Back in the office with Microsoft Surface Pro

Today marks 4 weeks since I last turned on the Dell notebook.  The last piece to the puzzle was the HDMI dongle needed to dual screen this machine.  And wouldn’t you know it, this Surface Pro screen actually has higher native resolution than a 23″ Dell LCD.  I’m still adjusting to the fact that a full screened application in the small screen doesn’t fit the 23″ when I drag it over.  I’ve since taken the dongle around and tried it in a few of our conference rooms, and everything worked perfectly.  Can’t say the same for my iPad dongle… but that’s another story.

I’ve been talking to many individuals wanting to know my experience. Here’s my final take:

Microsoft Surface Pro is logical evolution between full size notebooks and touch-based tablets.  A bad way of saying it is that it isn’t as productive as a notebook and it isn’t as light and responsive as a tablet.  But then the flip size of the same coin is true.  It is much more productive than a tablet and it is lighter and more mobile than a notebook.  In the end, it occupies a unique cross-over position along the computer device spectrum where productivity, portability, mouse/keyboard UI, and touch UI meet.  Those that love it will love it because it is a jack-of-all-trades.  Those that don’t love it will hate it because it is a master-of-none.  That in an off itself summed up my experience.  To choose Surface Pro as a primary computing device is to deliberately choose to acknowledge that those advantages out weight the disadvantages at a personally level.

Knowing what I know now, would I have done it again?  For work, yes.  For myself, no.


Traveling with Microsoft Surface Pro – Day 6

For the past few nights, I sat in front of the desk in the hotel and did some work. Tonight, my wife took the spot so I planted myself on the couch.

  • Due to the soft hinge and soft keyboard (literal), this machine is almost unusable without having it being sat on a solid hard flat surface. I put the firmest pillow on my lap and was barely able use either the track pad or the keyboard. I could have detach the keyboard and operate the screen with the pen but the fact remains that this isn’t a light machine. Hi pretty much have to dedicate one hand to hold it up.  The productivity just isn’t there.

Travelling with Microsoft Surface Pro – Day 3

Day 3 we went to visit Legoland during the day and we spent the evening with family at my brother’s house.

  • I had the machine with me as we went to visit Legoland.  No, I didn’t need it there but I also didn’t want to leave it in the car.  We were there from around noon to 6:30pm.  Even though this is significantly lighter than a full size notebook, the weight is still considerable for long duration.  Carrying it for 6+ hours made me realize it really wasn’t as light as it looks.


  • From Legoland, we purchased a USB drive that allow us to purchase photos at $7 a pop instead of whatever ridiculous price (!) it would have been.  When we settled down back in the hotel, the same issue with the Metro Photo app (the not-scrolling-photos-from-a-non-library-folder issue) made it extremely annoying to look through the pictures.  I finally gave up and just copy the photos over to My Pictures.  Honestly, forcing user to do thing one way is what Apple does, a PC should know better.


  • After grabbing the pictures, I attempted to upload them to Facebook.  Unfortunately, the Metro Facebook app is several generation behind the ones available for iOS and Android.  Once again, I had no choice but to switch to the Desktop and run Facebook from IE.


  • We met up at my brother’s house in San Diego along with my parents.  Of course we ended up discussing cooking techniques and my father could not wait to share his recipes with us.  I snatched them up from his USB drive and promptly realize that the Dropbox app from the app store is read only.  To actually send files to Dropbox and use it like it was meant to, I actually have to download the driver from Dropbox and install it from the Desktop.


At this point, I’ve come to a new revelation.  Metro isn’t really part of Windows 8.  Metro is actually an iOS wannabe running on top but separately from Windows 8.  In other words, Metro is a sandbox on top of Windows 8.  Nothing in it is really tied to Windows.  All the apps run without the capability of Windows.  Unless the app developers explicitly add the functionalities, the apps inherit nothing from Windows.  As such, most app are worse than their browser-based counterpart.


Travelling with Microsoft Surface Pro – Day 1

In the mist of real world testing the Surface Pro, we have a vacation to San Diego.  It is  family trip, visiting friends and families, sight seeing in touristy locations, and eating good food.  Normally I wouldn’t have brought my work computer.  But what better chance to test it for real?

Day 1 is primarily travelling from Hawaii to San Diego.

  • Confirming the form factor’s advantage, this machine is really easy to pack. I usually keep all my electronic devices in my carry-on: a small 13” tote bag (looks like a mini gym bag) and I like to keep it under the dear in front. Carrying the 14” notebook was marginal. Its height made the bag almost too tall to fit under the front seat. The bulkiness made it impossible. The Surface Pro on the other hand is nimble and small, it does not make its presence known in the bag.


  • After the TSA check point, I reorganize my bag a bit and noticed that the Surface Pro was actually on!! It would appear that bumming the power button will turn it on. This is going to be an issue in tight bags.


  • During the flight, I decided to start writing this blog. This is another use case that show off the machine’s nimbleness. Even when fully opened, it fits neatly within the tray (even when the passenger in front had his seat reclined back towards me.


  • The Surface Pro came with a stylus. It has a magnet that allows it to easily attach to the right side of the machine at the exact same location as the power connector. When I pull the machine in and out of my carry-on, I noticed the stylus fell off just as easily. At work I usually carry the machine with my hand and did not notice any problem. But in a tight bag or attaché, the stylus can and do come off too easily.


Travelling with Microsoft Surface Pro – Day 0

We brought in 8 MS Surface Pro to test for work. So far, I’ve had one for about a few weeks. Even though I’ve been using computer all my life, every time I get a new machine, there are new things that take some time to get used to. The Surface Pro is no different. I will do my best to make reference to my observations.

Here are my normal computing devices:

  • At work, I use a Dell Latitude 6410 (14” notebook). Whenever possible, I have it connected to a 23” flat screen. I use both screens at the same time. Whenever possible, I used an external mouse (wired, laser) and the notebook’s keyboard.
  • At home, I use a Dell Dimension 630i tower, 24” screen, with full size keyboard for gaming.
  • I use an iPad 2 for general web surfing, games, etc.
  • I’ve been using iPhone for 2 generations now, a 3GS and now a 4S.
  • I use text message, Twitter, Facebook, and Yelp very often.  I use WordPress on occasion.  I have a 500 feed a day RSS that I read off of the iPad. I handle personal email on the iPhone throughout the day.  I handle work email on the Latitude via Outlook-Exchange throughout the workday.
  • The test scenario is to replace the work notebook with the Surface Pro.

In the past few weeks, here are my experiences.

  • The first day we got it, it took 3 of us a good 2 hours to figured out how to get it onto the network. Our enterprise network is domain driven. Normally the easiest thing to do is to attach any new machine to the network with a cable, have someone with domain admin credentials login, add the machine to the domain, add the needed domain users, done. 10 minutes. But because the Surface Pro does not have a network port, it can only connect to wireless. But since the machine itself is not recognized by the domain, the wireless route refused access. Without network connectivity, no one can remote into the machine. So what we have to do was for the domain admin to get to the console from a different machine, manually add the Surface Pro, by name, to the domain. Wait for the AD servers to synchronize, before we can get in. Now that we know what to do, it is not as arduous. But it was a definitive learning curve.


  • As I poke around and play with the machine, I’ve noticed a problem with the space bar placement. With the way I type, my thumbs brush across the track pad frequently, sometimes merely moving the mouse pointer but often ended up clicking the mouse pointer. The result is “random” relocation of my cursor. As I type this, I’m making many mistakes that otherwise would not be there.


  • The Surface Pro is much lighter and smaller than a full size notebook. It is easy to carry from meeting to meeting and has a decent wow factor. The shorter (height) of the screen also reduce the barrier between people in a meeting. It look a lot less like I’m hiding behind my screen.


  • Front mounted camera makes impromptu collaboration session easy to setup without smart whiteboard and special collaboration video conference equipment or software. Even basic Skype works wonderfully.


  • Windows 8 with its Metro (the tiles) interface is not that easy to use effectively. For work, most of the things I use (Outlook, Word, Excel, etc.) pop me over to the Desktop anyway. The Metro became something that is not at all useful. With the Surface Pro, you don’t really have a choice to not use Windows 8. So even though this really is a Windows 8 problem, anyone using the Surface Pro will inevitably have to deal with it.


  • The power cable that comes with the package is really short. If you are like me who like to snake cables behind the desk, up a rail, and tugged nice and neat, this could be an inconvenience.


  • Without all the standard ports one comes to expect from modern devices, there are things that I have to remember to carry with me at all times. The first one is the video dongle. When we first ordered the machines, we ordered the ones for the Surface RT instead of the Pros. Evidently they are not interchangeable. But in this day and age, having to lug a dongle around seems … archaic.


  • Another missing port is SD memory card. If you are accustomed to carrying SD cards around, you will need to carry a SD-to-USB adapter. It isn’t a deal breaker but it is another inconvenience. Yes, who doesn’t use cloud storage. I do too. But there are occasions where it is inappropriate.


  • Windows 8 Metro took its cue from the iOS and went full screen with its apps. Among the many that came with the OS is a PDF reader. I read PDF files often in the context of review applicants for jobs. Unfortunately I also take notes and update lists at the same time. A full screen PDF reader prevented me from easily switching between the apps and cutting and pasting. The solution was to ignore the reader that came with Windows 8 and opt for the “real” reader from Adobe. When ran, the Adobe ones opens a PDF in a window in the desktop, eliminating the problem.


  • Media management also took an odd turn with Windows 8. I’m accustomed to plugging in any ol USB memory stick and start scrolling through pictures. If you try that in Windows 8, you will launch either the Photo or the Video app in Metro. When you try to scroll to the next picture, you can’t. Unfortunately, neither the Photo app nor the Video app (any media players within Media for that matter) can readily access any removable media. In fact, none of them readily access any folders on any drive that is not defined as part of the Windows Media Library. So if your pictures are in the My Pictures or My Videos folder, everything will work out of the box. But if you organize your media in some other ways (in removable drives, memory sticks, even network storage devices like NAS, you are going to have to fight an uphill battle to access them. As I wrote this, I have not fully resolved this issue.


My 10 year-old learning Rage of Bahamut

One of hottest free games in the mobile space right now is called Rage of Bahamut. Unlike its name and graphics suggest, this is a card collecting and card battling game. There is no visible violence, blood, gore, or for that matter character animation. Based on that description, it is somewhat surprising that it has turned into such a phenomenon. But the success of it is not what I want to talk about. Instead I have learned a great deal from teaching my 10 year-old daughter to play it. My daughter is not an avid learner. The process of learning does not excite her. And so far I have yet to discover something that she desperately wanted to master. It has been quite difficult to find the opportunity to teach her how to learn.

I started the game a couple of months ago. She watched me played a few times and wanted to participate. The first thing she wanted to do was to help me poked the screen during questing. It was mechanical and un-rewarding mentally to say the least but it was a good bait. I also showed her the process of evolving (merging) cards and let her help me with it. With my old iPhone (no SIM card, just WiFi connection) in hand, she asked if she can have it installed on “her” iPhone. She took the bait!

One of the first thing I had to encourage her to do is to READ the screen. Every word, every sentence is there for a reason. Being a lazy learner, this was something she has to overcome. I have come to terms that nothing will encourage her more than a subject matter she’s interested in. Of course, the opposite is true. I had to hold myself back and let her read, comprehend, and understand at her own pace. I just had to make sure she actually read the pages rather than just clicking through the tutorial.

Since she had been watching me play, the easiest thing for her to master was questing. She accessed the function, poked poked poked, very self-evident, involving, and rewarding. With more cards, the next thing she mastered was evolving. She also learned how to improve the attributes, how to obtain friendship points on a periodic basis, among other things. In addition, she had learned some of the terminologies: “feeder cards”, “fully-evolved cards”, etc. With a proverbial bag of cards begging to be used and the questing/evolving starting to lose appeal (I’ve come to recognize these warning signs on whatever subject she got in and out of), she asked what to do next. BAIT!

With the basic mechanics mastered, now comes areas that are more cerebral. I introduced her to the rarity concept and how she can work on building her attack and defense cards. With a few premium card pack tickets, she got a hold of some rare cards and started to get excited. With the concept of evolving under her belt, I explained to her enhancing, leveling, and various more complex concepts that involved a great deal of math. The actual mathematics is actually not important but her grasping of the concepts were. (For those of you that knows the game, I explained to her the difference between 8-15, 6-11, 4-0, and potential outcomes.) Even though the gratification is not as instant, she started to understand.

I recommended her to focus on doing 6-11 on one card and she decided on a Holy Knight. Which card she chose really wasn’t that important. The fact that she had one and that she made the choice herself were. As she applied her feeders enhancing this card, her eyes lit up watching the card’s stats improving. Instant gratification at work! Somewhere along the line, the fact that she needs 6 of the same cards to-be-drawn randomly seemed to create an angst. BAIT! I then introduced her to trading. Using other cards she was not interested in, she was able to find trades from the marketplace and was able to get her hands on 3 Holy Knights, free! Knowing that nothing (except time) can stop her from achieving half of the 6-11 caused her to regain her excitement.

During our drive to meet a friend yesterday, she started to ask questions and I answered them. I’ve now observed her listening, comprehending, practicing, and asking questions. I sweetened the pot a bit more by telling her that 1) she and I now speaks a language that mommy doesn’t understand, and 2) if she listen in on my conversations with my gaming friends, she would start to understand what we are talking about. Evidently, access to exclusivity has a certain appeal also.


Today, she came into my cave and announced that she’s going to check the market and see if she can find a trade. After 5 minutes, she jumped into my view and cheered that she was successful and now have 4 Holy Knight cards. Again, apparent progress excited her. I told her, “I’m very proud of you of learning.” She replied with a puzzled look, “You are proud of me for learning a video game?!” Her mom (within earshot) promptly cracked up. And I said, “No, I’m proud of you for learning, period.” She was obviously amused.

While playing together is rewarding in a certain way, I think I’ve gained more by observing her learning behavior. People often complain about certain activities are addicting, including gaming. What I found is that other activities like studying, school, etc. are not addicting because they don’t have the correct mechanisms in place. They are not appealing to a child’s (or even an adult’s) learning cycle:

Interest spawns focus, focus spawns learning opportunity, learning opportunity spawns chance for accomplishment, fast turn around in accomplishment (a.k.a. instant gratification, no, it is not always a bad thing) spawns reinforcement, reinforcement caused mastery, mastery leads to boredom (a cliff), complexity steers people away from the cliff and create additional interests. And the cycle repeats. I hear from time to time that parents are amazed how quickly their children can master complex gaming concepts and complex gaming mechanics. My take is that children actually have very high capacity for learning but if the mechanisms are not in place or if the complexity isn’t there, they lose interests quickly.

Looking at how complicated this game actually is, I think I can squeeze a few more weeks of teaching/learning out of it.

From Education To Teaching To Technolgy To Learning

I just returned from volunteering from Last time this conference was held was back in . I am not an educator myself. But as one who work for an educational institution and as a parent of a child who participated in one daily, I did not expect education as a system to have changed much. I was right and I was wrong.

Back in 2008… actually, let’s recap what the world was like in 2008. The world-wide economic crisis just started to rear its ugly head. Kosovo declares independence from Serbia. 69,000 people were killed after an earthquake in China. China hosted the Olympics. Somalia pirates hijack multiple ships. SpaceX Falcon 1 successfully conducterd the first private space flight. The Large Hadron Collider is officially inaugurated. Obama was elected as the U.S. President. Back in 2008, our education system was as it was 100 years ago. Educators have just started to look at the Web 2.0 world. 4 years later in 2012, many world, economics, and technology events had happened. To put it in perspective, Apple’s iPad came into existence for the masses about 2 years ago (in April 2010). Our education system is as it was 104 years ago. I was right, not much has changed.

But as I listen to speaker after speaker, discussing and talking about how the world has changed, I’m forced to acknowledged that things are indeed different than 4 years ago. It is actually more accurate to say that I’m forced to acknowledged that what were once novelty ideas have started to take hold among the educators. So I was wrong as well.

Instead of concerning about Facebook, texting, web 2.0, iPhone, and a hundred other technological inventions, many educators have adopted them and incorporated them into their world. But more importantly, many have see passed the technologies themselves and re-focused on the ultimate purpose: Learning. Note that I did not say “teaching”. As I converse with the teachers and the speakers in the conference, there is a distinct acknowledgement, as least among them, that teachers are no longer information authority whose purpose was to pass on factual knowledge to the next generation. Instead, they all realized that the likes of Google can provide more accurate, more up-to-date facts than they can faster. Their roles have changed from teachers of facts to teachers of learning. Many schools, cirriculums, teaching methods, experiments (or not) has been teaching our children how to learn. The results are often startling and encouraging. Students benefiting from these changes participated at a higher level, they are more motivated, and produced better work. The teachers merely provide guidance and facilitation.

Unfortunately, what hasn’t change is the education system. Most students are still measured by whether they have acquired pieces of facts and whether they can answer questions based on memroizing those facts. Our system is still not measuring whether our children are capable of learning on their own, whether they can collaborate, whether they can research and judge what they found, and whether they help each other grow. At the same time, the same system continue to measure our teachers on whether they have successfully taught facts to their students instead of measuring whether they have “taught” our children the necessary skills to become life-long learners.

As much as I am discouraged by the state of our education system, I have hope. If we can observe changes in individual teachers’ views and approaches in a few years, we may yet witness ground shattering changes to this system within our life time.


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