Being male I’m probably obsessed with fiddling when I could probably spend my time doing something productive. One obsession is tuning (I spent more than the value of my first car on “performance parts”) which I’ve slowly cured over the years and now refuse to modify my cars.
Funnily enough one thing that has made a real difference to my internet performance now that I have broadband is to ignore the popular opinion on websites and actually benchmark my home dns performance and then stick to it.
In my case I’m fortunate to have a decent router that has a caching dns service (rather than simple pass through) and I’ve set this to query the fastest dns server I can get to on my connection. All connections on my LAN point to the dns server on my router by getting the settings through DHCP.
Rather than blindly pointing to Google or Cloudflare, please benchmark your performance by using a DNS performance tool. As I’m very old I like to use GRC’s DNS Benchmark. Yes I’m a Windows user so I probably excluded a bunch of readers but for the rest of us it is a simple .exe and creates an INI file (remember those?) when you create a custom resolvers list.
If you are like me and don’t live in the US then run the program (this is what apps used to be called) and create a custom resolver list, then run a benchmark and adjust your network.
Read and weep – in my case Cloudflare takes ten times as long to resolve an cached dns lookup as my router and Google thirty times as long. Unfortunately the cliche is that the fastest dns is that provided by the vendor of my connection. Your mileage may vary, which is why you should test.
Now to deal with the challenge of dns settings when you have failover between two ISPs!
I’m delighted to say I just passed Exam MS-500: Microsoft 365 Security Administration in my first exam since Covid-19 lockdown in the UK and my first “online” exam that I sat at home. This was my 36th Microsoft Exam pass and all of the other 40odd attempts I’ve had (mostly passes) sitting exams have been in a variety of test centres around Edinburgh and the Central belt of Scotland.
If you’ve seen an earlier post on the blog you will have seen that I hired a Tesla Model S for a long weekend in March 2020 and had a great time in what seems to be a different era as it happened just before responses to Covid-19 kicked in and holidays got cancelled.
I recently drove my third EV ever (the first had two wheels and was a BMW) when Polestar unexpectedly brought their test drive programme to Scotland and to a location only about an hour’s drive away from where I live.
More details to come but we drove the Performance Pack version and it was awesome. Different feel to the Tesla S due to the way the interior is organised. An excellent vehicle and I’d definitely consider it for a longer evaluation.
I like BMW Motorrad safety helmets; having a big head I struggled to get helmets big enough to fit and getting a size 64 BMW System 5 years ago got me started. Since then I’ve had a System 6 and currently have a BMW Motorrad System 7.
One issue I had with the current helmet was a leak in heavy rain. This would typically happen on my commute home which has a short stretch of motorway in a Westerly direction. It’s also fairly open so would conspire to add a headwind to the rain that frequents Scotland all year round. At roughly the same stage in my short ride home it would start dripping inside the visor from roughly at the center. It would drop straight down without impeding vision and not splashing – I think it would just soak in to the fabric at the front closure of the flip front.
When it came to the end of the riding season I mentioned it to the local dealer and they told me there was now a kit to fix the issue, which was a combination of a new visor plus new surround. Unfortunately I was a few days out of warranty but the cost wasn’t that bad compared to the amount I had spent combined on the original helmet and getting the communications unit fitted. When I got the helmet back it had a brand new shiny visor which is much the same with a pinlock but it now has a little latch at front center which engages with a matching hook in the surround – to make closure more positive I guess.
With lockdown I am just back on the road and being a lovely sunny day to get out on the bike I haven’t ridden since the helmet got it’s change so I’m not in a position to comment whether the fixes have dealt with the problem. What I did do however is make the same mistake that I did when I invested in the BMW pinlock visor for my System 5. The new visor comes with a protective film on the pinlock (blue coloured) and I didn’t realise this properly until I was several miles up the road. Top tip, remove the protective film!
Last year (2019) I got the idea of hiring an electric car in to my head and started looking around for options. I spotted that EVision Electric Vehicle Hire had a collection point in Durham and started planning a weekend away involving a weekend hire and travelling by train to Durham.
When I got to the latter stages of my plans I reached out to EVision and they explained that the iPace that I had set my heart on was only available from their head office but that they had a Tesla Model S or BMW i3 available. I started considering the former.
Then a circular email drops from Enterprise Rent a Car saying that they hire Teslas and I was able to confirm that the local Livingston Branch (to which I can either walk or get a bus from my door) could hire one for the weekend. Unfortunately for EVision (who are really really helpful, respond quickly and have great communications) the prospect of picking the car up locally meant I could build a drive in to the road trip (a slight benefit for my wife) and I could save on the rail fare.
I’m just back from returning the Tesla to Enterprise Rent A Car in Livingston (March 9th, 2020) and here are my experiences (ok it was awesome but I want to ramble).
Presales and Sales Support
As I mentioned above EVision were excellent and the main reason I didn’t go ahead with them was down to location. Their head office (where the full range of vehicles is available) is in Strood, Kent which is almost but not quite the other end of the country to Scotland.
I booked the Tesla through the enterprise website and being an IT person allowed me to verify that the location, dates and type all matched. Of note was that the booking was for “Luxury Elite Electric” which was teasingly “Model S or similar”. As with most hire companies they don’t generally guarantee a specific model.
As this was my first drive of an EV (and I like planning) I started wondering about the Tesla and pinged an email asking about charging and cabling. The reply explained that the Tesla would be coming out from Edinburgh Airport and that cables would be included.
On the morning of the hire I popped up to “check a couple of details” and was delighted to see a grey model s charging outside (model confirmed!) with the mobile connector through the window. The quick glance confirmed that the standard cables were included for what was a March 2018 Model S 75D. This is basically the so-called mobile connector with it’s two plug options, a picture of which you can see on the Tesla Owner’s club knowledgebase.
The helpful chap at the hire centre confirmed that Supercharging was included and the car also had a card for ChargePlace Scotland.
As it was, in my preparation I’d signed up for a ChargePlace Scotland RFID car as it was only £20 and I was a bit excited at the prospect. As it was this was useful for later.
Having searched about and read some poor reviews about Enterprise “loaners” for Tesla Service in the US I was relieved to see the spec of the car when I picked it up. Forgive me if I get the details wrong but the salient bits where:
Tesla Model S 75D Dual Motor Registered in March 2018 – the two times I checked the firmware it was up to date.
Autopilot working – I had to sign an “Addendum” to do with GDPR and telematics. The team were at pains to point out that it was the car, not Enterprise that would be watching me. I didn’t turn all things on but there were a couple of moments when the car was “unhappy” and indicated this through the steering.
LTE Maps – I think this is known as premium. Basically the routing took traffic in to account and showed busy roads in Amber or Red.
Leather Seats – the interior was slightly quirky compared to German cars but had leather seats and bits of brown “wood”.
Reversing Camera and Parking Sensors – these are a saviour when driving an unfamiliar, larger car.
Mercedes Automatic Controls – when I was travelling via Heathrow Terminal 5 on a weekly basis I got to drive a lot of Avis Mercedes hire cars and the controls on the Model S were very familiar. Interestingly the wiper and cruise controls were also the same. The steering wheel adjuster is also down there on the left of the steering wheel!
Supercharging included – now I understand one reason why Telsa have been successful. Supercharging was included in the rental and you just turn up and plug in.
What I Learned
This was my first hire of an Electric Vehicle and my first drive of an Electric Vehicle ever, so this is a mix of both sets of learnings:
Hire cost varies by location – I’m not sure if Edinburgh Airport has a premium or Livingston has a discount but the price differential between the same hire at either location is significant. For instance, while I look at the base hire cost for a weekend in April it is coming through online at £690 vs £360.
Telsa Navigation knows superchargers – The navigation (which appears to be based on Google Maps) will give you the option of selecting a supercharger en route if it works out that you will not reach your destination with your current rate of charge. What it doesn’t appear to do is be able to factor in that your destination will not have charging. What I ended up doing is anticipating my needs and diverting to a supercharger to prepare in advance.
It would be great to have a Type 2 charging cable – I had a couple of fairly long conversations about this with the people at Enterprise Rent a Car Livingston (who have all been really engaged and helpful). I found a number of non-tesla destination chargers in Durham that were un-tethered i.e. a type 2 7kw charger that could have been used to add charge while shopping or out for a meal. Unfortunately Tesla only recently started providing these with their cars.
Charging rates vary – you will see a lot of mentions of the speed of charging in modern EVs and how long it takes. For reasons I’ll admit I probably don’t understand completely, the charging rate of Rapid chargers like the Superchargers is not constant and reduces as the battery fills. At the superchargers I saw a maximum of 106 kW and a minimum of 11 kW. Things tail off as you reach full capacity so the best use of time is to only charge to “Daily” as the level said on the car I hired. Unfortunately on the 75D this meant about 180 miles range which ran a bit close for the travelling I was doing.
When I confirmed that my EV was likely to be a Tesla I took a look at the supercharger map on the tesla website. When I made the booking there were a couple of new sites scheduled in Scotland at Eurocentral and Berwick but the latter is still shown as being planned almost 6 months later.
What was reassuring was that our hotel in Durham was inbetween two Superchargers with Washington to the North and Richmond (Scotch Corner) to the South. I also discovered that Edinburgh Airport has a two space supercharger in one of the car parks near the terminal – in my previous job I travelled weekly from Edinburgh Airport and knew the car park well as the Taxis would pass it as a short cut to the drop off area.
In the end I used three Superchargers:
Edinburgh Airport – The car when collected had about 50% charge and wouldn’t make it to Durham. Navigation on the Tesla knows this and offers Superchargers to include on the route. The nearest to my home in Livingston is Edinburgh Airport. There was a model 3 charging in one position and unusually the chargers are not at the back of the spaces i.e. you park nose in. Access via a rather narrow entrance is to buzz through and the helpful security folks will raise the barrier.
Washington – there were 5 cars already charging when we got to Washington and the car set the charge limit to 85% saying that it was a busy station. I didn’t contradict this and popped in to the Campanile with my wife for a comfort break and a cup of tea. The service was friendly and really cheap (£2.40 for two mugs of PG Tips tea) and I have no complaints. As my first experience of a “normal” reverse in supercharger I was too far away in my first attempt (and there was a Tesla dealership guy doing something on his laptop and I didn’t want to run him over) but had no problems once I figured out how close to run the reversing camera. We ended up going back to charge up the night before we headed home and the Toby Carvery along the road was awesome. What was interesting for this was how much longer it takes to charge a battery to 100% – the charge estimator was way out.
Scotch Corner – we visited this twice, once each on the way to York and on the way back. It was quieter each time and I carefully observed the etiquette of parking on a different unit (they are in pairs). These Superchargers are in the car park of the Holiday Inn which we stayed in a couple of years ago and is a handy location for the A1 down to York from Durham. From a tourism perspective, Richmond is well worth a visit as a lovely market town.
My wife and I have been to Durham several times to go to the local police event bikewise so when I discovered that EVision had a collection point in Durham I started planning combining this with a stay at our “usual” hotel Bannatyne – my wife really likes the Sauna that you can use as a resident.
I seemed it was meant to be when I discovered that the Bannatyne Health Club has an Instavolt charging station which with CCS would have been perfect for keeping the iPace charged.
When it turned out that I would be getting a Tesla instead I did lots of reading and discovered that CCS is an adapter and dc fast charging retrofit for the Model S. But I also discovered that Jedburgh and Consett (on our normal route to Durham from Livingston) had charging.
My plans had to ratchet down when I confirmed on the morning of the hire that the only cable the car had was the mobile connector and as a 2018 car was unlikely to have CCS support. The only other connector in the bag was for the round type of socket that I associate with building sites.
Apart from a few visits to superchargers, the only public charging point I used was in the Cannongate car park in Jedburgh. For information this is the car park beside the tourist information office and the little bus station. The charge point is on the immediate left as you turn in and has two parking spaces with a 45 minute restriction. The unit looked really new and had three connectors; CCS, Chademo and Type 2 and all tethered so I was able to use the latter and my wife and I popped up to the main street for a snack.
The unit was free with ChargePlace Scotland and I tried the card included with the hire which didn’t work. My own card (brand new and still stuck to the card!) worked immediately. It was interesting to see the different statistics to Supercharging that AC charging presents on the screen. I was a relief to see the route planner had gone from a predicted 9% battery on arrival to 22%.
Having done a bunch of research beforehand my wife indulged me a little in checking a couple of the local public charge points. We parked in the Prince Bishops multi-storey car park to go for a meal at the Fat Hippo and they have just installed several pod point chargers on Level 1. I had been hoping to try that one out had I had a Type 2 cable. I had a look to see if the Tesco Extra at Dragon Lane had charging under their charging scheme and it didn’t but was able to find a couple of pod point chargers in the car park of Lidl across the road in Damson Lane. For our trip to York we used the Poppleton Bar park and ride and there was a single charger in the actual car park. This park and ride is interesting in that there are “public” chargers in the bus lane to charge the electric buses that take you in to the city centre. Although you could probably use them for your own EV, they were in busy use when we were there with an attendant running up and down plugging the buses in.
My personal car ownership journey has been fairly conventional (and European), starting with Ford, then Vauxhall, then Audi, then a couple of Fiats (which both blew up) and back to German cars with Volkswagen were I’ve been since. As such I have a bit of an attitude towards American cars (too big, can’t go round corners) and therefore Tesla (too big, can’t go round corners). And from a gadget and environment perspective really want Volkswagen to build a golf-like car that handles and is electric and deals with my range anxiety.
The Tesla Model S was a revelation – yes it was big, but the handling was fine and reminded me a little of the Audi R8 I drove last year without the noise. I now see why the fans like them despite the eye watering cost. As with most cars, the interior fades away once you get on with things.
I’ll admit the range on the 75D had me concerned and it took a bit of management to deal with the gap between Edinburgh and Washington. The Edinburgh Supercharger is at the Airport and has only two bays so a bit tricky. The distance is 140 miles so not far off what an 80% charge gives on the 75D. I found myself spending 3 times as long and charging to 95% instead. On the way back we took a shorter but more rural (and narrower) route and charged at Jedburgh for comfort.
The hire wasn’t “cheap” at just over £400 with all the bells and whistles but for a weekend for a car of that cost was comparable with an E Class Mercedes for something with a lot more performance and technology.
Would I do it again ? Maybe – I’d really like to try the Model 3 but the Model S appears to be the only general option at Enterprise though I believe they may have some Model Y on their prestige range. The weekend price was as about as high as I would go for a discretionary spend but worked really well for my wife and I to get a full feel for Tesla. I really hope Volkswagen manage to make the ID.3 as interesting to drive as my Golf GT.
Although I expected a decent result, I had the usual trepidation before the exam and woke up really early on the day. This started building up naturally as the date approached, but in the days leading up to the exam I noticed that the length of the exam was the longest I have seen at 210 minutes. (Part of my preparation methods is to put an appointment in my diary for the exam and location – I’ll write this up as part of my exam prep post one day!). The length got me thinking about labs and things and confirmed when I got the announcement at the beginning of the sitting that it included 1 lab.
A “lab” is a practical test of your skills on a particular subject and although it’s getting on for a year or so that Microsoft Azure exams have included labs, so far I’ve not had any and I was a bit nervous.
I progressed through the various sections steadily and I kept an eye on the clock. I’d read a few horror stories of candidate’s time keeping going awry and them running out of time. As it was I didn’t get too bogged down and proceeding at my usual pace. The curve of dread was quite amusing (in hindsight) and peaked about a third of the way in to the exam as I got a bit stressed at what I didn’t know. Then as I progressed through the questions it settled down as I encountered elements that I was confident in.
The practical test came at the end and I had over 2 hours left and actually began to enjoy that part. I’ll admit that I just used the portal to complete my activities but was reassured that the direction giving acknowledged that certain parts would take time to complete and that I could progress with the tasks as needed while it waited. I’m fortunate that my “day job” has a lot of hands-on work and I’m logged in to an azure subscription almost every day (after elevating my permissions through privileged identity management!). I applied the same deliberate pace and double checked each setting and user. If I was to build a test system against a live portal then I could imagine the type of process that I would interrogate the Azure Resource Model to check that configuration had been carried out correctly. This is just the same as naming conventions and azure policy checking so at each pivotal point I paused and made sure that I was reading things correctly – just like following a technical design. In a real life situation I would also use scripting as a confirmation step but took a pragmatic approach with the tools I had.
I was ambivalent at the end and it doesn’t do to be overconfident, and the lab introduced another twist at the end. I clicked the Finish Exam button and the response came back almost immediately:
‘Thank you for taking this Microsoft Certification exam. Your test results will be available once scoring is complete. You may exit the exam now without affecting the scoring process by clicking the “End” button. Your score report will be available online in your Microsoft Learning dashboard at www.microsoft.com/learning/dashboard‘
Talk about an anti-climax and it even sent it to the printer (the chap at the test centre asked if I really wanted to keep it!). So I was a little high and dry and while in limbo decided to get the bus back to the office while I waited and then I collected my stuff from the locker and fired up my work phone for the colleague support network on Microsoft Teams!
Anyway to wind forward I was about 10 minutes in to my bus journey when the congratulatory email came through on my phone and I was able to see my score report. Although it doesn’t really matter, the score was a good 100 points over the pass mark which I’m happy about as it’s content I should know in my day job.
My thoughts on the exam – here’s a summary without any NDA busting:
Like the admin exam the exam outline calls out the Azure services that will be included and these will be in the exam. Inevitably this is not everything that the extensive platform provides and this is a relief!
The exam has good coverage of the built in protection in Virtual Networks and Azure AD. Unlike the real world where you might have federation or Network Virtual Appliances in the mix, this exam rightly focuses on the “out of box” provision.
Time management is crucial in giving yourself space to address the lab. That said my first lab was a really good experience – it was actually the easiest part of the whole exam to understand and answer as it covered things I do almost every day. The flip side was that it took me as long to do the single lab I had as it did to answer the other sections.
And finally, as well as building on the other hands-on work (and exams) the preparation material I used for this exam was:
Skylines Academy AZ-500 Course – Nick Colyer’s course on udemy has a good step by step coverage of most of the content. As ever remember to follow along in your own portal. I bought it months ago during one of the regular sales on the platform.
Skylines Academy AZ-500 Practice Questions – this came through as I was in my latter stages of preparation. About 60 odd questions and a good way to poke me out of exam fatigue. Not a huge number but again so cheap that it was a no brainer to further my learning.
Of course you should spend lots of time in the Azure Documentation as this is an awesome reference and gets lots of feedback through GitHub. I also found a pluralsight path for AZ-500 but at a total of 42 Hours when I looked there was no time I would be able to cover it all in the time I wanted to spend.
As part of my work in Azure Architecture and Operations we make extensive use of Azure DevTest Labs as they are a useful way to facilitate end user compute for advanced users like Developers and Data Scientists.
In that we tend to use the Azure Data Science Virtual Machine as it includes a whole bunch of tools that cover 90% of our end-user needs and it is very easy to provide secure access with a self-service element and maintain control while managing the demand on our small team.
Recently I was preparing a lighter machine based on a Windows 2016 image with just the tools we required for 6 months of Python related development. Many of the sample artifacts make use of Chocolately which is really handy for deploying applications as there is a great library of packages.
I developed and tested the Artifact set last week but when it went to initial UAT it failed with “ERROR: Exception calling “DownloadString” with “1” argument(s): “The request was aborted: Could not create SSL/TLS secure channel.”.
I traced this to the Ensure-Chocolatey function and specifically the line that downloads and runs install.ps1 . Hunting around the internet let me do a discussion about TLS versions and that the webclient defaults to TLS 1.0. I wasn’t able to confirm this in the environment I had but I was able to check SSL on the chocolatey target using ssl labs i.e. https://www.ssllabs.com/ssltest/analyze.html?d=chocolatey.org
This indicated that the server the machine was connecting to was only accepting TLS 1.2 and above. I forced the script to use this using [Net.ServicePointManager]::SecurityProtocol = “tls12” above the webclient call and this fixed the issue for the time being.
Whether it’s connected or not, shortly after the January 2020 patch for Windows 10 I started seeing boot drive errors on my PC at home. For some reason the Crucial MP500 m.2 127 Gb boot drive started throwing corruptions and disk repair started coming up every other day.
Then another update stalled so I tried a repair – bad move. Part way through this process Disk Repair was run automatically and this stalled. I watched it for 20 minutes and restarted to see what would happen. That appeared to corrupt the contents of the disk.
So I scrambled around and created a bootable Windows 10 USB key on my work laptop and fired up the PC. Not a good story – the M.2 drive was showing as corrupt. So I went for a clean install and wiped the drive and resintalled.
The good news is that it took the reinstall, though in the meantime I’ve ordered a 512 Samsung 970 pro from Amazon as a replacement and will rebuild later. The MP500 is still a fast SSD but I’m now a bit wary of it and will swap it out soon. Fast SSD means really fast install so I had basic windows up and running in 15 minutes and fast internet and an Office 365 subscription means I had basic computing in 30 minutes.
Ultimately I’ll wipe the other two SSD drives (a bit of a long story, involving impatience) when I install the 970 but with another exam looming at the end of the week I wanted to get it up and running with base functionality as soon as possible.
One thing I struggled with for longer than 30 minutes was getting my printer up and running. I have a rather old but excellent Canon ip3000 printer which just happens to hang off the back of my similarly old QNAP TS-109 NAS Drive which gives me network printing. Unfortunately I couldn’t see a thing and no matter what combination of settings I thought I couldn’t see it. I took a break from proceedings to lament my fortune and then had a think. I started wondering about SMB and right enough, SMB1 is disabled by default in the recent builds of Windows 10. I dropped to PowerShell and enabled it and voila – the NAS box appeared on the network. I was able to add it and point the machine to the driver (which was still on one of the SSD data drives which I hadn’t wiped yet).
I’m now uploading a bunch of random stuff to OneDrive for Business in lieu of a rebuild at a later date. AZ-500 preparation beckons…
I completed my last Microsoft exam of 2019 a week ago with a successful attempt at MS-900. With December approaching and a two week vacation approaching I’m taking a little rest before diving in to preparation for my next exam. I have AZ-500 booked for the earliest opportunity at a local test centre which turned out to be February.
A year is a long time and with a couple of significant personal events in 2019 I’d forgotten how much I’d achieved.
I’ll be honest and say I don’t remember a huge amount about the exams (a family bereavement in April being the probable reason) but historically I’ve enjoyed them as they really make you think about how to use Azure technology.
I started the year with hopes to get another year for my MCSE Productivity but personal events somewhat got in the way and I struggled with this one, mainly due to it being outside of my current core working set and because the real world needed attention at the time.
I’ve got a post dedicated to this one but needless to say, my repeated attempts reduced my run rate somewhat.
Everything is an experience and I really benefit from an understanding employer who doesn’t add to the pressure I put on myself. The last time I had a challenge like this was with 70-532: Developing Microsoft Azure Solutions which was my last exam nemesis!
The low run rate meant that I missed a mini goal of grabbing the transition exam for the new MS pieces but to be honest I just had to let it go. Sometimes the pace of the transition exams doesn’t allow enough time between personal life and exam centre availability.
So I found myself in November and with life settling down I decided to hit two of the fundamentals exams as my employer had an initiative to get everyone through AZ-900: Microsoft Azure Fundamentals and was paying a one-off bonus for this and the other cloud fundamentals exam MS-900: Microsoft 365 Fundamentals.
The first gave me a bit of a jolt as I didn’t sail it like I thought I would, so I worked harder and got a bit more of a respectable pass in the latter. (See – technically a pass is a pass but I still measure based on score!?)
I got a slightly higher score than I got for AZ-900 which either means nothing (question pools and all that) or that you can take the person out of SharePoint but not the Office 365 out of …
Again it is impressive to see that Fundamentals is a proper exam and even if Azure is a bit more interesting for an old (ex) developer like me, Microsoft 365 components are used by almost everyone on a day to day basis.
It also played to themes that I’ve seen with Microsoft 365 projects in real life – customers have a whole bunch of questions to answer about their IT basics i.e. where do my emails go, where do my files go and can you reset my password for me ?