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Single Sign-On Woes

I love the idea of Single Sign-On.  The fact that I can use a single set of credentials when I log on to my laptop, and then not have to keep entering passwords for subsequent actions, is in theory a great idea.

However there are four ‘great ideas’ that, when combined (as they so often are) lead to a big pain in my neck.  Those are:

  • Single Sign-On
  • Password PINs
  • Ticket-Checking Tickets (such as Kerberos, Active Directory, etc…)
  • Periodic password changing

I know why we have to change our passwords, and I am glad to do it… but when you do, and especially when you are working remote, it leads to all sorts of headaches.  Does anyone have a really good solution that will let me, in the middle of my session. change my password and continue working… without having to reset, refresh, log-off, re-enter?

I am open to ideas…

Why I Need to Be Escalated…

I got a message from a faithful reader yesterday pointing out in rather interesting terms that I have not been posting as much as I should.  Sorry about that! –MDG

Recently I noticed that a ticketing system that my client uses was taking an unusually long time to apply updates.  Every month it would take as long as three or four days to apply the regular updates.  This was a problem for many reasons, not the least of which was that company policy stated that patch management should be performed during off-hours, and there are precious few four-day stretches when the company was completely closed.

I complained to the company (which I shall not name) and they told me that this was not normal behaviour.  I rather figured that out on my own, but I am glad he agreed with me.  He asked me to connect to a remote support session from the application server, which I did.  We sat and watched the patches applying normally… and by normally, I mean that the ten minute session showed no anomalies.  It did not seem relevant to the second-level support tech that this was Tuesday afternoon, and the patch process had started Friday evening.

I decided to very calmly waste his time.  After all, patch-management of this system seemed to be close to a full-time gig for me.  We chatted for 15 minutes.  It wasn’t so much that we chatted as it was me telling him that we were looking at the problem from two different perspectives – he did not see a need to escalate the case, and I did.  While he kept telling me that unless there was a noticeable crash he could not escalate it.  I asked him while he was in my system to look at the log files… he wasn’t quite sure where they were.  Who was wasting whose time exactly?

As we chatted and the patches seemed to move ahead, the Updater crashed right in front of us.  His words were: ‘Oh, now that I have seen it crash I can escalate this case to our engineering team.’

This was 35 minutes into our call.  Had he escalated me 25 minutes earlier I probably would have been appreciative of his help.  But as it stands I am just really turned off by this company.

Work from Anywhere: The gold standard PPO

There are days when I love being a blogger.  A few days after I published my recent article on the ChargeTech ThinCharge case for the iPhone 6, I got an e-mail from the company telling me that they wanted me to try another one of their products, the Portable Power Outlet.  They shipped it off to me to give it a spin.

For the past few years I have been relying on a portable USB charger to keep my phone alive.  The last one I picked up a year ago was a 20,000 milliamp device that had two USB ports in case I had two phones.  It was a fine enough device, but it was heavy for what it was… and of course not every device is going to charge through its USB port.

When the ChargeTech Portable Power Outlet arrived a few days later I was a bit reluctant… while it was not significantly heavier than the old portable charger I had been using (25oz), it was much larger (7.5” x 5.25” x 1”), or about the size of my Kobo eBook reader.  It came packaged with a travel pouch (a nice touch but unnecessary), an AC power adapter, and an international adapter.  Very nice, especially for those of us who travel a lot.  The fact that it cannot charge via USB is a bit of a letdown, but understandable considering its power capacity.

Otto von Bismarck is quoted as saying “The biggest lies are told before the marriage, after the hunt, and during the election.”  It is a good quote to live by, but seeing as he was a Prussian before the unification of Germany, the quote obviously could not take into account the lies told about the battery life of tablet PCs, and so it is that I know that my Microsoft Surface Pro 4, which promises up to 9 hours of battery life, will seldom last the morning, let alone a full day of working when it is not plugged in.

Mitch’s Use Case #1

It is all well and good to say that one is going to work from a park bench on a beautiful day, but how realistic is that when we don’t have enough power to get from nine to five?  With the meteorologist predicting an absolutely gorgeous Canada Day Friday (July 1st), I was excited by the prospect… especially since as a remote worker for an American company I did not have to sit in a particular office.  I may not have the day off (I have Monday, July 4th off for the U.S. Independence Day), but I could at least be out enjoying the weather… as long as I could depend on my battery not giving out.

ChargeTech 1

Because I am still in the onboarding phase with my new company, I plan to spend Friday watching training videos.  This means I do not have to be chained to a desk… as long as I have enough power to get through the day, and a stable Internet connection.

So here’s how I plan to do it.  It is not just a theory… this worked for me last week, so I know it will work.

  1. I will charge my Microsoft Surface Pro 4 battery completely Thursday evening, so that I can start with a full charge.
  2. I will bring my HP Pro Tablet 408 (which has a GSM chip and a data plan) which will serve as my Internet hub.  As with the larger device, I will make sure to charge it overnight so it also starts with a full charge,
  3. For the morning I will use both of these on their stored battery power; however when the power warnings come on (which I predict will be around 12:30pm for the Surface Pro and 3:30pm for the HP Pro Tablet) I will plug each of these devices into my ChargeTech Portable Power Outlet – but only long enough for their batteries to recharge completely.  That way I will be able to continue using both devices until (and beyond) 5pm, when I can call it a day.

Let me tell you something, there is nothing better than being able to work from the park – say, the boardwalk along the lakeshore in Burlington – on a nice summer day.  Knowing that the vast majority of my work will consist of watching videos, I will bring along a cigar or two, just because I can.  I will pack a picnic lunch, so I can prove how hard I am really working by not even taking time off for lunch.  I will be able to devote my full and undivided attention to my work.

ChargeTech 2

Ok, who am I kidding… my attention will be slightly divided by the view, my cigars, and the glorious weather… none of which will detract from my ability to learn what I need to learn Smile

Mitch’s Use Case #2

I have to drive to Montreal for a wedding on Monday.  No problem, as I said I have Monday off.  I can celebrate with my friend Ron and his bride, and dance into the night.

I do not have Tuesday off.  Drat.

Okay, have to drive back from Montreal, which any way you slice it will be a six hour drive.  I have a few of choices:

  1. Work the whole day Tuesday from Montreal, and then drive home after 5pm, getting me home closer to midnight than not;
  2. Work a half day from Montreal, then drive home from 1pm, taking whatever meetings I need to take from the car on my iPhone.  I would only be able to bill for a couple of hours rather than the day; or
  3. Find a way to work from the car, which includes listening to my onboarding videos and taking my conference calls as needed.

I want to be clear, if I had to watch the videos the third option would not be an option.  I like to be a safe driver, and that precludes watching anything but the road.  However since I only have to listen, it is the same as a book on tape (CD).  I can listen as I drive, and pull over as needed to take the quizzes.

Of course, this leaves me with the same predicament I had before; however by connecting my Surface Pro 4 and my HP Pro Tab 408 to the Portable Power Outlet, I will be able to listen for the entire 600km journey!

So… let’s look at how the Portable Power Outlet’s features absolutely rock:

  • Two USB ports allow you to charge multiple devices (say, tablet and phone) simultaneously.
  • 3-prong AC power outlet allows you to charge any device (up to 85W) at the same time.
  • While specially designed for computers, the PPO will actually power any device – like a heater or lamp or toaster – just like any power outlet.  It is like walking around with a wall outlet in your laptop bag!
  • The Portable Power Outlet is the lightest and slimmest 27,000mAh device on the market – no competitive product comes close!
  • Scratch-resistant, fingerprint-proof case.

While the device does come for a price that might make you think twice (USD$250 retail), it is currently available marked-down for only $185… a real incentive to pick it up while it is on sale from www.chargetech.com.

So yes, this is my second thumbs-up review for a ChargeTech product.  What can I say?  Good companies will consistently make good products!

I’m Back!

As many of you know I left Microsoft to pursue other adventures when I did my first gig with Rakuten in the fall of 2013.  The plan was, according to the managers I spoke with, for me to return to Microsoft when I got back from Japan.

That obviously did not happen.

I will not go into any detail about what or why or when… but the last three years have been interesting… while I retained my MCT credentials and continued working with Microsoft technologies, my affiliation with the organization became strained.  I was pretty sure that my days of working with them were behind me.

There is a quote from a novel from one of my favourite authors: The present is like the past and the past is the present, heya?  The last word might give away that the book was Noble House by the late, great James Clavell.  And so it is that after several months of discussions and background checks and much more, this morning I walked back into the offices of Microsoft Canada to pick up my new badge.  I am a vendor this time around, as opposed to a business guest which is what I was previously.  What does that mean?  I guess it doesn’t matter.  I’m back.

While my role will not be community focused as it once was, I will nevertheless be blogging about technologies that I use and work with.

Thanks to all of you who were concerned and interested… and no, I assure you I will not be drinking or serving any Kool-Aid this time around!

ThinCharge: Making the iPhone useable again

It was as much of a shock to me as anyone that I became an iPhone user, but here I am, walking around with my iPhone 6.

Now here’s the issue… Apple seems to get you every time.  You buy a new iPhone, and the battery is strong and good for more than a day.  Then you start adding apps; then you start connecting to Bluetooth devices and Wi-Fi networks; then you start this and that and that and this… and soon enough you find yourself having to recharge every few hours to make it through the day.  What a pain.

When I had my iPhone 5 I bought a case that was supposed to extend your battery life… it was big and clunky, and after a few weeks it just stopped working.

So here I was, walking around not only with my phone, but also with a USB charger and an iPhone cable.  Of course, when I was in my car or office it wasn’t a problem because (when I remembered to) I could just plug in there… but that meant that I needed to invest in two more lightening cables… and did I mention that at $29.99 the cables lasted about as long as a box of doughnuts at an IT Pro user group… I found myself having to replace at least one every couple of months.

New-Hero-BlackSo when I was asked to try a new device called ThinCharge from ChargeTech I was skeptical… but I promised to keep an open mind.

At first glance the add-on case looked a bit flimsy, and that is a word that always bothers me when it comes to something that will sit in my back pocket.

Unlike the previous battery extending case that I had tried the ThinCharge was not weighted at the bottom (where that device’s battery was), but rather the battery seemed to be a thin cell along the back of the case.  Ok, that is different…

I clicked my iPhone 6 into place and attached the top, and I was pleasantly surprised… all of a sudden the device did not seem to be a flimsy add-on, rather an integral part of my phone.  It was not meant to be removed and re-added, but to live on the iPhone forever.  Because of that the design seems to take extra care to add as little size and weight as necessary to the phone (a little over a millimeter on the bottom as well as on each side).

One huge benefit that I found to the ThinCharge is that it plugs in to the lightening connector on the bottom of my iPhone (which I always found to be an inconvenient placement, especially when placing the phone in a cup-holder in my car) and adds the lightening port to the top of the device; this allows me to place my phone on any surface right-side up while charging, which means I am less likely to damage the ridiculously expensive cables.  Another point in the ThinChare’s favour.

When plugged in the ThinCharge charges your device first; but while doing so it also seems to charge itself.  When the phone is at full charge it then continues to charge itself until it is full.

There are no added buttons on the ThinCharge; when you are on the go and you find your iPhone battery waning, you press and hold the up-volume button for three seconds and your iPhone starts charging off the extra battery.  When it is back to full juice it just stops charging.

The website claims the Lithium-Polymer battery has a 2,600mAh capacity, effectively doubling the capacity of your iPhone.  So it will not replace an external charging brick for your three-day camping trip, but it will allow you to leave that brick at home when you leave the house early in the morning with a long day ahead.  And at 70g the weight is insignificant, and the size will not change how it feels in your pocket.

Of course, because it is changing the actual size of your device, you will not be able to have other fancy or colourful iPhone cases… but to compensate the ThinCharge is available in black, gold, and white… and the smooth surface means you can place whatever decorative stickers you want.

If you are an iPhone owner this is a definite BUY recommendation… I will not soon be going back to the old way of doing things.

Keep it in Your Pocket…

Here’s a tip for travelers going through Airport Security: you are going  babe asked to empty your pockets … Everything, including wallet and car keys and passport. It all has to go in one of those plastic bins. Lots of coins? Put em in da bin. Matches? Bin em.

You also have to take off your jacket.

If you want to make your life a lot easier (not to mention faster for the people in line behind you): As you make your way to the front of the line, transfer everything from your pants pockets to the pockets of your jacket. That way when you get through you can quickly grab the jacket and go… And transfer everything back at your leisure.  It’s faster and easier for everyone involved.

Don’t have a jacket? Fine… Use a plastic (or paper) bag to achieve the same results.

Good luck and fly safe!

Drive Space Nightmares with Hyper-V

As you know, I have been using Hyper-V since before it was released, and am a huge proponent of the solution (although I am also a huge proponent of VMware).  The fact that Hyper-V is also included in Windows 10 makes my life easier – I use it on my Windows Client for several reasons.  In fact, at present I have four virtual machines on my Surface Pro 4, two of which I use on a very regular basis.

So when I notice from time to time that my C: drive is running out of space, I know immediately what the culprit is… my dynamically expanding drives have, in a word, expanded.

image

Not good… I need more than 3.18GB free space to be comfortable.  However when I look at the drives, I know that none of them are overly taxed… the VM I use most often (I use it to download files that I am not sure are safe so that I can ‘Sandbox’ them) is a dynamically expanding virtual disk that is as much as 80GB, but only 31GB is used.

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That should be very comfortable… and yet there we see the usage.

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A 53GB vhdx file for about 31GB of information.  It is easily explained of course… With a dynamically-expanding virtual hard disk the file gets bigger when you write to it, but when you then delete files and clean it up the file does not get smaller… or at least not automatically.  So what you have to do is this:

  • Shut down the virtual machine.  You cannot edit the disk while the VM is running.
  • In the Action Pane of Hyper-V Manager Select Edit Disk…
  • Click Next on the Before you Begin page.
  • In the Locate Virtual Hard Disk page navigate to the ‘offending’ vhdx file then click Next.
  • On the Choose Action page click the Compact radio and click Next.
  • On the Complete the Edit the Virtual Disk Wizard click Finish.
  • At this point the process will begin, and when it is done you should be good to go.

    PowerShell

    Yes, I know… you can do everything you want in the wizard… but let’s try a quick PowerShell cmdlet anyways Smile

    Optimize-VHD -Path C:\Hyper-V\Sandbox-PC\Sandbox-PC.vhdx -ComputerName MDG-SP4

    It only took a couple of minutes, and here are the results:

    image

    Almost 10GB freed up.  That makes life so much more comfortable.  Of course, since I use that virtual PC for these purposes a lot, I will want to keep an eye out for this creep and perform this script on a regular basis.  Hence why you might want to use PowerShell over the GUI.

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