Better git and other Linux based command line tools on Windows 10

One fantastic new feature in the latest version of Windows 10 is an add on you can install that allows you to use an Ubuntu-based Linux distribution natively in Windows. This opens up a whole new world for developers on Windows, including access to the same class of Git and SSH tools that are available on OS X (goodbye PuTTY!).

To enable it, start by heading to Settings, Update & security, For developers and turn Developer mode on.

Then, right click on the Start icon, click Programs & Features, “Turn Windows features on or off” and enable “Windows Subsystem for Linux (beta)”. You’ll need to then restart your machine.

Once back, open a new admin command by right clicking Start and choosing “Command Prompt (Admin)”. Then type “bash” and hit enter. You’ll need to set some things up – including choosing a new username and password for the Linux install – then an Ubuntu image will download from the Windows Store. You’ll then be dumped into a bash prompt that will be familiar if you have used a Terminal on OS X.

The first thing you should do is run “sudo apt-get update”. This will update most components of the Ubuntu install.

Using the new Git

You can now use Ubuntu’s version of Git, instead of the Windows version you likely have installed. To install it, open a bash command and type “sudo apt-get install git”.

Opening a bash prompt in your Windows user directory by default

By default, the “Bash on Ubuntu on Windows” shortcut opens a bash prompt in the user directory of the Ubuntu install. This isn’t very useful if you still need to interoperate with files in your main user directory. To fix this, start by right clicking on the “Bash on Ubuntu on Windows” shortcut in the Start menu, going to More and Open file location.

You can then right click on the shortcut and choose Properties. Delete the tilde ~ character from the end of “Target”, enter %USERPROFILE% in the “Start in” box and hit OK.

Clicking the shortcut will now open in your Windows user profile folder via the magic of the mount points set up.

Simply right click the icon in the taskbar and pin it to get a shiny new Unix-based command line on Windows without Cygwin or MINGW32. Magic!


Shameless plug: This post was written with Net Writer – a little app I wrote to help blogging on Windows 10. If you have Windows 10, download it for free.

An ode to Surface 3

It is increasingly looking like the Surface 3 is going to be discontinued. Microsoft is running out of stock on the 128GB / 4GB RAM model. Third party vendors are heavily discounting it, suggesting a clearance. The biggest sign of its demise is that Intel are simply going to stop making the quad-core Cherry Trail Atom processors that power the Surface 3 and other tablets like it.

This is a crying shame. The Surface 3 (not to be confused with the larger, laptop-class Surface Pro 3) is simply a fantastic tablet device.

The history

Surface 3 was the successor to the Surface 2, which followed on from the Surface RT. Both Surface RT and Surface 2 were powered by ARM chips and a limited, cut down version of Windows, Windows 8.1 RT. They were never eligible for an upgrade to Windows 10 (although the work done to enable Windows-on-ARM lives on in Windows 10 IoT). The market also shunned them and customers were confused by them. I was in New York for the launch of Surface RT, picked one up and loved it. I however personally witnessed customers, after queuing for an hour to get into the pop-up Microsoft Store in Times Square, decide to leave empty handed when they found out that the Surface RT wouldn’t run iTunes. Strangely the Surface Pro, which would have run iTunes, had its release staggered to a few days after the RT launch. I believe this caused significant confusion and prevented the Microsoft Store staff from successfully upselling.

Surface RT was a fantastic device for its time, albeit with serious flaws. I loved the fact it was a perfect Remote Desktop machine, but aspects like the custom charger and stupid 16:9 aspect ratio took until the Surface 3 to resolve.

The hardware

The Surface 3 is a real PC, well crafted for the price point. Some of my favourite features of the hardware are:

  • Mini USB charging port – you can charge this thing with almost any cable or charger you already have lying around, including USB charging battery packs. This makes it extremely easy to travel with. The Surface 3 is the only Surface (including RTs and Pros) ever made with a standard, universal charging connector.
  • Stylus support – one of the USPs of the Surface Pro VS the Surface RT was the fact the Pro had a Wacom stylus and digitizer. It took until the Surface 3 for the non-Pro line to get a stylus to match the Pro line. Although you do need to buy the pen separately, the pens are the same across Surface 3 and Pro (which has a pen bundled). I have a feeling this might have cannibalized sales of the Surface Pro 3 and 4.
  • USB 3 port – Pretty much peripheral ever made for a PC works with the Surface 3.
  • DisplayPort connector – you can plug directly into a large monitor with dual screen support.
  • Kickstand – this is unbelievably useful on airplanes and something that Apple is too proud to add to the iPad without resorting to flappy, folding cases. Without the keyboard attached this enables hands-free viewing in a really small footprint.
  • Expandable storage – you can bung a micro SD card in the slot in the back to expand the storage.

None of the above features are available on non-Pro iPads without accessories and dongles. Stylus support is limited to the iPad Pro.

The software

Whilst it shipped with Windows 8.1, the Surface 3 now runs Windows 10 like a charm. Some of the best bits:

  • Battery Saver mode – this really works. It shuts down background processes (even Windows Updates!) and underclocks the CPU. I have seen the Surface 3 stretch to around 10 hours of use when browsing with Battery Saver turned on.
  • InstantGo/Connected Standby – Surface 3 picks up emails and Skype calls when in standby mode. It does actually work.
  • Real Chrome – because this is a real PC, you can run full Chrome with extensions. Hilariously, Chrome had better support for tablets than Microsoft Edge until the Anniversary Update – Chrome supported swipe left/right for back/forward when Edge did not. iPads are limited to a fake Chrome (Safari in a wrapper) with no extension support.
  • Legacy software – Microsoft Money still works on this, a program Microsoft stopped supporting in 2008.
  • Native support for FLAC and MKV – one of my favourite features of Windows 10 is built in support for FLAC, the most popular lossless audio encoding format, and MKV, the most popular HD video format container. Apple still does not have native support for these in macOS or iOS.
  • Multiple user accounts – unlike an iPad, you can actually have multiple user accounts with separate settings etc. You can create user accounts for your spouse and children without the ability to administer the device. I believe Apple’s solution to shared devices is to, er, buy another one.

The only real downside is because of the slow eMMC disk speed, Windows 10 baseline version updates can take over 2 hours to install.

Pricing and comparisons to iPads

Surface 3 in the UK comes in two main models:

  • 64GB Storage, 2GB RAM – 419.99 GBP
  • 128GB storage, 4GB RAM – 499.99 GBP

I own the second model, purchased at the Hawaii Microsoft Store for 599 USD, along with a US layout type cover at 129 USD and a stylus at 49 USD. This was a total of 540 GBP at the time, so thanks to the exchange rate I essentially got the type cover for free.

If you want to buy an iPad with 128GB storage, this will cost you 619 GBP for the 9.7 inch iPad Pro. The iPad Air only goes up to 64GB for 429 GBP. You still don’t get a kickstand, expandable storage or even a USB port. iOS doesn’t even support a mouse, Bluetooth or not, forcing you to get gorilla arm when using it with a keyboard attached.

At under 500 quid, this is a feasible device to travel with and not have your holiday ruined if you lose it. I cannot find any justification to get a Surface Pro 4 at double the price for the mid-range i5 / 8 GB RAM / 256 GB storage model. After using a 13 inch MacBook Pro as my main machine for three years, I’ve now offloaded the Mac and returned to the state of having a beefy desktop and cheap, portable companion tablet PC. I was sorely tempted by the Surface Book, but for the two thirds of the price you can build a beast desktop and get a Surface 3 or other companion device for portability, just using Remote Desktop if you need to connect back to base.

For those who don’t mind Windows and want a companion device, I really recommend getting a Surface 3 whilst you still can. They were/are truly revolutionary at their price point.


Shameless plug: This post was written with Net Writer – a little app I wrote to help blogging on Windows 10. If you have Windows 10, download it for free.

Get Living London E20 East Village – 18 months on Review

This is a follow up to my initial thoughts on the rental properties by Get Living London at East Village E20, approximately 18 months after moving back to the UK and settling down here.

Get Living London are simply the best landlords in London. Period. If you have to rent and live in London, ideally it should be from them. They are now Private Landlord of the Year for two years in a row and it not hard to see why.

After my first year’s tenancy, I started the process to extend it by another two years. There were no fees whatsoever and the rent was only hiked by RPI – in my case about 20 quid. There is still only a tenant break clause, not a landlord break clause.

Living here for a while has meant I have had to interact with the management office on numerous occasions – lost keys, things that needed fixing, meter readings etc. On every occasion the response has been prompt, often on the same day, and completely professional. This is because they are professionals – not amateur Buy to Let “investors” farming you for their pension. The management office is also just down the street and open extended hours if you need anything.

For young people, the rental sticker price of the apartments might be a bit of a shock. They are premium priced, but remember there are no fees, which last time I calculated to work out at about 60 pounds a month if you went through Foxtons. For young professionals they offer the ability to split the rent for flat sharing completely with separate direct debits. This is a vast contrast from the student days of renting when one “lucky” tenant had to round up everyone else’s contributions and pay every month.

A special shoutout goes to Hyperoptic, the Fibre To The Premises broadband provider. Get Living London residents can get 20MBit free, with special rates for the 100MBit and 1Gbit packages. This is still the finest consumer internet connection I have ever used in the entire world. Frankly, it will now be hard to live in a non-Hyperoptic area of the UK.

Warning! Do not get conned into paying for Sky, TalkTalk, BT or other ADSL/VDSL based internet providers (even if its “free with Sky TV”). You are effectively being missold when you have an Ethernet jack in the cupboard with real internet that just needs turning on. You also do not need to pay for “line rental”.

Bills vary through the year. The heating and hot water bill for our two bed apartment ranges from 40-80 pounds a month, depending on usage. Bearing in mind we tend to run a full bath every day, this is quite reasonable. There are no gas bills since there is no gas. Electricity can be had from your choice of provider – mine is around 30 a month from GB Energy Supply who have charges that are the closest to the wholesale rate that you can find on the market.

Stratford International, the local DLR station 1 minute from our flat, has now become Zone 2 – this means commuting into London is even cheaper. And still certainly much better than paying over 400 quid a month to commute from Sussex into London on Britain’s most delayed train service (and people say renting is throwing money away, how about three hours of your life a day?).

If living next to the Westfield Stratford mall isn’t enough, shops have started to open in East Village itself. There is now an amazing Fish and Chip shop, Ice Cream parlour, two bars/pubs, coffee shops, a pizza place, dry cleaning and other awesome independent stores. The Fish and Chips from Fish House are out of this world.

It is worth mentioning the construction work that has started in the village. Two large towers are currently being built on an area of the green space in the center. Despite the disruption and a bit of an eyesore while the towers are going up, this is a good thing for London. London needs more quality homes from reputable, professional landlords and not just tower blocks designed to park Chinese money, which is the case for the majority of new builds going up in the city (marketed off plan for a week in Hong Kong before the locals can get a look in).

So all in all, still a great place to live and remains highly recommended. Drop me an email if you have any questions about E20 or Get Living London.

 

 

 

 

 

Net Writer: porting Open Live Writer to Windows 10

A few months ago I started to write a replacement for Windows Live Writer for Windows 10 using the new Universal Windows Platform, calling it Net Writer and putting it on the Windows Store in Preview.

A few weeks later Scott Hanselman announces that Windows Live Writer has finally been open sourced as Open Live Writer licensed under MIT. It was time to throw away my code and use that!

Scott was not joking when he said:

IMPORTANT HISTORICAL NOTE: Much of the code in Open Live Writer is nearly 10 years old. The coding conventions, styles, and idioms are circa .NET 1.0 and .NET 1.1. You may find the code unusual or unfamiliar, so keep that in mind when commenting and discussing the code. Before we start adding a bunch of async and await and new .NET 4.6isms, we want to focus on stability and regular updates.

Windows 10 apps use a subset of .NET called Windows Runtime (or WinRT for short) – vast swathes of .NET are missing. Some of the stuff I had to change includes:

  • Ripping out everything apart from the connectivity code. This was not easy as there were UI dependencies everywhere.
  • Removing System.Net.HttpWebResponse and replacing it with the much better HttpClient. It almost looked like I wasn’t going to have to do this until I realised that the backwards compatible System.Net interface was not handling gzip responses correctly. HttpClient however is async only, therefore;
  • All methods need to be async and non-blocking. Windows Live Writer used some classic .NET 2.0 era background threading tricks that are unnecessary today and Windows 10 apps are expected to be async all the way through.
  • The XML API has changed quite a bit and now wraps around what I assume is a C++ implementation underneath. System.Xml has been replaced with Windows.Data.Xml.Dom. There is a bizarre new way of querying with XML Namespaces that StackOverflow saved my bacon on. 

It took days of staring at 1000+ compiler errors but I managed to get a subset of Open Live Writer working. Net Writer currently only supports WordPress blogs (like this one) but I will be gradually turning on the other supported blog engines as I test them out. This also means that Open Live Writer code now works on Mobile – however the user interface is a bit of a hack job at the moment.

You can try Net Writer out for free from the Windows Store. I update the Preview when time allows and love getting feedback.

Backup and Restore is back in Windows 10

Great news! In Windows 10 build 10130, Microsoft appears to have seen sense and brought back the perfectly functional Backup and Restore function that was removed in Windows 8.1. You can find it in the classic Control Panel under “Backup and Restore (Windows 7)”.

No longer do you have to use the File History feature. The Windows 7 version of Backup and Restore supports a schedule you control, all files on your hard disk, includes a System Image at the same time and will include your OneDrive files!

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The cynic in me suspects this is only here for the benefit of Windows 7 users who have upgraded directly to 10, skipping Windows 8 and 8.1, rather than an admission that Windows was suddenly without a viable backup solution (which File History is not).

.NET web app cloud deployments in 2015

.NET web applications tend to get treated very poorly in the real world – some people still think that copying and pasting the contents of their /bin/Release/ directory (lovingly referred to as “DLLs”) over Remote Desktop to a webserver and manually setting up IIS is acceptable – but this is now 2015 and the world has moved on. Here are my thoughts on some of the various ways you can deploy .NET apps to the cloud.

First things first – keeping your .NET app cloud ready

Real cloud environments are stateless. You must treat the web servers you use as ephemeral. DevOps practitioners treat virtual servers as cattle, not pets, and don’t nurse servers back to health if there is a problem. Instead they take them out back, shoot them in the head and spin up a new one.

The .NET Framework does not make building cloud-ready, stateless scalable applications easy by default, especially if you are still shaking off decade old WebForms habits. Here is some advice:

  • Never use Session State. If you type HttpContext.Current.Session you lose. Using Session State either forces you to have a “Session State Server”, building a single point of failure into your architecture, or having to use sticky load balancers to force users to continuously hit the same web node where their in-memory session lives.
  • You’ll need to synchronize your MachineKey settings between machines, so all nodes use the same keys for crypto.
  • Multiple nodes will break ASP.NET MVC’s TempData (typically used for Flash messages) – try CookieTempData
  • For configuration values, only use web.config AppSettings and ConnectionStrings. Sticking to this rule will give you maximum compatibility with the various cloud deployment platforms I’ll outline below. And no, don’t use Environment Variables, despite what The 12 Factor app enthuses – Windows apps do not use Environment Variables for application configuration. UPDATE Jan 2016: ASP.NET 5 has embraced Environment Variables as a first class configuration option bringing it inline with other web frameworks – if you are using ASP.NET 5 you can now use Environment Variables as an alternative to local config files. Don’t bother for ASP.NET 4.6 apps. 
  • Do not rely on any pre-installed software. All dependencies should be pulled from NuGet and distributed with your application package. If you use a vendor’s “solution” (custom PDF components? Using Office to create Excel files? CrystalReports?) insist on a NuGet package or remove the vendor’s software. This is 2015.

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Azure Websites

The granddaddy of .NET Platform as a Service and the cornerstone of almost every Azure demo. Azure Websites is a very high level abstraction over IIS and .NET web farms, supports lots of very cool deployment mechanisms and is easily scalable.

  • Deploy from Github, TFS, Mercurial etc by monitoring branches. The very clever software under the hood (Kudu) monitors branches for changes, runs MSBuild for you and deploys your app.
  • Lots of features – staging slots (with DNS switch over for zero-downtime deploys), scaling with a slider, monitoring and logging all included
  • You don’t get access to the underlying Windows VM that the sites are running on – even if you pay to have dedicated VMs for your sites. This does mean that you get auto-patching, but if you have any exotic requirements (I’ve seen third party APIs have such broken SSL implementations you need to install their Root CA certificate on your web server) you’ll be out of luck as there is no way to run scripts on the servers.
  • To configure your app, you can set variables that replace AppSettings or ConnectionStrings in your web.config at deployment time.
  • Azure Websites also supports PHP, Java, node.js and more, if you are happy to run those frameworks on Windows. This blog is WordPress backed, so PHP, and running on Azure Websites!

An honorable mention goes out to App Harbor – they technically got there first by providing a Heroku-like experience for .NET developers. Also note that Azure has “Azure Cloud Services” – this is significantly more complex than Azure Websites and does tie you into the Azure platform significantly. Azure Cloud Services are typically chosen for long running cloud systems rather than transactional web sites (think Xbox Live rather than a high traffic blog).

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Amazon Web Services Elastic Beanstalk

Amazon are by far the biggest cloud provider out there and they try to tick as many Windows feature boxes as possible to woo enterprises. Elastic Beanstalk is a Platform as a Service deployment platform, similar to Azure Websites, but completely platform agnostic. Since it uses all the existing EC2 APIs underneath (Elastic Load Balancing, Auto Scaling Groups etc), Language and OS support is much higher than Azure Websites, at the expense of not being optimised for Windows/.NET workloads.

  • There is no cheap, shared tier. Your application runs on a dedicated VM that you have access to. This makes costs a bit higher (unless you are crazy and want to try to run .NET on micro instances) but gives you more control. As part of your deployment package you can include Powershell scripts that can execute on your VM.
  • The user interface is very limited – when I last checked the only configuration values you could set via the UI were named “PARAM1”, “PARAM2”, “PARAM3” etc, which limited your AppSettings to using those names unless you wanted to completely script your deployment.
  • If you want a SQL Server as a Service, you are limited to RDS which charges for the whole VM and SQL Server license. Azure’s SQL Server service charges for CPU time and disk space, which can work out quite a bit cheaper.
  • Docker container support is available – this will become important for .NET developers when ASP.NET 5 is out of beta and CoreCLR is ready.

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Opscode Chef + Azure or AWS VMs

Opscode Chef is a favorite of the “infrastructure as code” crowd, and it can be made to work on Windows. Given standard virtual machines on either AWS or Azure, you can install the Chef service on your nodes and execute Chef recipes.

  • Chef recipes are written in Ruby. This may or may not be a problem depending on your team (I can count the number of .NET developers I know who are also good at Ruby on one hand) but is definitely extra skilled requirements. It is possible to use Chef recipes to bootstrap Powershell scripts, but then you have Rube Goldberg machine of pain.
  • Ruby is simply not designed to run on Windows, let alone for long-running processes. The Chef Service had a long standing bug on Windows where Ruby would simply run out of memory. Anybody who has tried getting every gem in a typical Ruby on Rails gemfile to compile on Windows knows the pain I am talking about. Windows support for Ruby is an afterthought.
  • One thing Azure has over AWS for Chef deployments is the ability to pre-install the Chef Client onto a VM when you start it, all from the UI. AWS requires you to manually apt-get the client.
  • Chef recipes are based on the concept of convergence – where the desired state of the server is described and then a policy is calculated to bring the server to that state. Co-incidentally, this is exactly what Powershell Desired State Configuration does. Chef have plans to integrate with Powershell DSC.

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Octopus Deploy + Azure or AWS VMs

Ocotpus Deploy is quickly becoming one of my favourite parts of the .NET ecosystem. Built by some of the finest .NET developers in the land, for .NET developers. It provides the Platform as a Service ease of Azure Websites with the power of running your own VMs. I think of it as bringing your own platform layer to infrastructure you might get elsewhere – I’ve dealt with a big deployment of Octopus on AWS.

  • VMs can be assigned to environments, enabling a fully customisable Test-UAT-Staging-Production workflow with release promotion.
  • Your build server needs to create “octopack” packages– a nuget package variant. These packages then get pushed to the Octopus server nuget feed and can be deployed.
  • A deployment agent called a “Tentacle” is deployed on each VM. A single MSI command can install and enroll the node.
  • Elastic scaling is not included – Octopus does not manage your environment for you.
  • Deployment steps are fully customisable – you can create IIS sites, AppPools, run custom scripts or even install Windows Services
  • Configuration settings for your application are set as variables that apply to AppSettings and ConnectionStrings in your web.config when you deploy.

The Octopus Deploy team is currently working on version 3.0, which will replace the RavenDB database with SQL Server. I’m very much looking forward to it. Octopus isn’t limited to cloud-deployments either – it can be used equally well for on-premise datacenters.


In summary then, I’d choose Azure Websites if the application is simple enough to work within it’s constraints. Given an application with multiple tiers (microservices etc) or special deployment requirements (third party software, certificates), I’d go for Octopus Deploy on top of whichever is your organisation’s favored cloud provider.

If you have any thoughts on the above, or can point out a mistake I’ve made, please drop me an email or leave a comment.

East Village London E20 – Get Living London Review

Update: I’ve posted an updated review after being here for 18 months.

The following is a review of my thoughts so far about living at East Village, the former Athlete’s Village at the 2012 Olympic Games. My landlord is Get Living London and this will be from the perspective of myself as someone I imagine typical of a renter here – a young professional working at a firm in Canary Wharf in the technology field. I have moved back to after spending half a decade in Japan, so my taste in living space might be a bit skewed towards modern city life.

The surroundings

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This really is now a gorgeous part of London. The Olympic Park is just next door and there are acres of parklands available for public use. There is even a wetlands area with ducks! The site has a security team in East Village fleeces looking after the place and gardeners (although I haven’t seen them).

Nice things nearby

The following is all available within walking distance of my flat:

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Sainsbury’s Local – 30 seconds walk

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The Neighborhood Pub that serves a mean rotisserie chicken and Asahi beer! – 35 seconds walk

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The Stratford City Westfield Shopping mall – one of the largest urban shopping centers in Europe (with a cinema, casino and an Apple Store!) – 4 minutes walk

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Stratford International stn entrance” by Sunil060902Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Stratford International Train station – you can get to Paris in 2.5 hours – plus a DLR station that gets me to work in 20 minutes – 3 minutes walk

I have not included the Olympic Park legacy facilities above – the swimming pool, cycling velodrome etc – simply because I haven’t had the chance to go yet! There is also an NHS doctor’s surgery and a school on the site.

Commuting to work

On a good day I can get to work door to door in 30 minutes on the DLR. This is in stark contrast to the hour long slog through the Tokyo rush hour that I used to endure. The DLR is amazing – daylight throughout, mobile phone signal all the way (unlike the Tube) and no drivers. I spend about 80 GBP a month on pay as you go tickets via my auto-top up Oyster card (1.50 each way) – this is cheaper than the Zone 3-2 travelcard, which is over 90 GBP per month. If you work from home even one day a week, the travelcard doesn’t make sense.

In Japan, commuting costs are paid for by your employer, not you, as quite rightly the cost of getting to work is a necessary, deductible business expense. Not so much luck in the UK. If you decide to buy or rent a house in Sussex, say Brighton, you will have to pay an eye watering 460 GBP per month out of your own pocket for the privilege of getting to work on the worst train in Britain that was late every day for a year. No thank you. For those that say renting is “throwing money away” – this annual 4,800 GBP is definitely tossing money down the drain, or could at least be put towards the rent or a mortgage of somewhere closer to work.

Renting through Get Living London

When I first made enquires into renting in London I was absolutely appalled by the state of the market – companies like Foxtons appear to be almost deliberately misleading in the fact there is no way of knowing up front how much it will cost to move into somewhere when you view an ad as the total rental cost does not include fees. Between “Admin Charges”, “Contract charges”, “Check in fees” and all sorts of other nonsense that of course vary between rental agencies, there is no way to actually properly compare the price of listings on places such as Zoopla and Rightmove. This is likely by design. Scotland has outlawed rental agency fees, and even airlines are forced to show all hidden costs upfront in the advertised price to protect consumers. 

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The Get Living London management office

Get Living London is not your standard landlord, but is part of the growing Private Rental Sector (another private rental company in other London locations is Fizzy Living). They own the buildings you are renting. There is no middleman taking a cut. And with Get Living London – there are NO FEES to move in. At all. No check in fees, no admin fees, no debit card fees, no inventory fees, nothing. You pay the rent and the deposit and that is it.

Lets compare how much this actually changes the effective cost over an example 12 month tenancy agreement, where someone moves in with you after six months and thus needs to get added to the tenancy agreement:

 Foxtons (source)Get Living London
Administration Fee for creating the tenancy agreement420 GBP0 GBP
Admin Fee for adding someone to the tenancy agreement210 GBP0 GBP
Checking out150 GBP “Inventory Check Out Fee”0 GBP
Total fees for the year780 GBP0 GBP
Cost per month spread over 12 months:65 GBP0 GBP

The fees alone at Foxtons would make your rent the equivalent of an extra 65 pounds a month in this example. Who knows what this value is for other rental agencies.

What are you getting for that 0 pounds a month at Get Living? Very good service from my experience so far – I emailed the dedicated property manager about our heating the other day and he phoned me back in about 3 minutes. Try getting that sort of service from your amateur Buy To Let landlord.

Lets look at the flat

I love the place. It is modern, with underfloor heating, an awesome “winter garden” balcony area and an en-suite even in two bedroom flats. Plus, Get Living London do not charge any extra for a furnished flat – the furnishings are pretty awesome and were very welcome after moving halfway around the world. My only gripe would be that its apparently not possible for them to take, say, a bed away, so you’ll have to find storage for the bits you don’t need yourself.

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An example of some of the furnishings – plus the friendly chap who showed us round.

There is no boiler and no gas mains (so no British Gas to deal with) – the heating and hot water is supplied via East London Energy who “constructed a centrally-managed energy centre that produces all of the areas heating and hot water requirements and distributes it to homes and businesses via a network of highly insulated pipes” (or so I’m told). The kitchen hobs are therefore induction. Electricity has been super cheap so far, at about 30 GBP per month. In Japan it cost three times as much because of the air conditioning we needed.

The technology

All the East Village flats are served by Hyperoptic broadband. This means:

  • 1 Gbps Fibre To The Premises – (not to a cabinet up the road and a dodgy bit of 1960s copper between you and the box like BT claim their “fibre rollout” is)
  • 1 Gbit Ethernet cabling throughout the flat
  • A router is provided but you can switch your own in  – there is a pure Ethernet jack in the wall that dishes out public IPv4 addresses
  • No landline (there is a VoIP service available)
  • No BT line rental required (saving you about 15 GBP a month!)

I thought my broadband in Japan was good at 100Mbps, but the 1Gbps that I get from Hyperoptic here is absolutely nuts (and this is going through a Thunderbolt Ethernet connector and a router. I’ve seen it faster but I think I am saturating the upstream on the test servers in London):

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Note that Get Living London residents get a free 20Mbps service from Hyperoptic, with the 100Mbps and 1Gbps costing 10 GBP and 20 GBP a month respectively. Even the free 20Mbps tier saves you at least 30 pounds a month that you’d otherwise need in a home wired by BT (ISP charge plus line rental).

Overall

Living here is awesome – the location is perfect for work, my family loves the area, the facilities are brilliant and the cost is very reasonable when you factor in how much I save in commuting charges; let alone rental fees, copper phone line rental fees and other nuisance costs that should just not exist today. Compared to the nightmares I had of moving back to the UK – old 60s terraced council “housing stock”, begging BT for 4Mbps ADSL, an expensive awful commute, being shafted by letting agents – it’s been a wonderful surprise. For anyone working in East London and looking to rent, I don’t think you can find somewhere better.

If you have any questions about living in East Village or renting through Get Living London, drop me an email and I’ll be happy to respond.

Starting the Tokyo .NET and Mono Users Group

The community around .NET in Tokyo is pretty hard to find, so I’ve decided to do something about it. The Tokyo .NET and Mono Users Group has it’s first meetup on July 15th at the Hobgoblin in Shibuya. RSVP on Meetup.com here. We’ll be starting talks and presentations from the following meetup. Join us if you want to get to know some like minded .NET developers.

.NET Live Coding Talk in London UK at Medidata

On December 5th, I delivered a live coding demo at Medidata’s UK office, going over some of the newer stuff for .NET Web Developers. It’s 48 minutes long and covers MVC5, VS2013, EF6, SignalR 2 and some other bits while I build a rudimentary Twitter clone called “MediTwit”. Nuget blew up about half way through but we recovered. Full video below (visit the full post page to view): Read more

Free laptop wifi on the Shinkansen (or any “mobilepoint” AP)

Update November 2014: Softbank has changed their WEP keys. This will no longer work. Sorry folks.

I finally figured out how to get wifi access using a laptop on the Shinkansen (Nozomi N700 only I think) or any Softbank “mobilepoint” access point. iPhone and iPad users will already have free “Softbank Wifi” access – this is normally locked to only an iPhone or iPad. Softbank only check your user agent.

  • Select the access point “mobilepoint”
  • Enter the WEP key: 696177616b
  • On Lion, a wifi access window will appear showing the mobilepoint login screen. Close this if it appears.
  • Open Safari
  • On the Develop menu (this might have to be turned on in Preferences) select the correct user agent:
    • For iPad Wifi (which gets you “2 years free wifi”) or iPad Wifi/3G users, select “Safari iOS 4.3.3 – iPad”
    • For iPhone users, select “Safari iOS 4.3.3 – iPhone”
  • Try and access a page in Safari and it should redirect you to the mobilepoint login page.
  • Enter your Softbank username and password. For iPhone or iPad 3G users, this is the “[email protected]” email address and password for the IMAP account you never use. For iPad Wifi users, use the “[email protected]” account with the password written on the letter you got bundled with your wifi-only iPad.
  • Since their portal now thinks you are actually logging in on the correct device, you have access. You can now stop using Safari and use Chrome/Firefox/Mail.app/whatever.
Alternatively you could fire up Skype and pay money per minute for Boingo wireless over Skype Wifi access after entering the mobilepoint WEP key. No thanks.