Category Archives: windows phone

Another Twitter storm, Windows 10 Mobile lifespan unaltered

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I’ve had so many emails in asking me to comment on Joe Belfiore’s stream of tweets over the weekend (and the reaction to it on tech sites) that I felt I had to, at least, update my ever-extending and hopefully still clear Windows 10 chart, showing what’s happening to the OS. In summary, there’s nothing in Joe’s tweets that’s new. Nothing to see, back to your homes, etc.(!)

The tweets themselves were honest, but the only thing ‘new’ in them was their very existence, since Microsoft’s executives rarely speak frankly on Twitter. Anyway, for the record, the main ones, in response to the the initial ‘Is it time to leave Windows 10 Mobile?’ were:

So nothing too shocking, in short, support will continue, but building new ‘features’ into Windows 10 Mobile and building new first party hardware based on W10M ‘aren’t the focus’. I.e. won’t happen. But then we knew this already and have done so for at least a year. Microsoft is ‘out’ of first party consumer/phone hardware and Windows 10 Mobile, in its current ‘feature2’ state, is essentially ‘feature complete’.

On with an updated chart anyway. The thing to note is that Microsoft has promised Windows 10 Mobile updates and security patches until at least Autumn 2019 (my chart only goes as far as the end of 2018) and that it will keep up with the core Windows 10 ‘branches’. So we currently have ‘1709’ in the Fast ring for Insiders at the moment, for example.*

* whether this will be formally pushed to a wide range of phones is open to question, of course. I suspect that the ‘push’ will be to the same limited device set as the Creators Update

The relevant portion for Windows 10 Mobile then is the heavy red dashed area:

I’m not apologising for Microsoft’s strategy and ‘mistakes’ in all this, note. They’ve bungled so much in ‘mobile’ over the last 15 years, but that’s covered in other editorials. What I want to get across here – again – is that Windows 10 Mobile isn’t ‘dead’, it’s still supported. For another two years, at least, by which time other options should have presented themselves.

And the dearth of ‘new features’ is almost completely irrelevant – new features will come to Windows 10 Mobile users each week, each month, through the still improving UWP applications on the platform, both from Microsoft and from third parties. 

Nothing lasts forever in the tech world, let alone the tempestuous mobile world. Let’s take your average Lumia 930 user (something of a median on AAWP):

  • The phone was released in 2014 under Windows Phone 8.1
  • Updated to Windows 10 Mobile officially in March 2016
  • Updated to the ‘Anniversary update’ (Redstone) in Autumn 2016
  • Update-able to the ‘Creators Update’ (via the Insiders Release Preview ring) in Spring 2017
  • Useable with CU security updates and UWP app updates until Spring 2019

That’s, for an enthusiast with a humble Lumia 930, a fairly full five year lifespan, for a single device. Just one data point, but five years on a single phone is unusual in the smartphone world, perhaps only a couple of iPhone models can match it for longevity.

Anyone with a Lumia 950/XL will fare better in terms of future proofing, getting the ‘Fall Creators Update’/’1709’ and support until Autumn 2019 and perhaps beyond, though not the same ‘life span’ as the 930 above.

In short, we’re not blind at AAWP, we can see that the times, they are a changing. But let’s not go off half-cocked, your Windows phone isn’t going to suddenly stop working, it’ll carry on getting important updates, new apps and app updates via the Store for quite a long time yet. 

Anatomy of a Lumia photo #11: Going wide

The idea of this series is to give you an insight into the thought processes that went into achieving each image, in the hope that it might inspire you to better photos too. Here’s today’s snap from my Lumia 950 XL:

Photo

Nothing too special, you might think – except that you’ll notice an unnatural curve along the bottom and top of the frame, giving the clue that all is not quite as it seems.

The mural shown is on the side of the Brewhouse theatre in Taunton and is huge. Around 20m long and 10m high – really rather impressive, and still in great condition. Worth a snap, I thought. So, mid-morning, standing around 20m away I pointed my Lumia 950 XL at it, square on:

Photo

Hmm… this also meant shooting into the sun, which was behind the mural/building. Resulting in the ugly flaring in the lens seen here. Now, in an ideal world, I’d have come back at the end of the day, hoped for some sunshine still and maybe even sun on the mural itself. But life’s not like that, I was only in Taunton for an hour and so I had to improvise.

I didn’t want to shoot off at an angle, i.e stand in the shade but not square on to the mural, because the graphics would be skewed horribly. So I stepped in closer to escape the sun into the phone camera lens:

Photo

But this meant that I was now too close and that the edges of the mural were lost. 

Time to improvise. I switched to the ‘panorama’ mode in the Windows 10 Camera application. This is really designed, as the name suggests, for subjects quite a bit further away and for wide sweeps of a landscape, but I wondered whether I could sweep around the mural from only about 10m away and get an interesting result:

Photo

It’s true that the panorama taking process has its own share of optical distortions, especially when your subject isn’t at ‘infinity’, but on the irregular shapes and patterns of the mural I was on pretty safe ground and I was pleased with the photo I’d obtained.

I wasn’t quite done, though, since there was too much foreground, plus taking this in the shade made for colours that were too muted. Happily, all Lumias come with the (ex-Nokia) Lumia Creative Studio application, and it’s a doddle in this, from the ‘Edit’ menu in Windows 10 Photos, to crop out the foreground also to punch up vibrance and clarity:

Screenshot

With the final result shown again here:

Photo

I was happy anyway. Who needs a LG G6 Android phone (with dedicated wide angle lens) when you can get decent results by improvising with the ‘panorama’ mode under Windows 10? (OK, tongue in cheek, the results here aren’t a patch on what the G6 would have achieved…!)

I wanted to see what else could be achieved with this technique, so tried a few more subjects. Shooting from the footbridge by the theatre, here’s a standard photo looking down the river:

Photo

And here’s the same scene, but using panorama mode and sweeping around through about 90 degrees:

Photo

So, quite effectively, I’m getting wide angle shots without a wide angle lens. Interesting.

There are downsides, of course. Overall resolution is lower, since panorama mode is limited to around 1000 pixels in vertical height, for obvious reasons. So you typically end up here with a 3MP or 4MP image at most. Plus you don’t get the usual Rich Capture options and you don’t get focussing refinements. 

One more example, I was up on the hlls nearby and loved the open feel, with a dramatic sky and some hill ponies to add interest:

Photo

True, this is more of a traditional panorama, but by limiting my sweep to not much more than 90 degrees again, the end result is more photo-like than the typical long-and-thin ‘panorama’ image, which is often so stretched in shape that you can never do anything with it.

So, shooting in panorama mode and limiting your sweep round turns out to be surprisingly effective. Comments (and examples) welcome if you’ve ever done anything like this!

Tile Rider UWP impresses as a physics epic

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Super-polished and with perfect physics, this top-down arcade Windows 10 puzzler is also free for the next three weeks, so grab it soon. It’s designed for touchscreens first and foremost, so it’s great on the phone under Windows 10 Mobile.

From the Store description:

A high-speed adventure game with puzzle, racing and battle elements. Have you ever wondered what life inside your phone is like? Did you know that it’s quite puzzling and requires you to BE SMART? You also have to BE STRONG there and hold your gun tight! And finally, you’d better BE FAST

Here’s Tile Rider UWP in action on my Lumia 950 XL:

TileRider screenshot

Slick and animated from the start, TileRider was available first on other platforms, explaining the sheer investment and production values….

TileRider screenshot

There’s a back story of sorts, but what you really want to do is get into the action…

TileRider screenshot

With the action auto-zooming as needed, you control a little car by swiping in the direction in which you want it to go. Obstacles and dangers all obey the laws of physics and the puzzle difficulty level is very high.

TileRider screenshot

Beautifully animated and lit, TileRider is a must-download – all the more while it’s completely free!

You can grab TileRider UWP free in the Store here – for phone, tablet or desktop.

Source / Credit: Store

Weirdo Attack UWP is free retro arcade

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For any fan of the likes of Space Invaders and Galaxians, Weirdo Attack is an alien-themed shoot ’em up. Just dodge the nasties, shoot your various weapons, collect power ups, and so on. Level by level, getting harder and harder. It’s classic arcade gaming and it’s implemented here as a UWP game for all Windows 10 devices.

From the Store description (sic):

Experience the amazing digital experience of Weirdo Attack. Retro weirdos from the past are blasting into the future. I don’t know why they are here and we don’t care. Blast them away as their increasingly harder waves introduce new and varied weirdos. See how far you can go. How many waves? How many different weirdos are there? Get power-ups and higher scores. Are you ready for this adventure through time? to the galaxy of angry attacking birdy bug thingies. Make no mistake, just like ye oldie games, it will be hard – the rewards are not given with endless lives of jumping stuff n’ that.

Will the future survive these retro dumb dumbs. Will you get a chance to blast the master weirdo?

There are various ways of interacting with the game, see the Settings pane for some hints and options. Here’s Weirdo Attack in action on my Lumia 950 XL:

Screenshot

Ah, memories of a bygone coin-op age!

Screenshot

The game in full flow. The graphics look a bit retro, but then they’re designed to be – and the action is pretty smooth.

You can grab this new UWP game here in the Store.

Source / Credit: Store

Dropbox UWP hits v5.0, gains facelift, new layout

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Last covered here back in May, Dropbox UWP continues to shine on Windows 10 Mobile, with this week seeing the release of the big v5.0. In fairness, the app was already pretty slick and the overhaul here is minor, but there’s an extra layout/view, plus everything looks… ‘fresher’!

Here’s the official changelog for Dropbox version 5.0 for Windows 10:

  • Display your files with 3 different layouts: gallery view, list view and content view
  • New design
  • New features for Dropbox Business users

And here’s v5.0 in action on my Lumia 950 XL:

ScreenshotScreenshot

Dropbox was always very white and clean – it’s just a bit cleaner still now, though there’s no sign of translucency or Fluent Design – on Mobile anyway; (right) there’s now a choice of three views/layouts: list, content, and gallery. Something for everyone!

Dropbox UWP app for Windows 10 is something of a star in the ecosystem. Perhaps even the best Dropbox implementation in the mobile world? It’s free anyway, as is a Dropbox account. You can grab or update the Dropbox UWP here in the Store.

Cricinfo now Edge-only: does it matter?

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The concept’s not new, of course. I’ve covered it several times, most recently in the withdrawal of the LinkedIn WP8.1 application. The idea is that since 99% of the content on Cricinfo (or LinkedIn) is HTML5 text and tags, i.e. designed for web pages, why not show it all in a web browser? You do lose out in terms of notifications and you have to live with the Edge address bar, but otherwise the content is nigh on indistinguishable from what a dedicated application would present.

So, there’s no official app anymore, but here’s ESPN’s Cricinfo running in Edge on my Lumia 950:

Cricinfo screenshotCricinfo screenshot

Almost a Windows 10 application in web form? There are certainly navigation similarities. This is espncricinfo.com in Edge on Windows 10 Mobile…

Cricinfo screenshotCricinfo screenshot

As usual with making web sites easier to get to, you can ‘Pin this page to start’, as shown. You get the ESPN Cricinfo ‘favicon’ as your tile graphic, though don’t expect ‘live’ updates!

Not bad at all – performance is good and the ESPN site has hamburger menu navigation, so it’s almost like having a Windows 10 application.

Comments welcome? Am I settling for second best too easily? I do feel that in this case the heavy information-based content is well suited to browser (rather than app) delivery.

PS. If you do resurrect the old 8.1 Silverlight application, do let us know how well (or otherwise) it works!

Microsoft’s City Art Search gets data cleansing and new artwork

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Here’s the changelog for the new v3.0.9.4:

  • Minor UX polishing
  • Code optimisation and bug fixes
  • Data cleansing (i.e. cleaning up after itself)
  • Addition of new artwork to the database (now 8614 pieces of art)

Screenshot, City Art SearchScreenshot, City Art Search

All very ‘Windows Phone 8.1’, but this is a Silverlight app and proud. Here I’m looking at the closest listed gallery and starting to browse the works of art within it…

Screenshot, City Art SearchScreenshot, City Art Search

Switch to the HD versions of each piece and then zoom in and pan around to appreciate the artistry; there’s a control – and a menu item – for  the artist on Wikipedia for each piece, too.

As commented before, it’s a lot of work (and fairly manual) to both capture and then manipulate and enter details of all this art into the online system, but this is a very worthwhile initiative. And completely free to you, the user. So well done to all concerned.

You can grab City Art Search here in the Store.

Source / Credit: Store

How to: edit and share your Windows 10 phone snaps

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Another in my series of beginner-ish tutorials here on AAWP. Microsoft does a pretty good job at backing up and collecting photos taken at a particular event and on a particular day, on your Windows 10 Mobile-powered smartphone in Photos. Meaning that you can – in principle – just share these out, via OneDrive, to family and friends. But there are some tweaks you might like to note.

To demonstrate how it all works, I took my pensioner dad out to the seaside, at Watchet, in Somerset, UK, and the sun followed us for a splendid outing. My Lumia 950 XL was tasked with capturing the outing, steam railway, harbour, ice creams, and all:

Screenshot, album sharing featureScreenshot, album sharing feature

When you head onto Windows 10 Photos, tap on ‘Albums’ and see what Microsoft’s algorithms have divined from your snaps. Here, an album called ‘Friday July 14th 2017’ has been automatically created and populated. Note that there’s an obscure server-side bug whereby the album title is sometimes popped up in a foreign language…(!); (right) Tap on the album’s hero image to see the album in full. Here showing nine thumbnails (from about 20 snapped on the day).

Screenshot, album sharing featureScreenshot, album sharing feature

For quick sharing, just tap on the share control in the bottom toolbar and then past the explanatory pane (you’d just ‘copy link’ if you wanted to share from an application that wasn’t supported by the Windows 10 sharing mechanism (most are); (right) here I’ve opted to share via Outlook mail and so my test email here has a OneDrive URL that the recipient can tap/click on. Nice and simple. Note that sharing photos in this way doesn’t involve lengthy uploads, you’re just sharing a link to an online album, so it’s lightning quick and efficient.

Screenshot, album sharing featureScreenshot, album sharing feature

But all this is only if you don’t want to change anything beyond Photos’/OneDrive’s auto-selection. The chances are that you’ll want to make a few changes if it was a special day. For example, as here, tap on the ‘Edit’ control on the album’s home view will pop up the title to be edited or overwritten, plus a control to change the ‘hero’/cover photo if needed. Here I’m content to just change the title, since the algorithms chose the perfect cover photo (maybe they spotted the station sign?)

Screenshot, album sharing featureScreenshot, album sharing feature

There, the title’s changed and in most cases will explain to viewers what the event was all about better than just the date! (right) I also wanted to crop at least one of my photos, this one has extra detail (hut/person) that I didn’t want in my shot. So, with the photo on-screen, use the ‘Edit’ control in the bottom toolbar…

Screenshot, album sharing featureScreenshot, album sharing feature

…and then choose your editing app – in my case the default ‘Crop, Rotate…’ tool will do just fine, crop as needed and then tap on the tick control to save the result.

Screenshot, album sharing featureScreenshot, album sharing feature

The edit appears in Photos as a totally new image – this is a workflow oddity that seems to have been a design decision by Nokia or Microsoft, I’d much rather have the original changed. But new users may well regret the edit and then be left with no original (other than online if they’re quick), so the software plays safe and makes a new JPG; (right) Whether as a result of editing a photo and needing to pick the new version or perhaps because you want extra photos included in the album, swipe up on the main Album editing view and you’ll see a ‘Add or remove photos’ control. Tapping this lets you tick the exact photos you want and remove those you don’t, as shown above.

Screenshot, album sharing featureScreenshot, album sharing feature

An alternative to sharing the album via OneDrive is to use another Microsoft service, Sway. This allows cloud-hosted looping slideshows, effectively. Tap on ‘Tell your story with Sway’ to get started. Note that there’s no interaction needed at this stage – the photos you’ve already curated will be used and they get copied internally on Microsoft’s servers from OneDrive to Sway. See the status messages at the top of each screenshot above – you’ll be notified when the ‘sway’ is ready.

Screenshot, album sharing featureScreenshot, album sharing feature

Tapping ‘Open it now’ will let you check the sway’s contents, though note that the full effect can’t really be seen on the small phone screen. Sways are best on a large monitor, with ‘loop’ set and usually in some kind of presentation environment while explanations are going on. They’re… interesting, but shouldn’t be thought of as a replacement for normal, shared OneDrive albums.

Hopefully this feature will help others to more accurately assemble and share their Windows 10 Mobile-shot snaps, for friends and family to enjoy. Comments welcome – how do you share your photos and albums? What tricks have I missed?

Good deed for the month: help a family member unfreeze their OneDrive

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Yes, you’re an AAWP reader and you snaffled up the various Camera roll and Loyalty OneDrive bonuses in the past.  So you have, typically, 30GB of capacity on OneDrive. But spare a thought for friends and family members who didn’t know about the bonuses from 2014-2015 and who are now (July 2017) being bothered by scary notices on their OneDrive account, with their initial 15GB of space finally being ‘frozen’. How best to help them? 

I mention all this because my daughter was one of those hit by the freezing. Now, she’s a fairly easy case because 60% of the stuff she had on OneDrive was backed up photos and videos from an iPhone manoeuvre in 2014, so it wasn’t rocket science to zap most of these and get down below the 5GB limit. For other users it may be a harder activity – or they may, indeed, need more than 5GB and so sign up to one of Microsoft’s storage plans.

There’s a degree of urgency to all this, in that many accounts are already frozen, in that the one-time unfreezing (for management purposes) only lasts 30 days, and in that there’s a hard cut-off per user after which storage in frozen accounts can be deleted completely with possible file loss (local copies of files won’t be affected).

Anyway, in the interests of illustration, I wanted to walk through some of the procedure, here on my daughter’s account on a Windows 10 device:

Screengrab

Here’s the flagged up message that appeared on her screen this week, following a Windows notification. Essentially she had four months to do something about the over-quota situation before all online files got zapped. It sounds like a long time to you and I but ‘normobs’ usually dismiss all such notifications and put off sorting anything out! So their auto-uploads wouldn’t be happening and they’d be unaware.

Screengrab

Clicking on ‘Unfreeze account’ unlocks it all for a month, for view and delete access only.

Screengrab

It looks like there’s some kind of manual approval of this unfreezing per account – in our case it was only a few minutes though.

Screengrab

Confirmation in the OneDrive application, with a handy ‘Clean up your files’ option…

Screengrab

This isn’t quite as useful as it sounds, but it does start you off in a view showing the ‘Largest files in your OneDrive’, here showing some of my daughter’s backed up videos. Likely culprits indeed. So I set to work tagging and deleting them in batches. After checking that she had the originals somewhere else, of course!!

Screengrab

After 30 minutes deleting and some browsing and curation, I/we had managed to get the account down to just under 5GB, see the stat bottom left in the screenshot above. Obviously still critical, but the panic’s over, the account is permanently open again, and no doubt we’ll address what she’ll use OneDrive for in the future!

Screengrab

Confirmation of the current state, also popped up when you click on the OneDrive icon (complete with red ‘!’) in the Windows taskbar…

Screengrab

Of course, if any Windows users had been paying attention to AAWP over the last few years (and or if they’d also been using Windows Phone) then they’d have snaffled up the same bonuses as you and I! 

Hopefully this will prompt a few of you to check your own accounts or, more likely, to check your friends and family’s! Let’s help them to stay on top of their cloud drives and backups!

PS. OK, it’s a fair cop, I personally also have Office 365, which is the other Microsoft recommendation, and that comes with an extra 1TB on top of the bonuses above. But not every user will want to be forced down this path, especially if they’re happy with Office Online and Google Docs (etc.)

What’s in Steve’s must-have accessories toolkit?

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Over the years I’ve reviewed dozens of smartphone accessories, maybe even hundreds. And I’ve reviewed a fair number formally here for AAS and AAWP. But, of this mass of plastic, metal and, often, lithium, which accessories really made the grade? Which ones do I personally carry around with me on any trip out of the house of more than a few hours? Here’s a glimpse into my standard kit.

Steve's 'kit'!

Shown above really is my kit, it’s the case I take more or less everywhere with me and the only difference is that:

  • I’ve tied it for the photo!
  • I’ve set the case code here to a dummy number to mask my real case unlock…
  • I also often take either my Surface Pro (and Backlit Type Cover) or my Macbook, depending on where I’m going and what I’m doing – and these fit in the top document pockets of the briefcase. And their chargers would go in the main body if I was gone for longer than a day, of course.

I’ve been asked numerous times what I really, truly use, so here it all is – I’ll start with the stuff in front of the case – which normally goes in my wallet or in the case or in its document flaps, as appropriate. Working left to right:

  • A short USB Type A to microUSB cable, Nokia-branded. Has never let me down, unlike many third party cables and adapters. Nokia knew how to build cables!
  • A Tronsmart USB Type A to Type C cable (mainly because I lost my Microsoft ones!)
  • An Olixar Wallet Ultra-slim stand – so slim I forget it’s there, yet saves the day at least once a week!
  • An Inateck Bluetooth keyboard – it’s SO slim and yet SO useable. And no, I don’t think you can buy them anymore, sadly.
  • A microUSB to USB Type A (female) adapter – for plugging in flash disks to phones ‘on the go’, though I can’t remember when I last actually did this!
  • A multi-way USB Type A to microUSB/Type C/Apple 30-pin adapter. Just an extra option, and again it’s small and light. Would be nice to have Apple Lightning on this too. I think this came with a power bank in the distant past!
  • OK look, it’s one of those lost Microsoft Type A to Type C cables after all – phew!

Now for the case contents, and I’ll try to work left to right again – you’ll work out what’s what!

  • The AUKEY SK-S1, the best sounding Bluetooth speaker I’ve ever heard, bar none. It’s biggish, but when you hear the depth to the sound, it’s like having a hi-fi always with me.
  • A Choetech USB Type C to HDMI adpter cable – not cheap, but a one-wire way to connect to Continuum (etc) displays.
  • An old tin that’s the perfect size for tiny things. So it’s chock full of microSD cards, adapters, old SIMs, SIM tools, USB flash disks, and anything else that would otherwise get lost!
  • My Marshall Mode in-ear headphones. Stunning bass and general fidelity, three way media controls, sturdy clip. Again, not cheap (£40?), but you get what you pay for.
  • My Rolson Tradesman knife – cheap and yet very well made and simply to slot in new razor blades. Perfect for unboxing things?(!)
  • A white 3.5mm to 3.5mm audio cable. Because you never know when Bluetooth is going to let you down and it’s best to ‘jack in’!
  • Some emergency mundane things: rubber bands, a small notebook (for ideas?), paper clips, stapler, tissues, online banking access gadget.
  • The Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter – because you can’t always have cables trailing across living rooms and offices! Perfect for Continuum stuff as long as you don’t mind a little lag here and there…
  • An Integral SD card reader. Especially useful for getting photos onto – and off – awkward laptops.
  • A Tronsmart mains-to-dual USB Type A 36W fast charger – hasn’t let me down yet when there are multiple phones or tablets to charge
  • A cheap and nasty USB current meter – sometimes this seems invaluable, other times I’m not sure I believe its readings. But better than nothing. Shout out in the comments if you have something reliable that you can recommend.
  • The AUKEY USB Type C Hub – it’s a hard-wired Continuum dock that only weighs 50g – hit!

And finally, in the case on the right, three power banks – hey, this is me, I like redundancy in this area. So that when a family member or friend needs a boost, I can hand over one of the smaller gadgets and know that my main charge store is untouched!

  • The Lumsing Glory P2 Plus – dual fast charging input, triple output, very good build, this can’t be beaten.
  • The ‘swiss army charging knife‘ – mine was made by EC, but branding varies according to where you get it. Old style microUSB input only, but rugged and great for handing out to a family member, and useful that it includes a torch too.
  • The AUKEY Halo Charger – simple, beautiful, Type C in and out, plus Type A.

    So that’s it. The small pockets at the bottom of the case ‘top’ have emergency medication, first aid stuff, biros, business cards, and so forth. And, when I’m at an event or conference, a few high energy snack bars!

    Comments welcome, of course. What do you carry your ‘kit’ around in, and do you have any special recommendations of your own?