Time for a new laptop

2015-05-22

It's time for a new laptop, that means time to figure out what to re-install and what to let go of. I'm always curious to what others run on their machines to boost productivity, and really enjoyed the blog posts from, for example Scott Hanselman and Roy Osherove (back in 2010) on this topic. I through, as I need to create a list of items to download and install anyway, I might as well make it public.

So here we go:

Windows 8.1 Professional
As much as I'd like to start running Windows 10, my previous experiences have left me a little hesitant to run it as my primary operating system just yet, I've been running Windows 10 on my old Dell e6430 and it has been quite unpredictable. I suppose it's due to the NVS 3100 graphics card and the card reader, as those devices have always been able to make the thing unstable ever since Windows 7.

So, until I've had time to evaluate whether my new Lenovo X1 Carbon Touch (3rd gen) will be stable with Windows 10, it's going to be Windows 8.1

Windows 10 on Hyper-V
That doesn't mean I won't be experimenting ;). So Windows 10 will happily run on a virtual machine and I'll take it for a couple of more test drives. Boot from VHD may be a great way to evaluate possible issues before I make the switch

Office 365
Office 365 offers both cloud mail, storage and licenses for Office on my machine. It's one click streaming install is an easy choice.

TechSmith SnagIt & Camtasia
As a blogger, StackOverflow user, presentation builder, guidance author, SnagIt the bomb. Quickly grab a piece of your screen, annotate it, do basic editing and either upload it to the cloud or copy/pate it directly into your latest StackOverflow answer.

The on-screen video recording features are very useful as well, as often a short video says more than static pictures.

Camtasia then helps put these all together and makes it look professional.

Rufus
Playing around with Windows 10, creating rescue environments, demo-on a stick, Rufus helps you create boot images on USB sticks using ISO files downloaded from your MSDN subscription. It's easy to use, has never let me down and can create drives that support both old-style BIOS and UEFI.

Free Download Manager
Ever had to download a Brian Keller VM?! Free Download Manager is *the* tool to do it. Though I always turn off Torrent support, not sure what company policy would think of having that running. Plus it prevents me from accidentally downloading stuff I shouldn't be.

NetSetMan Pro
As a consultant I generally visit different clients, all with different networks. Some offer a simple guest network, others require  Proxy setup and each of course has its own printer. NetSetMan Pro allows you to manage your network settings and windows defaults and can automatically switch the settings based on the Wireless networks in range. Quite useful. It's the best out of a bunch I've tried. One very useful feature is its ability to run on the log-on screen. So if you recently changed a password or need to log on using a user that hasn't used your machine before out of the office, it can fire up your VPN or connect to a wireless network to do just that.

Calibre
As an avid Kindle user I have more ebooks than I have space on my Kindle. Especially IT books with lots of screenshots take up a huge part of your limited device space. Calibre catalogs them all, fixes their metadata (so you can find them again), links them to Goodreads and Amazon so your ratings are for more than you alone. It's especially nice for books from Leanpub, HumbleBundle and Kickstarter books.

Unfortunately it still isn't the best reader on your laptop or tablet. So I have the Kindle for Windows app installed side-by-side.

CDBurnerXP
Last time I had to burn a DVD is some time ago... So I've opted for this great free solution. No expensive licenses for features I'll never use. Creating audio CD's and backing up pictures for friends is just about what I use this for.

F.lux
Ever look at the clock during a late night coding session and find out that it's already 3:30am? The blue light from your screen prevents your body from making the right substances to make you tired. This can be a blessing (if you need to finish a presentation before tomorrow morning) or a curse (if you need to give an already finished presentation tomorrow morning).

F.lux detects your place on earth and adjusts your screen brightness and tint according to the position of the sun.

Don't forget to turn it off when editing photo's or video's (or capturing screenshots), but keep it running at all other times. It's helped me get a much better sleep rhythm. There is a similar app called Twilight that does the same thing for your Android phone.

Fre:Ac
Converting audio formats is one of those things you'll need not to do often. Fre:Ac doesn't have the most up to date UI and it isn't as good as some of the commercial available alternatives, but hey, it's free! And it does what it needs to do, produce great quality audio files in every format imaginable.

Tag&Rename
Along the same lines as Fre:Ac and Calibre, Tag&Rename is one of those very useful tools to make sure the metadata on your files matches it's contents. That your Plex server will be able to group and index your music effortlessly and your car's stereo player won't crash on malformed ID3 tags. I've tried free alternatives, but the integration into Amazon for cover downloads and metadata, plus the easy formatting macros to both rename files and extract tags from existing names makes this the best tag editor out there.

7zip
Many years ago, when Winzip was the bomb, it was the only tool you needed, then Rar came along and in short time the different compression formats exploded. Winzip turned from a simple tool into a complicated wizard and WinRAR never releases a free version (though it's trial ran forever). Then 7zip came along. It can decompress all formats I've encountered in the past years, it's fast, it has the ability to encrypt the file names in the archive (to mail files past pesky mailservers) and has one of the best compression ratios int he industry. Did I mention that it's free and simple to use?

Unchecky
When you're installing so many free tools (and probably a java runtime, some browser plugins and Acrobat Reader), you'll be unchecking a lot of checkboxes for browser toolbars, explorer extensions and other nasty tools that make Windows and your browsers unresponsive and do stuff you never wanted it to do.

If you don't install this for yourself it's for your parents, brothers and sisters outside of IT and your extended family as it helps them keep you away. It's like the apple in the old saying.

Unchecky does one thing. It unchecks the checkboxes that install all kinds of "extra's". And that makes it one of the required tools in my tasktray.

Lastpass
With all the information breaches, SSL Bugs and phishing out there, strong passwords and different ones for each site are a must. I've always prided myself in being able to remember a lot of phone numbers, but the sheer amount of passwords nowadays is just too much to either remember or keep secure.

So I trust in lastpass. And in Yubikey... and pray they'll never be compromised. Their security model ensures that your password is never sent over the wire and they use very strong security with lots of cycles to slow down anyone who wants to brute-force your storage.

Their apps are available for all platforms and they offer a plugin to integrate into your webbrowsers. The plugin is not the most beautiful in the world, but it does what it is supposed to do. They've been improving the looks quite extensively lately, so I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Controlled Vocabulary
I'm not sure how many email-lists you are still on, I understand they're a bit a thing of the past with companies moving to Yammer, Slack, HipChat and other services. Yet I find myself on a mailing list for Microsoft ALM specialists, The ALM Rangers, Scrum.org trainers and multiple beta programs.

Controlled Vocabulary is a tool that helps in categorizing email with tags so others can route your emails based on rules. It requires some discipline from all people on the list, so it may not work for yours, but if people use it correctly it's a great way to separate the important messages from the less important ones. Not sure about your mailbox, but I generally receive 100's of emails a day and spending time on the right ones is paramount to a decent productivity

Paint .NET
This little free paint replacement with enough power to do simple image manipulation is powerful enough for many of the small things I do with images while developing and for presentations. I sometimes long for the power of Photoshop, but the price has always felt prohibitive. Now with the Creative Cloud offer, I may switch, as upgrading my old Lightroom 4.0 license will cost me as much as a year's worth of both Photoshop CS and Lightroom.

Until then, Paint .NET will be my go-to tool for small image work.

Atom (or Visual Studio Code)
Notepad is sooooooo 1993... In comes Atom. Free alternative to Sublime Text and the basis for Visual Studio Code. It's a multi tab text editor with all the features you could wish for. From extensibility to syntax highlighting to intelligent XML auto-suggestions.

Other stuff
Other tools, more in the development space, haven't changed much since my last tools of choice posts (Helpful Visual Studio Add-ins, My must-have extensions for Visual Studio 2013)

  • Visual Studio 2013 Update 5 RC
  • Visual Studio 2015 RC
  • Resharper 9.1.1
  • Visual NDepend 5
  • Reflector .NET 8
  • Team Foundation Server 2015 RC
  • Team Foundation Server Power Tools 2013 (waiting for the 2015 release)
  • SourceTree (for more advanced git trickery)
  • PoSH Git (for easier git command lines)
And the usual bunch of tools:
  • Google Chrome and Drive
  • OneDrive
  • Firefox
  • Skype

What can I say about these.

Temporarily bypass Bitlocker encryption requirement for removable devices

2015-05-01

Microsoft allows a system administrator to set a policy that requires the users to enable Bitlocker encyption on any device before it can be written to. This is a pretty foolproof system to ensure that company data is always encrypted (except that you can always turn off encryption on a device, which will decrypt (not destroy) the data.

It's pretty simple in it's use and only mildly frustrating as you're waiting for the device's first encryption (it can take quite a while on a 1TB portable drive).

Except when you want to put something on your Kindle, old iPod Touch or in my case today on a USB flash drive in order to make it UEFI boot compatible.

Luckily it's quite easy to temporarily (until the policy gets refreshed) disable this through a small registry tweak (which requires you to run as local administrator).

Simply import the following to turn off the policy check:

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Policies\Microsoft\FVE]
"RDVDenyWriteAccess"=dword:00000000

Import this snippet to revert back to the secure state:

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Policies\Microsoft\FVE]
"RDVDenyWriteAccess"=dword:00000001

This is quite probably a breach in the security policy of your company. Use at your own risk.

Staged execution of unit tests on Team Build

2015-01-19

When running Unit Tests in your build system, you may want to first run the most important suite, the one that should never fail, the ones that are currently being changed, finally the regression suite and integration tests that may be slower to execute.

Team Build supports this feature, though many probably never knew that this was in the system since the first release of the Workflow based Team Build 2010.

In your build definition you can easily add multiple test runs, and for each test run define which tests should run. Not a fixed list of tests (a vsmdi test list), but a dynamic list based on attributes of the test.

The following steps will take you through the basic gist to get this working on your Team Build instance.

Configure Git for Visual Studio to use a proxy server

2014-12-31

Unlike most features of Visual Studio, the Git tools do not (always) automatically pick up the Widows proxy settings, being dependent on a number of open source libraries which don't seem to be benefiting from the same Windows Proxy Auto-Detection.

This is a shame, really, but it doesn't make it impossible to have Git for Visual Studio to pick up a proxy server.

To configure your proxy server, you must  set an Environment Variable called "HTTP_PROXY". It follows the same configuration scheme as Team Explorer Everywhere. After setting the variable, restart Visual Studio if you had it open when changing the environment.

Most cross-platform applications will try to use this variable, if applications suddenly start to behave strangely, they might be under the influence of this variable. In my case I picked up such behavior in Calibre Ebook Management.

Enabling Requirement based suites for other work item types (without putting them on your backlog pages)

2014-12-20

A few weeks ago a client asked me whether they could link test cases to the Feature and Epic work items and whether they could create a Requirements Based Suite for these work items in Test manager. And while investigating the new "Bug on the Backlog" feature of TFS 2013 update 4 I found that there is a bug preventing MTM from showing bugs for requirements based suites. This little trick works for both problems.

Initially I thought it would not be possible, The work items that would show up in MTM needed to be in the Requirements Category and that is also the category that governs which work item types show up on the Backlog. Since Features can't be both in the Requirements Backlog and the Feature Backlog, I initially gave up.

Then I got an email from Martin Hinshelwood with hint of where to look. The ProcessConfiguration.xml allows you to decouple the Requirements Backlog from the Requirements Category. With these items decoupled, it would be possible to stick any work item in the "Requirements Category" without them showing up on the Product backlog.

Enabling "Bug on the Backlog" feature for the Scrum template

See also: StackOverflow

TFS 2013 update 4 has been out for a few weeks now and one of it's features allows you to easily put Bug work items on the backlog. This feature is very useful for users of the MSF Agile and MSF CMMI process templates, but is not enabled for users of the Scrum template. Teams using the scrum template will see teh "TF400917" error message and the checkbox will be disabled:



This makes sense, since Bugs have always been on the backlog for Scrum teams. I did look into what's needed to enable this feature and if you have custom templates the following tutorial may be useful to you as well.

To make this work you have two options, one is to take an existing process template and edit it, the other is to edit your process template in a lice project. I tend to prefer the first, but the latter will work as well.

Agile Chair Game - Some alternate suggestions

2014-11-23

If you've been at an Agile conference, been a Scrum Master for quite some time and joined an Agile meetup group (here in The Netherlands there are several), then you probably found that games can be very quick ways t energize any meeting and to drive learning through fun.

One game I've been doing a lot during Scrum Developer courses is a variation on the Agile Chair Game as described on Tasty Cupcakes.

Just to reiterate the goal of the game very quickly. Have the team learn quickly by failing in rapid succession and learning from their mistakes. The game drives short cycles, inspection and adaption and lays down a number of restrictions that they (initially) cannot work around (just like the real world does).

As I mentioned we've been doing a number of small changes to the game, so here's how we play it:

 

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