Understanding Blockchain

One of the reasons that I really like cryptocurrencies is that they are something built with technology and can solve some real day to day issues. Why I like them as an investment vehicle is that I understand how the fundamental underlying technology works. I would suggest that you really shouldn’t invest your money in something you don’t understand because when things go wrong you have no idea why and what actions to take.

With this in mind, I am always combing the Internet for good tutorials on how crypto currencies and the underlying technology, known as blockchain, actually work. Here are four of the best that I have currently found that will help you better understand what lies under the covers of most cryptocurrencies.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J-ab9was1p0

This first one is a great overview to give you an idea of blockchain and cryptocurrencies work. One of the key terms to get your mind around is a distributed ledger which this video covers well and how it works for cryptocurrency and other areas.

The next concept that is important to understand is cryptographic hash algorithms. The above video does explain this but for a much better deep dive into these take a look at this video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_160oMzblY8

The video does an excellent job of showing you in detail how a blockchain actually works.

Following on from that video, is this one by the same author:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xIDL_akeras

It helps you understand the concept behind public and private cryptographic keys and how they interact with the blockchain to make it secure and private using it as signatures.

This final video is a great overview that brings all the above together:

http://www.youtube.com/v/bBC-nXj3Ng4

If you watch all four videos in full I think you’ll have a much better idea of how blockchain and cryptocurrency works. Hopefully, that will make you a much more informed investor when it comes to investing in cryptocurrency going forward. However, I hope that it also makes you more aware of the major impact blockchain is going to have outside just cryptocurrencies. This was the real ‘ah ah’ moment for me when I began to fully appreciate the revolution that is going on here.

Of course, there are issues with the way that blockchain has been implemented via Bitcoin. One of these is it’s current in ability to scale as well as the dependency on ‘miners’. I’ll look at these issues in an upcoming article because they are being addressed in both an evolutionary and revolutionary way. That is, some are improving the existing Bitcoin blockchain while others are creating whole new blockchain technologies. Again, another reason I really enjoy this field, the amount of innovation that is taking place currently is amazing.

I’ll bet there are also plenty of other great explanation videos out there. If you have found one, please share it with me so I can add it my collection.

My software and services – 2018

Previously, I detailed the hardware that I used in my work:

My gear

In this article I’ll look at the software and services I use most.

To start with, I use Windows 10 Professional with the Fall Creators Update installed on all my desktop machines and Windows Storage Server 2008 on my WD Sentinel DX4000 NAS. I have upgraded all my immediate families machines to Windows 10 Fall Creators Update without any issues as well. I ensure that these machines are kept secure and up to date using Microsoft Operations Management Suite (OMS).

Unsurprisingly, I used Office 365 for things such as a email, OneDrive for Business, Skype, Office desktop software and the like. What maybe somewhat surprising is that, although I have access to a free Office 365 tenant from Microsoft as a partner, I don’t use this in production. I have a completely separate paid tenant for my business.

Why is that, you may ask? The main reason is that I use my Microsoft Office 365 tenant for demonstrations and testing. I don’t want production data appearing when I do demos to customers and prospects. Having to two separate tenants means complete separation of the data.

I am considering upgrading my production tenant in which all my family machines run to Microsoft 365 and connecting all the devices directly to Azure AD. This will provide far more control and functionality for all as well as making it easier for me to manage. I will however need to look at upgrading some Windows 10 Home edition machines to Windows 10 Professional before I undertake this, but I am pretty sure I’ll be moving this way in 2018.

I of course use all the standard Microsoft Office desktop software such as Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc however, the key application from the suite for me is OneNote. OneNote is my go to Swiss Army knife for just about everything digital. I use it to capture all sort of data. I even use it as a diary as I have detailed previous here:

One of the ways I use OneNote

The reason OneNote is key is because:

1. Just about everything I put in there us searchable

2. It is freely available across all platforms.

3. All my information is synced and accessible on all devices.

4. It is available on the web or offline if needed.

Another key service I use everyday along with Office 365 and OneNote is Azure. Typically, I use it for running up virtual machines that I test various things with but I also use it to backup my local data as well as that of other members of my family using Azure Backup.

Azure desktop backup

There is just so much that can be done with Azure. I haven’t even scratched the surface of what I could use it for. I see Azure becoming a larger and large part of what I do every day.

One of the changes that I have made in the last year to the way I use Azure is to implement nested virtualisation. This has allowed me to collapse an array of stand alone virtual machines into a single machine saving significant amounts of money as well as providing additional functionality.

I use Lastpass to keep my passwords and private information secure. It allows me to do things like generate and store unique passwords for each website that I sign up for. It is also available across all browsers on my machine (including Microsoft Edge).

For a subset of my local data that I wish to remain secure I use Truecrypt to create encrypted volumes. All my Windows 10 machines run with full disk encryption thanks to Bitlocker, but stuff like financial and customer data I keep inside Truecrypt volumes for that extra layer of security. I understand that Truecrypt is no longer maintained and may have some very minor security flaws, but for how and why I use it, it is more than adequate.

To capture my desktop for my online training academy or my YouTube channel I use Camtasia. I use SnagIt to capture screen shots and add highlights and emphasis to these. Snagit allows me to capture complete screens or specific areas quickly and easily.

To compose and publish blog articles I use Open Live Writer.

To keep track of where I spend my time on my desktops I use RescueTime.

For improved email productivity I use Microsoft FindTime and Boomerang.

For chat and web meetings I use Skype for Business from Office 365. I encourage anyone to connect up to me via my address =admin@ciaops365.com. Chat is generally always faster at resolving things than traditional email.

For protection, apart from the standard Windows 10 tools, I use Malware Bytes but find that Windows Defender provides excellent protection. However, the main weapon is keeping bad guys at bay is ensuring all my systems are up to date. Thanks to Windows 10 and Microsoft OMS I can do this easily.

Inside my browsers I typically have the following plugins:

Lastpass which provides automated insertion of web site credentials.

Nosili which provides productivity enhancement thanks to background sounds. My favourite is rain.

Pushbullet which connects alerts from my Android phone to my dekstop browser and allow me to share information easily between them.

GetPocket which allows me to save and categorise websites URLs, which I then typically read at a later time. Has its own dedicated mobile that I can use on any device.

The Great Suspender which puts unused tabs in Chrome to ‘sleep’ to save memory.

Windows 10 Accounts allows single sign in for Office 365 using Chrome.

I use the automation sites If This Then That and Zapier to automate many different tasks. A good example of one of these is automatically publishing to various social media sites. I am now using Microsoft Flow more and more for automation and I am looking to dive deeper using things like Azure Functions in 2018.

For my Office 365 and Azure email newsletters I use Mailchimp.

My preferred public social networks for business, in order are:

1. Twitter

2. Linkedin

3. Facebook

The Apowersoft software allows me to display both iOS and Android devices on my Windows desktop which is really handy for demonstrations and presentations.

I also use Yammer extensively but for more specialised roles and thus don’t consider it really a ‘public’ social network, more a private one.

YouTube is also something I use daily for business and pleasure. It use for both education and marketing as well as entertainment, thanks largely to the XBox YouTube app. As I have recently added an Xbox One S to my collection I can now use the Amazon Prime Video app to watch The Grand Tour during my downtime.

Another major ‘social’ tool I now use everyday is Microsoft Teams which I use with those inside the CIAOPS Patron program. I have an dedicated Team that is available externally to which all Patrons have access. In there we have separate channels for things like Azure, Microsoft 365 and even cryptocurrency. Thanks to Microsoft Teams there are additional resources back ending this like a SharePoint Team site which provides even greater functionality for CIAOPS Patrons.

I use a lot of other software and services but the above are the main ones I use pretty much everyday that I’m at my desk.

I am always looking for ways to improve my productivity and effectiveness with software and services. If you therefore have something you can recommend to me please don’t hesitate to let me know what it is.

Core Professional Skills

There are many things that you can develop to enhance your professional skills, but I believe the following four, in order, are what should be considered absolute core skills you need to develop and continue developing if you want to give yourself every opportunity in your profession.

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Cores Skill 1 = Reading

They say, “Leaders are readers” and I couldn’t agree more. The ability to digest and comprehend vast amounts of information is a key skill today. Personally, I probably spend more time reading per week than I spend doing anything else, including sleep.

I know many people don’t like to read and many don’t have the discipline to read but there’s the key point, reading is a form of mental training. It develops the skill of translating what someone else has written into something that you comprehend.

Reading is a skill. It is something you develop. It is isn’t something you are born with. The more that you do it the better you become. I would encourage you to read widely for a variety of sources both fiction and non-fiction, both for business and knowledge. You don’t have to start out reading ‘War and Peace’, just pick a topic you are interested in and start there. Look for reading recommendations from others. You can find mine here:

https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/708903-robert

I also can’t recommend an Amazon Kindle enough. The device is so convenient to use anywhere and a single charge lasts weeks. The Kindle service allows to read your books on any device and pick up where you last left off on any other device. Pure magic.

Now some people claim that reading takes too long or they don’t enjoy it so they prefer audio books. Yup, they are great but you are not exercising the same parts of the brain when you actually read something. I firmly believe that my enhanced ability to digest and absorb information comes from the amount of regular reading that I do.

So, read more.

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Core Skill 2 – Writing

Writing is the flip side of reading, it is the process of you communicating your thoughts to others. If you can’t express yourself in a manner that others can understand, then you are going to find the going tough.

Like reading, writing improves the more that you do it. Firing off a dozen or so emails everyday is not really exercising your writing skills. You need to spend more time and write long form. A great place for this is a blog like this one of mine.

My blog is place where I can ‘memory dump’ things out of my head into a form that I can retrieve and search later. Thus, initially it was a place to store my knowledge and avoid having to retain everything in my brain. I did this publically so other could potentially benefit from what I discovered. Over time, the way I wrote changed to be more about my audience that about me. I began to take more time to think about my target audience and what they needed to understand about the topic at hand. In short, I began to see writing as a craft.

Thus, I strongly recommend that you blog regularly. It is a great way to discipline yourself to write and write regularly. It is a great way to do documentation and importantly, it is a body of work that you can point to to demonstrate your knowledge and commitment to your profession. Case in point, my blog is now over 10 years old!

The majority of your writing time will probably be spent writing at a keyboard, however I do feel there is a place for using pen and paper still. I still really enjoy actually writing down and drawing stuff out. You may elect to do something like a daily journal or the like to get more practice. Technology tends to fail but a good ol’ pen and paper always work a treat in my books.

Writing improves your reading because you can read something and think you understand it but you’ll never know until you have to express it in your own words. Writing helps you understand where the gaps and weakness are in your knowledge which can only be improved via reading.

So, write more

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Core Skill 3 = Speaking

Reading is typically something you do solo. Writing is something you also do solo but you get more benefits when you make that writing public. Doing anything in front of others in public is nerve wracking and many can’t stand the thought. That alone should prompt you to understand that if you want to be one of the few then you need to do the stuff that few do. That means making your output public.

Doing anything in public is added pressure but the more times you do it the less the pressure becomes. If it was easy, then everyone would do it? If you want to be one of the few, you need to push yourself through the stress.

For the vast majority of people nothing is more stressful than public speaking. Why? Because you are now the center of attention. Everyone is looking to you to give them information. People fear making a mistake in from of others. You also need to get you point across to many different types of people, some who may be hostile, some who may not care. How do you do this successfully? In a word, you practice.

As the core skill of writing builds on reading so does speaking build on writing. Writing gives you all the time in the world to adjust and fix errors or omissions. Not so with speaking. There is also also the added fact of being under pressure and having to communicate clearly on the go.

Speaking as well is not a talent, it is a skill. A skill is something that can be learned and developed. It is something that can always be refined. It is really a skill that few professional people have however. How many people do you know that can stand up in front of any crowd and speak about almost any topic confidentially and get their message across to their audience? I don’t think many would spring to mind. That should illustrate how rare good public speaking is and how much in demand it is, because great ideas are useless unless they can be communicated to others.

in short, you can’t go wrong investing time and improving your speaking skills. It takes plenty of practice and dedication but it will pay off the more that you do it. One of the ways that I practiced my speaking was doing technical presentations at user groups, at training events and within other organisations. Another easy way is to make videos on your phone or computer, this will give you the benefit of many attempts before releasing something publically. There are also plenty of groups like Toastmaster that help you build your speaking skills.

Take the opportunity to speak when it is offered, there are so many benefits and you’ll establish yourself as one of the few with this unique skill.

So, speak more.

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Core skill 4 = Listening

Many would say that listening should be the first core skill you focus on, however, I suggest otherwise. I think that once you have become a skilled reader, writer and speaker you are better able to listen. People don’t listen well because they don’t take the time to hear what is being said (reading gives you that discipline). They also don’t take the time to actually understand what is being said (that is where writing helps). Finally, they miss the non-verbal signals the speaker sends (and that’s where speaking helps). Thus, if you develop your reading, writing and speaking skill as a priority you will become a better listener.

Even if you are proficient in the other core skills, learning to listen is a challenge and it is the hardest of the core skills to develop as it is all about consuming information that you don’t control and is being presented by a foreign source. Listening is also tough because you really can’t rewind and review like you can with reading, writing and to an extent speaking. If you miss a key piece, then you may miss the whole meaning. Listening is also something that most people need to do more of. As they say, we have two ears and only one mouth, thus we need to listen twice as much as we speak.

True, listening is something that requires real discipline to do well as it is does not just involve audio input. The manner and emotion with which it is delivered is also part of the message. Many would in fact say that this is the biggest part of the message.

The good thing about learning to listen is that it something that we do more than any of the core skills everyday. We are not only involved in business conversations but also personal ones, conversations with all different types of people fill our days so we get lost of opportunity to practice. The question is, do you take the opportunity to practice the skill of listening?

Next time you are in a business conversation, try to focus just on listening. Focus on trying to get the whole message. You’ll probably find it much harder than you thought but like al the other core skills mentioned here, the more you do it the easier and more comprehensive it becomes.

So, listen more.

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Practicing

So what’s the best way to practice all these core skills together? Teach. Yup, go out and start teaching others. Developing the course material will mean you have to read and write. Presenting the material will mean you have to speak and listen. Thus, there is no better way to polish all these skills to a high degree than to teach.

But it doesn’t stop there. You’ll need to continue to work at improving your core skills. The more you invest, the less work it will become. Initially, there will be big improvements as you grow your skills and over time you’ll only need to make minor tweaks but that is still an improvement.

Think about the last few times you have been a student or required to learn something. Was the teacher effective? Did you actually learn something new? Although many people stand up in front of others in business today, few have the ability to actually teach in the true sense of the word. Imagine the opportunities that would become available to you if you could teach and teach well. The sky’s the limit.

So start with the first core skill of reading and then progress through the rest in sequence. Continue to learn and improve and I can pretty much guarantee you that the more you invest the greater your returns will be and more in demand you will become professionally. Why? Because you now have skills that few others have and businesses are prepared to pay for rarity.

My Gear 2018

I haven’t changed lot of equipment in 12 months and you can read the full list here:

https://blog.ciaops.com/2017/01/my-gear.html

but there have been some additions:

Pixel XL Phone – An update to the Nexus 5 Android Phone that I had. I still have the Nexus 5 and use it for demos and testing while the new Pixel XL I use as my second phone. Yes, I am still using the Lumina 950 XL Windows phone as my primary phone.

The Pixel XL is a great phone, probably a little big for my liking but the small the form factor the smaller the screen. One of the major benefits of this phone is that it works with Android Auto directly in my daily drive. That means I can get Maps, Waze, Music and podcasts directly through the speakers in my car.

I have all the Microsoft apps installed on this device and connected to Office 365 and the work well. I especially like OneNote, which syncs all my information and keeps everything up to date. I’ve got an upcoming post on my apps coming soon, so to see what software I actually use on the phone stay tune.

iPod Touch – The reason I got this device is to be able to do testing and demos. I do already have an older iPad 2 but that is getting pretty slow and battered now. The iPod touch is small and easy to carry anywhere and allows screen sharing when directly connected. Best part? It was far cheaper than having to buy an actual iPhone.

XBox S – I only recent added this to my collection of XBox devices so I haven’t had a lot of time to play with it yet. I know it has the latest and greatest when it comes to the XBox world so I am looking forward to deep diving into what this device can do. The main reason I actually use my Xbox devices is to watch videos from Microsoft either on YouTube or Channel 9. Of course, I don’t mind playing a few games like Call of Duty or Forza but by far the majority of use the Xbox’s get is streaming technical content.

Saving attachments to SharePoint

One challenge when moving your files and folders to the cloud is working with attachments, because now you want to save and retrieve them from this location. The good thing is that if you have the latest version of Outlook on your desktop then this is pretty simple.

In this article I’ll show you how to save attachments directly to SharePoint Online.

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So let’s say you received an email, like the above, with a few attachments that you want to get into SharePoint Online. If you open the email and select the Attachment Tools tab at the top of the page as shown, you’ll see you have a number of Upload options in the Save to Cloud section of the Ribbon menu.

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You can also right mouse click on the attachment and see the same Upload options in the menu that appears.

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When you select the Upload option you’ll be presented with a number of different cloud locations into which you can save this file. These locations are dependent on the account items you have configured for Outlook. If you are an Office 365 user then you should see your own OneDrive for Business and some Office 365 Groups.

To display all the SharePoint Online options select the More… option at the bottom of the list.

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This will then show you all the Office 365 Groups that also have a SharePoint Team Site tied to them. This list will also include any Microsoft Teams you have created. Unfortunately, you won’t see any “pure” SharePoint Team Sites here, just ones connected to Office 365 Groups. Hopefully, we’ll get that ability down the track.

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Once you select your destination, here the Support group, the attachment will be saved into the root of the Documents library as shown above.

It would be nice if we got the ability to select from the different Document Libraries within the SharePoint Site and/or subfolders but for now at least we can get the file into a Team Site. Once the file has been saved you could then use something like Microsoft Flow to route the document elsewhere within the site or you could just move it manually if desired. You could also set up an automatic email alert in SharePoint to notified people that a new file has arrived.

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When you return to the email you will see that the attachment now has a small cloud icon next to and the word “Saved” to indicate it is stored online.

So a pretty straight forward process for saving attachments in emails directly to SharePoint Online. There are some limitations in the process in that it can only save to SharePoint locations created with Office 365 Groups or Teams and that it currently only saves into the default Document Library within the Team Site but there are ways to overcome these if desired. Hopefully, we’ll see these abilities included in the near future as well to provide additional flexibility. However, it is now very easy to get attachments directly into Office 365 from Outlook.