Combining GPX files for Strava

This morning was spent on my bike… as was a fair chunk of this afternoon… as is a fair chunk of many summer weekends, much to Mrs W’s disappointment.

My friend Andy and I put in 60 miles in the sunshine, on a big loop around Milton Keynes. It seems my route planning is pretty spot on, as it was almost the exact opposite of a charity ride going the other way around (we passed the same riders twice!). Unfortunately, my ability to “press the start button on my Garmin cycle computer” is clearly less good – I was about a mile from home and heading out of town when I realised I’d forgotten to start tracking my ride!

My OCD can’t cope with this. It would be able to cope with turning around, going back up the hill, starting the computer and starting the ride again – but not with some missing kilometres in my ride data! Luckily, Andy was also riding with a Garmin bike computer. Even though he’d also forgotten to start his, he was wearing a Garmin watch too – so I could combine his data and mine (we’d ridden side by side for the first part of the ride…).

I’ve blogged before about GPS Track Editor, which is a fantastic piece of free software. Using this, I could edit Andy’s data to just the part I had missing, then combine it with mine and merge the two tracks (the short gap doesn’t matter – Strava will straight-line the route between the two points). I also tried merging the files with a tool from gotoes.org – unfortunately, that ended up with a ride that was effectively double the length of what we rode (two loops). it would probably have worked with my edited files but I could also merge them in the GPS Track Editor…

Combining tracks in GPS Track Editor

I then deleted the original (short) ride from Strava and re-uploaded. Sorted.

Just one thing to sort out – all of the PRs I got on today’s ride (and there were a few) were recorded as second places by the second upload. No worries – Strava has a “refresh my achievements” tool. which sorted out that particular issue. Now my ride has the complete distance… and my achievements are correct too…

Providing fast mailbox access to Exchange Online in virtualised desktop scenarios

In last week’s post that provided a logical view on end user computing (EUC) architecture, I mentioned two sets of challenges that I commonly see with customers:

  1. “We invested heavily in thin client technologies and now we’re finding them to be over-engineered and expensive with multiple layers of technology to manage and control.”
  2. “We have a managed Windows desktop running <insert legacy version of Windows and Office here> but the business wants more flexibility than we can provide.”

What I didn’t say, is that I’m seeing a lot of Microsoft customers who have a combination of these and who are refreshing parts of their EUC provisioning without looking at the whole picture – for example, moving email from Exchange to Exchange Online but not adopting other Office 365 workloads and not updating their Office client applications (most notably Outlook).

In the last month, I’ve seen at least three organisations who have:

  • An investment in non-persistent virtualised desktops (using technology products from Citrix and others).
  • A stated objective to move email to Exchange Online.
  • Office Enterprise E3 or higher subscriptions (i.e. the licences for Office 365 ProPlus – for subscription-based evergreen Office clients) but no immediate intention to update Office from current levels (typically Office 2010).

These organisations are, in my opinion, making life unnecessarily difficult for themselves.

The technical challenges with such as solution come down to some basic facts:

  • If you move your email to the cloud, it’s further away in network terms. You will introduce latency.
  • Microsoft and Citrix both recommend caching Exchange mailbox data in Outlook.
  • Office 365 is designed to work with recent (2013 and 2016) versions of Office products. Previous versions may work, but with reduced functionality. For example, Outlook 2013 and later have the ability to control the amount of data cached locally – Outlook 2010 does not.

Citrix’s advice (in the Citrix Deployment Guide for Microsoft Office 365 for Citrix XenApp and XenDesktop 7.x) is using Outlook Cached Exchange Mode; however, they also state “For XenApp or non-persistent VDI models the Cached Exchange Mode .OST file is best located on an SMB file share within the XenApp local network”. My experience suggests that, where Citrix customers do not use Outlook Cached Exchange Mode, they will have a poor user experience connecting to mailboxes.

Often, a migration to Office 365  (e.g. to make use of cloud services for email, collaboration, etc.) is best combined with Office application updates. Whilst Outlook 2013 and later versions can control the amount of data that is cached, in a virtualised environment, this represents a user experience trade-off between reducing login times and reducing the impact of slow network access to the mailbox.

Put simply: you can’t have fast mailbox access to Exchange Online without caching on virtualised desktops, unless you want to add another layer of software complexity.

So, where does that leave customers who are unable or unwilling to follow Microsoft’s and Citrix’s advice? Effectively, there are two alternative approaches that may be considered:

  • The use of Outlook on the Web to access mailboxes using a browser. The latest versions of Outlook on the Web (formerly known as Outlook Web Access) are extremely well-featured and many users find that they are able to use the browser client to meet their requirements.
  • Third party solutions, such as those from FSLogix can be used to create “profile containers” for user data, such as cached mailbox data.

Using faster (SSD) disks for XenApp servers and improving the speed of the network connection (including the Internet connection) may also help but these are likely to be expensive options.

Alternatively, take a look at the bigger picture – go back to basics and look at how best to provide business users with a more flexible approach to end user computing.

Short takes: running apps from unidentified developers on a Mac; Dropbox stuck importing photos on a Mac; and virtual card numbers in Apple Wallet

A collection of snippets that don’t make a full blog post on their own…

Mac apps that won’t open because the developer is unidentified

Every now and again, I’ll download an app on my Mac that gets flagged as unsigned on my Mac (“can’t be opened because it is from an unidentified developer”. It turns out that, if you hold down the Control key at the same time as clicking its icon, you can open it.

Dropbox (Mac) stuck importing photos

I use Dropbox to upload my photos from my phone (it names them nicely for me by date!) and then copy them across to OneDrive (where I have more storage). A few months ago, I had a problem where I couldn’t upload my photos to DropBox. I’d plug my phone into a Mac, and the import would never finish. It showed a camera icon and said it was importing photos but didn’t show any progress, as though the DropBox app had hung. Looking around on the ‘net this is a common issue – but there’s no sign of DropBox fixing it…

In the end, my workaround was to upload the images directly from my iPhone, which seemed to clear the bottleneck, whatever it was…

Virtual card numbers in an Apple Wallet

Those who use their mobile phone for contactless payments (Apple Pay, etc.) may not be aware that each registered card has a virtual card number – the 16-digit card number used is not the same number as the physical card. That’s why (for example), if you touch in to pay for travel in London using contactless on a card but finish the journey with contactless on your phone, Transport for London won’t realise that the two transactions are linked.

I’m not sure how to find the full card number for the device, but you can find the last 4 digits of the virtual card number by pressing the “information icon in the lower right of Apple Wallet. That will give a whole host of information, as well as transaction history.

Device Account Number in Apple Wallet on iOS

A logical view on end user computing architecture

Over the last couple of years, I’ve worked with a variety of customers looking to transform the way they deliver end user computing services. Typically they fall into two camps:

  1. “We invested heavily in thin client technologies and now we’re finding them to be over-engineered and expensive with multiple layers of technology to manage and control.”
  2. “We have a managed Windows desktop running <insert legacy version of Windows and Office here> but the business wants more flexibility than we can provide.”

There are others too (like the ones who bought into a Mobile Device Management platform that’s no longer working for them) but the two examples above are by far and away the most common issues I see. When helping customers to understand their options for providing end user computing services, I like to step up a level from the technology – to get back to the logical building blocks of an end user computing solution. And, over time, I’ve developed and refined a diagram that seems to resonate pretty well with customers as a framework around which to build end user solutions.

Logical view on the end user computing landscape


Starting at the bottom left of the diagram, I’ll describe each of the main blocks in turn:

  • Identity and access: I start here because identity is absolutely key in any modern enterprise. If you’re still thinking about devices and operating systems – you’re doing it wrong (more on that later). Instead, the model is built around using someone’s identity to determine what applications they can access and how data is protected. Identity platforms work across cloud and on-premises environments, provide additional factors for authentication, self-service functionality (e.g. for password and group management), single sign-on to both corporate and cloud applications, integration with consumer and partner directory services and the ability to federate (i.e. to use a security token service to authenticate on-premises).
  • Data protection: with identity frameworks in place, let’s turn our attention to the data. Arguably there should be many more building blocks here but the main ones are around digital rights management, data loss prevention and endpoint security (firewalls, anti-virus, encryption, etc.).
  • Connectivity: until we all consume all of our services from the cloud, we generally need some form of connectivity to “the mothership”, whether that’s a client-less solution (like Microsoft DirectAccess) or another form of VPN. And of course that needs to run over some kind of network – typically a Wi-Fi or 4G connection but maybe Ethernet.
  • Devices: Arguably, there’s far too much attention paid to different types of devices here but there are considerations around form factor and ownership. Ultimately, with the correct levels of management control, it shouldn’t matter who owns the device but, for now, there’s a distinction between corporately-owned and user-owned devices. And what’s the “other” for? I use it as a placeholder to discuss embedded systems, etc.
  • Desktop operating system: Windows, MacOS, Linux… increasingly it doesn’t matter what the OS is as apps run cross-platform or even in a browser.
  • Mobile operating system: iOS, Android (maybe Windows Mobile). Again, it’s just a platform to run a browser – though there are considerations around native applications, app stores, etc. (we’ll come back to those in a short while).
  • Application delivery: this is where the “fun” starts. Often, this will be influenced by some technical debt – and many organisations will use more than one of the technologies listed. Apps may be locally installed – and they can be managed using a variety of management tools. In my world it’s System Center Configuration Manager, Intune and the major mobile app stores but, for others, there may be a different set of tools. Then there’s virtualised/containerised applications, remote desktops and published applications, trusted apps that run from a file share and, finally, the panacea that is a browser-delivered app. Which makes me think… maybe this diagram needs to consider add-ins and extensions… for now, let’s keep it simple.
  • Device and asset management: until we live in a world of entirely user-owned devices, there are assets to manage. Then, sadly, we have to control devices – whoever they belong to – whether that’s policy-driven device and application management, more traditional configuration management, or just the provision of a catalogue of approved applications. Then there’s alerting, perhaps backups (though maybe not if the data is stored away from devices) and something I’ve referred to as “desktop optimisation” which is really the management tools for some of the delivery methods and tools described elsewhere.
  • Productivity services: name your poison – Office 365 or G-Suite – it doesn’t matter; these are the things that people do in their productivity apps. You may disagree with some of the categories (would Slack fit into enterprise social networking, or is it team sites?) but ultimately it’s about an extensible set of productivity services that end users can consume.
  • Input/output services: I print very little but others print a lot. Similarly, there’s scanning to be done. The paperless office is still not here…
  • Environmental management: over time, this will fade away in favour of mobile device and application management solutions but, today, many organisations still need to consider how they control the configuration of desktop operating systems – in the Windows world that might mean Group Policy and for other platforms it could be scripted.
  • Business data and applications: all of the stuff above means nothing if organisations can’t unlock the potential of their data – whether it’s in the CRM or ERP system, end user-driven reporting and BI, workflow or another line of business system.
  • High availability and business continuity: You’ll notice that this block has no subcomponents. For me, it’s nothing more than a consideration. If the end user computing architecture has been designed to be device and platform agnostic, then replacing a device should be straightforward – no need to maintain whole infrastructures for business continuity purposes. Similarly, if all I need is a device with an Internet connection and a browser, then the high availability conversation moves away from the end user computing platform and into how we provide the services that end users need to access.

I’m sure the model will continue to develop over time – it’s far from perfect and some items will be de-emphasised over the years (for example the differentiation between mobile and desktop operating systems will become less important) whilst others will need to be added, but it seems a reasonable starting point around which to start a discussion.

Finding the PlanId for a Microsoft Planner Plan

Yesterday, I wrote about creating Microsoft Planner tasks from email using Microsoft Flow. At the time, my flow wasn’t quite working because for some reason Flow wouldn’t pull through the details of all of my plans.  I even deleted and recreated a plan but Flow would only show me one. And entering a Custom Value with the name of my plan in my flow resulted in a Schema error for field PlanId in entity Task: Field failed schema validation.

That was, until I found a very useful nugget of information in the PowerApps Community forums. To find the PlanId, open the corresponding Plan in a browser and the last part of the URL contains the PlanId:

Finding the PlanID for a Microsoft Planner Plan

Put that into your flow and the corresponding list of BucketIds should then be visible:

Bucket Id located based on the Plan Id

Now my flow runs and puts the plain-text contents of an email into the subject of a new task. Unfortunately, I’m still working on how to populate other fields in the task and I think I may have hit the current limits of the Microsoft Flow-Planner integration.

Creating Microsoft Planner tasks from email using Microsoft Flow

Work is pretty hectic at the moment. To be honest, that’s not unusual but scanning through tweets at lunchtime or at the start/end of the day is not really happening. I tend to take a look in bed (a bad habit, I know) and often think “that looks interesting, I’ll read it tomorrow” or “I’ll retweet that, but in the daytime when my followers will see it”.  At the moment, my standard approach is to email the tweets to myself at work but, 9 times out of 10, they just sit in my Inbox and go no further.

So, I thought I’d set up a Kanban board in Microsoft Planner for interesting tweets (I already have one for future blog posts). That’s pretty straightforward but one of the drawbacks with Planner is that you can’t email tasks to the plan. That’s a pretty big omission in my view (and it seems I’m not alone) as I believe it’s something that can be done in Trello (which is the service that Planner is trying to compete with).

I got thinking though, one of the other services that might help is Microsoft Flow. What if I could create a flow to receive an email (in my own mailbox) and then create an item in a plan, then delete the email?

The first challenge was receiving the email. I set up a new email alias for my account but my interestingtweets@markwilson.it wouldn’t trigger the flow, because it’s a secondary address.

So, I switched to looking for a particular string in the subject of the email. That worked. But creating an item in the plan was failing with a “Bad Request” error. I took a look at the advice for troubleshooting a flow and, digging a little deeper showed the failure message of Schema error for field Assignments in entity Task: Field failed schema validation. That was because I was using dynamic content to assign the task to myself (so I removed that setting).

This left me with a different message: Schema error for field Title in entity Task: Field failed schema validation. That turned out to be because I was using the message body as the title of the email and Planner was only happy if I sent it as plain text (not as HTML). I can convert the HTML to plain text in Flow, but the multi-line content still fails validation…

So far, I’ve been able to successfully create tasks from single-line emails in one of my Plans but not in the one I created for this purpose (it’s not appearing as a target and if I enter the name manually the flow fails with a message of Schema error for field PlanId in entity Task: Field failed schema validation“)… I’ve made the plan publicly visible, so I’ll wait and see if that makes a difference (it hasn’t so far). If not, I may need to remove and recreate the Plan.

So near, yet so far. And ideally, I’d be able to do something more intelligent with the task items (like to read links from the email and add them as links to the task in Planner) – maybe what I want is too much for Flow and I need to use a Logic App instead.

At the moment, this is what my Flow looks like:

Microsoft Flow to create a task in Microsoft Planner from an email

When I have it working with marking the email as read, I’ll change it over to deleting the email instead – after all, I don’t need an email and a task in Planner!