While it once might have been said that I had a few screws loose, nowadays I am not only getting things done, I am thinking clearly and coherently (except when exhausted of course, but that is to be expected). I’ve also been too busy to spend too much time on politics or news and all the things that I cannot change.

I’ve now been working at Ambient Activity for four months as an employee (rather than contractor, which I was for the first two). I have been accomplishing quite a bit, learning enough, and enjoying the work.

In the past few two months I have made a lot of progress on contrace for a digital transformation project for Gateway Centre for Learning and am feeling optimistic about achieving a successful completion of the project.

Both sets of work have involved using Microsoft Windows and Microsoft 365. In one case I have been moving the organization from time-consuming and less than ideal set of ad-hoc tools and services and moving to Microsoft 365. The other project has involved using Power Platform, especially Power Automate and some Power BI (with one Power Apps app, now, as well).

So, I’ve been getting more familiar with the upsides and downsides of the Microsoft ecosystem. The reality I have found is that Microsoft simply gives one the most capabilities for the lowest cost, despite it not being inexpensive, assuming of course one properly licenses ones products and uses them as intended.

It disappointed me when I sat down and did the analysis, because I want open source to be the better way to go. Unfortunately, while open source is great for individuals who have the time (and don’t have to account for the cost of the time spent) to create, build, and manage the services they need; it isn’t a viable option for most businesses whose main product is not building and creating open source ecosystems.

One could argue that one could pay for managed services from the open source world, but investigating this reveals that the IT department would need to manage a hodge-podge collection of disparate systems that also cost more than the Microsoft alternative. And that is just looking at specific essential functionality. When one adds in all the additional functionality that Microsoft 365 offers, there is simply no comparison.

I think much of the time the reason folks go wth open source or Google Workspaces instead of using Microsoft 365 is that they don’t do a full blown review of what they are going to need IT-wise, rather only looking at a subset of where they will spend money, and consequently only see the one lower price tag. In the end, though, I think folks who don’t do a full comparison will end up paying more on an annual basis.

On the Power Automate front I have loved to learned to love Compose, Filter, and Select actions. (Filter is known as Query in the Azure logic documentation, just to confuse things).

Using Filter and Select can greatly reduce the number of actions/requests one uses to get a task done over lists of items. And Compose allows one to avoid variables (which do not have the option of securing inputs and output to avoid leaking private information in the flow histories) as well as chainging complex expressions which otherwise would require many actions.

  • Compose allows you to use the output of any Azure Logic App expression in later actions.
  • Filter:
    • Picks or removes all items from any array according to a left side, condition and a right side.
    • Both the left and right side can be anything from simple values to any valid Azure Logic app expression.
    • E.g. Each item (in the source array) is greater than 5..
  • Select:
    • For each element in any array,
      • Creates an arbitrary number of field => value mappings
      • Both field and value can be anything from simple values to any valid Azure logic app expression
      • E.g:
        • ‘Item’ => ’this’ item in array
        • mapobject[item] => this item (from some existing object pull out a value based on the item and set it as the label which maps to the item).

Because these actions act on entire lists you can filter (Filter/Query) all items in an list (array) or manged (Select) all items in a list (array) with only a single action (though it likely costs more than one ‘request’ for capacity and throttling purposes).

On the Microsoft 365 front I have learned that Microsoft’s mail migration tool is quite useful for SOHO/SMB migrations from other providers to Exchange Online (part of Microsoft 365 Business Standard and higher). It is certainly much more pleasant than trying to migrate email in the open source world.

I’ve also ’learned’ (in the sense of having a practical occurrence of, rather than a purely theoretical knowledge of) that in Windows 10 and 11 USB network adaptors will go to sleep to save power, which takes the device offline when at rest. This can be a bit of a pain when the device is set not to sleep but one doesn’t disable the USB power saving for cases when the device needs to accessible over the network at any time.

I really love the StarTech.com USB-C notebook docks with dual HDMI, Ethernet, and USB outputs. This makes it much easier for me to manage having multiple notebooks (two of them not mine) on my desk so that they don’t take up huge amounts of space. In addition, by using a USB port switcher , an HDMI switcher, and two monitors each with multiple inputs, I can use the notebooks like workstations while in my office, and only have one cable to disconnect when out of my home office. It’s well worth the money spent.

Oh and ‘Really Useful Boxes’ (plastic organization boxes of various sizes) live up the their name. I’ve been making good progress on organizing my small office which has quite a bit of parts and tools that were floating around and hard to get to when needed.

This is still a work in progress though. I need to get a toolbox or two, and more organization boxes. That and shred five bankers boxes worth of ancient paperwork that is taking up space.

That’s all for now. I hope my finding my feet again, despite having had to deal with a major illness and period of disability, gives you hope that you can find a way as well (if you have not already).