New Dell laptop, dock and displays

Saturday, 27 February 2021

Starting my new position at SixPivot is an opportune time for a hardware refresh. Part of the package includes a laptop allowance so I utilised that along with my own contributions to purchase some additional items to round out my ‘working from home’ environment.

The laptop

After some consideration I’ve gone with a Dell Latitude 7420 laptop:

Dell Latitude 7420

Why have I linked to Dell’s US site? Because if you look for those kinds of specs on Dell’s Australian site, you’ll be disappointed. Yes, they do have the 7420 but not with the 32GB (or higher) RAM option. If your organisation has a relationship with a Dell sales rep then they can facilite orders like these.

That SSD is a bit on the small side. While Dell do offer a 512 or 1TB option, I calculated the cost would be the same or slightly cheaper if I then buy something like a Samsung 970 EVO Plus 1 or 2TB and swap it over myself.

As a side note, the SSD that came in the laptop is a “Kioxia” brand. Never heard of them before.

The Latitude comes with the following ports:

(Left)

(Right)

So you get two Thunderbolt 4 type-C ports and just the one older style (type-A) USB port. If you have a few type-A USB devices to plug in you’ll definitely need a dock or some kind of type-C to type-A hub.

Windows “Hello” is fully supported either by the integrated webcam or the fingerprint reader (as part of the power button).

Here’s my three Dell laptops to compare the sizes. The XPS 15, XPS 9550 and now (on top) my new Latitude 7420.

3 laptops stacked on top of each other

Thoughts so far:

Dock

Dell WD19TB Dock

I had a lot of good suggestions for docks from my earlier post. I decided to go with the Dell WD19TB. Curiously in the few weeks since I got mine, they’ve dropped that model in favour of the WS19TBS (appears to be identical except it doesn’t have the 3.5mm port).

The WD19TB is a Thunderbolt 3 device. I did search for Thunderbolt 4 docks (as the Latitude supports Thunderbolt 4), but there’s not too many around at the moment and what is available is not cheap.

What I paid most attention to when selecting a dock was the support for multiple displays (and at what resolution). There’s a good summary of capabilities in the WD19TB Display Resolution Table. I want to run three displays, so the following information (extracted from that linked table) are of interest:

WD19TB for Thunderbolt systems

Display Port Available Bandwidth

Triple Display (maximum resolution)

HBR2 (HBR2 x8 lanes - 34.5 Gbps)
  • DP1.4 + DP1.4 + HDMI2.0: 3 x QHD (2560 x 1440) @60 Hz
  • DP1.4 + DP1.4 + MFDP Type-C: 3 x QHD (2560 x 1440) @60 Hz
  • DP1.4 + DP1.4 + USB Type-C TB: 3 x QHD (2560 x 1440) @60 Hz
  • DP1.4 + MFDP Type-C + USB Type-C TB: 3 x QHD (2560 x 1440) @60 Hz
  • DP1.4 + HDMI2.0 + USB Type-C TB: 3 x QHD (2560 x 1440) @60 Hz

HBR3 (HBR3 x4 lanes + HBR3 x1 - 32.4 Gbps)

  • DP1.4 + DP1.4 + HDMI2.0:
    • 1 x 4K (3840 x 2160) @60 Hz
    • 2 x QHD (2560 x 1440) @60 Hz
  • DP1.4 + DP1.4 + MFDP Type-C:
    • 1 x 4K (3840 x 2160) @60 Hz
    • 2 x QHD (2560 x 1440) @60 Hz
  • DP1.4 + DP1.4 + USB Type-C TB:
    • 2 x 4K (3840 x 2160) @60 Hz
    • 1 x QHD (2560 x 1440) @60 Hz
  • DP1.4 + MFDP Type-C + USB Type-C TB:
    • 2 x 4K (3840 x 2160) @60 Hz
    • 1 x QHD (2560 x 1440) @60 Hz
  • DP1.4 + HDMI2.0 + USB Type-C TB:
    • 2 x 4K (3840 x 2160) @60 Hz
    • 1 x QHD (2560 x 1440) @60 Hz

Thoughts:

Displays

Dell S2721 Display

I’ve written earlier about really wanting to maintain 3 displays (and ideally also the laptop display). I had an existing Acer SA240Y that I’d bought last year, but I thought it was probably time to invest in some good displays, and 4K makes sense. I chose the Dell S2721Q. It’s a 27” 4K monitor with HDMI and DisplayPort 1.2 - a nice step up from the 22” HD monitors I’d been using for work previously. The colour contrast is also much better. I got two of these and are running them at 150% scaling. Interestingly, the laptop has the same resolution but I have that at 300% scaling (as it’s a smaller display).

Both of the monitors are plugged in using DisplayPort adapters to the Dock.

Further plans

I’m almost there, but a few things remain on my list:

We’ll see how far I get with those. Yes, I can claim the costs on tax, but it’s still my money I’m spending so it depends on how the household budget is going too.

I’ll publish additional blog posts if I have anything more to report on this hardware combination. So far, so good.

Viewing my work calendar (but no email) on my iPhone

Saturday, 6 February 2021

I’ve been trying to be more intentional about setting appropriate boundaries between work and personal time. I use the Outlook app for email and calendars on my iPhone. Up until a few months ago I had my work email configured in the app along with my personal email account.

The problem I noticed was that usually the first thing I do after waking up is check my phone a) to see what time it is and b) if there’s any interesting messages. That often included work messages that did not have to be acted on immediately. But it’s too late - I’d seen them, they were in my head and competing for my attention.

And so I chose to remove my work account from the Outlook app. If it’s a work email, I’ll see it when I actually start work for the day and open up my computer.

The only downside to that is not being able to see work meetings and appointments overlaid against my personal (and family) appointments. This is particularly handy when booking in to see that health professional (especially now I’m working from home) - will I have a car or I do I need to make other arrangements?

But the Outlook app doesn’t let you choose to just display a calendar but not the inbox. It’s all or nothing.

Option 1

My personal email is hosted by GMail. You can add external calendars to your GMail account. Those will then show up as an additional calendar in the Outlook iOS app.

To make this work you need to share your work calendar. If you’re using Microsoft 365 for work then do the following:

  1. Go to Settings
  2. Select Calendar
  3. Select Shared Calendars
  4. Under Publish a calendar, select the calendar and then choose how much you want to share (one of ‘Can view when I’m busy’, ‘Can view titles and locations’ or ‘Can view all details’) and then click Publish
  5. Two links are displayed - one for a HTML view and one in ICS format.
  6. Click on the ICS link. A pop-up menu appears.
  7. Select Copy link

Microsoft 365 Outlook for web settings

From Google Calendar

  1. In the calendar list, next to Other calendars click on the +
  2. Select From URL
  3. Paste the ICS link
  4. Click on Add calendar
  5. The name of the calendar defaults to the link. You can rename it to something more friendly by going back into Settings and editing the Name field.

So this works, but I found there can be a significant delay between adding or modifying an event in your work calendar and when those changes show up in Google Calendar (and hence in the Outlook iOS app). I presume caching is happening and it seems it only refreshes once or twice a day. If you can live with that then fine, but I found it a bit annoying.

Option 2

Use the default iOS Calendar app. Not ideal as I’d really like to just use the Outlook app, but if it doesn’t do everything I want then having another calendar app is an option.

The nice thing here is that in iOS settings, you can be specific about which services you want (so I select Calendar but not Mail)

iOS Calendar settings

And with the recent improvements in iOS (Windows Phone Live Tiles anyone?) that allow widgets to be a part of a normal screen, you can even have a larger Calendar icon on your screen to see upcoming appointments at a glance.

Option 3

Maybe one day Microsoft will implement this suggestion in the Outlook UserVoice for iOS. I’ve commented and voted on it!

Option 4

Have you solved this another way? Let me know in the comments.

Hello SixPivot

Monday, 1 February 2021

Last Friday was my final day at RLDatix, which means I’m excited to announce that as of today I’ve joined SixPivot as a Senior Developer!

My journey to becoming a “Pivot” started last year when I saw somewhere (maybe Twitter?) that they were looking to hire new staff. I reached out to fellow Microsoft MVP Bill who I knew worked there to find out a bit more about what it was like. I came away with a good impression so I got in touch with Sammy (their People & Community person) who coincidentally I’d just met through being involved with a Microsoft Australia feedback group (the one that Satya crashed!). I also reached out to Darren who works for SixPivot from Adelaide (to get the “based-in-Adelaide” perspective).

It was all sounding like a great place to work.

SixPivot’s interview process is up on their website: “an initial chat, a take-home technical puzzle, a technical interview and a cultural interview”. I was pleased to make it successfully through all those stages, and had some great conversations along the way.

I’ll be working from home (something I’ve enjoyed doing so since March last year). Hopefully sometime in the future when interstate travel is possible I’ll get a chance to head up to Brisbane and meet everyone for real, but for now virtual will be fine.

I’m really looking forward to getting to know my new colleagues (aka ‘Pivots’), settling in to my new role and responsibilities, and help bringing value to our clients.

Leaving RLDatix

Monday, 25 January 2021

Just over six years ago I joined RL Solutions as a senior developer. A lot has changed since I joined the team in a small office in the Adelaide CBD.

We moved to a larger office (still in the CBD), and likewise the company has also become larger. Around two years ago RL Solutions merged with UK-based Datix to become ‘RLDatix’, and has been growing ever since.

I’ve loved working with my Adelaide team mates, and have also been privileged to be able meet with Toronto and Melbourne colleagues in person on a number of occasions. Remember when you could travel interstate or overseas? Seems like a distant dream!

Even accounting for all the other significant things that were going on in 2020, I’ve had a growing sense of work-related restlessness, and discerned that it might be time for me to head off in a new direction.

And so here I find myself in my last week of work at RLDatix.

It’s the people I will miss the most - especially the Adelaide and Infection product teams. I have been very proud to work on the Infection Surveillance product and hope it continues to grow and have a significant impact on how hospitals manage and track infections.

I’d like to pay a special tribute to my manager Tom: for his trust, listening ear and advice, encouragement and support, including his facilitating my attendance at the Microsoft MVP Summit, and for special times shared with him and his family.

So where am I going next? Stay tuned for my next post to find out🙂

Passed AZ-900

Friday, 22 January 2021

I mentioned this on Twitter and LinkedIn recently, but thought it worth blogging about too.

This week I passed the Microsoft Exam AZ-900: Microsoft Azure Fundamentals! This qualifies me for the Azure Fundamentals certification.

Azure fundamentals badge

It’s been a long time between drinks. The last exam I took was way back in June 2015!

As preparation for this exam I took advantage of the free online training that Microsoft are currently hosting. There’s still three lots of training scheduled for February, and by participating in the training you get a voucher to take the exam for free!

This was also the first time I’ve chose the ‘online’ version of exams. Previously I’d gone in to an examination centre, so taking an exam in the convenience of my own home was a new experience. They are very strict about having a ‘clean’ (and quiet) workspace and you need to submit photos of your room, so may not suit everyone.

The actual exam experience is much the same as what I remember from the exam center, except that the proctor is monitoring you via your microphone and webcam, and you’re using your own computer (with familiar keyboard and mouse).

Even at home there’s still that tension building up right to the end to learn if you passed or not. I’m glad I did 🙂