Writing on Tablets Tech stuff from @yeltzland

Leaving Microsoft (again) but back at Bing (again)

So after much thought I’ve decided to leave Microsoft and concentrate on my BraveLocation work full time.

However for the next few months at least, I have some contract work back with my old team in Bing in London. Seems like I can’t escape that easily!

I’m excited about the future, and not entirely sure yet what direction this will take me in, but I know many of my friends and ex-colleagues (those groups are not mutually exclusive!) will be wondering what I’m up to. Therefore I’d thought I’d do an FAQ to try to anticipate some of the questions.

I’d also like to say thanks to everyone who’ve sent me very nice messages already - much appreciated!

Q: Why are you leaving Microsoft as an FTE?

As many of you know I live up in Northumberland in the cold, cold North East of England, and I’m trying to get a better work-life balance where I’m not working away from home in London all of the time.

To do that I’m setting up my own business again, hopefully doing some interesting and profitable things!

Q: So how come you’re back at Bing then?

Right now I’m still in the process of figuring out how I can best achieve my long term plan. So after talking with my ex-colleagues in Bing’s London office, they were kind enough to make me an offer to do some contarct work with them for a while.

After the first few weeks, I’ll probably just be in the London office 2-3 days a week, so hopefully that’ll be a better work-life balance for me.

From a work point of view, I’m really looking forward to working with everyone at Bing again, getting back to working in the same area as when I first joined the team 3 years ago.

Q. What was working at Skype like?

Different to Bing for sure – better in some ways, not as good in others. The team I was working with was a great bunch of developers from whom I learnt a lot, and I’m sure what they’re working on is going to make a huge impact on improving Skype in the long term.

Q: When are you leaving/starting?

My last day as a Microsoft employee is March 8th, and if we can sort the paperwork out I’m hoping to start my contract at Bing as soon as possible after then.

Q: What is your “startup” going to be doing?

I have lots of ideas on what I’d like to be doing, but I’m not sure about the long-term viability of any of them right now. Over the next few months I’ll be working through what I hope are the best of them in my spare time, to see if any of them get any traction and turn into something more substantial.

I’ll continue to write about what I’m doing here, so the best way to find out - if you’re interested - is to follow this blog!


Posterous is Dead. Long Live GitHub Pages and Jekyll

Posterous finally announced their expected demise, so I thought it was a good time to change where I wanted to host this and my other blogs.

There are so many options for blogging right now, so I thought I should figure out my requirements and go from there. The main ones are:

  • Be able to completely customise the look and feel of the blog
  • Simple editing (using Markdown if possible)
  • Free hosting but can use a custom domain
  • Be very nice to use a Git check-in to publish

I thought Tumblr might be my best option - and I have moved one of my blogs there - but then thought what would be nice is an offline blog creator which I could customise to my heart’s content and spat out static HTML pages that could be hosted anywhere.

I considered writing something myself, but then discovered Jekyll, a Ruby-based system that is used by Github Pages - which would be the perfect place to host this blog.

The setup was pretty straightforward on Windows once I’d got Ruby and the Ruby Development Kit installed.

Setting up the blog was also quite simple following the usage instructions, and even better there is already migration code to pull in content from existing blogs - even Posterous ones.

It didn’t take too much work to tweak the layouts to something I’m happy with, and even though I say it myself, this blog is now looking pretty swanky (well for someone with my limited design skills!)

If you want to see how it’s done, all of the code, content and layouts can all be seen in my Github account (naturally).

I’d definitely recommend this setup for migrating your Posterous blogs - assuming you’re happy hacking about with a little bit of code.

Blogging GitHub Jekyll

Porting old ASP/Access code to PHP/MySQL

I've been trying to rationalise my websites a bit recently, and in particular finally put into mothballs what was probably my first website.

The site was first written in about 1999(!), and some of the code hasn't changed very much since then. The only part that is still really being used is a football prediction game called "Fantasy Island" - like fantasy football but a bit crap :-)

For me this was an interesting exercise in brushing up on my extremely rusty PHP skills, learning some new things about MySQL and looking back at some very old code. In particular there are a couple of things of note ...

  1. I've learnt a lot about coding in the last 14 years, as some of the old code is pretty ropey. In particular the way I (and hopefully everybody) think more about potential security issues is definitely a good thing.
  2. PHP is surprisingly similar to ASP Classic

The 2nd point is quite interesting, in particular given the slightly dismissive attitude that I've heard about PHP sometimes from people who were quite happy to develop in a very similar way not that long ago. Clearly it is easy to write "spaghetti code" in PHP and ASP, but unstructured code isn't a feature of any language, but more a function of the developer writing the code.

You can see the results of my handywork at http://www.yeltz.co.uk/fantasyisland/, and once I've done a final tidy up and fixed any bugs found now it's live I may share the code somewhere.

There were a couple of gotchas that tripped me up as I was doing the migration that I'll share here in case someone else hits them too.

DateTime->add() is not supported in PHP 5.2

I wanted to use a DateTime object to find a day 60 days from now, and on my dev box I was running PHP 5.4, so using the add() function seemed logical.

However what I didn't realise until later was that the server I've ported the code to is only running PHP 5.2.17, and a close look at the documentation showed the add() function was only supported in 5.3.0 and above.

The solution was to use the pretty self-explanatory following code:

$twoMonthsInterval = new DateTime();
$twoMonthsInterval->modify('+60 day');

Not as clean, but it works :-)

Use TINYINT(1) for boolean fields in MySQL

I had all sorts of issues which to be honest I didn't really understand when trying to retrieve data from a table that I'd set as a BOOL field in the database.

According to the documentation it's just a synonym for a TINYINT(1) field but when fetching the info via PDO I was getting incorrect values for some reason.

Anyway, directly setting the value to TINYINT(1) and setting/getting the 0 or 1 values directly fixed all of my issues.


Bedside Clock v3.0.1.0 for WP7 release notes

A minor, mainly bug fix release to our Bedside Clock for WP7 app has finally made it through the release process into the wild.

This change should hopefully fix some of the very occasional crashes being reported by the WIndows Phone Dev Center when the local weather forecast is being loaded.

Other than a few minor cosmetic changes - the settings page now follows the UI guidelines a bit better - it's still basically the same app as before.

Next step - which is still work in progress - is to make a Windows Phone 8 specific build using the improved features of the new OS.

If you see any issues with the update, feel free to drop us a line at feedback@bravelocation.com.


Bedside Clock App Windows Phone

From Bing To Skype

After working on Bing for as long as it's been in existence - I was there back in the "Windows Live Search" days - I've now taken a position with the Skype team in London.

It will be a big change for me, and I'll really miss working with some of the smartest people I've ever met. However, I'm definitely ready to try something new and I'm very excited to move to Skype at what's a very exciting time.

I'll hopefully be learning lots of new skills and techniques - and reacquainting myself with some old ones! - so I'm also hoping I'll have some interesting things to post on here too.