Retrospective for 2016

2016 was a busy year for me, especially from a personal perspective.  Looking back here are some of the things that went on during 2016 as well as things I’m looking forward to in 2017.

 

Retrospective

2016 was filled with many events both personal and work related.  The biggest event of all was the birth of our son Samuel.  I am very grateful that my employer Microsoft changed their already generous infant care leave policy from 1 month of paid time off to now 3 months.  That is almost unheard of in any industry or organization.  During that time off (two separate chunks) I got to spend lots of quality time with my family taking outings to the zoo, making meals together (my most cherished memory), reading books, and many other bonding activities.  After seeing how quickly Clara is growing up I know this time for both our kids is going to go fast so I’m extremely thankful to have had this extra time with them.

Aside from my paternity leave I also got back to speaking at conferences including SharePoint Saturday Twin Cities, Dog Food Conference, SharePoint Saturday Detroit, and SPTechCon Austin as well as a new local user group Central Ohio Azure User Group.  Many of the topics I covered in these presentations go outside SharePoint into Azure, PowerApps, and Microsoft Flow.  I’m a fan of the numerous possibilities for integrating all of these products / services together to provide solutions for my customers (and myself on some side projects.)  Now that PowerApps and Microsoft Flow are generally available (GA) I’m looking forward to diving into those two in more depth in 2017.

One other major project throughout 2016 was moving my blog to a new hosting provider.  As it turns out I ended up moving twice, first from GeeksWithBlogs.net to self-hosted WordPress on Azure and then again from self-hosted WordPress to the official hosted WordPress.  It was quite a learning experience exporting data, cleaning up the exports, configuring themes, and all of the other work to get WordPress to a point I was satisfied with.  As I am not familiar enough with the hosting of WordPress and was getting many 500 errors after I “tweaked” the databases I thought it best to migrate to the official hosted platform.  So far it has been working well but I am still in the process of cleaning up a few items (mostly CSS or styling) that didn’t migrate 100%.  If you find any issues please contact me or leave a comment.

One a separate note, last year I started using Trello for tracking weekly progress on personal productivity items.  After a few months trying that out I read a few articles that turned me off of that practice.  Eventually it ended up that I was searching for things to put on my weekly lists and the process became just that: a process.  I still keep track of yearly accomplishments for annual review at work.

Sharing Interests

Similar to years past I read a number of books and listened to a number of podcasts.  You can read about 2015 book and podcast recommendations here.  Here are some additional ones from 2016.

Books

I read quite a few Star Wars books at the end of 2016.  I’ve always been a fan of Star Wars but I saw our local library had a number of books in the Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens series.  I decided to read one and got hooked.  I find it very interesting to explore the “new” expanded universe for Star Wars especially backstory on characters, motivations for various factions, and more.

Games

I haven’t had a real gaming PC in quite a few years but this past year I have gotten into PC gaming a little bit again.  One of the highlights was an indie game called Stardew Valley.  For anyone familiar with farming RPGs (yes it is a niche but one that I was heavily into years ago) like Harvest Moon or Rune Factory this is a love letter to that style of game.  I’ve already invested a few dozens hours into this game and have not even finished year 2.  I like the way farming, mining, fishing, foraging, social interactions, and more are all interconnected yet you are free to go at your own leisurely pace.

 

Conclusion

2016 was a great year, especially welcoming our son Samuel into our family.  I’m thankful for the extra time off work to spend with my family and looking forward to 2017.  As always if you have any recommendations on books, podcasts, tech, or other interesting things feel free to share.

 

-Frog Out

My Blog Has Moved

Four months ago I wrote a post about Changes Planned for My Blog.  My initial research into migrating my blog ended up needing much more manual effort migrating content and extra time fine tuning the destination platform.  Additionally the birth of our second child has changed my priorities on time and side projects recently.  Without further delay I’m happy to announce that I am migrated off of my prior GeeksWithBlogs (SubText) platform and now on to WordPress.

Some of you may be asking “but Brian you said you were looking at migrating to Orchard, what happened to that?”.  As part of my migration attempt I had to convert from SubText to WordPress and then WordPress export out to a format that Orchard could understand.  Getting all content exported (including pictures, comments, blog post metadata, etc.) was very tricky and I had to manually update some of the export / import files for it to work properly.  In the end it was taking too much time to convert everything twice.  Everything looked good enough on WordPress and the developer / plug-in support on WordPress is strong.  I do plan to blog out the tools and processes I used in the migration in case anyone else is interested in seeing how that worked.

That being said, yes I’m aware that some content is not displaying 100% the same way that it did on my prior hosting blog.  You may notice that code snippets from years ago aren’t spaced properly or embedded images aren’t showing.  The latter is actually an issue with OneDrive that I had submitted a ticket on and am getting answers on.  If you notice something is not displaying properly or other issues please leave a comment or contact me.  I’ll be fine tuning my blog over time and any and all suggestions are welcome.  Thanks and I look forward to getting back into a more regular blogging schedule the remainder of this year.

   Side note: I am doing some URL rewrite / redirection on my new blog to clean up the URLs from my old blog.  This includes striping out the “bjackett/archive” portion of the URL as it is a remnant from my old host.  If you are accessing any content on the original URL “https://briantjackett.com/…” you will be redirected to the intended URL of “https://briantjackett.com/…” instead.

-Frog Out

Changes Planned for Blog

   A big thank you goes out to all of your who have at one point or another read my blog.  It has come to my attention over the course of the past few months that a few things I took for granted on my blog are no longer functioning as expected.  These include:

  • No longer receiving email notifications when comments are submitted
  • RSS feed is duplicating items multiple times after posting new content
  • Categories disappear in the navigation
  • Split search engine SEO between custom domain URL and blog hosting default URL

 

   This is not a negative against my current blog hosting provider.  They have done a great job since I started blogging back in 2009.  However it is time for me to find a new platform and update various parts of my blog.  I’m currently looking at Orchard CMS as the primary option for a new platform. I first heard about Orchard CMS from a fellow SharePoint technologist Andrew Connell who migrated his blog from Subtext to Orchard as well (see his posts on the matter here).  I am still testing out various tools and migration strategy but hoping this won’t take more than a month or two of planning and execution.  It will not be a quick and easy migration but it will be worth the time and effort.

   In the meantime you will probably notice my go quiet on blogging.  I’ve also disabled RSS feed syndication due to the duplication issue mentioned above.  I hope you’ll enjoy the re-launch when things are migrated.

 

      -Frog Out

Retrospective for 2015

In past years I set goals at the beginning of the year and then recapped my progress on them the following year (see my retrospectives from 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013).  Unfortunately I posted my goals for 2014 but then never followed up (as I came to realize last week).  As such I felt that this might be a good time to switch things up.  Personally I found that my goals were either repeating themselves or becoming too formulaic.  Instead I’ll be focusing more on writing about my past year’s accomplishments and share out a few things I’m interested in.

 

Retrospective

2015 was a big year.  It was the first full year with our daughter Clara and first full year living in our new house.  We also completed a number of home projects including a new patio (previous one starting to sink in places) and remodeled our master bath.  Glad to have both of those behind us but already finding new things that need to be fixed  / replaced for 2016.  The joys of home ownership.

On the technology side I’ve been digging into Azure Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and given a number of internal and external presentations on this topic.  Additionally I’ve been following along the progression of PowerApps (read my Start Learning About PowerApps post here).  SharePoint 2016 will be releasing in 2016 and I’ve been lucky to have access to early bits to put them through their paces.  This is all part of my process to continue learning new things and also partially my natural desire to tinker with cool technology.  Walt Disney put it best when he said “[w]hen you’re curious, you find lots of interesting things to do.”

walt-disney-curious-quote

 

One side interest of mine has always been personal productivity and ways to track it.  Many systems exist such as Getting Things Done (which I’ve read David Allen’s book Getting Things Done a few years ago), Kanban, and more.  Recently I’ve taken up using Trello as my personal (non-work) task tracking system.  I like the concept of being able to create columns / lists for my daily tasks.  I have a backlog and 2-4 days (columns) of lists.  I move cards from my backlog to my daily column once they are completed.  I can quickly and easily archive a daily list to keep things tidy but also see prior days for a quick retrospective.  My target is to complete at least 2 tasks each day.  It is a work in progress but so far after 2+ weeks it is working better than any prior system I’ve tried.  See below for an example of my recent tasks.

TrelloBoard

 

Sharing Interests

 

 

Books

Over the past 6+ years I’ve started getting back into reading pretty heavily.  At first it started with audiobooks during the 30-45 min commute to various customers when I was a consultant with Sogeti.  I listened to some excellent audiobooks including The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Asimov Robot series, and more.  I chose to get my audiobooks from the local library which while it had a number of excellent choices was still limited.

When I joined Microsoft I was traveling at least 2-5 times a month, usually driving or flying anywhere from 1-7 hours.  At this point my reading started shifting more towards physical books.  There is something about holding a physical book in your hands that resonates with me.  Perhaps it harkens back to my grade school days and summers reading.  Either way there are a number of used books stores and libraries that provide plenty of options.

A few of the recommendations from the last year or two:

 

Podcasts

During a summer vacation in 2009 (I distinctly remember the occasion) my oldest brother turned me on to a podcast called Stuff You Should Know.  I had started listening to audiobooks not too long before this so I was getting used to audio content but wasn’t fully ingrained in it as a medium.  Things changed after I started listening to this podcast.  Josh and Chuck (after a brief stint with a different starting duo) mix a blend of information, entertainment, inside jokes, and levity to a huge variety of topics (they have amassed over 700 episodes).  My wife also enjoys listening to them during car trips.

Over time I added other podcasts to during long drives, workouts, or relaxing at home.  Some podcasts haven’t kept my interest and I’ve stopped listening but these current shows are a mix of entertainment and technology information.

 

Conclusion

Hopefully by reading this retrospective and sharing of interests you are inspired to reflect on your own past year.  I find it invigorating and recharging looking back at the past year’s progress while looking forward to what can be accomplished the next year.  If you have any recommendations on books, podcasts, or other technology feel free to share.  Thanks for reading.

 

Note: Amazon links are referral links on my blog and go towards paying for hosting, domain registration, and writing this blog which is done on my own time.

 

-Frog Out

Goals for 2014

   This is getting published a little bit late (month and a half into 2014 already) but I still wanted to get this posted.  Once again I’m setting some goals for myself for the year and posting them here publicly.  You can read my past years goals (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013) and retrospectives (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013) as well.  So with that let’s dive in.

 

Professional

  • Blogging – I’m coming up on 5 years of blogging in a few months.  Hard to believe it has been that long but as long as I have things to share I’ll continue blogging.  It is great when I meet people in person that have been helped by tips, scripts, or other content I have blogged about.  This year I know will be busy with a number of work projects but I plan to post at least one post of substance each month.
  • Publish a productivity tool – When I started blogging back in 2009 the second blog post I ever posted was about how to enumerate SharePoint permissions from SharePoint 2007 with PowerShell.  Last year in 2013 I posted an update for enumerating SharePoint 2010 or 2013 permissions with PowerShell.  I would like to take the updated script and turn it into a tool that works for SharePoint Online as well since I see this as a gap area in tools / reports currently available for SharePoint Online.

 

Personal

  • Continue taking annual vacations – This may seem like an odd goal, but taking some time off and disconnecting from work for a few days away from home is good at least once or twice a year.  I also try to disconnect from technology while I’m away so minimal or no email, TV, video games, computers, etc.  The next two goals help with sticking to that.
  • Running – In 2013 my wife (then fiancé) and I ran our first 5K.  You can read the backstory on why that was such a big deal for me.  This year I plan to run a quarter marathon (6.55 miles) and at least one other race (length undetermined).  I’m already signed up to run a quarter marathon in May and I”d like to do one other race, perhaps something like Warrior Dash.
  • Read books – As I mentioned in my 2013 retrospective I’ve really gotten into reading (physical, not just digital) books lately.  I plan to read at least 3-4 books, many which I got as Christmas presents last year (see below).  I’m really loving science fiction books (especially Isaac Asimov) lately and looking forward to finishing up the Foundation series.

WP_20131228_002

  • Buy a house – My wife and I are looking to move into something a little larger so we have room to expand our family in the coming years.  We’re also preparing our condo for selling it by completing some home projects.  Will be fun to break out some power tools.

 

Conclusion

   As I said with last year’s goals I like publicly posting my goals to hold myself more accountable but also to help inspire others to also create / post their own goals.  If you decide to post your own goals feel free to send me a link as I would love to read.  Here’s to a good 2014 year!

 

      -Frog Out

Goals for 2013 Retrospective

   This is my fourth year of setting goals publicly on my blog (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013) and going through a retrospective at the end of the year (2010, 2011, 2012).  So without further ado here is my recap of 2013 goals.

 

Year in Review

   2013 will probably be the biggest year in my life as it is the year I got married to my wonderful wife Sarah.  Other notable events include getting promoted to Senior Premier Field Engineer at Microsoft, two of my sister-in-laws having babies, and helping out with some local conferences (including the return of SharePoint Saturday Columbus).

 

Professional Goals

  • Work local more – For the majority of 203 I was still on the road for a good portion of it.  Thankfully towards the end of the year (just before my wedding) I was able to work out arrangements to do more local and remote work.  I now have a few dedicated customers that are local or I work with remotely.  That fills over half my schedule while the other portion of my time is doing a mix of remote and traveling engagements.  Overall I’m (and my wife is) much happier with me being able to be home more.
  • Mentor / Mentee – I started out the year with 2 unofficial mentees at work.  Over the course of the year they have dropped off and we don’t meet regularly anymore.  I still talk with one on an infrequent basis when questions arise.  I’m ok with where things are at on this topic as a mentor / mentee relationship is only beneficial while both sides are willing to put something into it and also get something out of it.  In these cases both are now moving along from the hurdles they originally faced.
  • Blogging – I planned to blog at least 20 posts last year.   Unfortunately I only wrote 18 posts.  Part of this is due to my daily schedule changing quite a bit between work and personal life and part of it is due to not keeping a regular rhythm of writing down blog ideas that I flesh out.  Currently I have a number of topics that I “haven’t had time” to write out.  What that really means is I haven’t made the time for it.  Something to work on for next year.

Personal Goals

  • Get married – As I mentioned above this was the big year I tied the knot with Sarah.  Three months in and married life is great.  We are both growing into our new relationship with each other and with God.
  • Stay Fit – In 2012 I was able to lose and keep off 10+ pounds.  In 2013 with the help of my FitBit One, going to the gym with my wife, practicing portion control during meals, and getting into running I took off another 5 pounds.  I would’ve liked to lose a few more pounds but I’m finding that I’m adding muscle weight which I’m ok with.
  • Read Books – 2013 was the year that I discovered science fiction books.  I had listened to some audio books (most of the Robot series) by Isaac Asimov a few years ago.  This year I found the first five books of the Foundation series at a local used book store.  I’ve already read through the first 4 and have books 5-7 lined up to be read.  I also read The Gods themselves by Asimov, Daemon and FreedomTM by Daniel Suarez, and Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin.  That is more books / pages than I read when I was back in school.  I asked for (and got as presents) a number of other science fiction and technology thriller books for Christmas so my reading list for 2014 is already stocked.  I’m finding that I really like owning physical books rather than digital lately, similar to my new fascination with board / card / dice games (I’ll talk more about in my goals for 2014).

 

Conclusion

   I changed the focus of many of my goals for 2013 compared to 2012.  I’m happy with the change in focus to more family and personal health type goals.  I was able to meet and exceed most goals with only a few that were not met completely.  After reflecting back on this past year I’ve already brainstormed some goals for 2014.

   I hope you had a good 2013 and that you set and stuck to some goals.  If you’d like to share any feel free to put them in the comments below.  Here’s to the start of a great 2014!

I Finished My First 5k Run

   This post is a bit more personal than most.  Two weekends ago my fiancé and I (along with two friends) completed our first 5k run.  To many people this may not sound like a big deal, but to me it was a very significant event.  Below is the story why.

 

History

   When I was a junior in high school I started to have pain in my right hip when I ran or was on my feet for extended periods of time.  At the time I was in track doing shot put and discus which are very demanding on your leg joints and muscles.  When the pain didn’t go away for days and was uncomfortable just walking or sitting I decided to get it looked at by a doctor.  The doctor took a number of X-rays and performed various mobility tests.  Upon reviewing the X-rays it was clear what the problem was.  My right hip joint was not properly formed.  Specifically the socket portion of the “ball and socket” connection was under-formed and thus the ball portion slipped around causing inflammation.  To the best of my memory he called it hip dysplasia.

   This is a somewhat common issue with newborn babies where the hip joints aren’t properly aligned or the ball remains out of the socket.  In most cases some quick tests and manual adjustments pop the hip back into place.  Apparently this wasn’t the case for me.  At the time the doctor told me that I would need a hip replacement by the time I was 40-45, but to continue exercising and avoid any activities that caused pain.  For me that meant no more running or climbing large amounts of stairs.

 

Run Training

   Fast forward to a few years ago, I read an article discussing different running styles.  One that stood out to me was toe running.  Instead of landing on the heel (and absorbing all the shock with your bones) you focus on running on the ball or toes of your feet (and thus absorb the shock in your muscles).  For a year I started to walk on the balls of my feet rather than the traditional heel to toe stride.  I noticed a decrease in my hip pain as well as increased calf muscle strength.  I then tried running on my toes and found it to be much easier than expected.

   I joined my fiancé’s gym at the beginning of this year intending to lift weights and do some minimal cardio.  I started out with running half a mile and worked my way up to 2 miles.  In Feb I found out the gym was holding a 5k run / walk for charity.  I thought this would be a great opportunity to see if I could run the full race and not have hip pain.  Sarah and I trained over the next few months increasing our distance and lowering our pace per mile.

 

The Race

   On April 27th, 2013 Sarah and I ran our 5K.  I finished with a time of 32:59 (just under 33 mins 🙂 ) and Sarah finished at 34:56.  I’m very proud of both of our times and for completing.  The icing on the cake was that I had very minimal hip pain after the race (and even the days following the race).  The below picture was taken just before our race.

WP_20130427_002

 

Conclusion

   When my doctor told me that I wouldn’t be able to do many things that I enjoyed when I was younger it was discouraging.  Thankfully through changing the way that I walk, run, and get around I’ve found ways to cope with my hip issue.  I may still have to have an early hip replacement, but the fact that I could complete a 5K (with Sarah’s help and motivation) was a big boost to my confidence that I won’t let that keep me down.  Now to find the next race and continue on!

 

      -Frog Out