Microsoft: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back – Again

Once upon a time, back in 2013, Windows had a feature called “Smart Files”. I found it very useful – I was able to use Windows Explorer to search all of the files stored in my OneDrive, even though the majority of the files were only stored in OneDrive, and not copied to my local computer. It was a step forward.

Then, in November 2014, Microsoft pulled the feature, claiming that some users found it difficult to use. Two steps back.

This resulted in an outcry from people who used (and loved) the Smart Files feature, with the result that Microsoft backtracked and promised that Smart Files would be re-engineered and returned to Windows at some point in the future.

That now looks to be later this year – three years since Smart Files was removed – with the announcement today that the “OneDrive Files On-Demand” feature is rolling out to Windows Insiders.

Despite the clumsy new name, this did sound like Microsoft was at last taking a step forward again, so, being a Windows Insider, I installed it on my PC. And, of course, the reality is deeply disappointing.

The problem is that, unlike the original Smart Files feature, metadata from the files stored in OneDrive is not retrieved and stored in the placeholder files, so using the “Search” function in Windows Explorer won’t work on these files. Only files that have been fully downloaded and stored on the PC will have the metadata present. Here’s an example:

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In this folder of 71 photos held on OneDrive, only one (the photo shown selected in the screenshot) has been fully downloaded to the PC, the other 70 photos are still in the OneDrive cloud. They are listed as being present, with thumbnails, filenames and size, however, you can see that no other metadata from these files is present. The downloaded file naturally has all the metadata present: the photo tags, date taken, copyright information, camera used and so forth. 

This means that, as the OneDrive Files On-Demand feature currently stands, it is useless to me. I can’t search my online files directly from my PC.

Two steps back again. Thanks, Microsoft. Another fail.

Posted in Computers and Internet, Photography | 4 Comments

RIP Kai

We had the older of our two Labradors put to sleep this morning. He was 14 years and two months old, which for a Labrador, is a long life. I think we can say that he had a good life as well.

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Kai came into our lives shortly after we moved to the farmhouse, 11 years ago. He was then three years old. His first owners had moved from a house into a flat, and it was clear to them that Kai was not happy with the downsizing, so with heavy hearts they asked the breeder to try and find new owners for him. We were the lucky ones.

After Kai had settled in here, he had a visit from his previous owners. We were all curious to see how he would react. When they left, he followed them down to the entrance of the driveway, and then lay down, as if to say: “you can go, I’m OK here…”.

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He had plenty of room to roam around in, both in the garden, and in our field at the back of the property.

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Like all Labradors, he loved water. Fortunately, he learned not to go into our two ornamental ponds, but loved swimming in the nearby river.

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He could look very regal, or let his hair down…

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Watson arrived in September 2009, and Kai learned to tolerate a boisterous newcomer.

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They actually got on well together.

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In March 2016, Kai turned 13. He was getting very slow and spent most of his time snoozing gently. Often he seemed to be dreaming of running, because he’d run in his sleep. Chasing dream rabbits, probably. He’d pad around the garden to inspect his estate a couple of times during the day, but I could no longer take him out with Watson, because he couldn’t walk as far or as fast as us. Martin would take him out for a short walk whilst Watson and I headed off to the woods. At the time, the vet said that Kai’s heart and lungs were still functioning well, and his quality of life was good, but she was clearly signalling that the home stretch was in sight.

A week ago, he spent most of the day resting on his cushion, and had difficulty walking. The following days, he was up and about again, but this morning he had extreme difficulty staying on his feet. We called the vet, and her diagnosis was that he had reached his final destination.

This crossed-paw pose was very characteristic of Kai, he did it a lot. We’ll miss it, and him…

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Posted in Family | 7 Comments

The End of the Nightmare?

A rather good piece by Graham Bobby: The End of the Nightmare.

The only bit I would argue with is his penultimate sentence, asking us to pray for Trump.  I rather think that, if prayers did any good whatsoever, they would be better spent on the rest of us.

That big red button is still there and must be getting more tempting by the day to Trump.

Posted in News and politics | 1 Comment

The Garden of Cosmic Speculation

As well as visiting the Crawick Multiverse last week, I also visited another of Charles Jencks gardens: the Garden of Cosmic Speculation. Whilst both gardens share common themes, and the use of sculpted landforms, there were also marked contrasts between the two. Perhaps the biggest was the fact that at the Multiverse, there were just two other visitors aside from my brother and me. At the Garden of Cosmic Speculation, I was one of over 2,500 visitors… This was no doubt caused by the fact that the GoCS is open to the public for just one day each year, whereas the Multiverse is open every day.  The Multiverse is also relatively new – it was opened in June 2015 – whilst the GoCS was established in 2003.

At the visitors’ entrance is the  Garden of Worthies – a row of plaques – leading to the Buttocks, complete with a notice on this day:

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Along the way, I passed Charles Jencks himself:

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The garden contains Jencks’ signature landforms, and the Snail Mound was extremely popular with visitors:

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Here are all the photos I took (before the battery on my smartphone went flat).

Another stunning garden.

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The Crawick Multiverse

Just back from a week in Scotland, visiting family living in Kirkcudbright. During the week, my brother took me to the Crawick Multiverse, a landscape work of art created by Charles Jencks.

It’s stone circles for the 21st century, because it incorporates current cosmological theories into landforms. Quite stunning.

Here’s some photos.

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Floating and Voting

Tomorrow, the 15th March, we in the Netherlands go to the polls to vote for our political candidate of choice. Note that I didn’t say “to vote for our next government” – with 27 political parties to choose from on the ballot paper, it is inevitable that we’ll end up with yet another coalition government.

As well as the mainstream parties (8 or 11, depending on your definition of “mainstream”), the parties also include the “Non-Voters” party (12 candidates), the “Pirate Party” (with 37 candidates) and the “Jesus Lives” party (6 candidates). Somehow, I don’t think Jesus stands much of a chance. Perhaps he needs to hitch his wagon to the “Political Calvinist Party” – the evangelical Christian party, with their 30 candidates – not one of them a woman, because a woman’s place is of course in the home, and certainly not in politics. Yes, it’s the 21st century, but clearly not for some people.

And as usual, Geert Wilders has been generating more heat than light. His manifesto – actually a list of 11 bullet points covering less than one side of an A4 page – lays bare his anti-Muslim and anti-EU soul. He must be fully aware that he hasn’t got a hope of forming a government – few other parties will touch him with a bargepole in a coalition – and one suspects that he only does it to provoke. What is worrying is that his probable strategy – to pull the other parties to the right – appears to be working, at least in the case of the VVD, led by the current prime minister, Mark Rutte. Wilders appears to have goaded Rutte successfully into matching his rhetoric. Rutte is increasingly trying to appeal to Wilders’ PVV voters, and that’s a very dangerous, and populist, game.

Then we have Erdoğan butting in, and inflaming the passions of the Dutch citizens who have dual Dutch and Turkish nationalities. His “Nazi” rhetoric hasn’t exactly helped Dutch-Turkish relations of late, but then, one suspects, it wasn’t intended to.

And on top of all this, our newspaper, de Volkskrant, has been full of vox-pop pieces on floating voters, there seems to be a veritable flood of them. I confess that I am bewildered by the number of people who seem incapable of making up their minds. The choices are clear, at least to me. Tomorrow I’ll be following in my father’s footsteps and voting left-wing. He was a lifelong socialist, as am I, and believed in a caring society. My vote will be going to the Dutch Labour Party (PvdA), and to a woman. Sorry about that, Calvinists.

Posted in News and politics, Society | 1 Comment

Media in the Home – The State of Play, part 3

This weekend has seen a major upgrade in our HiFi system. I’ve replaced both the QUAD 44 preamplifier and the QUAD 405 power amplifier. Bought back in 1981, they’ve both given sterling service, but ever since I had our QUAD electrostatic speakers refurbished last year, I’ve been looking at QUAD’s new Artera range of equipment to drive them.

The plan was to replace the QUAD 44 preamplifier with the Artera Link, and the QUAD 405 with the Artera Stereo. However, even though the Link was unveiled a year ago at the 2016 Sound and Vision show in Bristol, production of the units has only just begun.

I am now the proud owner of an Artera Link, and it joins the recently purchased Artera Stereo to give new life to our music.

Quad Artera Link

I chose the Artera Link because it can be connected to the network; it is a streaming device, in addition to being a CD player, preamplifier and a high-end DAC. I’m taking a bit of a gamble here; the current streaming capabilities of the Link don’t interest me any more. It supports UPnP, AirPlay and Spotify Connect. UPnP is an example of the “lowest common denominator” approach to solving a problem and while it is a de facto standard in the market, it’s really not well-suited to delivery of high-quality audio streams. AirPlay is a bit better designed, but again, it doesn’t support high-quality audio streams, e.g. DSD. And while Spotify has a huge music library available for streaming, the audio quality of its streams is not (yet) HiFi.

What I really want is for the Artera to become a Roon-certified network player.

This is something that QUAD will have to develop in conjunction with Roon Labs, but if QUAD see it as a market opportunity, it’s well within the realms of the possible. Once developed, new firmware can easily be deployed to the Artera Link via the network.

In the meantime, I’ve integrated my Artera Link into our Roon system via a USB connection to a Sonore microRendu. The latter is already a Roon Ready-certified device, so I can use it to feed FLAC and DSD audio files to the Artera Link.

However, the icing on the cake would be for the Artera Link itself to become a Roon Ready device. That would mean fuller integration into Roon, for example being able to control the volume and digital filters of the Link from within Roon. Hopefully enough of QUAD’s customers feel the same way to persuade QUAD to take the step.

Addendum, May 2017: I’ve sold the Sonore microRendu and replaced it with a humble Raspberry Pi 3, running DietPi and Roon Bridge software. To my old ears, this sounds just as good, but at a fraction of the price of the microRendu.

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