25 June 2014

Microsoft Office 364: Almost a usable product.

At first I was chalking up all of the issues I was running into with Microsoft's cloud strategy as simple stupidity, but perhaps that has been Microsoft's strategy all along. Crazier ideas have come out of Redmond.

I have been working with a nice gentleman at CDW because some of my clients have the need for saving and sharing documents in a cloud environment while also having a nice intranet system where they can find all of their information. Because the default perspective is to no longer install software in a server room, my focus was on Office 365 with Microsoft hosting SharePoint. All I needed was a little test site to see if they would be able to edit the intranet themselves and get an idea of what it can and cannot do.

My background for this task in recent years has been using Google Apps. Saving and sharing documents for a company in Google's platform is relatively easy and setup can take only a few minutes. Heck, with Google Sites you can create a custom web site in less time than it takes Starbucks to make you a vanilla steamer. You can default to using Word, Excel and all of the Microsoft tools, but the problem with Google Apps is that the design is not as familiar and I have concerns about anything confidential being housed there. Most critically, it is not embedded into a locally installed Microsoft Office installation, and having all documents created in a web browser is not a step most people are ready to take.

Office 365 should be the answer - but I am not certain it is. Sure, you can create and edit Office documents better than Google Docs. No, the sharing capabilities are not quite as robust as the cloud in California, but it is pretty darn close. However, Microsoft seems to be trying to make it an almost usable product.

To start with, they still cannot get SharePoint working for me in the Office 365 test environment. I have spent an hour on tech calls with Microsoft trying to get the option to show up, but they have not figured it out yet. In a demo environment. Just to see the product. Seriously?

I installed SharePoint and configured it back in 2003, but that was a version from over a decade ago. Explaining this to the sales folks at Microsoft and wondering whether I could easily create a site myself for clients they told me "no" - that they would need to be involved as a paid consultant. Huh? A product in "The Cloud" that requires $200 per hour consultants to set up properly? Inquiries about documentation on how to do configuration were met with silence.

When I asked about pricing, I found it runs $12.50 per user per year for an account equivalent to Google Apps. Each have extra features from the other, but at least they are in the same price category - until you calculate space. Google Apps is unlimited and Office 365 caps me at 10 gigs plus .5gig per user on SharePoint without paying extra. To get 1tb of data, which is a pretty common amount for what exists on a file share, you would have to pay thousands more per year. Heck, even if Google was not giving unlimited space, they only charge $120 per year for a terabyte.

Okay, no problem. Maybe companies can leave the data on their file share. The old version of SharePoint could scan SMB folders to make them searchable on the web site and this could take care of that issue without paying through the nose for drive space. Except ... SharePoint within Office 365 does not support this. Or should I call it "Office 364" since Microsoft knocked out their cloud services for 9 business hours yesterday?

The comedy here is that I could solve all of these problems by just installing everything locally on Windows Servers, just like the old days. It would cost a fraction of the cloud offering, have all of the features available and it would likely even work after I installed it. The problem, of course, is that it would be tied to the office, just like the old days, too.

I will keep hammering at Office 365. I bet we will eventually get it working, and despite what I was told, I bet I can configure it myself, too. But, for some reason, I wonder if Microsoft would prefer everyone stick to tearing off the shrink-wrap from little cardboard boxes.

02 June 2014

President Obama and the EPA will delay the ocean rising by a couple days.

Thank you, Mr. President, for your new smoke screen, er, I mean "carbon limits" to blind Americans into believing that we are actually living up to our stewardship of our environment. How proud you must be.
When you frame this legislation in the delta of PPM of CO2 and Ph of the ocean over the next century then this barely covers the additional energy use due to population density of our country. Coal plants were being replaced by natural gas already but we are just trading one form of carbon pollution for another. Yes, we could use a fire extinguisher on a forest fire and it might help, but the forest is still going to burn down.
Being in the leadership chair means not being afraid to make the right decision for the long term health of America. Get up there and say electric companies must reach zero carbon emissions by 2030 and petrol will be gradually increased over ten years (taxed) based on the cost of removing that carbon from the air. Force all fossil fuel companies to invest in technology to remove that carbon from the atmosphere and the ocean. Tell America the truth about our predicament, Mr. President.
Insane? Maybe. But, at least then we are being honest about what needs to be done. We can sit around and say "it is a step in the right direction" or "what Obama currently proposes will kill energy companies" - but, at the end of the day, actually fixing the damage that has already been put in motion will take monumental leaps forward - not a tiny step.

01 June 2014

Mike Adams may need another class or two of high school biology.

The problem with coming at science with a pre-determined conclusion is that you can always find minor facts to back you up while ignoring the major pieces that show the exact opposite. Mike Adams' heart is in the right place and, indeed, some of the pieces of information he shares are very true while completely ignoring the wealth of evidence, including overwhelming historical data, that show his conclusion is not correct. I will not bother pointing out all of the inaccuracies in his article and where his numbers are refuted by scientists (unless he reaches out to me - in which case I would be happy to), but instead focus on the bigger picture of where his conclusion missed the mark.

Yes, humanity, there is now an end date to the mostly peaceful world the first world lives in. Will humanity survive? No doubt. But the world our grand children will live in will be a far more difficult planet for homosapiens than today.

Historically speaking, the climate does not change overnight - it evolves over tens of thousands of years. Six hundred million years ago the atmosphere had far more oxygen than today because we had a planet filled primarily with plants. Over a couple of hundred million years, giant insects evolved that enjoyed the pleasures of their skins absorbing all the oxygen they could. As animals joined them to suck in that lovely gas, the eagle-sized dragonflies eventually became significantly smaller. The enviornment changes gradually and plants and animals adjust accordingly.

There are times in history when sudden changes to the environment occurred. Sometimes it was due to massive volcanoes erupting, or global temperatures plummeting, or a multi-mile meteor slamming into the planet - sometimes multiple of these simultaenously. These cause mass extinction events where large percentages of the planet species suddenly disappear. Over the course of tens of thousands of years the life rebounds to best fill the new world.

The climate we live in today has changed overnight, and it will change even more. In the course of a few hundred years, humanity will have wiped out, directly or indirectly, two thirds of the species on our planet. That is not speculation - that is the reality of today. Without humans our planetary past says we would have one species going extinct every hundred years or so. The estimates today are that hundreds (perhaps thousands) of species are disappearing every year. We are in the middle of one of the sixth largest life destroying events that Earth has experienced.

While Mr. Adams is right that plants love more carbon dioxide, that is only useful if we are allowing plants to live. Humans are tearing down rain forests and have inhabited over 50% of the entire planet. Yes - if we were to abandon North America then the plants would happily reap the rewards, but I do not see any initiative to do so. As long as humans continue to kill forests to make way for our modern lifestyle, the additional carbon dioxide is not helping our oxygen creating evolutionary siblings. In fact, we are destroying them far faster than they are growing.

It is also true that non-human species create more carbon than humans. (His numbers are off, but that is another discussion.) However, it is you and me burning fossil fuels and tearing down forests that have changed the "natural" order. It is our actions that have raised the CO2 levels to over 400ppm. Worse yet, even if we stopped all fossil fuel use today, that number would continue to rise for the next 50 years.

It is also true that there were times when there was far more carbon in the air than today, much like there was a time when there was far more oxygen in the air. Life evolved to take advantage of these differences in climate. The issue is not whether there was a time when things were different - it is that this massive change is happening at a pace that life cannot adapt to before they are wiped out.

Massive change in a short period of time that is the core issue. If CO2 were to raise to 500ppm over ten thousand years then the impact would be far less severe. In fact, it would be beneficial to some species. Unfortunately, it is happening over a couple of hundred years. This change is killing off huge numbers of species. That is a scientific fact. We know that from looking at regions of the planet where carbon levels in the ocean are already that high and tracking what it has done to marine life. We know that at least two thirds of the ocean will not survive this change.

Mark is right that eventually we will have marine and land photosynthesis life to take advantage of this adjustment to our air. Perhaps in as little as a couple thousand years. The reason treehuggers are so up in arms is the shape of humanity when we reach that date.

Ocean levels will be rising dramatically over the next two hundred years. Ocean currents will have severe changes. Weather patterns will get far more severe. Many of the species of animals we consume today will no longer exist. We will have far less land to grow crops and live on. There will be far less fresh water to drink.

What will all these changes do to the nations and lifestyle we hold so dear? No one knows. But, while the plant life in the year 4014 may be happy, humanity may have a really rough road getting there to see it.