Category Archives: Technology

Technology

Effectively targetting social media interaction: are you speaking Scottish in Toyko? (Mark McCulloch at #MKGN)

Every three months, I have a mild panic because:

  1. I’ve successfully registered for Milton Keynes Geek Night (MKGN) but neglected to put it in my diary.
  2. Three months have gone by and I’ve not blogged about the last MKGN, even though David and Richard know me as the resident blogger…

This time is no exception…

I could say I was distracted because Mrs W. accompanied me to the last Geek Night; I could blame Google Keep for not allowing large enough notes to store a whole evening’s worth of note-taking and for losing the first part of my notes (although it sounds a bit like “the dog ate my homework” and I’m sure I’ve used a similar excuse before) so let’s just stick with “because I’m busy – but MKGN #9 it was a really worthwhile evening and I’m sure #10 will be too”. You can catch the audio on Soundcloud, but I want to write about one talk that I found particularly interesting – Mark McCulloch (@WeAreSpectaculr)’s “Are you speaking Scottish in Tokyo” (which seems to have an additional relevance today)…

Are you speaking Scottish in Toyko?

If you’re wondering what Mark means by “Speaking Scottish in Tokyo” (or, as he put it, “Okinawa the noo!”), Mark’s whole point is that social media interaction needs to be effectively targetted.  He’s quite happy to highlight that his message is based on a book by Gary Vaynerchuk (@GaryVee) – Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World – but it highlights some important points:

  • First up – you need to be native to the social channel in use. Lazy brands put the same post on multiple channels. Sometimes it just doesn’t work…
  • Added to that, many social agencies have no real plan or return on investment.
  • Next – don’t expect instant results: you need to give, give, give, then take. Too many brands broadcast on social media. The good ones have a conversation. The excellent ones hook people in with something that they find useful – and then ask for something in return.

Mark talked about a rule of thirds developed at Yo Sushi (brand, product, fun/health/life); drawn as a Venn diagram you need to hit the point where all three meet and Mark suggests building a mind map of things to talk about based on these 3.

Next, the perfect post needs a call to action that’s easy to understand, perfectly crafted for mobile and for other digital devices – and respects the nuances of the target network… so, for example, on Facebook:

  1. Is the text too long?
  2. Is it provocative, entertaining and/or surprising?
  3. Is the photo striking?
  4. Is the logo visible?
  5. Have you chosen the right format for the post?
  6. Is the call to action in the right place?
  7. Is this interesting?

So, here are some first class “jabs”:

Now, Mark actually showed examples from Facebook – I’ve used the Twitter equivalents here because they are easy for me to embed, but this one doesn’t work on Twitter (more than 140 characters):

Those are all good jabs. This isn’t (it’s too complex):

But this one is a right hook (a new product that’s not too “salesy”):

Knock-out!

And what about when you don’t respect the medium? This is native:

This isn’t:

So, in summary, if you’re a brand using social media to interact with customers:

  1. Plan your social media content using the “rule of thirds”.
  2. Plan your social media content into “jab, jab, jab, right hook” micro stories.
  3. Think about the channel you’re posting on, the native language and the audience behaviours.
  4. Think about the time of day when you’re posting (auto-schedule updates, for example).

What about the other talks?

No promises, but I hope to blog about some of the other talks soon…

And what’s happening tonight?

As usual, tonight’s MKGN looks to have some fascinating talks (I confess I don’t have a clue about Jumbotrons, Twilio or MEAN coding!):

  • Ben Foxhall (@benjaminbenben) is back, this time to talk about “Jumbotrons”!
  • Rachel Andrew (@rachelandrew) is giving her postponed talk on “Your own definition of success – choosing a profitable side project idea”.
  • Elliot Lewis (@elliotlewis) will be talking about “The Apprentice”.
  • “Code Smarter, be MEAN” is the topic for Tamas Piros (@tpiros).
  • And Michael Wawra (@xmjw) is scheduled to speak about “Twilio”)

Join in!

Milton Keynes Geek Night happens every three months at The Buszy in Milton Keynes (old bus station, opposite Milton Keynes Railway Station) and is free (thanks to generous sponsorship). Because it’s free, and the speakers are generally so good, it “sells out” quickly, but keep an eye on the @MKGeekNight Twitter feed – and bag yourself a place for the next one in December!

Technology

Short takes: Windows Phone screenshots and force closing apps; Android static IP

I’m clearing down my browser tabs and dumping some of the the things I found recently that I might need to remember again one day!

Taking a screenshot on Windows Phone

Windows Phone 7 didn’t have a screenshot capability (I had an app that worked on an unlocked phone) but Windows Phone 8 let me take screenshots with Windows+Power. For some reason this changed in Windows Phone 8.1 to Power+Volume Up.  It does tell you when you try to use the old combination but, worth noting…

Some search engines are more helpful than others

Incidentally, searching for this information is a lot more helpful in some search engines than in others…

One might think Microsoft could surface it’s own information a little more clearly in Bing but there are other examples too (Google’s built-in calculator, cinema listings, etc.)

Force-quitting a Windows Phone app

Sometimes, apps just fail. In theory that’s not a problem, but in reality they need to be force-closed.  Again, Windows Phone didn’t used to allow this but recent updates have enabled a force-close. Hold the back button down, and then click the circled X that appears in order to close the problem app.

Enabling a static IP on an Android device

Talking of long key presses… I recently blew up my home infrastructure server (user error with the power…) and, until I sort things out again, all of our devices are configured with static IP configurations. One device where I struggled to do this was my Hudl tablet, running Android. It seems the answer is to select the Wi-Fi connection I want to use, but to long-press it, at which point there are advanced options to modify the connection and configure static IP details.

Technology

OneDrive for Business: lots of cloud storage; terrible sync client

I’ve been a Dropbox user for years but with Microsoft’s upgrade of OneDrive for Business (formerly Skydrive Pro) to include 1TB of storage for every Office 365 user, I decided to move the majority of my files to that platform.  I could pay for additional Dropbox storage but, frankly, why do I need to, with that much storage included in my Office 365 E1 subscription?

However, after a couple of days trying to force a synchronisation of legacy content into OneDrive for Business (noting the various restrictions), I have drawn the following conclusion:

The One Drive for Business sync engine is “pants” (definition 3 in the OED).

It’s straightforward enough to define folders for syncing into SharePoint Online (which is where OneDrive for Business stores data), and most of my content synced OK but I had one folder of correspondence, going back to my early days of using a PC (some WordStar and WordPerfect files, as well as some very early Word formats in there – right through to current day documents) that was causing difficulties.

Unfortunately, whilst the OneDrive for Business client is able to sync folders in parallel, it seems to work through a folder in serial. If it comes up with a problem, it doesn’t seem to skip it and move on – at least not in the way that might be expected. It might flag an issue, but there’s no “skip file” option. And it doesn’t seem to have a method for forcing a sync either. Or for telling me which file it’s currently attempting to work with.  Here’s what I found…

Uploading files directly to OneDrive will change the modified date (perhaps to be expected):

Opening a “stuck file” in Word will present a sign-in error:

Even if you are already signed in:

and verified with File, Account

No good attempting to sign out (and in again) either:

(I’m logged into my Windows 8.1 PC using a Microsoft account, although I can switch to the organisation account that uses the same credentials for Office 365 access).

One thing I found that would sometimes kick-start proceedings was (in Word) removing the Connected Service for OneDrive – markwilson.it (and then adding it again, which forces a re-authentication):

Sometimes, I found that wasn’t necessary – just by ignoring the “credentials needed” error it might go away after a while!

I even resorted to opening each “stuck file” and closing it again, making sure I didn’t actually change it (clicking the Sign In button will update the document). This seemed to unblock things for a while until, eventually, I found myself in a situation where Word wouldn’t open any of the content waiting to sync. Some of the errors suggested it was trying to download the cloud copy rather than the local one whilst other times it failed silently.

In fairness, OneDrive for Business does have an option to repair the synced folders but that downloads everything from SharePoint again… and as half of it hadn’t got up there yet that wasn’t going to help much!

I re-installed Office 2013 and was just about to do the same with OneDrive for Business (which turns out to be based on Groove) but, instead, I decided to simply create a new folder and paste the files into that – effectively a second copy of the data to start the sync again from fresh.

After all the fighting with the first copy, the second copy synced in a few minutes (well, it got stuck on a few files but I deleted them, then pasted them in again, after which they synced).  It seems that, fundamentally, the OneDrive for Business sync engine is more than a little bit flaky (which doesn’t leave me feeling good about my data).  Thankfully, Microsoft is reported as acknowledging that the sync limits are “well understood” – and I hope that doesn’t just include the limits on item counts and file naming imposed by the SharePoint back-end.

Isn’t this is all just a bit too much effort for what Dropbox (and others) have made so simple?

Technology

Some tools in Outlook 2013 for diagnosing Exchange connectivity issues

I’ve just been looking at some of the diagnostic information that’s available for Outlook connections to Exchange (including Exchange Online in Office 365) and one “hidden” feature (actually, it’s not hidden but it’s not very well known) is the ability to Ctrl+right click on the Outlook icon in Windows’ notification area to bring up two extra menu options:

The first of these is handy for bringing up information about the various client-server connections open between Outlook and Exchange (for example the connection protocols being used, port numbers, session types, etc.):

The second allows testing/diagnosis of AutoDiscovery functionality – again, providing a host of information to track down issues:

Combined with the Microsoft Remote Connectivity Analyzer, these are a few tools to help IT admins track down the cause of connection issues.

Technology

Administering Office 365 using PowerShell: updated information on the required components

I’ve written before about administering Office 365 from PowerShell but the process has changed slightly over the years.  There are various articles out there on the web with methods and links but the key information (as at August 2014) is in a TechNet article titled Manage Azure AD using Windows PowerShell.  Yes, that’s right – Azure AD – because Windows Azure Active Directory is the authentication service used by Microsoft Online Services such as the Office 365 services.

On my Windows 8.1 computer I already had the necessary .NET framework and PowerShell pre-requisites but I did need to download and install two more components before Get-Command -Module msonline would do anything for me:

  1. The Microsoft Online Services Sign-In Assistant for IT Professionals RTW (the version I used was 7.250.4556.0, published on 17 February 2014).
  2. The Windows Azure AD Module for Windows PowerShell* (which depends on the Microsoft Online Service Sign-In Assistant), which doesn’t come up in a search on the Microsoft Downloads Center but is linked from the TechNet article I mentioned above (32-bit and 64-bit versions).

With these components installed, I could authenticate against the service using my normal credentials with Import-Module MSOnline and Connect-MsolService and run administration cmdlets from within PowerShell.  Note that in order to run Exchange cmdlets, you’ll need a remote PowerShell session to Exchange (check out Greg Shields’ TechNet magazine article Manage Office 365 with Windows PowerShell for more details). There are also additional modules for managing Lync Online and SharePoint Online.

 

* The Windows Azure Active Directory Module for Windows PowerShell cmdlets were previously known as the Microsoft Online Services Module for Windows PowerShell cmdlets.

Technology

Synchronisation with your WP8 failed for … items

For the last couple of days, I’ve been getting strange messages from our mail server telling me that

“Synchronization with your WP8 failed for 1 items.
Microsoft Exchange was unable to send the following items to your mobile device. These items have not been deleted. You should be able to access them using either Outlook or Outlook Web Access.”

I thought this was odd – why just this one appointment? And then the penny dropped.  I’d marked the item in my Calendar as “Working Elsewhere”.  This location wasn’t available in earlier versions of Outlook and presumably Windows Phone 8 (or Exchange Server 2007) didn’t know what to do with it, so stopped attempting to sync the item with apparently-invalid data.

Microsoft has always had a good/better/best model when it comes to functionality available when combining different versions of software. Our Exchange servers are due for an update but this may be something to watch out for with my combination (Windows Phone 8, Exchange Server 2007, Outlook 2013)…

Technology

Exchange support and cumulative updates

Microsoft’s Support Lifecycle has been published for many years now – and most people are familiar with the concept of 5+5 support – i.e. 5 years mainstream support, followed by 5 years extended.  Some products (e.g. Windows XP) had a slightly longer period of support as they were introduced before the 5+5 policy but, as a rule, we can assume 10 year support for a product and be making plans to move up in the second half of that period.

It’s not quite that simple though – service packs need to be considered.  Often the support lifecycle has a note that says something like “Support ends 12 months after the next service pack releases or at the end of the product’s support lifecycle, whichever comes first.”.  That’s OK – service packs should be applied as part of regular maintenance anyway, so keeping up to date will keep you supported.  And, anyway, service packs only come along every year or two…

…until recently.

With the growth in Microsoft’s online services, for instance Exchange Online (sold under the Office 365 banner), we’re entering a period of cumulative updates.  New features and functionality are rolled out online, and then made available for “on premises” deployments.  Now, I’ve long since argued that new features and software fixes should be separate – but the world has moved on and we now see a cumulative update for Exchange Server every 3 months or so.

So, unlike the rollup updates (RUs) with previous versions of Exchange, Exchange 2013 cumulative updates (CUs) are effectively mini-service packs (CU4 was actually released as SP1).  And, critically, CUs go out of support 3 months after the next one comes out.  That means that we all need to get tighter on our application of CUs – and, because of the new features and functionality they introduce, that means testing too!

Exchange 2013 support gotcha!

My colleagues, Keith Robertson and Nick Parlow (@hagbard), recently highlighted a little anomaly that the Exchange CU support situation exposes in Microsoft’s documentation:

  • The Microsoft Support Lifecycle information for Exchange Server 2013 says that the RTM release (i.e. Exchange 2013 with no service packs or CUs applied) will no longer be supported from 14 April 2015. Except that’s not correct: CU1 was released on 1 April 2013 and so the RTM release actually went out of support on 2 July 2013!
  • Fast forward to Exchange 2013 SP1 (remember this was also known as CU4) and you’ll see it was released on 25 February 2014.  CU5 was released on 27 May 2014, so Exchange 2013 SP1 installations need to be updated to CU5 before 27 August 2014 in order to remain supported…

Microsoft’s Exchange Product Group has a blog post on Servicing Exchange 2013 but the key point is that Exchange Server installations need to be updated on a quarterly cadence, in line with new CU releases.  Added to that, be aware that custom configurations will be lost in the update so re-applying these will need to be factored into your plans – and that testing is critical – especially where third party applications are in use that Microsoft will almost certainly not have tested in their Exchange Online service.

Technology

Short takes: Grabbing streaming video; and installing troublesome Chrome apps

A few more snippets from my recent brushes with technology…

Grabbing a local copy of a Windows Media stream

I found myself watching a streaming video that I thought would be nice to take a copy of for posterity and it turns out it’s rather easy to grab a local copy of a Windows Media (WMV) stream using my old friend, wget.exe.

Simply download one of the many Windows-compiled versions of wget.exe, and supply the HTTP link as the source… a few minutes later you should have a copy of the file on your local hard disk.

Installing NPAPI plugins on Windows 8

I also needed to install BitTorrent Surf in Chrome on my Windows 8 machine (using BitTorrent is not illegal – using it to download copyrighted materials would be very naughty though).  Unfortunately the Chrome Web Store told me to get lost as BitTorrent Surf uses the Netscape Plugin Application Programming Interface (NPAPI), which is deprecated.  Thankfully, there is a workaround, as described by John Bruer and you can run Chrome in Windows 7 compatibility mode to install the app with no intervention at all (although I used John’s blog post, I later found the same advice directly from BitTorrent).

Technology

Geeking out at Microsoft Research

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to join the Microsoft Technical Community Council (MTCC), which is described as “a group of external IT professionals influential in the IT Pro world, who are engaged and interested in sharing their opinions and meet once a month via a Lync call”.  Basically, the Council is an opportunity for Microsoft to gain feedback from IT Pros with real-world experience of implementing Microsoft technologies and for those involved to understand a little more about the road ahead.

After some frantic NDA-signing, I was privileged to join the MTCC for a face-to-face meeting yesterday at Microsoft Research in Cambridge.  Last time I visited Microsoft Research, they were on a different site, on the outskirts of the city, and some of the stuff I heard about, quite frankly, blew my mind.  I was under NDA than (as an MVP) and under NDA again yesterday, so still can’t talk about what was discussed but the Microsoft Research website showcases some of the projects that have made it from the labs into the real world and describes the current areas of research.

We didn’t just learn about Microsoft’s Research operations though – there were other sessions – and the day also gave me a chance for me to meet with some of the people I’ve known for years but sort of lost touch with whilst my work was focused less on Microsoft and more on IT strategy – as well as to connect some faces to names – either from Twitter or, in once case, from my customers!

We also had rather a lot of fun, geeking out with Microsoft .NET Gadgeteer – a former Microsoft Research project described as:

“A rapid prototyping platform for small electronic gadgets and embedded hardware devices. It combines the advantages of object-oriented programming, solderless assembly of electronics using a kit of hardware modules, and quick physical enclosure fabrication using computer-aided design.”

Paul Foster (@PaulFo), whose antics I’ve written about before (on a home-made Surface table, among other things – and on PhotoSynth and Community Games) led us through an exercise more commonly carried out with school children, using Visual Studio with Visual C# Express and .NET Gadgeteer.  Using modular kits we were soon building simple digital cameras, before going on to add LED indicators, current sensors, motion detection, etc. – with a drag and drop design surface and a few lines of C#.  Even though I left it to the guys from Content and Code to crack out the code (I’ll do the infrastructure piece and plug things together!), I would confidently say that even I could have written the code that was required and it’s a very accessible way to get children doing something real with electronics.

Sadly, whilst the software is free, the hardware is a little on the pricey side, with an FEZ Spider starter kit coming in at around £200 (which is almost Lego Mindstorms EV3 money).  Compared with an Arduino and some raw electronics components, that’s quite a lot more money but it should be said that the graphical design surface provided in the Visual Studio IDE is easier to use and the modular electronic components do make the Gadgeteer-compatible kit easier to work with.  So, on balance, where the Arduino is great for “makers”, the Gadgeteer-compatible kit is probably a better solution for teaching kids the basics of controlling components with code.

Either way, it’s a lot of fun – and inspired me to start playing with electronics again… maybe I’ll even let my kids have a go…

Technology

Messing around with maps

Over the last few weeks, I’ve found myself making quite a few conversions of maps between different formats, for different uses (mostly cycling-related).  The things I’ve found might, or might not, be useful to others… so I’m writing them down anyway!

Firstly, I wanted to see what the profile of a route was like. I had a GPX file for the route and used the excellent GPS Visualizer site to create an elevation profile.  And then quickly decided it had far too many bumps!

Next up, one of my fellow riders wanted to be able to view the route in Google Maps (not Google Earth).  This wasn’t quite as straightforward but, again GPS Visualizer comes to the rescue. Using that site, it’s possible to convert to a KML file that Google Maps can work with.  Unfortunately, the “new” Google Maps doesn’t have an import option so you need to switch back to the “classic” Google Maps (it might be enough to use this version of the URI: https://www.google.com/maps?output=classic), after which you can use the Google Maps Engine to create a map (like this one, which was stage 1 of my recent London to Paris ride):

Finally, I bought a Garmin Edge 810 (cycle computer).  After months of saying “I don’t need a Garmin, I have Strava on my iPhone”), I gave in.  And I’ve been pretty glad of it too – already it’s been great to monitor my stats as I climbed Holme Moss last week (does 98% maximum heart rate mean I’m 2% off a heart attack? </joke>) and last weekend I decided I was 20-odd miles from home and bored of my ride, so the sat-nav could show me the best way back to my starting point (even if it did mean cycling along some trunk routes…). Added to that, Mrs W has been glad to track my rides using the Garmin 810’s Live Tracking (although it didn’t work last time I was out…).

The Garmin comes with “base maps” but these are really just the main roads.  As they’re probably not the ones you want to use for cycling, it’s handy to load on some more detail. Ordnance Survey 1:50K maps (GB Discoverer) may be great (the 3D view in particular) but at a penny shy of £200 I wasn’t prepared to pay that much, with Open Street Maps available for free.  ScarletFire Cycling has made a video with an interesting comparison of the OSM and OS map options:

Downloading the Open Street Maps to a Garmin Edge 705/800/810 is brilliantly described by DC Rainmaker and Forgot has a write-up for getting turn-by-turn navigation working on the Edge 800, as does ScarletFire.  It can take a couple of days for the maps to be generated though and I did find a direct download link with maps that had been generated fairly recently (July 2013), so I used that.

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