License usage reporting in Office 365, part 2

If you’ve been wondering where part 2 of my series on reporting in Office 365 was, wonder no more; it just went live this morning.

Leave a comment

Filed under Office 365, UC&C

Microsoft rolls out Clutter admin improvements

Back in November, I wrote about my early experience with the Office 365 Clutter feature. I’ve been using it on and off– mostly off, due to a rare bug that surfaced because my mailbox is actually hosted on a portion of the Office 365 cloud that descends from the old Exchange Labs “friends and family” tenant. The bug kept Clutter from correctly moving clutter messages automatically; once it was fixed things returned to normal after I re-enabled the Clutter feature, and I’ve been happily using it since.

One of the big advantages of Office 365 is that the service team can develop and release new features much faster than they can for on-premises services. Sure enough, Microsoft today announced three new features for Clutter.

The biggest of these is the ability to create transport rules that flag messages, or senders, as exempt from Clutter processing. This is exactly the same thing as specifying safe senders for message hygiene filtering, although the implementation is a little different. You’ll create a transport rule that has the conditions and exceptions you want, but with an action that adds a header value of “ClutterBypassedByTransportRuleOverride: TRUE”, as described here. I have not personally had even a single false positive from Clutter since I’ve been testing it, and I haven’t seen any complaints about false positive problems from other users, MVPs, or customers. Having said that, Microsoft was smart to include a way to exempt certain messages from processing, as this will soothe some users and tenant administrators who are worried about the potential to have important messages be misdirected.

Second, the Clutter folder can now be managed by retention policies. This is an eminently logical thing to do, and it nicely highlights the flexibility of Exchange’s messaging records management system.

Rounding out the trio, you now have a very limited ability to customize the message that users see when they enable Clutter for their mailboxes: you can change the display name that the notification appears to be from, and you’ll soon be abe to change the logo. Frankly, this is weak sauce; there’s no way to customize the text of the notification, add custom URLs to it, or otherwise modify it in a useful way. Long-time Exchange administrators will recognize a familiar pattern exemplified by customizable delivery status notifications (DSNs), quota warning messages, and MailTips in previous versions of Exchange: first Microsoft delivered a useful feature with no customization capability, then they enabled limited customization, then (after prolonged complaining from customers) they broadened the range of things that could be customized. Let’s hope that pattern holds here.

There’s still one weak spot in the Clutter feature set: it still requires individual users to opt in (or out). While it’s true that users would likely be alarmed by the sudden forceful application or removal of the Clutter feature from their mailboxes, it’s also true that Office 365 as a whole needs to provide better controls for administrators to regulate which service features users have access to. I am hopeful that we’ll see better admin controls (and reporting) for this feature in the future.

While these improvements aren’t necessarily earth-shaking, they do add some welcome utility to what is already a valuable feature. Clutter is a great example of a feature that can make a measurable positive difference in users’ satisfaction with the service, and I look forward to more improvements in the feature.

1 Comment

Filed under Office 365, UC&C

License usage reporting in Office 365, part 1

On this blog, I write about whatever interests me. To the chagrin of some folks, this often includes aviation, fitness, and various complaints, but hey.. it could be worse. I save the really inane stuff for Twitter.

Besides the content I post here, though, I also blog at the Summit 7 Systems blog collective. Right now I’m publishing a series on reporting in Office 365. The first part of the series, on license usage reporting, is here, and the second part will be published shortly. In general, when I post content there that might be of interest to readers here, I’ll cross-post it with a short post like this one.

3 Comments

Filed under Office 365, UC&C

Flying Friday: of shops and annuals

I haven’t been flying much lately, sad to say. This is mostly because of weather, but partly because I have been busy with other things. However, as spring approaches, I’ve been eager to get back in the air. A couple of weeks ago, I went flying with John, my CFII, and shot some practice instrument approaches. While I was a bit rusty, I was still able to fly a good ILS, even in the winds, but I had a little bit of trouble making the KLN94 do what I wanted to get set up for the GPS approach into Huntsville… its time is coming, though, and I hope to finally get the Avidyne IFD540 installed in early summer. That’s still some time away, though. There are two hurdles to cross first: getting our engine monitor installed and getting the plane through its required annual inspection.

First, the engine monitor. Like almost all other airplanes of this vintage, 706 has a battery of analog gauges that report on the engine health. There’s nothing wrong with this, as these instruments tend to be very reliable. The tachometer, manifold pressure gauge, and fuel flow gauge are all very important. However, the standard engine instruments have several shortcomings. First, our plane had a conventional single gauge for reporting exhaust gas temperature (EGT), and the aftermarket cylinder head temperature (CHT) gauge wasn’t working. The problem with single-channel EGT and CHT instruments is that they only tell you what one cylinder is doing, so there’s no way to see what’s going on with the other five cylinders. Second is that the gauges are scattered all around the panel; besides the EGT and CHT indicators, there’s a suction gauge (which tells you whether the engine-driven vacuum pump that drives the gyros is working), the fuel gauges, and so on. Third is that these gauges only show instantaneous data, not trends, and they don’t alert you to unusual conditions.

The solution: get an engine monitor. After much shopping and head-scratching, we settled on the CGR-30P from Electronics International. The video below will give you an idea of what this magic box does:

From my perspective, the CGR-30P does two critical things: it alerts you when an engine parameter goes out of limits (say, if the oil pressure decreases unexpectedly), and it logs data that can be used for later analysis. As a nice side benefit, it monitors CHT and EGT for all six cylinders, which has the dual benefit of giving early indication of potential misbehavior and providing the data we need to operate the engine as efficiently as possible.

(Brief digression: there is a lot of religious argument over the “correct” way to adjust the fuel/air mixture in piston engines. This article by noted mechanic Mike Busch explains the topic, and the debate, very well, along with recommending the approach that I will be using once I have accurate CHT and EGT data).

Getting the CGR-30P installed, though, requires an avionics shop. Derek and I have struggled with finding a good local shop. There’s no avionics shop at our home field, and C-Cubed, which used to be at Huntsville,  closed a few months ago. Their spot was taken over by a company called Advanced Technical Avionics (ATA). After a brief period of confusion occasioned by a management change (translation: someone got fired), we got the plane into the shop on Tuesday to start the installation. With any luck, in a week or so, the plane will be back in the air– which is good, as I have a trip planned to New Orleans next month for the New Orleans Sprint triathlon, my first of the year.

Right after I get back from New Orleans, the plane needs to go in for its annual inspection. Every general aviation aircraft is required to undergo a comprehensive airworthiness inspection each year. There are specific things that the shop will check based on the engine and airframe manufacturer’s recommendations, and there can be other things that need checking or adjustment based on how much the plane has been flown. For example, some components need to be checked every 100 or 500 hours. (This example inspection checklist gives you an idea of some of the things that must be inspected.) Then, because this is a 40-year-old airplane, there will inevitably be some things that need to be repaired or replaced because they’re worn out or broken. For example, our air conditioner doesn’t work any longer, so we’ll have the shop take a look at it as long as they’re crawling around inside the plane.

On the advice of Savvy, our maintenance management company, we’re using a Piper service center for the annual– DLK Aviation in Kennesaw, Georgia. That means that we’ll have to ferry the plane there and back again; I’ll probably rent a plane from Redstone and pick Derek up after he drops the plane off, but driving isn’t out of the question. Once the plane arrives, after one to two weeks (and some unknown amount of money, depending on whether there are any expensive surprises), we’ll have the plane back and be good for another year.

Leave a comment

Filed under Aviation

Training Tuesday: putting TrainerRoad on my handlebars with the Dell Venue 8 Pro

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the basics required for indoor bike training. I recently made a couple of tweaks that have made my setup much more pleasant to use and I thought I’d document them.

First, I still use TrainerRoad whenever I ride indoors. Their training plans have a huge variety of workouts for whatever you need, and the custom workout creator makes it easy to build whatever odd interval combinations Alex assigns me. I’d been using it by either propping up my Surface Pro 3 or MacBook Pro in front of the TV, which was suboptimal because it required me to drag a laptop over near the TV, set it up, and hope that Pancake didn’t knock it over.

Then it hit me: I had a perfectly good solution right on my bedside table in the form of my Dell Venue 8 Pro.

First, I needed a mount. A little poking around on Amazon yielded the Arkon SM632 for $18. It has four little prongs, two of which are spring-loaded, that hold the tablet or phone in place. There’s also a safety strap that goes across the device for extra security, but I didn’t bother with it. It installed easily in about 2 minutes and easily held the Venue 8 Pro. So far it seems quite sturdy, but I’m not about to ride on the road with a 7″ tablet on my handlebars.

The Venue Pro 8 has a single micro-USB port, so I needed an adapter (and had been meaning to buy one anyway). For $7, Amazon was happy to sell me a two-pack of USB On-The-Go (OTG) adapters.

The hardest part of the install turned out to be getting TrainerRoad set up. It installed easily but I had to tell it to use the virtual power feature, which required me to pick the trainer I use from a drop-down list. It is impossible to do this using the on-screen keyboard (since it doesn’t have up/down arrow keys) and there’s no way to scroll. I ended up plugging a mouse into the USB adapter and that did the trick.

The picture below shows what I ended up with; you can see the USB adapter and ANT+ stick just to the right of the tablet screen. Works like a champ!

TrainerRoad on the Dell Venue 8 Pro

TrainerRoad on the Dell Venue 8 Pro

 

2 Comments

Filed under Fitness

Training Tuesday: half-marathon now, triathlon soon

Time for a progress check-in on my training plans.

First, CHP. I am still delighted with the coaching I’m getting from Alex and the accomplishments and support of my fellow athletes is very motivating. For example, Dani Overcash, a 123lb woman, just set a new US record for deadlifting 402lbs at the RUM powerlifting meet this weekend. It is really cool to look in the FB group and see how many people are setting PRs, winning competitions (in powerlifting, strongman, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and triathlon, among other sports), and generally being badasses.

Second, I started the Fleet Feet half-marathon program a few weeks ago. The program is pretty typical of half-marathon training programs: one long, slowish run on weekends, speed work one day a week, and a couple of shorter tempo runs. There are a few people in the program I know from the local running / triathlon community, which is fun. The long runs are Saturday mornings at 6am, which I semi-resent since that would otherwise be one of the few days when I don’t get up early. The program overall has a different vibe from TRI101, too, in part because of the different mix of coaches, and there have been a few hiccups with organization and logistics, but I am enjoying it and it should be good preparation for the Bridge Street half-marathon.

Third, I signed up for my first two triathlons of the season: the New Orleans Sprint on March 29 and the Lake Pflugerville Sprint in late June. There will undoubtedly be others in between (including the Issaquah Sprint, I hope!) Signing up was sort of a forcing function; I have been doing mostly weights and running, with occasional rides on the trainer, but I knew it was about time to switch to a more tri-focused regimen. I told Alex Sunday that I’d signed up and he immediately scheduled me for a brick Monday– and tomorrow I swim. Time to get back to it!

Fourth, I’m still debating which of the two local Olympic-distance training programs to sign up for. Note that I’m not debating whether or not I want a local group program. I do, because I like the energy and social connection of training with others. Fleet Feet is doing their TRI201 program, which I expect to be just like TRI101 with different distances, and local tri legend Rick Greif is doing his own program. Rick’s program is more expensive but includes some extras (including race registration for Renaissance Man), so I am leaning towards that.

I have a bunch more posts that I need to write, including an explanation of the setup I ended up with for bike training and a race report for the most excellent Tick Ridge Trek trail 10K I ran this past weekend, but this’ll do for now. See you on the road (or in the pool, or on the trail, or maybe at the pasta buffet!)

2 Comments

Filed under Fitness

Getting started with indoor bike training

A coworker was asking me about indoor cycling, so I took a few minutes to put together some notes on the configuration I use. He wanted a basic setup that would let him train indoors and minimize time spent away from his family. Here’s what I told him.

First, you should know that you can train in two ways: 

  • Structured workouts that target a particular power level (your functional threshold power, or FTP). An example workout is here. For example, you might ride a warmup for 10min at 60% of your FTP, then do interval sets of 80-115% FTP, then a cooldown.
  • Workouts where you ride for a set distance or duration while keeping your heart rate and/or pedal cadence in a certain range. These are akin to what you might do in a spin class, although a good instructor will provide a much more structured experience with intervals.

Both of these depend on having a way for something to measure how fast the pedals are going (cadence) and, optionally, your heart rate. Structured power-based workouts require you to have some way to either measure or estimate how much power you’re putting on the pedals.

Assuming you want to spend as little as possible, here’s what you need to get started with bike trainer workouts:

  1. A bike trainer. This DC Rainmaker article is the canonical list of recommendations for every price range. I got one of the Performance Bike TravelTrac units for about $100. I had borrowed a Kinetic Road Machine and loved it; it is much smoother than the TravelTrac but also costs 2x as much. 
  2. Speed and cadence sensors for your bike. There are two sensor protocols: ANT+ and Bluetooth Low Energy. You may be able to use BLE sensors with your phone and selected software, and it might work with your laptop, depending on what kind of gear you have. ANT+ is much more widely used for these sensors. I have a Wahoo ANT+ speed/cadence combo sensor but Garmin and several other companies make them. (Ignore the price at that link; sensors cost from $35-75 depending on brand).
  3. If you want structured workouts, TrainerRoad or some other training software. TR is $10/month, has a full money-back guarantee, and is very well worth it. TR will calculate what they call “virtual power” based on your pedal cadence, wheel speed, and the type of trainer you have. You will also need an ANT+ USB stick for your laptop so the TrainerRoad app can see your cadence and heart rate data. I use a $17 one from Amazon.
  4. If you want cadence / HR-based workouts, you need some way to see what your cadence and/or heart rate are. You can use a phone app for iOS or Android such as Strava or Wahoo Fit, the TrainerRoad app if you’ve subscribed, or a bike computer or watch that speaks ANT+. Beware that not every ANT+ device can display all types of sensors. For example, the Garmin Forerunner 15 running watch will display ANT+ heart rate data but ignores cycling sensors because it’s a running-only watch.
  5. If you want to gather heart rate data, you’ll need a heart rate monitor. I use the Scosche RHYTHM+ because a) it’s an arm/wrist strap and not a chest strap and b) it can transmit both BLE and ANT+.

There are lots of other ways to spend money on this stuff: there are computer-controlled trainers that adjust the resistance to give you realistic uphill and downhill rides, power meters that measure your power using strain gauges, bike computers that display your cadence, speed, etc. on a handlebar-mounted unit, and so on. But with the basic stuff above (which I’d estimate will cost less than $200 all in) you can get a terrific training experience without leaving your house.

Leave a comment

Filed under Fitness