Training Tuesday: the season’s winding down

As I type this Tuesday night, I have only one more scheduled competition this calendar year. Since my last Training Tuesday post, I’ve been busy with a wide variety of things, some of which actually involve training. Rather than an exhaustive and boring list of all the stuff I’ve done, let me summarize: one road race, two half-marathons, and one powerlifting meet.

    • The first race was the Monte Sano 15K, a road race at Monte Sano State Park. It was mildly hilly, but very cloudy, with maybe 200’ ceilings and lots of low fog. Cool and humid conditions made for a pretty fast course. I ran the 15K in 1:27:36, which was a good time for me on that distance, plus I got a very cool neon-yellow running shirt. Winning!
    • The next weekend I flew to Chattanooga for the Four Bridges Half Marathon. I had the boys that weekend, and Tom was working, so I ended up getting up at 0330 to fly myself to the Chattanooga airport, where the superb staff at Wilson Air loaned me a car. The race was a blast: the weather could not have been nicer, the course was lovely, there were plenty of water/potty stops on the course, and the runners and crowd were both enthusiastic. The only blemish on the day was that the volunteers who laid out the half-marathon course accidentally cut about 0.5 miles off it, so I ended up with not quite a half-marathon PR, running 12.5mi in 1:53:29. However, getting to fly to and from the race helped make up for it. As a bonus, the finishers’ medal had a unique misspelling, making it slightly more collectible than I’d expected.


    • In early November, I flew to Atlanta to compete in the USAPL “Powerlifting for Pink” meet. My performance here was nothing to brag about; I missed two of my three squats and all three bench attempts, mostly due to poor focus. Turns out you really have to pay attention to the judges’ commands. However, I deadlifted well, I had fun with Dana, and I learned a ton that will help me in my future meets.


  • For my birthday, I’d planned a trip to run Rocketman but the logistics just weren’t going to work, so I ran the Huntsville Half Marathon instead. I didn’t do a lot of race preparation beforehand, and it showed; I ran it in 2:07:49, which was nearly 8 minutes faster than my previous half-marathon but about 0:30/mi off the pace in Chattanooga. I have no idea why. After the race, my legs were much more sore than they were after Chattanooga, too.

One of the lessons I am slowly starting to learn is that I’m not always going to set a PR every time I step up to the starting line or platform. There’s still a large gap between what I feel like I should be able to do and what I can actually do, but the gap is getting smaller, both as I adjust my expectations and as I become more capable.

As things stand right now, the Hobbs Island 10K will probably be my last race of the season; there are a few scattered triathlons before the end of the year, but I don’t think it will be feasible for me to run any of them. The good news is that I’ve already started picking my 2016 events and will be working with my coach to build a training plan accordingly. It’s going to be a busy winter!

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Flying Friday: This ain’t Delta

Every pilot has different reasons for flying. For me, a big part of my love of flying is the ability to travel, relatively quickly, where and when I want. The values of “quickly,” “where,” and “when” are all subject to a variety of constraints, though. Some are self-imposed and some are limitations imposed by the FAA, the laws of physics and aerodynamics, or my desire to live to be a grumpy old man.

Let’s take one simple example: time. It would certainly be possible for me to fly from Alabama to southern California for a business trip, but I wouldn’t do it for a short trip— in my particular airplane, that would take me about 11 hours of flight time, which translates into something like 14 hours of total time when you factor in fuel stops… and that really means it would take two days, since flying for that length of time in a single day would make it difficult for me to maintain the focus and energy required for a safe journey. Likewise, I could easily fly from here to Birmingham for dinner, but when you factor in the time required to preflight and prepare the plane, conduct the flight, get to and from the restaurant, and return home, it would be quicker to drive over the short distance. For me personally, with the airplane I have now, the sweet spot is trips of about 150 miles up to about 1000 miles. Shorter or longer trips are possible, but when time is important, taking another means of transport is usually more sensible.

We can lump all the other constraints together into the general heading of “dispatch reliability.” That is, for a planned trip, how often are you actually able to complete it without bumping up against those constraints? It’s critical to keep in mind the difference between a commercial airline (which flies under Part 135 of the Federal Aviation Regulations) and my airplane, which flies under Part 91 of the FAR. There are 3 major factors that influence dispatch reliability in both of those worlds: weather, equipment, and regulation.

The ability to deal with weather, of course, is a huge part of dispatch reliability. I once was stuck away from home for 3 days because the weather was poor and I didn’t have an instrument rating, so I couldn’t leave when I wanted to. Sometimes the weather, or the forecast, is just too crummy to safely complete the planned flight. This happens more often in some places than others, of course; east of the Mississippi, we have lots more thunderstorms than in, say, California or Washington.

Equipment influences dispatch reliability in two different ways. First is redundancy. Unless it were truly urgent, I wouldn’t make an extended night flight in IFR over rough terrain in my airplane— not because it’s inherently unsafe but because, with only one engine and one vacuum system, there are several single points of failure that could make such a flight more exciting than I’d like. Waiting for daylight or better weather would be a smart play. On the other hand, commercial planes flying under Part 135 have doubly- or triply-redundant systems, ranging from engines to hydraulics to avionics. As you spend more money on an airplane, the number of redundant systems (and the reliability of the systems you have) tends to increase. The capability of your equipment also influences reliability. If you have onboard weather radar or in-cockpit radar data through XM Radio or ADS-B, for example, you may be able to complete flights that you wouldn’t without that data. More sophisticated aircraft that have jet engines and pressurized cabins can fly above many regions of bad weather; aircraft with icing protection can fly through moist clouds without picking up a killing load of ice. Most piston-engine singles (mine included) aren’t pressurized, don’t have anti-icing equipment, and don’t have onboard radar— meaning that there are conditions that are no problem for Delta or United but render general aviation flight impossible or unsafe. Both airliners and general aviation aircraft have lists of requirement equipment. Although the contents of the lists are very different, the concept is the same: if something on that list isn’t working, you can’t legally fly. (Keep that in mind the next time you’re on a commercial flight and the pilot tells you that some seemingly unimportant gadget isn’t working so they have to wait for a mechanic— if they’re waiting to fix it, it’s probably because it’s on that minimum list.)

Regulation is the third category. Without going into all the differences between different parts of the FARs, I can still say that there are some conditions that are legal for me but not an airline, or vice versa. For example, thanks to my instrument rating, it is literally legal for me to take off with such poor visibility that I can’t see the propeller while sitting in the pilot’s seat, while Part 135 flights have specific runway visual range (RVR) requirements that must be met before they can depart. On the other hand, a suitably equipped and crewed Part 135 flight can use Category III autoland to land in zero visibility, whereas I have to honor a higher minimum ceiling and visibility limits. There’s sometimes a huge difference between what’s legal and what’s safe, and the FARs that I fly under give a great deal of latitude to the pilot in command in most cases. That can be good or catastrophically bad, depending on your judgement.

In general, the rule I use is simple: if it is critical that I be somewhere, and I’m planning on flying, I’ll always have a backup. Last week, the boys and I were going down to the Voodoo Music Festival in New Orleans. We’d planned to fly, but when I preflighted the airplane, this is what I found: a broken alternator belt. 

WP 20151030 14 35 28 Pro

I didn’t have a spare, the shop didn’t have a spare, and even if we had, on my plane, you have to remove the propeller to replace the belt. We drove instead, but we still got to see the headline act because we’d built enough slack into the schedule. Likewise for weddings, funerals, or critical business meetings— if it’s really important, I’ll have a backup airline ticket in my pocket (or enough time to drive). If it’s not critical, I’ve learned to accept that sometimes the weather or the airplane may conspire against going. A couple of months ago, Dana and I had planned to fly down to Gulfport for the day to see Mom, Charlie, and Grandma. Here’s what the weather looked like:

20150816 200809000 iOS

Score that one in the “nope!” column. It would have been perfectly legal to pick my way around those storms, since I didn’t have the equipment to fly over them, but it would have been uncomfortable at best and criminally dangerous at worst. Driving would have taken too long, so we reluctantly cancelled; it wasn’t a critical trip.

Having a backup plan or the willingness to say “we’ll do this another time” is critical because it eliminates the pressure to attempt a flight when weather, equipment, or regulation might dictate otherwise. The hoary old saying “it’s better to be on the ground wishing you were flying than flying and wishing you were on the ground” applies in spades. Even when it’s difficult to tell your boss, your family, or your customer that you won’t be somewhere at the appointed time, it’s a hell of a lot easier than explaining yourself to the FAA, the NTSB, or St. Peter.

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Fixed: Surface Book doesn’t recognize docking state

I got a shiny new Surface Book on Monday and started using it immediately… more specific notes on it later when I have more time. I ran into a problem today, though, and wanted to document what I found.

Symptom: the touchpad and keyboard don’t work. The clipboard switches to tablet mode (if you’ve enabled automatic switching). You can’t use the base unit’s USB ports. The taskbar “undock” icon shows that the base is undocked.

Cause: beats me.

Resolution: boot into the system BIOS by turning the machine off, then holding the power and volume-up keys for 15 seconds. When you get into the BIOS, just exit BIOS setup and the machine will reboot normally. There’s a thread here that outlines the exact procedure.

Overall, I love the machine: the form factor, build quality, screen resolution, performance, and trackpad are all superb. I expect this kind of temporary hiccup, so it hasn’t put me off at all.


Filed under General Tech Stuff

The next big thing: joining ENow as CTO

It is a cliché to talk about an opportunity that’s too good to refuse (not to be confused with an offer you can’t refuse), but sometimes it doeshappen.

I am very excited to announce that, effective 26 October 2015, I will be taking the position of chief technology officer (CTO) for ENow Software. In that role, I will be driving the development of their next generation of products for both on-premises and Office 365 monitoring. It’s a big step forward for my career, moving me simultaneously back towards the development world and further into the cloud. (It’s also a little surreal to see one’s job change announced in a press release.)

Before I get into the nuts and bolts of what I’ll be doing, a personal note: I want to thank Scott Edwards, Ben Curry, and all my coworkers at Summit 7 Systems. What a talented and skilled group of people! I accidentally learned much more than I expected about SharePoint from them, and both Ben and managing consultant Matt Whitehorn were instrumental in helping me identify soft skills I need to work on— always a challenge. I have huge respect for what the Summit 7 team has accomplished and recommend them in the highest possible terms to anyone who needs Office 365, Azure, AWS, or SharePoint design, strategy, or migration help.

So, the new job. In the CTO role, I’ll be reporting directly to Jay Gundotra, the CEO. I’ll be responsible for technical product strategy and implementation, the customer success team, technical presales, and internal IT. (I am still working on a transition plan to establish an ENow corporate aviation department, but don’t tell Jay.) That’s quite a broad scope, which means I can bring to bear everything I’ve learned throughout my career as a developer, consultant, and administrator. Driving beneficial change across these disparate fields is going to be an exhilarating challenge! Luckily I will have a really powerful team on my side, including Michael Van Horenbeeck (noted hooligan/tequila drinker, Microsoft Certified Master, and Exchange MVP) and Tony Redmond, a member of ENow’s advisory board.

ENow is already very successful in their chosen markets, but the cloud poses a brand-new set of technical and business challenges, both for them and their customers. The #1 question I hear from IT pros and business decision makers is simple: how will the move to the cloud affect me and my business? It’s interesting that I don’t remember many people asking that during the years-long transition from mainframe- and mini-based solutions to the x86 world; people just naturally assumed their skills would transfer. That hasn’t been the case with the cloud. Figuring out how to effectively monitor and manage cloud services when you don’t control the underlying platform is a tough problem. Instrument flight is probably a good metaphor here. On a clear day, you can see the ground, so flying is easy. There’s a visible horizon and landmarks. In the clouds, everything changes– if you’ve ever been in an airplane on a cloudy day, you know that you can see where the clouds are but not what’s inside them. Flying inside clouds is like being inside a ping-pong ball, with no visual cues you can use for orientation. You have to use your instruments to keep the plane pointed in the right direction and right side up. Moving workloads such as Exchange email or SharePoint to the cloud doesn’t lessen your need to monitor what’s happening, it just changes the way in which you’ll do it, and figuring out that change is a key task in my new role.

Of course, Microsoft is releasing new services and capabilities in Office 365 at a rapid clip, so another key challenge will be figuring out how to keep up with them and how best to bring ENow’s experience in simplifying the complexities of enterprise application monitoring to a world where Microsoft seems intent on giving everyone Fisher-Price-style monitoring and reporting tools.

Despite the new job, some things won’t change: I’m still living in Huntsville, I’m still not a Cowboys fan (sorry, Jay), and I’ll still be blogging here, although I expect to be writing some more strategy-oriented posts for ENow’s blog. Where I can, I plan to share details of what I’m working on, so stay tuned!


Filed under California, Friends & Family, UC&C

Office 365 Exposed ep 01 / Exchange Exposed ep 05

We’re baaaaack…

Last year, Tony and I started producing a podcast for Windows IT Pro called “Exchange Exposed.” It was moderately successful, but the demands of producing and delivering the podcast on a regular schedule didn’t mesh well with Penton’s plan for world domination, so Tony and I took back the rights to the podcast and are recording and distributing it ourselves. However, because of some peculiarities of the way the iTunes Store lists podcasts, we couldn’t just add new episodes to the existing podcast… but we didn’t find this out until the current episode was recorded and ready.

Going forward, we’re retitling the podcast to “Office 365 Exposed” to reflect the reality that Exchange and Exchange Online are part of the Office 365 family. Unlike some other Office 365-branded media that focuses exclusively on SharePoint, we’ll be covering the non-SharePoint part of the ecosystem with vigor and depth. There’s a lot to talk about!

In this episode, recorded at IT/Dev Connections in Las Vegas, we get some quality time with special guest Bhargav Shukla of KEMP Technologies to discuss the release of Exchange 2013 CU10, the impending release of Exchange 2016, and what the future of on-premises Exchange looks like. Give it a listen below. In a day or two, iTunes should pick up the feed and you’ll be able to subscribe, or you can point your RSS feed reader to the “Podcasts” category here.

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Office 365 Pro Plus licensing change?

Microsoft has a really complex infrastructure for deploying new features into Office 365. This deployment process, internally known as “flighting,” involves rolling out code changes across a huge base of servers— by some estimates, more than 600,000 worldwide— spread across dozens of data centers all around the world. This poses an interesting challenge. Flighting has to be automated because of the scale necessary, but with an automated tool that works at high scale, you can make a quickly replicated mistake. Think of it like shooting yourself in the foot with a machine gun.

Recently one of my customers notified me that they had noticed a change in their tenant: each user with an E3 or E4 license was now showing a possible total of 10 product activations for Office 365 Pro Plus. The limit had previously always been 5, meaning each user may install Pro Plus on up to five PCs and Macs. The release of Office applications for Windows 10, iOS, and Android devices changed things slightly; you were allowed to install on 5 PCs/Macs plus 5 tablets or mobile devices. At various times I’ve been told that the limit was 10 (5 PC + 5 devices) and 15 (5 PC + 5 tablet + 5 phone), but in any event, the user interface in the Office 365 management tools has always reported per-user activation as N installed copies out of a maximum of 5.

Immediately upon hearing this, I checked my tenants. Sure enough, now my tenant users were showing a maximum of 10 installs.

I followed up with some local Microsoft folks and was told that they were told by Office 365 support that this was a mistake, whether in flighting or configuration I’m not sure. However, two-plus days later, tenants are still showing 10 activations. I took the below screenshot a few minutes before writing this post; it shows 4 activated Pro Plus installations, with 6 more available.

10 license

I’m going to reach out directly to the O365 team to ask whether this is: a) a temporary mistake that will be reversed b) a policy change that hasn’t been officially announced or c) a restatement of the 5 PC/Mac + 5 device policy that was already in place. I’ll report back what I find out. 

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Training Tuesday: Rocketman Olympic Triathlon (23 August)

This time, it was personal.

See, last year, I signed up for the bike leg of Rocketman and failed to complete it when my bike broke. Then this year, I lost my Olympic virginity at Renaissance Man with a disappointing time. I was highly motivated to finish this year’s Rocketman well… so I did.

Pre-race and setup

Rocketman is legendary for being well-organized, so I expected all the race logistics stuff to go smoothly, and it did. This was the first year on a new course, after many years of doing the race at Redstone Arsenal, but the race director did a great job of posting the course maps early, marking the course, and generally communicating what the changes would be. Matt and I went to Fleet Feet on Saturday, grabbed my race number and swag bag, and then headed home so I could pack.


That looks like a lot of stuff, and it is. At the bottom, you can see my race number (attached to my Fitletic race belt), watch and heart rate monitor, and Garmin bike camera. My ancient iPhone is running the Wahoo Fitness app so I can watch my heart rate, cadence, and power on the bike; then there are two pairs of (large) shoes, my helmet and swim cap, and 3 water bottles. Not shown: all the stuff I normally take to eat and drink during the race. (Hint: it wasn’t shown for a good reason!)

I packed my bag, loaded the bike on the car, and went to bed. When I woke up, a scant 5 hours later, it wasn’t because my alarm went off. It was because the cat was burrowing under the covers because of the thunderstorm outside. Not a good sign.


I was a little apprehensive about the weather when I went to bed, with good reason. The picture above shows the radar picture as I was loading the car; what it doesn’t show is that the line of storms was moving directly towards the race site. I loaded up and headed out to the race site in heavy rain, not a little wind, and occasional lightning– and it was getting worse the closer I got to Ditto Landing. Luckily, by the time I got there, it was only raining, but the damage had been done (at least to the parking area, which was thoroughly inundated and had turned into a swampy, muddy mess).

While driving, I had my usual shake (50g Karbolyn + a scoop of vanilla protein), at which point I realized that I didn’t pack all the nutrition stuff I meant to bring. Alas. I had mixed up a batch of Mercury and then frozen it in my run and bike bottles, but didn’t bring any gels, waffles, or (my current favorite) Uncrustables.


I picked up my timing chip and got my body marked, then learned that there was a 30-minute delay. This gave me enough time to brave the bathroom line and get everything set up in transition. Because it was overcast, I decided to leave my sunglasses in my transition bag, but stupidly put my eyeglasses in there too. They chased us out of transition and over to the swim start, where two long ramps (probably 25′ or so) were set up to get us into the water. This was a great alternative to picking our way down the rocks on the shore or jumping feet-first off the nearby dock (also about 20-25′ above the water), the other two choices. The race organizers thoughtfully put carpet down on the ramps to make them less slippery. Then… it was time to wait, and wait, and WAIT because I was in swim wave 6. Luckily there were plenty of familiar faces around, including friends from both last year’s Tri101 and this year’s Tri201. One of my favorite things about triathlons is the huge and welcoming tri community in Huntsville, so I always enjoy seeing my posse at local events.


The swim was just OK. I got down the slide with no trouble, then waited near the start line for a wave start. The water was warmer than I expected (and warmer than the air!), which was nice. I didn’t especially like having to tread water while waiting for the start, though, as I worried that it would tire me– I need to work on more efficient treading. The swim itself went pretty much just like the RenMan swim did; I maintained a steady pace, didn’t swim exactly a straight line, and finished with 1646 yards (on a 1500m course, that means I swam about an extra 6 yards– not too bad) in a little over 41 minutes. This was a bit disappointing since I had been breaking the 2:00/100y pace barrier in the pool. However, I finished the swim with plenty of energy, which is always a plus. I feel like I could do the half-Ironman swim distance at this same pace and still be capable of continuing the race.



It had stopped raining before the swim start, but I knew the roads would be wet so I had planned to be conservative on the bike. I got a good start out of T1 (despite having to go grab my eyeglasses out of my transition bag); I had a dose of Chocolate Outrage (that’s a Gu flavor, not a philosophy), saddled up, and rode out. At the halfway point, I was just under my PR time for the 40K distance, so I figured I would come in close to a PR time.. but either the ride was longer than I thought, my math skills are poor, or I inadvertently lessened my effort because I was still about 10 minutes over that time. I finished the bike in 1:38, which kinda sucks. I know I can do better than this. Speeding up my ride is going to be my primary focus going into my next race, I think.

T2 went quickly. I couldn’t find my second Gu, and I didn’t have anything else to eat, so I just swapped out my shoes, put on my 2014 Rocketman visor, and hit the run.


The run was my big success for this race. I ran the 10K course in about 1:01, which is (it’s true) 5 min off my PR for a standalone 10K but almost a 9-minute improvement over my Ren Man time. The cool weather definitely helped; we had a bit of drizzle on the outbound leg, which was a nice addition. The course was flat and fast, although by about mile 4 my legs were pretty tired. On the last half-mile or so I went as fast as I could, so my finish line crossing was more of a shamble.

The post-race setup was decent and pretty standard for races in Huntsville: free pizza, fruit, and a welcome tent set up by Fleet Feet for the Tri201 program participants. However, I have a major gripe: race entrants were promised two free Rocket Republic beers, and by the time I finished there was no more beer. After motivating myself with the thought of a tasty brew at the finish, this was a major disappointment. I did, however, get one of the coveted finisher glasses, plus a nice glass from the Tri201 coaches.

One of the things I most enjoyed about this race is that the announcer stayed on station and called out the name of every finisher. Hearing “Paul Robichaux…. from Madison, Alabama… YOU. ARE. A. ROCKETMAN!” was pretty thrilling. My gun time was 3:30:09, so nearly 10min better than Renaissance Man but still a good ways off from my goal time. Still, it’s only my second Olympic-distance race so I have a lot of potential for improvement.


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