Migration

A few years ago I decommissioned my website so that I could move it to another hosting provider. Since then LinkedIn and other social sites got a lot better and the need to have a website was satisfied by other public and free websites. I want to get back into writing blogs and articles so I decided to take the time to get my website back up and running. Please excuse the mess below. I need to re-link images.

Microsoft Azure Services by Region

Have you ever wondered what Microsoft Azure services were available in what regions?  Well Microsoft has a webpage showing what services are available in what regions.  I highly recommend reviewing the chart as some services are not in all regions.  An simple example of this is not all VM instances are available in all regions.  It’s good to know this BEFORE you start designing and building Azure resources.

https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/regions/#services

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Showing two time zones in your Outlook Calendar

For the past few months I’ve been working on a project where the client is in the Pacific Time Zone.  I’m in the Eastern Time Zone.  Quite often when looking at my Outlook calendar I have to on the fly subtract 3 hours when talking or emailing the client.  While talking to Mick Talbott, a co-worker of mine that is in the Arizona Time Zone working on the same project as I am he mentioned you can setup Outlook to display another time zone.  I think my exact words were “really?”.  He told me how and now I’m telling you how.

Notice how my Outlook was only showing the times of the time zone I was in.

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In Outlook click File.

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Options

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Click Calendar

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Scroll all the way down to Time zones

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Label your primary time zone, put a check in show a second time zone, label your second time zone, and set the time zone.  Click OK.

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Now you’ll see both time zones in your calendar!

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Using Evernote to capture receipts

A few years ago my employer, Catapult Systems, had a policy in place for submitting receipts when doing expense reports.  At the time whoever put the policy together really didn’t consider all the challenges a consultant will actually face at the client’s site.  Basically there were only three options.  Us consultants had to fax in our receipts, scan/email them, or mail them in.  There was another option but that required actually visiting a Catapult office and since never go into any Catapult offices that wasn’t an option for me.  A lot of the consultants wanted to take photos and email them but at the time photos of receipts were not approved for whatever reasons. 

Below are the non-detailed processes for each option

Fax

  • Download and print a fax cover page.
  • Tape the receipts to a/many 8.5 X 11 piece(s) of paper. 
  • Fax the cover page with all of the 8.5 X 11 pieces of paper.

Mail

  • Stuff all the receipts in an envelope and mail it in. 

Scan

  • Scan all of the receipts.
  • Email them.

I tried all three options and depending on the client, their hardware, and other things that changed from place to place the above options could be difficult to perform. 

Fax

Faxing was frustrating.  I had to access a internal Catapult website with a client’s machine and print something.  Sometimes it took time to install a printer.  If I used my Catapult notebook printing to a client’s printer on their network could take even longer as it’s not a domain joined machine.  There was always the option of downloading the fax cover page from my Catapult notebook, emailing it to a client contact, and asking them to print it but I didn’t’ like doing that.  The client is paying for your time and they shouldn’t be expected to help you with an expense report.  Once I overcame printing the fax cover page I then had find some tape and sit there taping receipts to pieces of paper.  That wasn’t an efficient use of my time.  A lot of companies have long distance codes so when it came time to faxing it in I had to get the client involved.  All of this was too time consuming and could have involved the client too much. 

Mail

I really didn’t want to send in my receipts without first making a copy of them.  Some problems I ran into making copies were some copiers needed a billing code, it was time consuming to copy all of my receipts, and I had to carry a stash of envelopes and stamps with me. 

Scan

Come on, most places don’t have a network scanner and if they do you have to get with the client on how to connect to it and to retrieve your scans.  Clients shouldn’t have to get involved with consultants submitting expense reports. 

Out of the three methods I used the scan option most of the time.  This was because I actually traveled with a battery operated portable scanner.  I don’t remember the model I had at the time but I did up grade it to this model and I love it.  This was the best option for me as I didn’t have to involve the client but it was still time consuming scanning, transferring the files from the scanner to my notebook, and it was one more piece of hardware taking up room and weight in my notebook bag.

 

 

I can’t remember when but Catapult eventually allowed photographs of receipts to be submitted as long as they were readable.  This was a good solution and in the past few years a lot of software has come out that will do a great job turning a photograph into more of a scan so the text is legible.  I use Evernote a lot(Sorry Microsoft OneNote but at the time Evernote was available on all of my devices).  I can’t remember when or in what version it was implemented but Evernote allows you to take a photo of something that is a “document”.  The result is almost as good as a scan with a smaller file size than a photo that is faster to capture than physically scanning it.  What’s even better is I can use Evernote on my phone to capture all of my receipts and they sync with my desktop so I can email them.  Of course the syncing also means my data is in more than one place so IF my phone were to die at least all of my Evernote files are in the cloud and on my desktop.  Evernote also allows me to capture my receipts without having to hang onto them until I get to my scanner.  Evernote also decreases the risk of me losing a receipt or two. 

 

 

When using Evernote to capture your receipts it’s important to not only use the proper setting in the software but to properly prepare what you’re capturing.  In the photos below you’ll notice differences.  The three photos below I’m using the photo setting in Evernote.  It’s basically just a photo.  Notice the space around the receipt.  Sure I could have held my phone closer but getting too close means it might not focus and holding my phone too far away it might be difficult to read without having someone zoom in. 

 

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In the photos below I’m using Evernote’s document mode(notice the darker bar in the phone screenshot).  The first photo of the receipt is a giant white mess.  That’s because the surface it’s laying on isn’t a contrasting color(see similar photo above).  The second photo has a contrasting color around the receipt so it automatically zooms in and it appears to be more of a scan that a photo.  That’s great as whoever I email that too doesn’t have to zoom in to see the numbers and letter. 

 

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Using Evernote’s document mode the size of the file is also smaller while retaining a decent quality image. 

680KB photo non-contrasting background

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311KB document non-contrasting background

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762KB Photo contrasting background

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156KB document with contrasting background
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As you can see by using Evernote’s document capture settings of a receipt laying on a contrasting surface I can quickly capture my receipts while out and about in a decent quality that syncs with the cloud/desktop. 

 

I also use Evernote’s document capture feature to capture my personal receipts.  I do this so if I have to return, exchange, or even look up what I bought I have it in an electronic format where I can access anywhere from any of my devices at anytime.  I don’t need to run home and pullout a shoebox of receipts.  Evernote also indexes PDF and JPG files so I can type a word and it will find it on my receipts!

 

 

If you’re interested in capturing receipts for personal or work purposes I highly recommend looking at Evernote and the document feature. 

Michigan’s silly deposits on cans and bottles

One thing I absolutely loved about moving from Michigan to Texas was I didn’t have to deal with deposits on cans and bottles.  When I moved back to Michigan I was upset that I had those stupid deposits once again.  In case anyone doesn’t know what I’m talking about let me explain.  In a handful of states there is a deposit when you buy certain products in certain containers.  in most states it’s 5 cents when you buy a soda or a beer in a can, plastic bottle, and glass bottle.  Michigan is the ONLY state that charges a 10 cent deposit.  What that means is when you checkout the store charges you 10 cents for each soda or beer that is in a can, plastic bottles, and/or glass bottle.  Notice how I said soda or beer.  I’ll talk more about that later.  If you buy a 6 pack of beer that is marked at $5 you pay tax on that $5 plus an additional 60 cents in deposits.  When you bring the cans and/or bottles back you get your deposit back.  It’s done as a way to strongly encourage people to recycle via loss of their own money.  It’s also a way for people to walk the streets and pick up cans and bottles(yes you see it all the time).  This whole deposit thing is a pain in the ass!  People have to try to rinse out every can and bottle and keep them somewhere in their house just to haul off to the store to get their deposit back.  It’s also very disgusting as I’ve seen people dump dirty cans and bottles into shopping carts where the stale soda and beer is dripping through the bottom of the cart all over the ground.  That means you might lay your food when you’re grocery shopping on the bottom of a cart that just had stale soda and/or beer all over it.  We all know grocery stores never clean their carts.  As for the smell of the machines that accepts these items and the areas people go to return them is awful.  Imagine a room where someone spilled beer all over the ground and rarely cleans it up.  IT STINKS!  Below is what one of the machines looks like near the opening and also what one of my plastic bags looked like so you have a clue on how dirty everything is.  Of course if everyone were to rinse their returnables nothing would get dirty but you can’t depend on EVERYONE doing the right thing. 

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To make matters worse a store/store chain will only take back a can or bottle if they sell it.  If a store won’t take a can or a bottle the typical response would be to just throw it away but it’s actually against the law in Michigan to throw away a bottle or can that has a deposit on it!  Now you can “recycle” using approved recycling services but if it hits a landfill then you broke the law.  I believe in recycling but there are only deposits on beer and soda cans, plastic bottles, and glass bottles.  There are not any deposits on wine bottles, liquor bottles, non-carbonated energy drink cans, and water bottles.  That just doesn’t make sense.  If you’re encouraging people to recycle why exclude a bunch of items? 

Today I decided how much time it would take me to return two tall kitchen trashcans full of returnables.  Since a store only takes back cans and bottles they sell I had to visit two stores.

In the table below there are two columns.  The first column shows how much time would be involved if I was already making a trip to the store.  The second column shows how much time I actually spend as my only reason for going out of the house today was to return the cans and bottles. 

 

Activity At Store Special Trip
Sort through cans/bottles and separate them by store at home 7:22 7:22
Drive to Meijer and walk to the returns area NA 11:25
Time to feed one can/bottle into the machine 8:26 8:26
In line/walk back to car NA 6:46
Drive to Aldi and walk to the returns area NA 15:35
Time to feed one can/bottle into the machine(there was only one machine and it was being used by someone before me.  Also it became full and we had to wait for someone to empty it). 9:25 9:25
In line/walk back to car NA 2:12
Time to drive home NA 15:35
TOTALS 25:13 76:46

If I was going to both grocery stores I would have spent a little over 25 minutes just returning the bottles and cans!  Since it was a special trip just for returning cans and bottles it took me over 76 minutes!  All of that time to get my measly $8.50 back.  That’s right, 85 cans/bottles = $8.50.  I haven’t even talked about the money involved for stores to buy and maintain these machines as I’m sure the cost is being passed to the customer. 

I wish the state would do away with deposits or at the very least make all cans and bottles have deposits but I doubt that will ever happen. 

My Microsoft Shared Web Hosting Plan was Suspended!

Update November 19, 2014

Either the upgrade to the latest version of WordPress solved my issue or whatever was causing spikes in CPU time and traffic stopped.  There my upgraded there hasn’t been any spikes.  I knew my personal site was low traffic so those spikes were odd. 

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Original Post November 15, 2014

My personal website is hosted on Microsoft Azure as a shared web hosting plan using WordPress.  Since my WordPress database is over 20MB I do pay $9.99 a month for a larger DB through ClearDB.  Yesterday I went to post a blog to both Catapult’s website and my personal website.  When I attempted to post it to my personal website I received a 402 error in Windows Live Writer.  When I browsed to my personal website the page said it was temporary unavailable and to check back soon.  I’m sorry that I didn’t get a screenshot.  I wasn’t planning on blogging about this.  Knowing something wasn’t right I logged into Azure to manage my website and I noticed it was was suspended for excessive CPU cycles.  I guess your only allowed 4 hours of CPU time every 24 hours.  There are also quotas but since my personal website isn’t visited much I didn’t understand why I was hitting any quotas.  I’ve never had this problem in the past and if I have I didn’t know about it.  Sure enough everything eventually went back to normal but it looks like there are spikes every few days that might be suspending my account.  Since then I updated WordPress to version 4 and I’m going to monitor everything.  Hopefully that fixes this problem.  If it doesn’t I need to look at other things.  I could upgrade to a dedicated VM or add support but my personal website isn’t worth $30-$50 a month. 

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