Preparation notes for Microsoft exam 70-341: Core Solutions of Microsoft Exchange Server 2013

I’ve got an exam tomorrow. I figured that, as I’m employed as a manager and not an administrator, my best chance at passing the Core Solutions of Microsoft Exchange Server 2013 (70-341) exam was to take the test soon after attending the training course. So, tomorrow morning at 10am, I’ll be in a Prometric test centre whilst the sun is shining outside…

I learn by writing, so what follows are my notes – a brain dump if you like but based purely on study – I’ve not seen the exam (or any practice tests) yet…

Fingers crossed, I’ll be fine.  If I do fail, it will be the first time I’ve had to re-take a Microsoft exam – here goes with the brain dump.

[Updated 2013/11/22 – after failing 70-341 twice and 70-342 once – so far – I’ve removed the content of this post as it’s clearly no help to anyone!]

Great service, great bike, great experience!

I’ve written before about the interest in cycling I developed last year but I wasn’t able to buy a road bike at the time. A few weeks ago, that all changed as I found myself attracted to a beautiful piece of Italian machinery at just about the same time my bonus was paid…

Mrs W. may think it’s a toy but I’m currently building up to my first (sprint) Triathlon and hope to be riding from London to Paris with friends next year.  That means that my Bianchi Via Nirone 7 Veloce Limited Edition is ridden several times a week as we enjoy the summer here in the UK and I try to build up my fitness (and knock off a few more kilos) – indeed I’ll be heading out tomorrow morning (and anything that gets me up early on a weekend must be fun).

The reason for this blog post is not so much to rave about my first road bike though (lovely though it is) but to commend the dealer where I bought it.

You see, I spent weeks looking at various bikes from Giant, Scott, Trek, Cannondale, etc. and I found many helpful dealers along the way. Unfortunately, I also found some who were less so – Pedalworks in Dunstable wanted to charge me so that they could spend twenty minutes working out which frame size would be right for me with the Scott Speedster 20 I was considering at the time. I managed to ride a machine from lower down the range at Phil Corley Cycles in Milton Keynes (they didn’t have a 20 in my size) but it just didn’t feel as comfortable as the Trek Domane 2.0 I rode next. The Trek was a lovely bike but this years colours are just so… dull (the 2.3 is OK, but outside my budget). I was tempted by the Giant Defy 1 (but struggled to find one in red/white) and I even gave Boardman Road Team Carbon Limited a try as it’s a stonking deal but a bit too racey for me (a*se up head down – as someone referred to it) and, despite their best efforts letting me ride one around the loading bay, Halfords’ staff just didn’t seem to know much about their bikes and how they compared with the competition (apart from on price).  Then, when two people independently suggested I took a look at the Bianchi Via Nirone, I liked what I saw.

I called Epic Cycles who were a) incredibly helpful b) really friendly and c) willing to let me come and spend some time with them to work out what size bike I need.  And when I say “some time” – I mean an hour and a half fitting session working out how best to set up the bike. I said “but I just need to work out my size” and they said they understood – this is a sizing evaluation – apparently a full performance bike fit is 3 hours!

So I set off to Ludlow, and Epic’s Ben Williams put me onto the turbo trainer, before setting about measuring various angles to get me in just the right position, each time explaining why it was so important and how it will make a difference on long rides (I have the measurements, but I wish I’d taken notes!). The thing is, it works – who would have thought that taking 1cm off the stem would make such a difference in comfort but it does – as does the position of my saddle (height and fore-aft), bar height, stem angle, etc.  Not only that but it made a huge difference in my purchasing confidence and the order was placed very soon afterwards.

The Via Nirone 7 is available in various spec levels but Epic buy so many they’re able to have their own limited edition bikes built up.  Mine has a Campagnolo Veloce groupset (roughly equivalent to Shimano 105) and K-Vid Kevlar/Carbon seat stays which really make it a smooth ride.

A few days later, and the bike was ready for collection – Epic would have delivered the bike to me, free of charge, but I elected to collect it – I didn’t want to entrust my pride and joy to a TNT courier. Even better, when I bought some pedals to go with the bike, Epic fitted the cleats to my shoes for me (even though I’d bought the shoes elsewhere) and helped me to get set up*. Great service, great bike, great experience – and hopefully the start of a great new hobby for me.

Unfortunately, Mrs W wants me to ride around in neon colours now so that I can be seen… ah well, at least that’s an excuse to buy some more gear…

  • That still didn’t stop me from falling off after failing to unclip at the first junction on my first ride – but that’s something of a rite of passage, I believe.

Exchange and Outlook resource roundup

I mentioned that I’ve been attending an Exchange Server 2013 training course, when I wrote earlier in the week about creating dynamic distribution groups using custom directory attributes.

Our course instructor, Annette Gill, has curated a number of resources and links on her website for Exchange (2007, 2010 and 2013), Windows Server 2008, and System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM 2007 and 2012).  Of particular  interest to me right now are the Exchange Server 2013 Resources and Exchange Server 2013 Miscellaneous Links.

I also found something else of note during one of the labs. I don’t really use Public Folders and I was struggling to get one to display in the Outlook client after I’d created it and given access to a user.  Outlook MVP Diane Poremsky’s reply to a TechNet Forum post gave me the answer – Ctrl+6 refreshed the folder list (I already had it open) and the Public Folder came into view.  Incidentally, a full list of Outlook keyboard shortcuts can be found on the Microsoft Office website (that list is for 2010, but should work for 2013 too).

There are more “tips and tricks for Windows, Office and whatever” on Diane’s website.


Finally, one of the Microsoft consultants currently working with my team is one of the joint authors for the Microsoft Exchange Server 2013: Design, Deploy and Deliver an Enterprise Messaging Solution book that’s due to be published next month. Exchange 2013 texts are a bit thin on the ground at the moment but this book has been written by some of the best authorities I know on the topic – especially when it comes to designing, deploying and delivering solutions.

London cyclist (for a few days)

As I’m staying in London for my training course this week, I thought I’d try and offset the hotel breakfasts and pizzas/corner-shop evening meals (I struggle to get a hotel restaurant meal on my expenses budget) with some healthy exercise.

We’re having a mini heat-wave in the UK right now (and very welcome it is too!) so, even at 21:15 my jog on Monday evening was a bit slow and sticky (and I gave up on tonight’s – it was just too hot!).

Boris Bikes

Consequently, I decided to take advantage of the (Barclays) London Cycle Hire (Boris Bike) scheme to cycle from the hotel to the training centre and back each day and hopefully burn a few calories on the way.

Cycling in London

I’ve heard a lot on cycling podcasts and TV shows about cycling in London and whilst six rush-hour journeys on a Boris Bike don’t exactly qualify me as an expert (even if I did cross some of the cycle black spots like Elephant and Castle and Blackfriars) I have to say that my impression of a lot of what’s written/spoken is a touch dramatic and maybe verging on the unrealistic.

Sure, cycling in London traffic is not always easy – there are problems where cycle lanes just stop; buses block roundabouts; and getting into traffic can be difficult – but much of that is about people being selfish (or hesitant) and it’s just the same with motorised traffic.

As for the danger – well, speeds are lower (if I get out on my bike back at home I’m straight into 60mph traffic on the main roads) and, yes, lorries and buses present their own challenges – but some common sense is needed there too.  I’m not suggesting that all of the tragic incidents that have led to loss of life are down to the cyclists – but take a look on YouTube and there are some nutters on bikes too…

Buses weigh about 12 tonnes; lorries up to 44 tons. A cyclist weighs perhaps 100kg so there’s no contest really – watch out for what others are doing and don’t put yourself in a risky situation.  I guess, as a former motorcyclist, I learned to watch out for people doing things that they shouldn’t – and on a pedal cycle you’re just that little bit more exposed.

A couple of things struck me though.  As a pedestrian in London, I’m always annoyed when cyclists nearly take me out on a zebra crossing but London cycling is very stop-start and I can see why people jump lights and don’t give way at crossings (I’m not condoning that behaviour, by the way – just empathising). I was also surprised at just how many cyclists there are these days – certainly a lot more than I remember a few years ago – and enough to make motorists a little more aware of their presence.

Cycling Policy

As for “Cycle Superhighways” – I do have to agree with the bloggers and podcasters there – some blue paint splattered on the road is not enough! I honestly can’t see the difference between one of the cycle superhighways (I used a couple of them) and the normal cycle lanes/bus lanes.  Even so, the idea of segregated cycle ways in an overcrowded city seems a little unrealistic. It would be lovely to create a dedicated cycle network but the costs are potentially astronomical.

Just as I watched BBC Newsnight examining the case for high speed rail last night (it’s something we need as a piece of national infrastructure but should we really expect a positive ROI – the Jubilee Line extension didn’t get one – and, in any case, can we afford it right now?), if I were mayor of London I’d be asking similar questions about segregated cycle lanes. That’s why TfL’s current “Vision for cycling in London” is a start but it will take time to build out. What we really need (nationally) is a programme to build cycling into regeneration and new build projects – not just in London but for all of our villages, towns and cities.

Boris Bikes

The London Cycle Hire Scheme is not perfect but it’s not bad either.  Only once did I find there were no bikes for me to use but I did have problems with broken docks (presumably preventing the scheme’s operators, Serco, from realising that a docking station is full – they certainly didn’t move any bikes away) and local residents resorting to adding notices to stop people from trying to use them (thank you!).  It is annoying to have to cycle a few streets to the next dock (and then walk back to where you wanted to be) but at least there’s a free BarclaysBikes iPhone app that I can use to direct me to some spaces.

The bikes themselves are heavy (23kg) and slow (three gears – all of them low) so cycling on a Boris Bike can be hard work. Also, releasing a bike from a dock seemed to require quite a physical effort – maybe OK for a stocky guy like me but not so for those with a more petite frame.

I was kicking myself when, after failing to change gear for the first mile or so of using a Boris Bike and thinking the lever must be broken, I realised that the gear change is a twist grip mechanism (doh!). Once I’d worked out how to move up to third gear, I rarely dropped lower (and was wishing there was a 4th, or a 5th). The step-through frame is surprisingly easy but the rubber grips are sticky in hot weather and leave you with dirty hands. One change I really would like to make – replace the tiny bell with a great big air horn so motorists can hear you (pedestrians too!)

My biggest issues were with payment.  The process of buying access and then being retrospectively charged for usage is a bit clunky and I could find no way of generating a receipt (I want to claim the cost of my cycling back on expenses). I’ve contacted TfL but there is a 5 day response on emails so am still waiting for a reply.

Conclusions

So – London cycling – hit or miss?  Actually, I liked it – and if I lived in London I would definitely be considering buying a cheap(ish) fixie for the commute (or an old road bike). My own bikes are too expensive to be left chained up outside an office but the cycle hire scheme is really quite convenient – unless you live in the suburbs (where there are no Boris Bikes) I guess.

As for infrastructure – yes, the roads are a mess – but that’s the same everywhere and whatever your transport methods.  I was surprised at how many drivers did seem to notice me  (pedestrians on their smartphones whilst crossing the road less so), with only a couple of frantic bell-ringing incidents and two “ois!” shouted at drivers who pulled across my path (although I saw an unmarked police car do the same to someone else this evening, before shooting off on “blues and twos”).

London cyclists should try somewhere else before complaining – meanwhile everyone should be encouraged to get out of their car and onto a bike for a day or two to see how it looks from the other side.

Tomorrow I’ll be off the bikes, lugging my luggage through the tube, then back home to Milton Keynes where we have lots of segregated cycle ways despite constant complaints that the town was designed for cars…

Working with Exchange 2013 dynamic distribution groups based on custom directory attributes

I’m attending a training course this week (getting back up to speed with Exchange using the Core Solutions of Microsoft Exchange Server 2013 course) and I found that one of the labs wasn’t working. I probably missed a step somewhere and I wanted to verify a dynamic distribution group based on a custom attribute.

Back in the days when I was hands-on with Exchange, there was an Exchange-aware version of Active Directory Users and Computers (ADUC) to work with, but that disappeared in 2007.  These days, the solution is to open ADUC, enable the Advanced view and then look at the Attribute Editor. It took some searching but I found that what Exchange refers to as Custom Attribute 1-15 are actually known by the LDAP names of extensionAttribute1 (to 15) in Active Directory.

Once I’d edited extensionAttribute1 in the user object(s) to add the value the dynamic distribution group was looking for, they were picked up and mail flowed as expected.

One last point: whilst Exchange 2013 doesn’t allow a preview the contents of dynamic distribution groups within the Exchange Admin Center it is possible inside the Exchange Management Shell.

[Update: Custom attributes can also be set in EAC – under more options for mailbox properties – as well as in EMS, where the attribute is known as CustomAttribute1)]

Fighting back to the spammers: charging for removal of blog spam links…

Right from (almost) the start, this blog has suffered from spam. I guess it just goes with the territory but I’ve written in the past about people who’ve left spam comments and then found Google’s index quotes them out of context or tech companies criticising their competitors “anonymously” in blog comments.

Even when I was helping my then-CTO to raise his social media presence, my employer’s PR agency was encouraging the use of comments on blogs to generate backlinks and now the tide is turning as Google cracks down on low-quality backlinks.

As a result, I’m getting an increasing number of emails from digital agencies including phrases like the one below:

“I’m writing to request the removal of a link to my clients’ [sic] site which is located at the following page:”

They’re (or their clients are) wasting my time, so I reserve the right to charge for removing such links.

The irony is that, over the last few years, Google’s index changes have penalised original content creators like myself in favour of corporate websites and this blog has just a fraction of the traffic it once enjoyed (oh, those were the days)…

Would be blog spammers at this site should check out the Rules for Comments.

Business intelligence required…

Up and down the country, businesses are running on Excel, instead of using a proper business intelligence (or even management information) system. The one I look after is no different but, as I pieced together yet another spreadsheet last weekend, I learned a few Excel tips that might be useful to share…

=SUMIF()

I’ve been trying to pull together a resource forecast in order to work out how quickly to grow my team. The approach I look was to list all the projects we have coming through, with headcount requirements split out by grade, then to total each column based on the grade of staff required.

Seems fair enough, but the trick to making this work is reading a cell and then only including its value in the total if a condition is met (e.g. the indicated grade matches the one I’m adding up).

Stack Overflow came to my rescue, describing Excel’s SUMIF() function

In my case, the formula was something like:

=SUMIF(E4:E148,E154,F4:F148)

Where E4:E148 contained the grades of people for each identified project, E154 contained the grade I was looking for (e.g. Exchange Designer) and F4:F148 were the numbers of people needed for each project that month. Repeat for each grade, and then for each month, and a table of resource requirements can be built up…

There may be better ways to do this, but it will save me some time adding up the totals each time I revisit the task list…

More margins…

Of course, knowing how many people I need is one thing – making some crude assumptions about the likely revenue they might attract to see if I’m close to my numbers for the year is the next question I’ll be asked.

Last week, I blogged about the difference between mark-up and margin, and this week I needed to put that into practice.  I found a forum post that explained the formula (sale price = 100/1-margin * original cost), so I put that into practice, multiplying by a day rate, an assumed number of working days in the month and the total of that grade of person:

=(D165*(1/(1-D174)))*D175*F154

Which translates to:

=(dayrate*(1/(1-margin)))*number of days*number of people

Displaying data in 1000s

The last part was displaying data. Some of the revenue numbers I ended up with are big – and I’m only interested in 1000s of pounds, so I needed to adjust the formatting of the results.  The trick here is to use a custom number format on the cell of 0, (zero comma) for thousands (or 0,, can be used for millions). Add a K or an M on the end for units, and a currency symbol up front too. You can also add a decimal point using 0.0, (e.g. £0.0,K for £1500 to be displayed as £1.5K) or, if the numbers get into the millions, then try something like £0,000,K.

Margin, or markup?

A big chunk of my current role involves trying to convert a capability unit (with some great skills in the team, it has to be said) into a profitable business. That’s not necessarily easy – changing a culture created over years where utilisation was king – as long as we were busy, life was good – to one where we need to be busy but only if we’re doing the right things to keep projects profitable: get in; deliver a defined work package; avoid scope creep (Project Managers like to grab hold of good people); move on to the next thing.

That means that, in addition to managing a team of my own for the first time, this technical manager is also on a very steep learning curve as he grapples with being a business manager too (but I can’t forget my technical roots – I’m also Messaging Lead Architect – and I’ve got a number of technical activities to juggle as we improve our capabilities, standardise our delivery, and drive out further efficiencies).

I learned an important business lesson a few weeks ago, when my Manager sent me a “handy cheat sheet” for calculating margins on our day rates.  “But it’s wrong”, I exclaimed – “look, if I put 10% margin on £100 it says the answer is £111.11 – that’s 11% margin!”. “No Mark, that’s not how it works” explained my, extremely patient, Manager (let’s call him Alan because, well because that’s his name…).

Alan explained that I was applying mark-up, not margin (“Doh!”, thought I).

Alan went on to explain that margin requires working back from the price to work out the difference from the cost – whereas markup is simply adding a value on top of the cost to reach a price. So, if something costs £50 and is sold for £100 – that’s 50% margin but 100% markup.

That was an important lesson for me – thankfully one that I learned on a £25K piece of consulting, rather than a multi-million pound managed service…

Now onto the next challenge, making sense of revenue and margin flowing through umpteen cost centres…

Fixing Feedly

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about switching to Feedly from Google Reader. Since then, Google has switched off Reader – and my feeds went AWOL in the process.

Thankfully, Feedly are taking the issue seriously (I was amazed to get a tweet back from them after I tweeted a picture of their “over capacity” screen)

Even before then, I’d found the answer to the missing feeds on the Feedly blog. Until 15 July 2013, it’s possible to use Google Takeout to export the data that was previously held in Reader – so get in there quickly if you want to export your feeds. Once I’d imported the OPML Feedly was happy – at least on the web.

And that overloaded error in the iOS app? A temporary glitch caused by some Google code changes – as soon as Apple let’s the updated app into their store (Android is already sorted), that should be good too.