What the online world can learn from recent on prem Exchange Server challenges

It has been a pretty challenging few days for those that still manage and maintain on premises Exchange servers thanks to:

HAFNIUM targeting Exchange Servers with 0-day exploits

Throughout which I’ve seen a lot of smug cloud administrators wondering why people still bother with on premises. I think a better use of their energies would be to look at the current situation and learn from it rather than allocating it to self righteousness.

The cloud is a shared responsibility model. This means that both Microsoft and end user now responsible for the security of cloud infrastructure. Luckily, these recent Exchange issues have largely fallen to Microsoft when it comes to the cloud. Where there is room to learn for the rest of us, is in the response to the situation from those battling to contain it.

From everything I have seen online in regards to the HAFNIUM issue, what I find most interesting is the lack of a response plan. Technically, administrators can follow directions, run scripts, patch systems pretty well. However, most seem totally unprepared for this kind of situation, especially at scale. That’s what worries me the most. Why? Because challenges in the cloud can easily be of the same scale and impact.

There have been plenty of examples when services like Azure AD or Exchange Online have been unavailable, but when they have, I’ve seen the same level of, dare I say, panic. Because systems work 99.99% or more of the time ‘on average’, a large amount of complacency begins to creep into the system, especially those charged with maintaining these systems. Thoughts of disaster recovery and outage impact get put on the back burner and never really addressed because there are always ‘higher’ priorities.

What worries me is the dependency we have built into our modern lives, business and economy, to the point where most cannot function if their phones run out of charge. What worries me when I look at the response I see to broad security challenges in IT is simply the lack of a credible contingency plan. A check list of what to do, if you like. Of course, you can’t have a plan for every contingency but some semblance of a plan is better than no plan at all surely?

In the end it comes down to risk analysis. When the sun is shining, risk analysis is the furthest thing from people minds. This however, is exactly the time that it should be a priority because developing a strategy in midst of a crisis does not generally lead to the best outcome. You want to have a checklist of what to do, well in advance of whenever you may need it.

Even though the systems I work with are cloud based are immune from the HAFNIUM (it appears at least), that doesn’t stop me learning from how the unfortunate are dealing with it. I’m watching, learning and preparing, because as the saying goes, “When did Noah build the Ark?”

Before it rained.

Before it rained.

My podcasts – 2021

desk-music-headphones-earphones

You can find the previous year’s selection here:

My podcasts 2020

I do spend a lot of time listening to podcasts, generally in between things, like travelling. However, there is a limit to how many you can consume in a week and that’s why I need to be very discerning about what I listen to.

Regulars

These podcasts are ones that I generally won’t miss an episode of.

Windows Weekly

The latest Microsoft news with some fun and entertainment along the way. Paul Thurrott’s musing make this podcast alone something worth listening to.

The Tim Ferriss Show

Some really great advice, business insights and strategy. Also lots of life lessons that I have found work really well for me. A weekly must listen for me.

Hardcore History

These tend to be quite long, like reading a book, but a very good and very interesting. Luckily, they are not that frequent, so it can make a nice change from all the tech stuff

The Intrazone

All the latest news and information about SharePoint, OneDrive for Business, Teams and more directly from Microsoft.

Sync Up

A podcast focused on the Microsoft files experience around OneDrive from Microsoft.

MJF Chat

Mary Joe Foley interviewing someone in the technology field. What I really like about these are they are short and to the point. Makes it much easier to listen to on a regular basis.

Darknet Diaries

Really well produced cybersecurity focused podcast. Has a nice variety of topics and the content is good and well researched. If you enjoy the security side of IT you’ll love these episodes.

Currently evaluating

These podcasts I listen to frequently, but maybe not every episode. Some of these may eventually get cut from the roster. Anything here has to provide real business value for it to remain long term.

Security Unlocked

Still findings its feet but with the growing need focus on security I think this will provide some valuable information from Microsoft.

Windows Insider podcast

Always interesting to hear what’s the latest and greatest with Windows from Microsoft.

Microsoft Cloud Show

Tends to be somewhat developer focused but there is handy information here, once you get past some of the other stuff, although I must admit this is becoming less and less the case. In short, podcast is starting to become a little off topic and may need to make room for something else.

Cyber

A podcast focused on cybersecurity. Fairly broad and somewhat more laid back and less technical (from what I’ve listened to so far) when it comes to content. Will need to listen to more episodes before deciding if this podcast makes the cut.

#Shifthappens

A podcast focused on digital transformation, typically in the enterprise and government space. Not too long which is good.

If I have time

There are simply not enough hours in a day to get through everything. These are great podcasts but I simply don’t have the time to listen to them regularly unfortunately.

Jocko Podcast

Probably too hard core for most. For me it is a great mix of military history and business mindset training. If you have a ‘fanatical’ tendency then give this one a listen.

The Kevin Rose Show

A bit like the Tim Ferriss podcast. Plenty of interesting and different stuff that always makes you think. Somewhat irregular episodes but I am still enjoying what I’m hearing.

Business wars

Interesting to get the story behind major business rivalries. More a ‘stage production’ than a podcast. Very enjoyable if you have the time.

Behind the Tech

Hosted by Microsoft’s Chief Technology Officer, Kevin Scott, it has lots of interesting guests and topics.

Once off podcasts

Think of these more of a book you’d read or a TV show you’d watch.

13 minutes to the moon

If you love space, you’ll love this ‘podumentary’ on the moon land. The production quality is simply first class, which you would expect from the BBC. Make sure you listen to both seasons so far!

The Bomb

Another amazing BBC production focused on the Atom bombs. If you are a history buff, I’ll bet you’ll love this one as well.


I churn through these mostly at 2x speed to allow me to get through as much content as possible. I do have a few other podcasts on my current podcasting app. I am always on the lookout for good podcasts business, technology, history, whatever. So if you can recommend something you like, I’m all ears.

Finally, of course, there is my own podcasting effort:

Need to Know podcast

which covers the Microsoft Cloud (typically Microsoft 365 and Azure) as well as business topics. I encourage you to have a listen and me know what you think. 2021 will be the eleventh year that it has been available.

Hopefully, there is something of interest to you in what I listen to. Feel free to let me know as well as any recommendations you may have, as I said, I’m all ears!

My Tech Books – 2021

Tech is as much a lifestyle choice these days as it is a career. The geeks and nerds have risen to rule the world. Don’t believe me? Ask Bill Gates! Sometimes it is good to step back and take a wide look at how technology has changed the world we live in – for better and worse. My selection below I have found to be enjoyable and thought provoking in many different ways and I recommend them to everyone who is interested in tech.

There hasn’t been an change to this since last year. Good tech books are hard to come by it seems!

You can follow all the books, tech, business, non-fiction I read and want to read over at Goodreads where I have an account. You can also view my activity via:

https://www.goodreads.com/director_cia

1. Daemon – Daniel Suarez [Fiction]

A glimpse into the future of where drones and augmented reality may take us. That may not necessarily be a good place either.

2. Freedom TM – Daniel Suarez [Fiction]

A follow up to Daemon. What happens when technology dominates the world? Who benefits?

3. Ready Player One – Ernest Cline [Fiction]

Much like the Matrix. What is life like if you live inside the machine? You can be just about anyone you choose. I also love this book for all the retro technology that was part of my life. TRS-80 anyone? This book has become so popular that there is now a movie. Believe me, the book is better.

4. Sandworm: A New Era of Cyberwar and the Hunt for the Kremlin’s Most Dangerous Hackers – Andy Greenberg [Non-Fiction]

This is a great book if you are interested in IT security. It is also a very current book which makes it even more engrossing. It is easy to read and quite comprehensive in its approach, not only dealing with the technology of security attack but also the geopolitical reasons and consequences.

It reveals that shadow world of nation state cyber attacks and illustrates how they are happening today and likely to increase in the future. The connected world of the Internet has brought us many benefits but it is now increasing risks as our dependencies increase to the point that there are few manual backups that don’t depend on technology.

I think this book is a real glimpse into the future and what we may be in store for in the even of rising global conflicts. If you like tech, you’ll love this!

5. Future Crimes: Inside the Digital Underground and the Battle for our Connected World – Marc Goodman [Non-fiction]

Technology will ultimately doom us all I believe because we are building our world on stuff that unfortunately places a low regard for security and privacy. This book will show you why that is a road to ruination.

6. Countdown to Zero Day: Stuxnet and the Launch of the World’s First Digital Weapon – Kim Zetter [Non-Fiction]

If you don’t believe cyber warfare is real then read this book to understand how software is now a weapon as potentially devastating as any nuclear device.

7. Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly about Security in an Uncertain World – Bruce Schneier [Non-Fiction]

Security is important but it is important in context. We need to be rational when we consider our security not emotional. A great level headed approach to how we need to be secure.

8. American Kingpin: The Epic Hunt or the Criminal Mastermind Behind the Silk Road – Nick Bilton [Non-Fiction]

An amazingly detailed book on the rise and fall of Ross Ulbricht, the creator of the Silk Road web site. In here are asked to think about whether technology plays something more than a neutral role in today’s world.

9. The Cuckoos Egg – Clifford Stoll [Non-Fiction]

Before the Internet was in the public sphere it existed in the world of academia. This is the story of how one man’s search for the source of an accounting error uncovered something are more sinister.

10. Takedown – John Markoff and Tsutomu Shimomura [Non-Fiction]

The pursuit and eventual capture of notorious hacker Kevin Mitnick makes for great reading. Is somewhat dated now but still a great read.

My Business Books – 2021

Check out my recommendations from last year:

My Business Books – 2020

Honourable mentions that I read last year:

– Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life – Nir Eyal, Julie Li

– Mastery – Robert Greene

– Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones – James Clear

– Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts – Annie Duke

You can follow all the books I read and want to read over at Goodreads where I have an account. You can also view my activity via:

https://www.goodreads.com/director_cia

Here’s my current top business books in order:

1. The Art of War – Sun Tzu

The all time classic on strategy. As relevant today as it ever was. A very short read but very deep.

2. The Millionaire Fastlane – M.J. DeMarco

I love the brutal honesty of this book. It doesn’t mince words about what it takes to shift from a pay check to actually living the life you want.

3. The Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell

The world is all about not what you know but who you know. This book explains exactly how this works and how to use it to your advantage.

4. The Four Hour Work Week – Tim Ferriss

Many people believe this book is about shirking responsibility. It is in fact a blueprint for how to free up your time to do things you want and enjoy. It will challenge the way you look at your career.

5. Secrets of the Millionaire Mind: Mastering the Inner Game of Wealth – T. Harv Eker

The successful are defined by a different mindset. This mindset can be learned. It can be trained. This is a great book to show you how to do just that.

6. Talent is over rated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everyone Else – Geoff Colvin

Demonstrates that the best comes from implementing a system. Having a system allows you to focus on the right thing and do that work that is required. If you want to take yourself to an elite level, beyond just good, then read this book.

7. Book Yourself Solid: The Fastest, Easiest, and Most Reliable System for Getting More Clients Than You Can Handle Even If You Hate Marketing and Selling – Michael Port, Tim Sanders

You can’t survive in business without a steady flow of customers. Selling to people is the wrong approach, you instead need to attract them to your business. This book helps you achieve exactly that.

8. Profit First: A Simple System To Transform Any Business From A Cash-Eating Monster To A Money-Making Machine – Mike Michalowicz

Business is about making a profit. This then gives you the freedom to do what you want with that profit. This book helps you focus on profit and setting up systems to make the most of the profit you generate.

9. Barking Up the Wrong Tree – Eric Barker

Conventional wisdom does not always apply and in some case can actually be detrimental. Challenging what is taken for granted should be in the play book of everyone who wants to achieve at the highest level. Important lessons can be learned in the strangest places and form the strangest people. Have an open mind and you might be surprised at what you have believed to be bad in fact turns out to get just what you need.

10. Unbeatable Mind: Forge Resiliency and Mental Toughness to Succeed at an Elite Level – Mark Divine

Another mindset book. Business is not always going to be easy or take the intended route. This is when you need to have the determination to see your plans through to success. This book shows you how to develop the mental toughness to make this happen.

11. Mastery – Robert Green

Excellent read with lots of great strategies to take away. Excellence is not a talent it is a skill. That means that it takes hard work to achieve, but hard work is available to everyone, yet few choose the path. There is no secret to Excellence, it is something only time and effort will reward you with and iof you choose that path you’ll be one of the few.

12. Tools of Titans – Tim Ferriss

There are few books that take the learnings for so many exceptional people and puts them at your fingertips. This is one such book that packs a lot of business and life learnings between the covers.

13. Predictably irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape our Decisions – Dan Ariley

Although we like to think logic and rationality rule our world emotion is by far the more powerful influence. Understand this in the context of business and you are well on your way to understanding why people make the decisions they do and how to best profit from them.

14. Extreme Ownership – Jocko Willink and Lief Babin

Moving beyond blame is tough. This book illustrates the ownership of the problem and the environment is a key to success in the military or in business. It is a path few will elect to take voluntarily, however more may do so after reading this.

15. Peak Performance: Elevate your game, avoid burnout and thrive with the science of success – Brad Stulberg

Success is largely about developing a winning system. This book show you how to approach that pragmatically. If you want to see results use this book to help you build the system.

16. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking – Malcolm Gladwell

The older you get the more experience you get. This experience is aggregated in your ‘gut feel’. Trusting your ‘gut’ may not appear rational but this book will help you understand why it is in fact your best option in many cases.

17. The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play – Neil A. Fiore

Plenty of great productivity learnings in here that help you take action. It shows you how to focus on the right stuff in the right priority. Even if you are not a major procrastinator there is plenty in this book that you can take away.

18. The One Thing – Gary Keller

Multi-tasking is a myth. Focus is the key to success to bringing all your resources to bear in unison makes a hell of a lot of difference. Most people can’t do it, so those that can stand a much greater chance of success.

19. Deep Work – Cal Newport

Distractions are wasted energy and time that you’ll never get back. You’d be amazed at how distracting the modern world is. If you can minimise these distractions you can focus more and be far more productive.

20. The E-Myth – Michael Gerber

The classic on ‘procedurising’ your business and creating a structure that doesn’t need you to survive. The simple secrets inside this book can transform any business from hardship to joy.

Let me know what you think. Do these work for you? What’s your top business reads? I’d love to hear.

My Apps 2021

pexels-mohi-syed-50614

I am still not a big app user. I am very careful and selective about what I install on my device. Less is definitely more for me.

To see what I was using at the beginning of last year check out the article:

My Apps – 2020

My daily driver when it comes to a phone is an iPhone currently but I also have a Google Pixel as a backup. The other device that I use apps on is my iPad mini.

My most used apps on mobile devices over the last year were:

Castro on iOS to listen to all my podcasts on iOS.

Lastpass password manager and authenticator. for general password management.

Microsoft Authenticator – I use this for a number of select web sites as well as Microsoft 365.

Car Play – Connects to my daily drive to provide the ability to listen to podcasts as well as use Waze for navigation. Gotta say that it isn’t nearly as good as Android auto in my experience. However, since I’m spending an extended time in the Apple ecosystem I’ll be stick with this.

OneNote – is a must on every device I own. Syncs all my notes to every device. Allows me to not only truly have my information everywhere I am but also capture information quickly and easily.

OneDrive – This mobile app now not only allows me to manage my Microsoft 365 files but it also incorporates the more advanced Office Lens technology that scans and uploads, documents, whiteboards, etc.

Tripview – One of the few apps that I have happily paid for. I use this to let me know the Sydney train schedule to help me get around when I need to negotiate the ‘real world’. Although not much travel is happening at the moment, this app is super handy for negotiating local public transport.

Audible – If I can’t read my Kindle then I can normally always listen. This app allows me to listen to my audio books where ever I am. This and Castro on iOS are probably the most used applications on my devices.

Amazon Kindle – If I don’t have access to my Kindle then I can still read my books. In my case that will most likely be on my iPad. I also use the Kindle app on the iPad when the ebook has a lot of images that sometime don’t display well or are too small for the Kindle device.

The following as currently only iOS:

Oak – For mindfulness, breathing and meditation.

Zero – For fasting.

Rode Reporter – which I use for recording many of my presentations when I am out on the road, which ain’t so much these days but still a handy app to have.

Of course I have all the social media apps, such as Twitter, Linkedin and Facebook on my devices.

I also have all the Microsoft/Office 365 apps. The ones I use the most are probably To-Do, Outlook, SharePoint, OneDrive, Teams and Yammer, although Word and Excel also get used regularly. Just about every Microsoft Office 365 service has an app that you should have on your mobile device. On my Android I am also using Edge as the primary browser along with the new Edge Insider. I also have the Brave browser on my devices as do not use Chrome at all.

I’ve also added the Intune app to all my devices so they can be better managed.

I use the Microsoft Next Lock Screen on my Android device.

Some occasional ones I use include:

Get Pocket

Duolingo

– Uber

– Amazon music

I use the normal personal apps for things like Internet banking and so on. I also use Blockfolio for monitoring cryptocurrency. For casual entertainment and general interest I also have Minecraft Earth installed but really don’t use it much.

One my iPad, which also serves as a personal entertainment device, I have the streaming services Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

The above are my used apps across my various mobile devices. My aim to try and keep the app standard across all the devices and as few as possible. I try and standardise as much as possible to use the Microsoft apps on all platforms. I certainly use a wide variety of apps on my devices by prefer the desktop versions if available simply because my finger are too fat and my patience too short to be productive for long stints on mobile devices. My kingdom, my kingdom for a full keyboard and screen I cry.

My software and services 2021

startup-photos

Here’s last year’s post for comparison:

My software and services – 2020

All my PC’s are running the latest version of Windows 10 (20H2) without any issues and none during the upgrade process either. I do have Windows 10 and Office Insider builds happening on an original Surface PC as a testbed. All Windows 10 Pro machines are directly joined to Azure AD and managed via Intune and Microsoft Endpoint Manager.  Their configurations are based on the Windows MDM security baseline settings. All machines run Windows Defender is a far better option in my experience. Thanks to Microsoft E5 on my production tenant, I am also using Microsoft Defender For EndPoint at the back end for monitoring and investigation of endpoint threats.

The WD Sentinel DX4000 runs Windows Storage Server 2008 and replacement is now in full swing thanks to the NBN finally arriving late last year. I have site to site VPN to Azure to allow data to be easily moved across my different infrastructure.

My two main tenants are an Office 365 E5 demo and Microsoft 365 production environments. A mix of Windows 10 Pro and Enterprise machines are all Azure AD joined to the Microsoft 365 production domain. The production Microsoft 365 tenant has Microsoft 365 Business for all users except myself. I have a Microsoft 365 E5 license on which I have configured all the services including integrated PSTN calling via Switch Connect.

I use Azure Sentinel to monitor threats across my environments via a single pane of glass.

I use the following major browsers:

Edge – my primary browser across all my devices including iOS and Android. I have it locked down with baseline policies via Microsoft Endpoint Manager.

Brave – I have become increasingly concerned about the surreptitious tracking that many sites perform, especially when it comes to social media sites. I therefore now do all my ‘random browsing’, searching and viewing of social media sites. I became aware of the extent of tracking when I was adjusting the security settings in Edge Insider and found the following:

image

Made me realise that I probably need to take this ‘do not track’ stuff more seriously!

– Firefox – I now only use this on my Surface Pro X because Brave doesn’t offer an ARM version.

I have now cranked Edge up to the maximum security level but wanted to isolate the most likely tracking culprits into another browser that was security focused. After some evaluation, I have chosen Brave to be this browser. This is now where I do all the stuff that is more likely to be tracked and now hopefully blocked or at least minimised. I have also set this browser up to use Duck Duck Go as the default search engine, otherwise I use Bing for my production Edge browser. I have completely eliminated Google Chrome off all my machines without any issues and recommend those who are becoming more concerned about their privacy, like me, do the same.

Services like SharePoint Online and OneDrive I use regularly both in the demo and production tenant. I have the OneDrive sync client installed, running and connected to various locations on my production and demo tenants. I can now sync across all my different tenants as well as my consumer OneDrive storage. We have come a long way with the sync client!

I used to have  Microsoft Teams which is now my main messaging application. All the CIAOPS Patron resources like the intranet, team, etc all reside in the Office 365 E5 demo tenant but I connect to it on my desktop normally via an Azure B2B guest account from my production tenant. Thus, I can admin the Patron resources in a browser if need be but I get the same experience on my desktop as any Patron would. Handy to know what works and doesn’t work with Microsoft Teams guest access. Thanks to Microsoft E5 and Switch Connect, I also have Teams connected as a phone.

I use Lastpass to keep my passwords and private information secure. It allows me to do things like generate and store unique passwords for each website that I sign up for. It is also available across all browsers on my machine (including Microsoft Edge). I also now also use Lastpass to store secure notes.

The extensions I run in all my browsers are:

LastPass

GetPocket

I use Microsoft Power Automate for automation as well as Azure Functions.

For my email newsletters I use Mailchimp.

My preferred public social networks for business, in order are:

1. Twitter

2. Linkedin

3. Facebook

I consume a lot of content from YouTube both for business and personal interest. I also also use YouTube extensively for my publicly available training video training.

Microsoft Office desktop software is still part of my everyday workday via applications such as Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc. I use the desktop version of Outlook on my Surface Pro 7 which lives on my desk but I only use Outlook Web App on my travelling Surface Pro 6 device. I could happily not use Outlook on the desktop any more I believe but I still use so I understand the experience for most users. However, I do see the day when Outlook on the desktop begins to lose its appeal.

One of the things I have added to my desktop version of Outlook is a digital certificate that signs every email that I now send. This helps the receiver confirm that the message they have received is in fact from me and that it hasn’t been altered in any way. There are some issues when people attempt to reply to these emails from a mobile device but I believe a fix from Microsoft is not far away.

The key application from the suite for me is OneNote. OneNote is my go to Swiss Army knife for just about everything digital. I use it to capture all sort of data. I even use it as a diary as I have detailed previous here:

One of the ways I use OneNote

The reason OneNote is key is because:

1. Just about everything I put in there us searchable

2. It is freely available across all platforms.

3. All my information is synced and accessible on all devices.

4. It is available on the web or offline if needed.

There are now two version of OneNote, the Windows store OneNote and OneNote 2016. I am a big user of OneNote on my iPad mini with the Apple pencil. This combination has allowed me to totally eliminate my paper notebooks for things such as journaling.

I use Pure Text to easily paste information, especially to and from OneNote as only text.

I am now a big Microsoft To-Do user. I use it to keep many tasks and items that I need to follow up. I love how it is available on all my devices and syncs across them all as well.

I use Windows terminal now for things like PowerShell execution and Microsoft Whiteboard for demonstrations and training.

Another key service I use everyday along with Office 365 and OneNote is Azure. Typically, I use it for running up virtual machines that I test various things with but I also use it to backup my local data as well as that of other members of my family using Azure Backup.

Azure desktop backup

I have also now implemented an Azure site to site VPN as well as Azure SMB File storage to start moving my data into. I use Azure Sentinel to monitor all my services and machines in one single console and tell me about any incidents.

There is just so much that can be done with Azure and I pretty much use it everyday.

For a subset of my local data that I wish to remain secure I use Truecrypt to create encrypted volumes. All my Windows 10 machines run with full disk encryption thanks to Bitlocker, but stuff like financial and customer data I keep inside Truecrypt volumes for that extra layer of security. I understand that Truecrypt is no longer maintained and may have some very minor security flaws, but for how and why I use it, it is more than adequate.

Production data is also protected using Windows Information Protection which provides yet a further level of protection and extends that to all devices including mobile devices like phones and tablets,

To capture my desktop for my online training academy or my YouTube channel I use Camtasia. I use SnagIt to capture screen shots and add highlights and emphasis to these. Snagit allows me to capture complete screens or specific areas quickly and easily.

I use Microsoft Teams to record my podcasts, which I then produce with Camtasia. These are uploaded to Podbean where they syndicated across various network.

To compose and publish blog articles I use Open Live Writer. My blog lives on WordPress.com.

My web site and Battlefields site live on Squarespace.

The majority of images I get, like the one at the top of this article, I get from Pexels. Pickit is also another great option.

For improved meeting management productivity I use Microsoft FindTime.

I use Visual Studio Code in which I do most of my PowerShell editing and publishing. The end result typically is my GitHub repository where you will find a range of scripts and other resources that I maintain regular. With Visual Studio Code I can edit publish and sync all my machines and my GitHub repository no matter where I am. Very handy.

Here are also a few of the other items I use regularly that are not for business:

Amazon Prime Video – only place to the latest The Grand Tour action. I also liked the Jack Ryan series and well as the Gymkana Files but most of this viewing is now on my iPad mini.

NetFlix – Seen a lot of great stuff this give all the time in lock down but most of this viewing is now on my iPad mini.

XBox Live Gold – access to all the online Xbox goodness.

Duolingo – language learning, Japanese and Italian at the moment but most of this access is now on my iPad mini.

So there you have it, the major software and services that I use regularly. I continue to search out additional software that will improve my productivity. If you use something that you’ve found really handy, please let me know and I always keen to explore what works for others.

My Gear 2021

You can take a look back at last year’s gear here:

My Gear 2020

there were/are some major changes happening with my assortment.

Pixel 4 XL phone – My ‘Google’ phone. This as a ‘secondary’ or backup phone. It has all the Microsoft apps installed on it and is connected to my Microsoft 365 production account. Most importantly, it has the Microsoft Authenticator app for MFA access for certain apps.

This phone is becoming a bit old, tired and slow to be honest. I haven’t installed many new apps but it somehow feel slower? Maybe that has to do with the OS updates over the year? Given that my primary phone contract is due to expire in early 2021 I am debating whether to switch to Android? I’d really like to get Microsoft Duo phone but they are not yet available here in Australia. I appreciate the Duo has limitations and is expensive when compared to other phones but I’d like to see how the concept of dual screens works in a business context. We’ll have to wait and see if the Duo is rolled out Australia in 2021 and then I may retire my current Pixel. For now the Pixel will remain.

iPhone XS Max – This has been my main phone for almost two years now. As mentioned, the contact is up in February so I’m beginning to think about potentially replacing it. My main concern with doing that is not to lose my unlimited data contract, which got me out of a major jam last year when my ADSL broadband service failed for over 6 weeks.

After two years of living the iPhone lifestyle I gotta admit I still don’t get people’s fanaticism about it. Yes it is well engineered, better than most I’ll readily admit, but at the end of the day it is just a phone for me. I have a few common apps I use on it, apart from all the Microsoft ones, but honestly, I just use it as a phone not as a surrogate friend.

So when it comes to upgrading after the contract expires shortly, I’m kinda in two minds as to whether the benefits really justify this or whether it may be time to look live with Android for a while.

Surface Pro 7 – With the death of my Surface Pro 4 in late 2019 I invested in a new Surface Pro 7 as my main desktop machine. Being the same form factor, it just slotted directly into my Kensington SD7000 Surface Pro Docking Station. This meant that my Surface Pro 6 device has been relegated to my backup or travelling device (which kinda didn’t happen much in 2020 now did it!).

The only real noticeable difference with the Surface Pro 7 is that it is a little faster, however it is the machine that I use most day to day and has performed flawlessly.

Surface Pro 6 – Moved from being my primary desktop to being my backup and travelling machine. I use it pretty much every day as an adjunct to my main machine. It lives on my secondary Kensington SD3500v connected to a full screen and acts as my onsite backup in case my main machine fails or is unavailable for some reason. It is also a handy way to test things from outside my environment by hot spotting to my phones.

Surface Pro X – I had the opportunity in 2020 to buy a virtually new ARM based version of a Surface PC cheaply, so I did. I was interested to see how it performed with an eye to make it my travelling PC given it was lighter and was less power hungry. I also grabbed it to better understand the limitations that an ARM processor would bring to productivity work.

At the moment this device sits in my offsite  ‘back up’ office which I still visit regularly. The idea with my ‘back up’ office is that if my main office is unavailable for some reason (i.e. no broadband, on fire or under water, unable to access, etc) then I have another location I can work from that has everything I need, including infrastructure.

The major thing I like about the Surface Pro X is the pen. It is far superior to the Apple pencil in my opinion. It feels and operates far more like a real pencil. Given that this style of electronic scribe also comes with a Duo device is one of the major reason I am keen on getting it when it becomes available in Australia.

Can I use the Surface Pro X as a desktop replacement for say my Surface Pro 7? Yes, but with more reliance on the cloud to do things the Surface Pro X can’t do natively. Could others? probably not if they are dependent on ‘old world’ desktop software. However, as that dependency falls away I see a real place for devices like these. Maybe not this one, but something like it in the future. That’s why I’d love to get my hands on Duo device to see whether it is closer to this dream

Surface Pro 3 – Continues to work fine and functions as a Microsoft Teams ‘phone’ tablet on my desktop. Basically, it is now a device I use for making and receiving calls. It sits on my desk without a mouse and keyboard, arranged in portrait orientation. It doesn’t get used much to be honest but it still chugs along and while it does I’ll hang onto it if for nothing else than testing.

Surface – I have had an original Surface version 1 for many years now. The keyboard has long since broken by the system still works fine, although somewhat under powered with only 4GB of RAM. This is why this machine is the machine I use with Windows 10 insider builds. In essence, it is a test machine that I can reformat and reconfigure on a whim.

iPad mini 5th Gen – I decided I wanted a smaller ‘notebook’ size table to use like a paper diary, amoungst other things, so I went out and bought an iPad mini. My older, larger iPad was then repurposed for a family member, so it also still remain in operation.

I also now use this iPad mini with the Apple pencil, which generally works well. The secret is to get a good case for both the iPad mini and the pencil. My choice was:

Finite Case with Pencil holder

which I’d certainly recommend as it is flexible, tough and cheap.

Another reason for going with an iPad mini was that it would be less bulky to travel with but that didn’t get tested in 2020, hopefully 2021.

The only major downside of the iPad mini is that battery life is a lot less than the full size iPad, which is understandable. I have however never run out of juice but you do notice the power levels fall away quickly when compared to the full size version. I like that the iPad mini comfortable fits on my desk, works will with the Apple pencil and is much more transportable than the larger version. I was a little concerned that the screen size would be too small to enjoy movies and read web pages, etc but that hasn’t proved to be the case. I happy use it lying back on the couch to watch a variety of programs and read web sites.

All in all I’m very happy with this devices as a replacement for a paper diary or notebook. When you add in everything else it can provide as well I’m happy to say that apart from my desktop PC, this is probably the device I use most.

Ubiquiti – Towards the end of 2020 I started to have real issues with my ADSL broadband. This last for over six weeks and at times meant that I had to resort to using my mobiles. Luckily, after that NBN broadband FINALLY became available in my location but unfortunately the modem that I ordered from the new supplier decided to take a holiday trip around Australia instead of being delivered to me. I therefore went out and bought a D-Link Wireless N300 Model Router DSLG225 so I could at least connect.

Now thanks to the fact that I already had a variety of Ubiquiti in place I just needed to slap this modem inline, set it to bridge mode, may a few minor changes to the configuration of the Security Gateway and I was up and running.

image

This new broadband connection has made a huge difference to my work, especially have so much more upload speed! However, having the Ubiquiti stuff already in place removed the need for a major reconfiguration of my on premises infrastructure.

One of the items that I am again considering for 2021 (still) will be a Ubiquiti camera like this:

G3 micro

Again, not really a must have but I can see benefits of having one of these device to monitor things when I’m not there.

Docking station – I still love my Kensington SD7000 Surface Pro Docking Station. It is a really neat device, that suits most modern Surface Pro devices. It is slim, compact and now all me to have 3 external monitors off the one Surface devices (as you can never have enough screen now can you eh?). I can plug in all my devices, microphones, phones, etc to it and all the cables are hidden at the back. I also like that you can adjust the screen up and down, a bit like a Surface Studio.

Occasionally, one of my monitors goes dark and a few seconds later comes back, kinda like it is doing a reset or refresh. Maybe I need to update some drivers? Apart from that it continues to perform flawlessly.

The original Kensington SD3500v has now moved to work with the travelling PC when it is running in my office and that is also working well, making it a truly ‘plug and play’ experience when I get back from road trips.

WD Sentinel DX4000 – Now that NBN has finally arrived I’m beginning to shift most of my production data to Microsoft 365 and Azure. I doubt that I’ll de-commission this device as it is still useful as a backup and a repository for stuff that doesn’t make sense in the cloud. My on premises environment is connected to Azure via a site-to-site VPN so I can readily move files between the two locations.

In the end, this device serves less and less purpose as I move more and more data off it and into the cloud.

Personal fitness device – I am still in two minds about this. Is it something that I will really take advantage of? I am also somewhat concerned about the privacy of them, given that Google purchased Fitbit a while back. My major reason for such a device would be to monitor my sleep and my activity (steps). A heart rate monitor would also be handy. If I went with anything I think it would the Oura ring, but that ain’t cheap. So I am still deciding whether it is worth the investment.

Amazon Kindle – Still have this but it has now largely been superseded by the iPad mini for reading books. I still love my Kindle but if I can have one less device then I’m going to take that option. so for now, the Kindle has been relegated as a backup.

Xbox One S – Still use it to watch YouTube, Netflix and Amazon video but now playing more games thanks to the release of the latest Call of Duty game.

My major hardware investments in 2020 where a new Surface Pro 7, Surface Pro X and iPad mini. The arrival of NBN is now accelerating the retirement of the WD Sentinel. My major focus will be determining what I go for in regards my day to day phone and I would really love to see the Duo device arrive on our shores.

2020 was a very different year, with greatly reduced travel so we’ll see what this year brings but I kinda feel it is going to be pretty much the same for now.