Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Of Licensing and Deployment

For YEARS I maintained my own personal licenses of Microsoft's suite of products through the now-defunct TechnetPlus subscription program. It was genius: for $249/year, I had access to Microsoft's entire product catalog. It allowed me to build my own network at home without falling afoul of licensing restrictions and stay on top of changes in my industry, all without impacting a customer environment. It also allowed me to run critical applications like Visio and Project.

2 years ago, that program died. I'm not sure how upset the IT community really was, but I was gutted. For me it was the best $249 tax-deductible annual fee I could possibly invest my continuing education, and it was just gone. And then last year the licensing expired on my existing installations, forcing me to scramble to back-fill those application gaps.

The first thing I had to do was to re-install Office. I leveraged the company's Office 365 licensing to install Office ProPlus, but no matter what I did, I could not get Visio to re-install. Visio is key to my role in designing and implementing systems, and I couldn't just not have it.

A bit of research revealed an interesting limitation: if you install Office products from your Office 365 subscription, you cannot install other Office products from any other licensing structure. Specifically, Office 365 licenses you to download and install products via click-to-run. The click-to-run SKU's are directly incompatible with EA or volume-licensing SKU's, though there is no warning or message built into the installer to alert you to this.

Once I was able to assign myself the click-to-run Office 365 Visio and Project licenses, installation through the Office 365 Portal was...well, simpler, but not great. I still had to *FIND* the products in the Portal, which seemed awfully inconvenient from an end-user perspective.

Fast-forward to last week, when a client was experiencing a similar limitation, and we got to leverage a pretty cool bit of tech to solve a global issue: a client was facing a familiar issue of unsuccessful Visio and Project deployments, but wanted to alleviate the end-user strain thru Microsoft Intune.

Whereas almost any other package in Intune would require pulling down an ISO, mounting it, tweaking the contents, re-packaging it, uploading it, and then working out the deployment scenarios, the click-to-run installation couldn't be done the same way. There is no ISO to download, and you cannot shoehorn the volume-licensing version into a click-to-run scenario.

A quick search of  the Interwebs revealed that others had run up against the same challenge, but there wasn't a lot of good guidance to bridge the gap.

In the end, all it took was the Office 2016 Deployment Tool and a few tweaks to an XML file. The entire size of the download is 3MB, a far cry from the 420MB ISO for VisioPro 2016.

The configuration.xml file will not work in its default state--everything is commented out. Once the comments are removed, though, the EULA is set to accept and the installation is set to silent. The only things to tweak are the specific product name and to add a line for logging, if you're so inclined.

Once done, I logged in to the Intune Portal, built an app package specifying the downloaded setup.exe and passed "/configure configuration.xml" as a command-line argument, and published the app. Within 2 minutes I was able to see the package in the client's company portal, and 5 minutes later I was running Visio.

As a demonstration for my peers, I took the same two downloaded files, re-tweaked the xml file to say "ProjectProRetail" in the product name, built a new app package, and deployed Project to myself.

This is the power of integration. I went from no product to a globally-deployable and repeatable solution in under 10 minutes with only 3MB of file-transfer. I am loving the future.

Monday, February 01, 2016

The Tale of the Cursed Jersey

Sailors used to believe that knowing how to swim was bad luck. The going logic was that if you knew how to do it, you would be called upon to do so. Better to keep the ship afloat when you have no other options, I suppose.

So I guess it's fitting that, after learning how to properly change a tire last week, I should have been called upon to do so on a ride this weekend.

If only it weren't for that damned jersey...

At the end of the UCI World Championship Men's race, Alastair and I happened upon a tent selling German and Belgian jerseys & hats. I wanted a Germany jersey, but could not deny how awesome the Belgium one looked, and it helped that they had my size. So we settled on Germany hats, and I plunked down some coin for a fancy jersey.

Opportunities to wear it didn't present themselves for a while, but just about every time I've worn it, something either breaks or goes horribly wrong.

I can't recall if I was wearing it when the shifter snapped off, but given that it was the first time I'd been back on the bike since the UCI race, it probably was. Anyway...

I wore that jersey for my first Zwift race and got dropped on the first lap. My fault for over-spending energy (though I still say half the field was under-reporting FTP).

I wore that jersey again when the KICKR decided to ruin a perfectly good workout with constant power drops--a ride so bad I furiously jammed the brakes at 22mph and burned a hole in my rear tire.

And I wore that jersey yesterday, when I had my first ever flat on the open road.

Katelyn suggested maybe the jersey is a bit embarrassed about the mechanical doping scandal surrounding the U23 CX rider from its country-of-origin. I just think it's cursed.

And because I love a good challenge, I think that means I'll wear it more often. I'll just need to make sure to carry an extra (extra) tube.*

*Though if it continues to bedevil me, there may be a haunted jersey for sale on eBay some time soon.

The Kicker is the KICKR. Or vice versa.

Early last month I took my riding indoors. The temps were falling, the cold-weather kit had revealed a sub-30 degree gap that I didn't feel I could reasonably fill, and the early darkness threw my evening commute into serious question.

I did a *TON* of research before I bought my trainer. I investigated maximum power, maximum incline, ANT+FEC support, BLE support, online reviews, warranty support, cost, and delivery times. The search quickly narrowed down to a couple of options:

The Wahoo KICKR Snap
TACX ProForm Vortex Smart 2180

The KICKR had a couple of significant points against it, namely cost and the fact that ANT+FEC was listed as a future upgrade, but the Vortex couldn't simulate the hill out of my neighborhood, and the shipping time was a big unknown. So I watched the sales and plopped down the cash as soon as the KICKR went on Black Friday sales.

And was almost instantly disappointed. The first thing it did upon unboxing was to update its firmware and become inaccessible to anything other than ANT+ speed. No other data output, and Wahoo's support is Mon-Fri, business hours only--exactly when NOBODY has available time to troubleshoot their trainer.

Fortunately their email support came through, and after a couple of days of back & forth, I was up and running.

Then came the signal drops.

In Zwift, with my laptop INCHES from my rear wheel, I was getting constant power signal drops. No drops in heart-rate or cadence, just power, and reliably unreliable over 200W.

I spent days combing through forums, ended up building a custom stand to get things where they needed to be, removed all extraneous wireless signals, and...still had intermittent power drops. Not as bad as they had been, but they were still there.

Then I discovered that with the Wahoo Utility monitoring the KICKR over BLE, the ANT+ signal reported to Zwift became much more stable. This flies in the face of all logic, but whatever: it worked. Power drops went from being constant at 200+W to maybe one or two seconds per minute. That's enough to get full credit for workouts in Zwift, so I was happy.

The other day I was not happy. I'd found IPWatts, an app that allows you to monitor multiple power meters for comparison. This, I figured, would be a great opportunity to directly compare the reported wattage from the KICKR and my Stages Power Meter. While I was not wrong, the lack of tracing on the BLE signal was too much for the damned trainer, and power signals became so erratic that it disabled ERG mode mid-workout.

I'm desperately hoping Wahoo will address this with a firmware update, but I gave up on the whole damned ride after 12 miles of vitriolic screaming