Random Disconnected Diatribes of a p&p Documentation Engineer
One of the great things about being a technology pessimist is that you don't suffer that sinking feeling when something doesn't work as expected. And, of course, you get to experience a nice ripple of surprised elation when stuff actually does work as it's supposed to. This week I've experienced a roughly equal mixture of both.
I've rambled on in the past about the rather nice Dell Latitude E4300 that's been my main portable technology plaything over the last four years or so. It's got 4 gig of memory, a reasonably fast CPU, plenty of ports for my legacy peripherals, a superb matte screen with LED backlight, and all of this lives in a rather attractive metallic red case. And it's amazingly light and compact as well – easily the best laptop I've ever owned.
However, a constant stream of bleeding-edge pre-release software and myriad updates to the underlying Vista O/S (yes, I'm still a satisfied Vista user on some old kit) has taken its toll. Several things don't work very well, and it seems to spend the first half an hour of every day trying to collect all the wayward ones and zeros into some semblance of order - instead of doing anything useful such as opening my email inbox.
So I decided to experiment with the shiny new Windows 8 to see if I can live with it on a non-touch screen. I've been using it on the Surface RT that arrived a couple of weeks ago and I actually quite like it. In fact I'm writing this post on it right now. I'm also due to receive a super-duper touchy-feely ASUS laptop from work any day now, which will be great for collecting greasy fingerprints - and even for connecting to the corporate big iron when I need to do some internally-connected stuff.
So why not see if I can frighten the old Dell back to life by installing a scary new O/S? Or, even better, see if I can give it a whole new lease of life, like I did by upgrading an old XPS laptop to Windows 7 some while back. Mind you, there seemed no point in putting all this effort into it when the hard drive was probably one of the root causes of the arthritic performance, so before anything else I ordered a 128 gig SSD to replace it. The nice people at Crucial even do a proper upgrade kit for the E4300, so the hardware installation bit was only a ten minute job – including blowing the dust out of the innards after I took all the wrong panels off before I read the instructions.
After that installing Windows 8 was a breeze, and the change in performance is startling. It boots in less than ten seconds, and loads applications like they were already running in another window. Amazing. I've always been a bit reticent about SSDs after reading reports about doubtful reliability with the early ones, but it seems that even some parts of Windows Azure datacenters use them to maximize performance, so I guess they figured out how to make them more reliable.
It wasn't long before I'd got Office 2013, Visual Studio 2012, and all the other bits and pieces I use for my daily bread-winning tasks installed as well, and by now I was almost in ecstasy as the constant ripples of surprised elation overwhelmed my technological pessimism. Until I remembered why I'd never upgraded this machine to Windows 7 before – anything later than Vista must have BitLocker turned on to be allowed onto the corporate network.
But after some firkling in the BIOS I discovered a previously undiscovered TPM chip, and figured that maybe I could get BitLocker to work on this machine. It turned on OK, and quite happily encrypted my drive. However, every third reboot produced an error that "a compatible TPM module was not found” and I had to enter the recovery key (which is 48 characters long) to get it working. By teatime I'd decided that enough was enough, and turned BitLocker off again. It only took three hours to unencrypt the drive, but at least I still had a working setup.
So it seems that this machine is destined to never see CorpNet again, even if its memory will live long in the Active Directory Users and Computers list as a tribute to many years' faithful service. I just hope the new laptop arrives before I need to get access again, though I suppose I can just drop the old hard disk with Vista on it into the Dell if needs be.
And because I won't be joining it back to the corporate domain, I decided I might as well join it to my own domain here in my remote home/office. That way it will pick up all the domain rules and configuration settings, including using my own Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) server instead of going out to Windows Update each time.
And, just to balance out the pessimism-based elation/disappointment ratio, all I got from the Windows Update dialog was the incredibly useful "Error 800b0001” message. A brief Binging revealed that the WSUS server needed an application of the KB 2720211 patch, which several people reckoned would fix the problem. Oh no, it doesn't. You also need the KB 2734608 patch, which openly advertises that it fixes the problem with talking to the new "hardened” Windows Update client in Windows 8.
So at last I have what feels and looks like a new laptop, and all I need to do now is learn the keyboard equivalents of the proddy-finger actions. I quickly figured that Windows key + Q gets you to the nearest thing to a Start menu - the Search box where you can find and start all your regular programs. And I pinned the Control Panel widget to my Start (Home?) screen, along with all the applications I use most of the time, just to make life easier.
You even get a new game in Windows 8 - shuffling the start screen tiles around to get them in the order you want is just like playing one of those old picture tile slider puzzles. You have to plan four or five moves ahead or they all shuffle around randomly when you come to move the last one, and you have to start all over again.
And I guess that, if by some remote chance you're still here, you'll now be wondering about the title of this post. What I can't figure is why, when it's to set to automatically install updates, my WSUS server didn't automatically install the updates that make it to work with Windows 8. It turns out that they aren't actually on Windows Update. They are optional service updates that can prevent WSUS from distributing any custom updates you might have created. But it would have been nice to have been warned about it. Seems you only find out when you have the same problem as me, and search the web for an answer. Or if you are interested enough in WSUS to sign up to some mailing list.
But perhaps it's a good thing that everything didn't go right at the first attempt. I'm not sure my constitution could cope with an excess of surprised elation ripples at my time of life...
Why would you want to use a "Big Data" solution? It's a question that we've been trying to answer in the first chapter of our forthcoming p&p guide to Windows Azure HDInsight. For a long while, everything we found on the web and in the original HDInsight docs on the website talked just about the volume and unstructured nature of the data as the justification.
Meanwhile the docs and presentations from Hortonworks (who created the Hadoop implementation behind HDInsight), and existing books about Big Data, all have comparison tables for a relational database and Hadoop/HDFS. And all of these concentrate on the differences in data volume, disk write speed, handling unstructured data formats, the point at which a schema is applied to the data, and how query processing is distributed.
OK, so this is valid and useful information, but it all comes back to the suggestion that you should choose a Big Data solution such as HDInsight only when a relational database just can't cut it. You know how it is - your boss just sent you 20 Petabytes of data as text strings and he's happy to wait till next Tuesday for an answer to his question. This probably happens to lots of people every week.
But when you really start to think about it, and talk to people who actually know about enterprise databases, data warehouse systems, and BI (Hi, Graeme) you discover that almost anything real people want to do is most likely perfectly possible using the kit that's already running in their datacenter. SQL Server Parallel Data Warehouse (PDW) can cope with Terabytes of data, which realistically is all that most people will have. Let's face it, the total size of the census data for the whole of the U.S. is only a few hundred GB.
And the fact that Hadoop "moves the processing to the data instead of moving the data to the database engine" doesn't mean that much if the database has fibre connections to the data store. Yes, the fact that Hadoop does it as distributed parallel tasks might speed up queries, but PDW is built to do that, and there's typically no shortage of cores in modern processors. I'll accept that you need some serious hardware for SQL Server and PDW if you are doing anything more than pretending to be a DBA, but for most organizations that already do proper BI this is pretty much the case.
So, like many people, I was starting to wonder if this Big Data thing was just another fad that would be gone in a year's time. Is it actually "Big Hype", or even an updated version of the famous old IBM misquote: "I think there is a world market for maybe five Big Data systems."
Except until I watched a presentation by Microsoft technical fellow Dave Campbell. The point he made is that it's not really about any of the comparisons related to volume, or structure, or parallel processing, or distributed storage. These are just technical details. What it's really about is getting insights from data. Which is probably why they called it HDInsight.
When your mind is wandering while you're in the shower or eating your cornflakes, and you suddenly get hit by inspiration about some question you might be able to answer by querying all that data you keep collecting, you've discovered what Big Data is all about. If you need to go and see your data architect, DBA, or data steward to implement your inspiration they'll tell you it will take two weeks to design the query, a week to update the data models, three days to cleanse and validate the source data, and a day to set up the report. And it's perfectly possible that, after all this, the report won't show anything useful. Or it will show that you should have asked a different question.
If you are a Douglas Adams fan, no doubt you are already mumbling "Deep Thought" to yourself.
In the presentation Dave talked about how you simply fire up a new cluster in HDInsight, load the data, and ask the question. If the answer is useful, then you know what query you need to get your DBA to create in your data warehouse. If the answer isn't useful, but suggests that a different question might be interesting, then you go ahead and ask that question. And if there are no questions that provide useful answers, then the only thing you've lost is a few hours of your time and the hourly cost of the "pay only for what you use" Windows Azure HDInsight cluster.
And it's fairly safe to assume there are more than five organizations in the world that would find this useful...
So we've gone from a tabletless state to a twin fondleslab-equipped household in a little under two weeks. My wife no longer has to squint at Facebook pages containing 4 point text on a tiny smartphone screen, and I don't have to wait for Windows to get started on my "downstairs laptop" when I want to check my email. Technological nirvana perhaps?
Normally, I try to standardize our household purchases. While we don't tend to wear matching shell suits (at least, not since the late 80's), I did insist that she use a Windows 7 computer in her office so I would be able to fix it. And we both have the same HTC phone so that she can use mine after hers falls onto the tiled floor, or I can use hers after I drop mine in the bath.
However, things don't seem to have worked out quite that way with the fondleslabs. She's familiar with Android on the phone, and so when she decided that the cats could buy her a tablet for Mother's Day it was inevitable that it would be a Google Nexus 7. It's had some of the best reviews of the Android-powered ones, and is about the right size - some friends have 10" iPads but she reckoned they were a bit unwieldy.
And then, out of the blue just a week later, our friendly post lady turned up with my company-issued Windows Surface RT complete with the cheaper touch keyboard. First impressions are that it's a really neat piece of kit with a glorious screen, and it's surprisingly fast for a Windows O/S equipped mobile device.
So, as we've been dual-tabletized for a couple of weeks now, what's the verdict? Obviously, as a 'Softie I need to be a bit careful here, but it's interesting to compare the two in several areas. In particular what my better half thinks of the two, based on the things she most uses a tablet for - email, Facebook, web browsing, YouTube, etc.
In terms of speed there seems to be nothing between them. Both are superbly responsive, though the Surface does seem to take a bit longer opening some applications. But strangely, perhaps because of the position of the control buttons, she instinctively uses the Nexus in portrait mode and the Surface in landscape mode; which makes the text larger on the Surface because the page is wider, but you have to scroll more. Yes, you can rotate both devices and stretch the screen to enlarge the text, but the Surface just naturally seems to be better for browsing complex web pages.
However, figuring out where to go and what to do when she suddenly ends up on the Windows desktop is confusing, though the hardware button below the screen takes you straight back to the tiled intro screen. What does seem odd to her is that you need to swipe on nothing at the edge of the screen to get the options menu, and several tasks require swiping from the top or bottom - again there is no visible "tab" to indicate this. On the Nexus there's either a tab at the edge of the screen or a button displayed in the status bar.
Navigating within applications on the Surface also seems harder sometimes, especially when going back to a previous screen. The Nexus has a "back" button in the status bar, but many Surface apps have a hidden "back" button on the page that only shows when you touch the screen. So figuring out how to stop playback of a music track on the Surface, for example, takes some getting used to.
One area where the Surface does score well with my wife is the sound quality through the built-in speaker; it seems clearer and more rich than on the Nexus. The Surface also has an onscreen keyboard that feels more usable because of the size in the default landscape mode, but she hates the clip-on physical Surface keyboard with its lack of feedback and floppiness. And I find that, unlike a laptop, it's almost impossible to use the Surface on your lap with the physical keyboard. The screen angle with the fold-out stand seems wrong when you put it on the table or a desk.
After playing with both, my wife has gravitated to the Nexus for the familiarity of the applications and navigation (it's much like her HTC phone), and because it seems to be easier and more natural to hold in one hand while prodding and swiping with the other. She also seems to prefer the default portrait orientation - perhaps, again, because it is similar to the phone. But she's impressed with the Surface, especially apps such as the weather (much better than the Nexus one) and the availability of a proper back-facing camera (the Nexus only has a webcam).
Which is the better one as far as I'm concerned? I like the Nexus because it's neat and handy, and quite happily integrates with our own private email providers. But I hate it because it doesn't recognize the format of all our stored music and video files (WMA and WMV). I suppose this isn't surprising, and probably I should have used MP3 and MPEG when I ripped and stored them. The Surface, of course, does recognize WMA and WMV.
But what's won me over to the Surface is Windows 8. I never thought I'd like it (and maybe I won't so much on a non-touch laptop or desktop when I get around to upgrading), but on the tablet it's really good. The tiled interface is perfect, especially after a bit or reorganization around the apps I use most often. And, best of all, I can drop into the desktop where everything is familiar. If I want, I can fiddle with settings in the same way as all the other computers in our house.
Even better, it does proper networking with my Windows domain through the wireless router. By setting it up with a local account rather than a Microsoft (Live ID) account I can access any of the read-only shares on the network where we store music and video, so copying them onto the machine was easy compared to plugging the Nexus into a USB port of another computer. And I can save files I create in Word (such as these rambling blog posts) to a shared folder on the server that is backed up each night.
What's clear, I guess, is that the Surface is really a touch-enabled Windows laptop without a keyboard; and almost a laptop when you clip on the touch keyboard. OK, so you can't install standard Windows applications, but it has everything we typically use for non-work activities already installed. Plus Word, which to me is the most useful of all. The only real limitation I've found so far is that, unlike my Android phone, it can't connect to Microsoft corporate email servers because it doesn't meet the remote security requirements.
So, the final decision? With the very limited range of uses my wife has for the device, the Nexus seems to do it all except handle her favorite music videos that are in WMV format. And it's half the price of the Surface. Yet, after using the Surface for a while, I find the Nexus awkward and I miss having the familiarity and power of real Windows underneath. It's like I know what's happening with the Surface, even if I'm still struggling with some parts of the new tiled interface, whereas I'm never quite sure what the Nexus is doing.
It looks very much as though I'll be Surfacing the web, while my wife is sitting Nexus me...
Nobody could accuse me of being posh, and compared to most of the developers I work with here at Microsoft I'm probably not the brightest button in the box. But I did study mathematics in the past, including matrix theory. I just never got to pronounce it right.
It all came rushing back to me as I was watching a presentation about using singular value decomposition (SVD) to identify textual semantic spaces in a Big Data solution. I guess with a title like that I should have known better, but it did sound interesting. And would probably be really useful if I could understand any of it. Mind you, it was the end of a particularly stressful day and I was trying to get some other jobs finished at the same time it was playing on the second screen. Maybe an early start straight after a couple of cups of strong coffee will help next time.
But what struck me was that I remember everyone at school and college pronounced "matrix" with an "a" sound like in "apple", not an "ay" sound like in "say". Perhaps that's where being a rough English Northerner rather than a posh Home Counties softie comes into play. We say "grass" with the same "a as in apple" sound rather than "grahhss".
And even when the movie "The Matrix" came out and everyone called it "The May-tricks", I never thought about the different pronunciation. I suppose because, in my day job, you don't come across many matrices. Though I will accept that if you pronounce the plural as "may-tress-ease" rather than "mat-ress-ease" you're less likely to get confused when visiting a bed shop.
Though it did remind me of the story about an Englishman and an American who were trying to set up a meeting at a mutually convenient time:
Englishman: "You don't pronounce it like that! The proper way is 'shed-yool'" American: "Really? Is that what they taught you at sshool..."
Sometimes I think I'm the only person who takes Wi-Fi security seriously. Unlike all of my neighbors, I run my Wi-Fi access point with a hidden SSID so that nobody casually browsing the available networks will be tempted to try and connect to it. I also run it on half power, which is plenty sufficient to reach all round the house and garden without exposing it all along the street.
Of course, I also have it set to use WPA2-PSK, and it has a long and complex non-dictionary password. On top of that I enabled MAC authentication so that only known devices can connect. Yes, I know that most of these features can be cracked by determined attackers but all the good books say that defence in depth is the best approach, and the more layers of protection I have enabled the less the risk.
Should I actually worry about anybody connecting to my internal network through Wi-Fi? There's several other computers and devices on the internal network, although they are all secured with user names and passwords different from the wireless router credentials, and all sensitive folders and shares are locked down to the network admin account. But I really don't fancy having somebody I don't know wandering around my network.
Plus, anyone who did connect could get out onto the Internet through my proxy server, absorbing my bandwidth and exposing me to the risk of action if they do anything illegal over my connection. And I have to pay for my bandwidth, so why should I let other people soak it up browsing Facebook, playing games, and viewing doubtful content.
So it seems like my security approach is sensible. Unfortunately, Google doesn't agree. I recently bought my wife a Google Nexus 7 tablet so that she can soak up my expensive bandwidth browsing Facebook, playing games, and viewing pictures of cats. All the reviews I read said it's really easy to set up - you just choose your locale and your network connection, enter your Google account details, and (as we say over here, though I don't know why) "Bob's your uncle."
Yeah, you reckon? At step two you have to choose an existing wireless network and connect to it, or select "Add a network" if you use a hidden SSID. That's fine, but if I don't enter the MAC code of the device into the wireless router's configuration I can't connect. At this point the screen just says "Not in range" and you can't do anything about it.
Usually, when setting up any other computer, I skip the network setup and then go into the device information page to find the MAC address (that's what I had to do with our HTC Android phones). But Android on a tablet is obviously paranoid about not being able to talk to its Do No Evil home because there's no option to set up a network later. I guess they think that nobody would ever dream of using a tablet (where you can read books, watch videos, and listen to music) if there's no Internet connection.
And just to make matters worse, when you set up a new connection and don't get it exactly correct (such as the wrong letter case in the SSID, or an incorrect password) you can't edit it. The only options are "Connect" and "Forget It" - you have to remove the connection and then start all over again. And the dialog quite happily closes without saving the settings or warning you they'll be lost if your finger wavers a little on the onscreen keyboard.
So the only remedy to finish the setup seemed to be to go into the router's configuration and turn off MAC authentication while the tablet connected. Then, after setup is complete, find the MAC address in the tablet's system information pages, add it to the list in the router, and then turn MAC authentication back on. Assuming, of course, that turning off MAC authentication didn't lose the list of existing permitted addresses (I suggest you take a screenshot or copy them into Notepad first).
However thankfully, after three attempts when I finally got everything right in the tablet's connection dialog, my wireless router configuration page (after I turned MAC authentication off) detected that some unknown device was trying to connect and displayed the MAC address for me to add to the permitted clients list. After that I could turn MAC authentication back on and it worked. So completing the tablet's three page setup wizard only took the best part of an hour. Including swearing time.
It was only then that I discovered why I had so much trouble with the connection settings dialog - the tablet was suffering from the "phanton keystrokes" issue several other people have encountered (search the web for "nexus 7 phantom typing" for more details). So the next day it was back to the store to swap it for another one. From a different batch. And go through all the MAC authentication thing again because the MAC address is different.
And now I just need to figure out how to get it to talk to my wife's Exchange Server email account - which is exposed as a service over HTTP by our remote email hosting provider. And convert all the music she indoors wants putting onto it from WMV to MP3 format. Perhaps I'll need to take a holiday and stock up on new swear words before then...
So here's a question: why aren't our European masters hounding a certain well-known company to stop them installing unwanted software on our computers? Every time a hole in the Flash plugin is fixed they insist on fiddling with people's computers in a way that, if not actually illegal, seems to cause some users no end of hassle. If Microsoft included an update in every patch Tuesday that changes the user's default web browser to Internet Explorer, I'm sure there would be a huge outcry.
I mean, here in the People's Republic of Europe our faceless and unaccountable despots insist that I put my company's registration number in every email message I send, apply for a license before I can save somebody's email address in a database, and I even have to ask visitors to my website if they mind me sending them a cookie. Yet they do nothing about a company that tricks people into installing browser toolbars, and even whole web browsers.
Yes, it's a rant, and mainly because - yet again - I've had calls from friends and colleagues who have discovered that their computer has "gone funny". One even thought it was a virus, and is now too frightened to use the computer at all. And one call was from a relative whose computer I "fixed" just last month by resetting Internet Explorer as the default browser after the previous Flash player update.
I know you can argue that there's a checkbox you can un-tick if you don't want your system interfered with, but most inexperienced users won't dare do that in case they "break the computer" - as an industry we regularly impress on users that they should not fiddle with settings unless they know what they are doing.
And, yes, you could argue that the option is clearly shown with a description of what it does. But why is it set by default? If I want a new web browser, then surely I should have to say yes - rather than forgetting (or being too frightened of breaking something) to say no. If your local supermarket required you to tell them every time you didn't want some extra items automatically added to your shopping basket, you'd soon be writing to the local newspaper to complain. So at least try and persuade me to tick "yes" by telling me how wonderful the new browser is, rather than hoping I won't notice you decided "yes" was the default.
But I suppose that, if you want to win the browser wars, maybe one way is to pay some other company to surreptitiously install it on everyone's computer as part of a routine update...
You'd think that, after all the years I've been writing guidance for Microsoft technologies and tools, I'd have at least grasped how to organize the structure of a guide ready to start pouring content into it. But, just as we're getting into our stride on the Windows Azure HDInsight project here at p&p, it turns out that Big Data = big problem.
Let me explain. When I worked on the Enterprise Library projects, it was easy to find the basic structure for the guides. The main subdivision is around the individual application blocks, and for each one it seems obvious that all you need to do is break it down into the typical scenarios, the solutions for each one, the practical implementation details, and a guide to good practices.
In the more recent guide for migrating existing applications to Windows Azure (see Moving Applications to the Cloud) we identified the typical stages for moving each part of the application to the cloud (virtual machines, hosted services, cloud database, federated authentication, Windows Azure storage, etc.) and built an example for each stage. So the obvious subdivision for the guide was these migration stages. Again, for each one, we document the typical scenarios, the solutions for each one, the practical implementation details, and a guide to good practices.
In the cases of our other Windows Azure cloud guides (Developing Multi-tenant Applications and Building Hybrid Applications) we designed and built a full reference implementation (RI) sample that showcases the technologies and services we want to cover. So it made sense to subdivide the guides around the separate elements of the technologies we are demonstrating - the user interface, the data model, the security mechanism, the communication patterns, deployment and administration, etc.
But none of these approaches seems to work for Big Data and HDInsight. At first I thought I'd just lost the knack of seeing an obvious structure appear as I investigate the technology. I couldn't figure out why there seemed to be no instantly recognizable subdivisions on which to build the chapter and content structure. And, of course, I wasn't alone in struggling to see where to go. The developers on the team were suddenly faced with a situation where they couldn't provide the usual type of samples or RI (or, to use the awful marketing terminology, "an F5 experience").
The guidance structure problem, once we finally recognized it, arises because Big Data is one of those topics that - unlike designing and building an application - doesn't have an underlying linear form. Yes, there is a lifecycle - though I hesitate to use the term "ALM" because what most Big Data users do, and what we want to document, is not actually building an application. It's more about getting the most from a humungous mass of tools, frameworks, scenarios, use cases, practices, and techniques. Not to mention politics, and maybe even superstition.
So do we subdivide the guide based on the ethereal lifecycle stages? After collecting feedback from experts and advisors it looks as though nobody can actually agree what these stages are, or what order you would do them in even if you did know what they are. The only thing they seem to agree on is that there really isn't anything concrete you can put into a "boxes-and-arrows" Visio diagram.
What about subdividing the guide on the individual parts of the overall technology? Perhaps a chapter on Hive, one on custom Map/Reduce component theory and design, one on configuring the cluster and measuring performance, and one on visualizing the results. But then we could easily end up with an implementation guide and documentation of the features, rather than a guide that helps you to understand the technology and make the right choices for your own scenario.
Another approach might be to subdivide the guide across the actual use cases for Big Data solutions. We spent quite some time trying to identify all of these and then categorize them into groups, but by the time we'd got past fifteen (and more were still appearing) it seemed like the wrong approach as well. Perhaps what's really big about Big Data is the amount of paper you need to keep scrawling a variety of topic trees and ever-changing content lists.
What becomes increasingly clear is that you need to keep coming back to thinking about what the readers actually want to know, and how best you can present this as a series of topics that flow naturally and build on each other. In most previous guides we could take some obvious subdivision of content and use it to define the separate chapters, then define a series of flowing topics within each chapter. But with the whole dollop of stuff that is Big Data, the "establishing a topic flow" thing needs to be done at the top level rather than at individual chapter level. Once we figured that, all the other sections fell naturally into place in the appropriate chapters.
So where did we actually end up after all this mental gyration? At the moment we're going with a progression of topics based on "What is it and what does it do", "Where and why would I use it?" "What decisions must I make first?", "OK, so basically how do I do this?" and "So now I know how to use it, how does it fit in with my business?" Then we'll have four or five chapters that walk through implementing different scenarios for Big Data such as simple querying and reporting, sentiment analysis, trend prediction, and handling streaming data. Plus some Hands-on Labs and maybe a couple of appendices describing the tools and the Map/Reduce patterns.
Though that's only today's plan...
So it's true. Senility had obviously settled in and my addled brain can no longer maintain even the simplest items of information such as a two-fingered keyboard combination. It seems that in future I'll be wandering aimlessly around my server room dribbling helplessly onto the network switches, muttering profanities in response to the strange symbols appearing on the monitors, and talking into the mouse.
What's brought me to this late stage of realization? Could it be because my habitual dabs at AltGr (the right-hand Alt key) and Delete no longer bring up the login page in my Hyper-V hosted machines? For some weeks I've been confounded by the fact my ailing brain seemed to remember that this always worked before, but now it doesn't. Even poking around in Hyper-V Manager and the properties of the VMs didn't reveal anything useful.
In fact, things got so bad that I actually had to look up the Hyper-V key combinations on TechNet after I got fed up restoring down the VM's window and clicking the Ctrl-Alt-Delete icon in the top menu bar. It seems that what you need is Ctrl-Alt-End, but how could I have forgotten that when most days I'm administering the servers?
However, after some Binging it turns out that I might have a few more months before I finally turn into a doddering and disoriented wreck. According to the Virtual PC and Virtual Server help pages, the equivalent of Ctrl-Alt-Delete in a virtual machine is HOSTKEY and Delete. Of course, it took ages more to find out that the default HOSTKEY is AltGr (you can change it), which was obviously maintained in Hyper-V. Probably so that the world's systems admins wouldn't all decide to retire in the same week.
As far as I can tell, some recent update must have removed this backwards compatibility - though I can't find any mention of it on the web. Maybe it's just me...? Did I break something...?