Sunday, February 05, 2023

You Need a Side Channel

Here we Microsoft go again! There's a list of Microsoft availability problems here. Don't think I'm all doom and gloom on Microsoft. It's just that even HUGE organizations struggle with subtleties.

Microsoft's latest incident affected Azure, Teams, and Outlook for hours.

Microsoft recently released their postmortem. I applaud Microsoft for publishing this. Could your company have done such a thorough job so quickly?
As part of a planned change to update the IP address on a WAN router, a command given to the router caused it to send messages to all other routers in the WAN, which resulted in all of them recomputing their adjacency and forwarding tables. During this re-computation process, the routers were unable to correctly forward packets traversing them.
Maybe your network isn't so large that this "re-computation process" wouldn't saturate your network equipment.

Regardless there is a learning here.
Due to the WAN impact, our automated systems for maintaining the health of the WAN were paused, including the systems for identifying and removing unhealthy devices, and the traffic engineering system for optimizing the flow of data across the network.
Their network management system, including device security,  ran ACROSS their network. So when the network was impacted their network management system was ineffective. Basically, Microsoft had to watch and wait for the network to settle down.

A side channel network management solution would have mitigated that. And introduced a myriad of other problems, principally security.

Tough choices.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Password Strength Testing Tool

You've probably been following the LastPass saga. An emerging alternative is Bitwarden.

Recently Bitwarden has published a Password Strength Testing Tool here.

It's worth running your passwords through it. My day-to-day algorithm generated a rating of "Good" and an estimated time of cracking of "7 hours."

I was relatively satisfied with that until I put the password generated with my client's algorithm.

Time to revisit my algorithm.

Sunday, January 01, 2023

Happy New Year 2023

The start of a new year is a good time to review a few things and make sure everything is right. Here's my list of things I think you should check once a year.

Some of the steps may be a little out of date but I think you can find your way around. If not, leave me a comment and I'll help.

You'll sleep better.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Office Deployment Tool - Revisited

Once again I found myself with a new laptop and no Microsoft Office license. 

I found one of those gray market key vendors and bought a Office 2021 Professional Pro key for less than $20. It came promptly and even included a link to a Microsoft download site. (Don't rush to download.)

I don't need all the included Office apps. The legacy installation dialog would let me choose which application and features would be installed. I used to use that dialog to omit all the Office apps except Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

But now Microsoft has an Office Deployment Tool that lets you customize the installation.

I recalled the solution I had found earlier and revisited my previous post.

The referenced site, MS Guides, seems to have gotten crossways with Google and probably other organizations. I used to retrieve the instructions. This post is my recap of the process and is heavily based on MS Guides.

Step 0: Uninstall all the Click-to-Run Office 365 apps that come pre-installed.

Step 1: Download the appropriate version of the Office Deployment Tool from Microsoft. Use Google to find the proper download and download it.

Step 2: Double click the download to extract the contents of this file. It will create a new folder with configuration files (xml) and setup.exe.

Step 3: Tailor the following code as needed and paste it into a new text document.

      <Add OfficeClientEdition="64">
        <Product ID="ProPlusRetail">
          <Language ID="en-us" />
          <ExcludeApp ID="Access" />
          <ExcludeApp ID="InfoPath" />
          <ExcludeApp ID="Lync" />
          <ExcludeApp ID="OneNote" />
          <ExcludeApp ID="Outlook" />
          <ExcludeApp ID="Project" />
          <ExcludeApp ID="Publisher" />
          <ExcludeApp ID="SharePointDesigner" />
          <ExcludeApp ID="Skype" />
          <ExcludeApp ID="Skypeforbusiness" />
          <ExcludeApp ID="Groove" />
      <Display Level="Full" AcceptEULA="TRUE" />

The above sample code will only install Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

Then save this as config.xml in the folder created earlier.

Step 4: Copy the code below into a new text document file.

    @echo off
    cd /d %~dp0
    setup.exe /configure config.xml

Then save this as install.cmd in the folder created earlier.

Step 5: Double-click on the install.cmd file and it'll run. You may have to right-click on it to run it as  an administrator. I didn't have to do this.

The process will even download the required bits.

Step 6: After successfully installing Office, launch one of the apps. You'll be prompted to login OR enter a product key. Enter your new product key there.

You're done.

Friday, September 30, 2022

USB-C vs Lightning - Redux

Earlier this year I shared a post on USB-C vs Lightning. It was mostly on the durability aspects of the different connectors.

But with the recent release of the iPhone 14 Pro, there's another furor around Lightning connectors.

The earlier post included the following chart:

But I didn't pay much attention to the last row - Maximum transmission speed.

There's a 40 fold increase in transmission speed when using USB-C. FORTY FOLD!

And Thunderbolt is twice as fast as USB-C.

So what does iPhone 14 Pro have to do with this? 48-megapixel ProRAW photos - four times as many pixels as iPhone 13 models.

Full-resolution ProRAW photos taken with the iPhone 14 Pro can be close to 100MB per file.

I hope you're not in a hurry to offload your photos from your shiny new iPhone 14 Pro.

The good news is that there's lots of talk that next year's iPhone 15 Pro will have USB-C.

We can hope.

Here's a good recap of the issue from Lifewire (

Sunday, June 19, 2022

The Green Light is Back

Insteon users have had a bad couple of months. I gave up and moved on.

Then Insteon rose from the ashes.


Here's their blog post:

A New Day for Insteon!
We are a small group of passionate Insteon users that have successfully acquired Insteon. Like many of you, our homes are powered by Insteon’s amazing dual-mesh technology and highly configurable products. 

Most of you discovered that the Insteon Hubs began coming back online. Our first priority was getting the hubs online immediately before we had access to this site, the email service provider, social accounts, etc. Every day more customers were giving up hope so it was critical to get that restored as soon as possible. We are aware not all functions are back online but we are actively working on it. We hope you understand this urgency and appreciate your patience. 

Going forward we are committed to responsibly re-building the Insteon business. Our commitment to you, as part of the Insteon family, is to listen, communicate and be as transparent as possible in everything we do. 

Please stay tuned for updates here as well as on twitter, facebook, reddit and elsewhere. If you are an Insteon Hub account holder, look for an email in the coming days. 

Thank you all for your patience. We look forward to sharing this new journey with you. 

Best regards,
Ken Fairbanks
CEO, Insteon Technologies
No thanks.

And here's an e-mail thread between me and some co-workers:
A: Are either of you doing anything with the new Insteon company??
Me: Not with a 10 ft pole. The new owners seem to be well intentioned but the brand is sullied beyond reprieve.
A: That’s my thinking too. Plus I am [not] as dependent on them as some people.
B: No. Pretty much moved all to Wyze.

Sunday, May 08, 2022

Z-Wave to the Rescue

You'll recall the disaster that Insteon caused me.

I started off down the road to use "simple" Wi-Fi devices and bought a couple of Kasa (by TP-Link) plugs and a switch. They were easy to install and setup and worked fine.

But every one of them was a separate device on my IoT Wi-Fi network. Long term, that could get to be a problem.

Then another problem opportunity arose. My alarm system went south. But it was 20+ years old.

My alarm company suggested a new system. As I was researching it, I noticed that it included a Z-Wave controller.

So, I stopped my Kasa roll-out after 2 plugs and ordered Enbrighten Z-Wave switches.

The alarm system uses for an Internet interface. The Internet services costs $5 per month. To add Z-Wave service adds another $5 per month. At least has a business plan unlike Insteon.

Adding the Z-Wave switches to was easy. has a good system to create device scenes and schedule them but I wanted to concentrate my automating into my Amazon Alexas.

Amazon has TWO Alexa skills for alarm. com. One is for alarm settings, e.g. scenes, and the other one controls individual devices.

This one is for the alarm and scenes:

This one is for devices:

It would be nice if there was something more obvious to differentiate them other than inferring function from the terse text.

Anyway, initially I installed the alarm and scenes skill. With that, Alexa didn't see the individual devices. So on the app, I created scenes for the each logical activity I wanted, e.g. "Outside Lights On".

This caused further complications in the Alexa routines. Notice that I had to use the syntax of "Alexa ask to run outside lights on".

That works fine but there are undocumented syntax restrictions on the Alexa action command. It took lots of trial and error to get names that would clear the restrictions.

Then I discovered the Alexa skill for devices. With that, Alexa could see the individual devices. I haven't undone my successful work and switched to the more direct constructs.

For thermostats, I'm going with Honeywell RTH6580WF.