Short takes: what to do when Outlook won’t open HTTP(S) links; how to disable Outlook Clutter; and don’t run externally-facing mail servers in Azure!

Once again, my PC is running out of memory because of the number of open browser tabs, so I’ll convert some into a mini-blog post…

Outlook forgets how to open HTTP(S) links

I recently found that Outlook 2016 had “forgotten” what to do with HTTP(S) links – complaining that:

Something unexpected went wrong with this URL: […] Class not registered.

The fix was to reset my default browser in Windows. Even though I hadn’t changed it away from Edge, a Windows Update (I expect) had changed something and Edge needed to be reset as the default browser, after which Outlook was happy to open links to websites again.

Globally disable Outlook Clutter

I had a customer who moved to Exchange Online and then wanted to turn off the Clutter feature, because “people were complaining some of their email was being moved”.

Unfortunately, Clutter is set with a per-mailbox setting so to globally disable it you’ll need something like this:

get-mailbox | set-clutter -enable $false

That will work for existing mailboxes but what about new ones? Well, if you want to do make sure that Clutter remains “off”, then you’ll need a script to run on a regular basis and turn off Clutter for any new users that have been created – maybe using Azure Automation with Office 365?

Alternatively, you can create a transport rule to bypass Clutter.

Personally, I think this is the wrong choice – the answer isn’t to make software work the way we used to – it’s to lead the cultural change to start using new features and functionality to help us become more productive. Regardless, Clutter will soon be replaced by the Focused Inbox (as in the Outlook mobile app).

Don’t run externally-facing mail servers in Azure

I recently came across a problem when running an Exchange Hybrid server on a VM in Azure. Whilst sending mail directly outbound (i.e. not via Office 365 and hence Exchange Online Protection), consumer ISPs like Talk Talk were refusing our email.  I tried adding PTR records in DNS for the mail server but then I found the real issue – Azure adds it’s IP addresses to public block lists in order to protect against abuse.

It turns out that Microsoft’s documentation on sending e-mail from Azure compute resource to external domains is very clear:

“[…] the Azure compute IP address blocks are added to public block lists (such as the Spamhaus PBL).  There are no exceptions to this policy”

and the recommended approach is to use a mail relay – such as Exchange Online Protection or a third party service like SendGrid. Full details can be found in the Microsoft link above.

Bike wheel circumference and its effect on recorded distance

A few months back, I rode the Prudential London-Surrey Ride 100. That’s a 100-mile sportive, except that my Garmin recorded the route as 155.9km, or 96.871769 miles. Somewhere it seems I missed about 5 km/3 miles… or maybe I just cut all the corners!

Well, even though I was using GPS, I may tonight have found something that might account for a little bit of that variation – it seems my Garmin cycle computer was set to the wrong wheel circumference. Not wildly out but about 0.8%, which won’t help.

The Edge 810 software has options within a bike profile for both manual and automatic wheel size adjustment.  For my Bianchi C2C profile, it was set to automatic and had decided that my wheel circumference was 2088mm, probably when I originally paired my speed/cadence sensor as, according to the Garmin website:

“Wheel size is automatically calculated when a Garmin Speed/Cadence Bike Sensor (GSC 10) is paired to a GPS-enabled device”

With 700x23C tyres fitted, it should actually be closer to 2096mm (which seemed to be the default when I switched to a manual setting, or maybe that’s what I had originally entered before it was overridden by the software?) but I switched to 700x25C tyres about a year ago which will have a circumference of around 2105mm according to this table (and this one).

For completeness, I checked the profiles for my mountain bikes too – they both showed an automatic wheel size of 0mm (so presumably get their distance from GPS) but have now been changed to 2075 for 26×2.20″ and 2037 for 26×1.85″ (defaults seemed to be 2050).

As for the rest of the difference – well, tyre pressures are a factor – as is the weight of the rider. One school of thought says you should put some paint or water on your tyre, ride along and then measure the gaps between the dots. That assumes you ride in a straight line and that the other factors (weight, tyre pressure, etc.) remain constant between rides.

If the organisers said it’s a hundred miles, then I’ll go with that. Hopefully now I’ve amended the wheel circumference that will help a bit in future though.

Removing ads from the Amazon Kindle Fire lock screen (without root)

Yesterday, I wrote about installing the Google Play Store on my Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8 (5th generation) but one point I made was that the script I used didn’t remove the Amazon lock-screen ads as it suggested it would.

It’s possible to pay £10 extra when you buy your Kindle Fire to have the ads removed from the lock screen… and some people have had success in getting theirs removed by asking Amazon Customer Services nicely. Alternatively, if you have the tech skills, I’ve found a fix, thanks to Vlasp over on the XDADevelopers forums and now my Fire is ad-free (although I have to admit the ads have previously inspired me to make the odd purchase)!

Just as when I installed the Google Play Store, I first had to unhide Developer Options (by tapping 7 times on the device serial number in Settings) and enable ADB (the Android Debug Bridge). After connecting to a PC with a USB cable and accepting the connection, I was able to use ADB to control the settings on the Kindle Fire.

Enable ADB in Developer Options (Debugging)

Allow connections from the PC to the Kindle Fire

HowToGeek has an article about installing ADB but I didn’t do that… I used the copy that came with the script I had previously used to install the Google Play Store (from @RootJunky) – simply by opening up the command prompt and changing directory to the folder that had adb.exe in it…

Then, I ran the commands that Vlasp outlines in his XDADevelopers forum post:

adb shell
pm clear
pm hide
adb reboot

Commands to remove ads from Amazon Fire (via ADB)

And, once the Kindle restarted, there were no more ads*!  Just remember to turn ADB off again on the Kindle.

Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8 lock screen with ads removed

*Sometimes the ads may return – just repeat the process and they will be banished again for a while…

Installing Google Play Store on an Amazon Kindle Fire HD

In preparation for my summer holidays this year, I bought a new tablet to replace my aging (and slow) Tesco Hudl. Again, I didn’t want to spend much money – I’ve suffered at the hands of Apple’s built-in obselescence previously, and the Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8 seemed to fit the bill quite nicely.

The only trouble with a Kindle is it runs FireOS – a fork of Android – rather than a “stock” Android. That means no Google Play store, which means you’re limited to the apps that are in Amazon’s store.  By and large that’s OK – I installed iPlayer, OneDrive, OneNote, Spotify, etc. but there is no YouTube and the browser is Silk, not Chrome.

I tried sideloading packages from unofficial sources, following advice from Arash Soheili (Android Cowboy).  That got me Chrome and YouTube but without the ability to log in to a Google account (so no syncing of shortcuts, no visibility of subscriptions, etc.). It seemed that installing Google Play Store and installing the apps properly needed me to root the Kindle.

Then, last night, I found a HowToGeek article that was a) easy to follow and b) linked to @RootJunky (Tom)’s script that did all the heavy lifting.  Within a few minutes and one reboot I had installed the Google Play store on my Kindle Fire HD; logged in to my Google account; and downloaded Chrome and YouTube – both working perfectly.

RootJunky's Amazon Fire Tablet Tool at work

RootJunky's Amazon Fire Tablet Tool at work

Just one point to note – Amazon must have updated their method of unlocking the device to remove ads from the lock screen as that part of the script didn’t seem to take effect on my device.

Google Play Store, Chrome and YouTube installed on Kindle Fire HD 8

With the last hurdle out of the way, this means I can recommend that my 10 year-old son, who wants to buy a tablet (and is too young for a smartphone), can buy something cheap like a Kindle rather than spending far too much money on a more fully-featured tablet in a dying market:

Possible fix for a touch screen that stops recognising input on a Lenovo Flex 15

Last weekend, I had an issue with the touch screen on the family laptop. This not-quite-three-year-old device (running Windows 10) is on its second screen (the first one gave up after 13 months) and the laptop was working fine, just that the touch screen acted like, well, a screen (i.e. no touch).

Helpfully, both Adi Kingsley-Hughes (@the_pc_doc) and Jack Schofield (@jackschofield) chipped in with suggestions but it remained a mystery.

The issue persisted through a reboot (which does cast some doubt on the eventual “fix”) and Lenovo’s published drivers were woefully out-of-date but I found a Dell forum post with something that might have helped in some way:

“Think about it, if you are not using the touchscreen and keeping it active, in this energy efficient world and age, a system would turn off unnecessary devices!!

THE SOLUTION: Device Manager – Universal Serial Bus Controllers – Generic USB Hub Properties -( Under POWER tab: the one that has “HID-compliant Device 100mA” attached) Power Management – UNCHECK-“Allow computer to turn off this device to save power”

If you have problems or not sure if it the correct HID-compliant Device, just look under the Driver Details and hit the drop down box to scroll through all those different labels until it clearly says “Touchscreen” under “Bus Reported Device Description”

Fixed my problem pretty easily.” [Nate97]

I say “might”, because the results were not immediate – and if this worked, then why didn’t a reboot?

I also tried following advice from a Lenovo post and in Lenovo support article HT104469:

“1. Press Windows + X. Select Device Manager.

2. Find the Touch screen driver under Mice and Other Pointing Devices > USB Touchscreen Controller(A111).  You’re going to uninstall this and check the box that says “Delete the driver software for this device”. Restart your computer.

3. If the feature is still not back, open Device Manager -> Human Interface Devices. Right-click HID compliant touch screen, then uninstall. When you restart the PC, it will reinstall.

4. Or if you cannot locate any USB Touchscreen Controller(A111), please try to look for an option called “USB Root Hub (xHCI)” under USB Controllers or Universal Serial Bus. If it was labeled as disabled (a little faded or lighter shade of gray that means it is disabled). Righ-click on it then select enable. That may bring the touchscreen back.”

Again, it didn’t seem to make much difference and I went to bed with a non-functional touch screen; however, the next day the touch screen was working again, when I was ready to write this off as a hardware issue.  I’m not sure which (if either) of these “fixes” worked… but I’m posting this in case it helps someone else…

Tracking spin classes with a Garmin; and some thoughts on cycle sportives

So, as I hit the half-way point in an 8-week block of 90 minute Endurance Spin classes with Jason Martindale (@martindale72) – and with the nights drawing in and winter weather making road cycling less attractive – it’s time to start planning my winter training schedule.

I’ve been toying with the idea of getting a turbo-trainer for a while, and I’ve just ordered a Jet Black Z1 Fluid Pro though UK stock seems to be hard to track down. I’ll also be giving Zwift a try (though I may have to wait for the iOS version to ship as I don’t have any spare PCs with a suitable spec that I can move to the garage, where the bike and turbo will be).

In the meantime, I thought I’d write a bit about my experience of using my Garmin Edge 810 in spin sessions…

Spinning with Garmin

Riding on a spin bike means there’s no speed/cadence recording – and being stationary in a spin studio means there’s no distance – but I still log my workouts on Strava (if only to keep a training record). I can still record my heart rate though (which remains stubbornly low – even if I think I’m working hard). I’ve set up new bike and activity profiles in the Garmin and then all it needs is for me to remember to turn off the GPS in the System Settings before starting the workout.

The end result looks something like this:

So, what’s the point of all this training? Apart from general fitness, I don’t want to have to go back to zero again when I get my bike out of the garage next spring and I like to fit a couple of sportives in each year, which leads me onto some more ramblings…

Some thoughts on the big closed road sportives

This year I rode the Prudential Ride London-Surrey 100 again (this time it wasn’t cut short for me – though many riders had their ride massively reduced due to delays). The verdict: too many people; too much variety in capabilities; too dangerous; won’t be riding this one again (I had more fun in the Ride Staffs 68 earlier in the summer).

The trouble with Ride London (apart from the ballot system and the having to make a separate trip to London to pick up the registration pack) is that it’s just too popular. “How can a sportive be too popular?”, you may ask.

Well 27,000 riders is a lot of people and although the organisers try to set people off according to ability, some overestimate their skills (and crash – even though 33 injuries from that many riders is a pretty good ratio, 33 is still too many); others clearly didn’t read the rider pack and ride in the middle or on the right side of the road, making it difficult to pass safely; and others chain-gang through in mini-peletons as if they are a professional team. That mix makes things dangerous. Coming off some of the hills I was having to shout “coming through on the right” to get slower riders to move left (the bicycling equivalent of a motorway, with everyone driving in  the middle lane, the left lane empty, and lane 3 backing up…). And in one place I came to a dead halt because but then I got marooned on the wrong side of the road at the bottom of an incline and needed to wait for a gap to cross back to the left of the road as a steady stream of 30-40mph riders came off the hill I’d just come down.  Yes, the public whose neighbourhoods we rode through were great, and the atmosphere riding on closed roads through central London is epic, but on balance it was a pain to get to and a long day that could have been more enjoyable than it was.

I hit my goal of riding the full route in under 6 hours, according to Strava rather than the official time (with stops for accidents, etc.) so I feel I’ve done London now. Someone else can have the place next year…

I could do the Tour of Cambridgeshire again, but last time I did that (in 2015) it took nearly an hour to get over the start line and I missed the cutoff for the full route (though riding at a decent pace) – which kind of put me off that event…

So, 2017 will see me riding Vélo Birmingham, a new closed road sportive, with just 15,000 riders. Many people seem to be put off by the price but the way I see it is:

  • Staging events (particularly on closed roads) have an associated cost.
  • Ride London-Surrey is an example of what happens if you have too many people.
  • Reducing the number of riders by 40% is bound to mean each entrant has to pay more…

So what’s next on my bucket list. Well John O’Groats to Lands End for sure – but that’s probably a few years away. The near future’s more likely to include London Revolution (though I can’t make the 2017 dates), England Coast to Coast (possibly in a day, though more likely over a couple) and then maybe Wales in a Day (I’ll need to build up to that).