The company where I work recently upgraded from Office Communications Server (OCS) to Lync. Whilst Skype for Business is just around the corner, bringing many more features, our upgrade to Lync is a massive improvement and has allowed me to stop using WebEx for most of my conference calls and even to stop using my Cisco softphone for many of the direct voice calls (unfortunately we don’t have PSTN breakout configured for anything other than Lync conference call dial-backs).
Related to Lync, I’ve recently acquired a couple of accessories which, as well as creating discussion in the office, I find really help my user experience:
First up is the Bluetooth headset I use: a Plantronics Voyager Legend (BT300-M). Freeing me from the shackles of my desk on endless conference calls, I can nearly make it to the kitchen to make a cup of tea but, even when it does lose the connection, it seamlessly reconnects when I’m back in range. Not only do I use this with Lync but it’s also useful for my Cisco CUCILync softphone and, I’m told, as a mobile phone headset in the car (I haven’t tried that yet as my current car has Bluetooth built in but that will change in a few weeks…). Now, having said I can make it to the kitchen on a call, I have also heard about a colleague with a DECT-based headset who made it to his local village post office without losing his connection!
The other tool, which creates a lot more discussion from interested colleagues, is my Kuando Busylight. This is a visual indicator of my Lync status and, whilst it can be ignored just as much as the virtual version (I find that “busy” is treated as if it’s just a different coloured version of “available”…), it does have potential in offices with large groups of workers on the phone and a reliance on presence information. It also has a visual and/or audible notification when I’m called or IMed and I can customise the colours, create hotkey combinations and re-route second calls using the supplied software. Unfortunately, It’s Windows-only – but so is my work PC! I do hope that the manufacturer, Plenom (@plenom) will release a Mac version too, so I can use it with Lync and my personal Office 365 account.
Whilst on the subject of Lync, I’m not sure if I’ve blogged it before but there is a shortcut to force the use of Lync Web Access for a call, rather than the full client. Simply add ?sl=1 to the end of the Lync meeting URL to force use of the browser client.
If you’re using Microsoft’s online services, you might reasonably expect to authenticate against some form of directory service. And, if you have your own directory service (like Active Directory), you might reasonably expect to be able to synchronise it with your cloud identity to provide a holistic view to end users. Unfortunately, whilst both of these things are possible, the end result can be really confusing and I’ve just had to explain it for one of my customers.
You see, a “Microsoft account” is not what you use to log on to Office 365 (or Intune, Azure, etc.) – for that you need an “Organizational account” (which is held in Microsoft Azure Active Directory) – although you might have logged on to your Windows PC, phone or tablet with a Microsoft account.
“Q. What is the difference between “Organizational account” and “Microsoft account”?
Organizational account is an account created by an organization’s administrator to enable a member of the organization access to all Microsoft cloud services such as Microsoft Azure, Windows Intune or Office 365. An Organizational account can take the form of a user’s organizational email address, such as email@example.com, when an organization federates or synchronizes its Active Directory accounts with Azure Active Directory. […]
Microsoft account, created by user for personal use, is the new name for what used to be called “Windows Live ID”. The Microsoft account is the combination of an email address and a password that a user uses to sign in to all consumer-oriented Microsoft products and cloud services such as Outlook (Hotmail), Messenger, OneDrive, MSN, Windows Phone or Xbox LIVE. If a user uses an email address and password to sign in to these or other services, then the user already has a Microsoft account—but the user can also sign up for a new one at any time.”
Right. Hopefully that’s a bit clearer? Unfortunately the whole thing gets really messy when you have multiple browser tabs connected to different services and I often find I have different browsers (or InPrivate/Incognito browser sessions) running in parallel to access services. One approach, although probably not recommended, is to manually synchronise the passwords between a Microsoft account and an Organizational account that have the same email address to give the illusion of single sign-on.
Maybe one day all of the consumer services will move to Azure Active Directory and we can just have a single identity. Probably not though… that’s what Microsoft Passport (Windows Live ID’s predecessor) was trying to do back in 2001 and it felt a bit “big brother” to some people (although today we seem quite happy to have Google and Facebook act as identity providers for multiple services).
Since I wrote this post, “organizational accounts” have become known as “work or school accounts”, which I guess makes things a little clearer, even if the phase is a touch unwieldy!
Last week, was Microsoft UK’s TechDays Online conference, held over three days with thousands of virtual attendees watching/listening to sessions on a variety of topics, starting off in the IT Pro arena with a keynote on Windows 10 from Journalist and Author Mary Jo Foley (@MaryJoFoley), Windows Server, on to Intune, Office 365, progressing to a variety of Azure topics, containerisation and DevOps with a keynote from Microsoft Distinguished Engineer Jeffrey Snover (@JSnover) and eventually into full developer mode with a keynote from Scott Hanselman (@SHanselman).
This is the fourth year that Microsoft has run these events and I was fortunate to be invited to watch the sessions being recorded. I attended the first afternoon/evening and the second day – driving my Twitter followers mad with a Microsoft overload. For those who missed it, here’s a recap (unfortunately I couldn’t commit the time to cover the developer day):
Finally made it to #techdays2015. Watching a silent screen and waiting for a gap in filming so I don’t disturb the room with my entrance!
Sadly, I missed Mary Jo Foley’s keynote (although I did manage to get over to Microsoft’s London offices on the second evening for a Live recording of the Windows Weekly podcast and caught up with Mary Jo after the event).
Sessions were recorded and I’ll update this post with video links when I have them.
Not only does MyFitnessPal seem to have a decent UK food database (albeit one that could do with some tidying up for consistency in naming – although that’s probably just my pedantry again) but the app is pretty good (just as good as the MyNetDiary app I paid money for…) and, more importantly, the ecosystem of connected apps is pretty good (Strava and Fitbit are both there, which is what I need – but many more besides). It’s growing too; only yesterday Endomondo emailed to say they were joining the “Under Armour Connected Fitness suite”, which includes MyFitnessPal. The only slight downside (and it’s really not an issue when I think about the data that I need to keep, long term), is that MyFitnessPal bundles up each meal into a summary when it passes it to Fitbit:
So, this is what my activity tracking ecosystem looks like now:
Ultimately, I only have to enter or capture each item of information once (exercise via Strava unless automatically captured on my Garmin Edge 810 cycle computer; food/drink/weight via MyFitnessPal; daily activity/calorie burn automatically from my Fitbit Charge HR) and it flows into Fitbit and onwards each day to Microsoft HealthVault.
It’s appraisal season where I work and I spent a significant amount of this morning writing feedback on various colleagues’ performance. One that did amuse me though, was the annotation on one colleague’s form:
“Please be honest. Feedback is a gift, like a woolly jumper from your auntie at Christmas. You might not like it but you take it with good grace and remember that it was sent with the best possible intentions.”
Nice one. Many people take constructive feedback as a negative (and it can be hard to give). At least this approach encourages others to provide honest opinions.
Over the last couple of months I’ve attended a couple of British Computer Society (BCS) meetings on the “Internet of Everything”. Looking at the speaker’s activity band got me thinking about “the quantified self”. Just as, when I’m cycling or running, I like to track my activities and see how I’ve done compared with others, this year I decided to buy myself a fitness tracker. I’ve worn pedometers before (when taking part in the Global Corporate Challenge) but with the current (and upcoming) range of activity bands/watches, my device of choice is a Fitbit Charge HR.
Why the Fitbit Charge HR? Well, I’d seen the Charge and it looks good – discrete, but functional – and the additional £20 for heart rate readings sounded interesting (and should lead to more accurate calorie counting). There are Apple and Microsoft watches on the way but I’ve been burned far to many times buying a first generation product (iPad, Nokia Lumia 800) and Fitbit have been working in this market for a while now – their trackers are pretty well established. I was also seeing some good reviews on the Charge including this one from Michael d’Estries (@michaeldestries).
The setup was simple – the product packaging directed me to a website to download and install the software on a PC (or Mac in my case), together with a dongle after which the band updated itself and continued to sync. There’s also an app on my phone that communicates via Bluetooth (I use this for call notifications and synchronisation). I’m not sure what technology the dongle uses (ANT+ perhaps?) but it’s certainly not the Mac’s built-in Bluetooth stack. I also need to work out why, since I paired the band with the app on my phone, the Mac no longer sees it as present but that’s not stopping me from using it so can wait a while.
Next up was charging the battery. It had some power out of the box but needed charging soon after (unsurprisingly). Fitbit’s claimed battery life is 5 days but I’d say it’s nearer to 2-3. Actually, I don’t let it run down that far – I generally charge daily – and I started off by charging whilst taking a shower, etc. as any steps taken during the period are probably balanced out by steps recorded as a result of movement during sleep. Unfortunately, putting it on charge when I woke (and before it had registered much activity confused the sleep tracking (it thought I was still asleep!) so I’ve since started to charge it whilst sitting at my desk, working at a PC. It really does seems like this would be one device that really would benefit from wireless charging! Added to that, the proprietary connector locks on well but I can’t help thinking it’s another way to make money (replacing lost/broken cables) and micro USB would do the job just as well?
Monitoring steps, hear trate and sleep
Importantly, the step count seems reasonably accurate. There are some phantom steps when driving/otherwise moving my wrist but the Charge HR basically seems to keep time with walking (goodness knows how as it’s nothing to do with how I swing my arms or not!). Incidentally, you can’t delete/edit the recorded steps/floors data so it’s worth logging driving as an activity (take a note of the start and finish times) to negate the entries as it’s somewhat disconcerting to be notified that you reached your step target whilst driving along the motorway! Unfortunately, although recording an activity trues up the step count and other metrics, any badges earned remain on your profile.
I’ve yet to check the heart rate monitoring compared with the Garmin chest band that I wear on my longer bike rides – it seems a little low to me but maybe a bike ride is more exerting than I think! And on the subject of exertion, I was amused to see that, one evening, after visiting my local pub, the walk back up the hill counted as both active minutes (raised heart rate) and towards the number of stairs climbed (due to the elevation)! Stair climbing (along with distance walked, when many of the steps are around the home/office) seems a bit of a gimmick but still another metric to compare. It’s not 100% accurate, because Fitbit measures a flight of stairs as 10′ elevation (based on atmospheric pressure) – modern homes may be less than this, and commercial buildings more – but it’s there or thereabouts.
Sleep tracking is another reason I was interested in wearing a band, which is also the reason I can’t charge at night (as I do my phones). I’m not sure exactly how this works (it tracks time in bed, restlessness, and time awake) but I’m pretty sure “time reading a book before going to sleep” gets recorded as sleep (perhaps the low heart rate?), as does “lying in bed being lazy (a lie in)”. As mentioned previously, so does taking off my watch and pugging it in to charge after sleep as the software only seems to end the sleep when I’m active – and therefore starting to charge it whilst I’m still in bed extends the sleep time!
There are some minor niggles to watch for:
The Charge HR has a proper strap buckle (the Charge has a different clasp) and it can be tricky to get the correct adjustment (not too tight, not too loose for HR monitoring); however I haven’t worn a watch for many years so it may just be me getting used to having something on my wrist again. More significantly, the strap is quite short (even the large version). Mine only has about another centimetre of expansion and, whilst I’m a stocky guy, I’m not huge – I’m sure there are others with bigger wrists than mine.
The watch face appears to be plastic rather than glass and I was disappointed to see it had scratched after a few days of use, although I was shown a Microsoft Band a few days ago and that was clearly scratched (on a much larger screen). I guess I’ve been spoiled by glass smartphone screens and expect the same from all devices…
If you’re in the UK, Fitbit’s food record database is terrible. So far the only items recognised by the barcode scanner in the app have been from Costco (i.e. American products) and I’ve used other apps that do a much better job for this. Also, the Fitbit food tracker can’t create recipes (i.e. add a bunch of ingredients, save as a recipe with x portions, then eat y portions). After a few days, my common food items have mostly been added manually (which has taken quite a lot of time) but there’s still the issue of tracking food when eating out. Maybe it’s pedantic but it does seem to me to have little value in accurately tracking calories burned if I don’t accurately track calories eaten…
As with driving, when logging activities (exercise), be ready for some inaccuracy as (unless logged as a walk/run, etc. via the Fitbit app) because manually-logged activities can be recorded down to the second on duration but only to the minute on start/end times! So, if I take an activity from Strava (for example) that started at 16:39 and lasted 18m 11s… the heart rate graphs don’t quite match up. As you can’t edit an activity (only delete and re-record), it can take some trial and error to record it accurately.
In general, activity tracking would actually be greatly improved if there was broader integration between apps (e.g. Strava-Fitbit or Garmin-Fitbit). There is an ecosystem of Fitbit-aware apps but we’re a long way from a universal health tracking app ecosystem. Added to that, the need for premium versions of each app, with subscriptions in order to integrate (e.g. MyNetDiary-Fitbit) could get expensive. I’m hopeful that Apple, Microsoft et al will make great strides in this area (and I’ve linked my Fitbit account to Microsoft HealthVault) and it’s certainly something to watch over the next couple of years.
So, it seems that health tracking is useful, but I need to modify the way I work to deal with the Fitbit Charge HR’s shortcomings re: charging, sleep monitoring, food diaries, etc. I’m still really pleased with mine (and don’t think any other device would be any better, right now) but it’s not quite the put-it-on-and-ignore-it sensor I’d hoped to accurately quantify myself with! Maybe my expectations were just a little too high…