging by how big the X Factor table generated tweets), but this is a device I know will be out there and gain popularity quickly if people invest in them and want to revolutionise their business. Some of the ideas Microsoft have for it are living room machines to share music, photographs, social networking activities, but in the business space – interactive menus, doctors surgeries, interactive bars…the possibilities are endless.

One of the best videos I’ve seen on the product here:

In addition Microsoft have some other projection/interactive good stuff in the pipeline, such as their interactive video walls and even a Surface Globe!

Microsoft Zune HD

Something I’ve been waiting for a long time in the UK is a real contender for Apple’s iPod. The first generation Zune was Microsoft’s answer and whilst it did gain some traction in the US, it never really dented the iPod market quite the way it was expected.

Never a company to quit easily, Microsoft have really hit back with the new touch screen Zune HD. It’s a gorgeous looking device and from the reviews I’ve read is now a real contender for those who want an Apple alternative.

Whilst I’m happy with my Sony Walkman right now, I would love to see the Zune in the UK and would be seriously tempted to switch if that happened.

Microsoft Windows 7

October 22nd is fast approaching, the launch date for Microsoft Vista’s replacement; Windows 7. I’m really excited about this product (so much so I’ve actually pre-ordered not one but copies), and I think rightly so. They’ve really worked hard on it and the developments they’ve built in with touch are going to make it very attractive for those with the right hardware (I have a HP Tablet, so I’m well placed).

Windows 7 has gained almost universal approval from the industry and reading from some of the hardware vendors, it really does offer a new, fresh Operating System from which to build some really awesome products.

Its the first time I’ve purchased an Operating System that hasn’t come OEM with a computer or laptop purchase and I’m more than happy to do so after seeing just how powerful, clean and friendly it really is.

Microsoft Security Essentials

Who would have thought anti-virus software could be so exciting? I never thought I’d get so excited by such a product, but after wrestling with the Symantec Endpoint Security product in my last job for so long, it’s refreshing to use a product that just works as advertised right out of the box.

Not that it comes from a box mind, for the first time ever Microsoft are offering it as a free anti-virus solution – and it works on Windows 7 too! Based loosely on its former “Windows Live OneCare” product, which I did pay for – it’s an award winning anti-virus engine that seems to offer a rather small footprint on your machine for protection against all sorts of nasty viruses.

It’s a product that shouldn’t be underestimated in my opinion and I’m already running it on four machines as their primary protection software. I have faith in the product. Download it here once your virus protection next expires.

Microsoft Natal

I’ve not really found myself playing many games these last few years, and I admit I got caught up in the hype of the Wii (and purchased one), but it’s use has faded. During the last launch of consoles I was seriously tempted to upgrade my XBox to the XBox 360, but after being drawn in by the lure of the Wii, I decided that I couldn’t have more than one console at a time.

Earlier this year when the Natal was announced I read the reports and failed to go back and have a proper look at the videos of the device in action. Now I’ve gone back and looked, I’m vastly, vastly impressed and can’t wait to see just what Microsoft and others do with this.

I remember listening to a podcast which featured a ‘fireside’ with both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates; when BillG mentioned that in the future consoles would be able to recognise what was going on around them, the audience kinda laughed along and mocked him for describing a Wii. When Bill fired back that the Wii was not what he was talking about, “The Wii is not it! It doesn’t recognise when you pick up a tennis racket”, I thought the technology described was decades away – Bill of course knew much better and this is it.

Not only are the gaming possibilities absolutely endless, but the social interaction and communication bring consoles to the next level as the multimedia boxes that sit underneath the TV in your living room. As I say, I’m not a “gamer” per say, but I am vastly excited by this product –its a certain game changer.

And just in case you were in any doubt about just how smart this device is, check out the video below, it really is mind blowing stuff:

Whilst I’m perhaps not quite ready to go out and invest in an XBox 360 just yet, perhaps by the time the next generation of consoles are unveiled, the next XBox is going to be a serious contender for my money when paired with Natal.

As the voice over says, this is technology that is here “now”! Amazing!

Microsoft Courier

As I’ve recently just started my new job, I made a two important purchases to help me settle in, plan my work, sketch out ideas and understand what was going on, as well as be able to work effectively. Those purchases were a small A5 leather binder with notebook and a netbook computer.

The netbook was for use a portable computer as I tour around the building, its perfectly sized and extremely useful. The notebook and rather flashy fountain pen I also purchased to go with it were bought more for the sketching of ideas, taking along to meetings and taking vast amounts of notes. I admit that I do take a vast amount of notes on any number of things; details of phone calls, sketching out network diagrams, writing to-do lists (I do try to use Outlook for this too, but I like to scribble them down and keep them fresh in my mind rather than merely adding them to a list in Outlook) and a whole host of other things.

The tech chatter has been flooded with talk of Apple’s tablet device expected next year, and I have to admit I’m all for the hype (even if it is an Apple product – I want to see what it is and what it can do that makes it so special), when I saw the Microsoft Courier, I knew instantly that I just have to have one when they are released.

For all I care right now, the product could be completely useless and not work at all, but that’s not going to dull my desire to get my hands on one.

Courier is an electronic notebook that the user interacts with using touch technology and with a stylus pen directly onto dual touch screens, into “Project Journals”, using collaborative tools such as a browser, planner, to-do lists, etc all from within a single device.

The device reportedly uses Windows 7 technology (told you Windows 7 was the base for some exciting developments), and a piece of software that I picked up from the Microsoft Live Labs a while ago called “InkSteine”, which was a new way to write and capture information all through use of a stylus.

As I say, I’m always scribbling down different ideas and pieces of information onto my work notebook, non-descript pieces of paper, directly into my moleskine that lives constantly in my coat pocket. This device excites me massively as its way to keep many “books” on a single device, meaning that projects can be split up accordingly and worked on at different times, pulling in information from other resources – these books can even be shared with others directly on the internet, meaning that teams can work together on single projects and collaborate on ideas and information.

This potentially makes this a device version of Google’s Wave technology – but building it as a device with the ability and potential to plug directly into the already popular Microsoft Office Suite (and the online version that is coming soon also), Microsoft may have just created their own Wave – and that’s groundbreaking to provide a genuine alternative to Google that has far more potential to succeed.

I like that this device is typically Microsoft – focused towards a business/work organiser, for a particular purpose rather than what the Apple Tablet seems to be about – multimedia. When you think about it, it makes quite a lot of sense to push a tablet device towards a particular area; most people these days already have a laptop for typing up reports and creating presentations, perhaps a workstation computer for photo and video editing, a console for gaming, a media centre connected to their TVs for movies – a tablet designed for a specific purpose makes sense to people and targets a market rather than pushing a device that can “do all” is used for a few months and then quickly gets forgotten about because it suddenly becomes more convenient to use a better form factored device.

I can see that Courier has the potential to do all of these other things too – sure it’s probably powerful enough to stream video to, or play music, and those things will probably be available via updates or already underlying within the device. It’s probably not going to have a Twitter client (though very little is know what might or might not be available on the device), but perhaps adds-ons directly for the journal will become available that permits this based on the users needs.

Also, due to the dual screen, book-type layout, this device could also become a genuine rival to the Kindle and those other electronic readers that are so popular at the moment.

This is the device that I’m most excited about from Microsoft right now, its potentially game changing and its already firmly number 1 on my wish list, overtaking the Palm Pre mobile I’ve wanted for so long.

In Summary

As you can tell from this lengthy blog post, I’m genuinely excited about what Microsoft has to offer now and in the hopefully not too distant future. Their new products are all game changers and offer fresh ideas from Microsoft on how they go about doing business.

Mix these things in with some other stuff I’ve not even mentioned like Azure and cloud based computing, the directions of their Live services, etc.

Sure Microsoft still have a lot of work to do; they still have to bring all of these devices to market and make them attractive to users (I know I’m already sold). But this isn’t the Microsoft of old, this is a new Microsoft we’re seeing developing, one that can compete with the Apples and the Googles.

The only area where Microsoft seem to be lacking right now is their mobile phone market. But they are already working hard to close the gap here too – my next phone is already decided as a Palm device, replacing my Windows Mobile HTC Touch, but it would only take the right device from Microsoft for me to switch back to their platform as I already know its going to be difficult for me to give up my Microsoft phone and its mobile Live Messenger software.

Steve Ballmer often talks about the “three screens” strategy – the TV screen, the computer/laptop screen and the mobile phone. I’d say he’s got two out of the three perfectly lined up right now. Watch Microsoft very carefully…they aren’t a company that’s “done” just yet……

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