Song 2

The cement floor was not really the color of any cement she’d ever seen. It looked like a vat of maple syrup had been dumped onto the concrete and allowed to harden to shellac. It gleamed under the soft glow of gigantic light fixtures that dangled from cords so skinny they look like they’d snap any second. A pair of fans with massive wooden blades whooshed overhead. Black piping made up the framing of everything from the shelves on the wall, to the retail displays, to the record bins. Behind an endless counter wrapped is brushed aluminum, a pair of hip-looking twenty-something pixies were chatting about something. There were numerous glass display cases set into the face of the counter offering everything from funky jewelry, to crazy stickers, to glass pot pipes. 

Is it legal for them to sell those here? Sam wondered.  

Throughout the space, there were artifacts like lava lamps, old concert posters, and vintage stereo gear—mostly headphones and boomboxes—scattered about. But the pièce de ré·sis·tance was easily a stack of silver stereo components that seemed to be bolstering half the rear wall. Sam counted them—nine components in the stack plus a turntable on either side. Each component and turntable rested on its own shelf thus making the entire rig at least eight feet high. Two sets of identical speakers, also on their own shelves, were situated vertically on either side of the turntables. 

Above the massive reel-to-reel player, which crowned the stack, was a brilliant neon sign that read: “Pioneer Stereo”. Amazingly, the entire stack was lit up with meters bouncing to the song currently playing on the PA system. The whole thing looked like a satellite with the dueling stacked speakers acting as the solar panels attached to the big main silver unit by the turntables on either side. It was a spectacle to behold, it was a delight to hear. 


Excerpt from All or Nothing Girl, the forthcoming novella from Blake Charles Donley

You’re a Friend of Mine

Brandon, in his tighty whities, and I just sat and watched as Leo scrubbed in a fury. He never once looked at us or acknowledged our efforts—good or bad. He would never discover that the ceiling was wiped clean of green paint. He would go on thinking that the damage was limited to the carpet. That Brandon not only masterminded the initial disaster recovery plan, managed to remove all traces of green from the ceiling, and sacrificed himself to deliver the news, was indicative of the man he would become: a most useful man. He would be useful in many—at times unimaginable—ways over the course of our brotherhood. And he would surpass Leo and me in handy-mandedness, gregarious-naturedness, and big-heartedness. He would be the go-to guy for throngs of others who were drawn into his irresistible orbit—Leo and I included.


Excerpt from Finding Fidelity, the forthcoming novel from Blake Charles Donley

Santa Claus Is Coming to Town

As I approached the Goodwill in Plymouth, a flamboyant tempera mural was chalked up on the glass facade. It featured a Christmas tree with presents tucked underneath. According to the painted banner winding across the glass panel, my gift on this day was to be the “Christmas in July Sale!” Even more so than used car lots, pool and spa superstores, and shady characters hocking mattresses from the back of semi trailers, thrift stores took advantage of any opportunity to have a sale. This made complete fiscal sense when your inventory was essentially free.

As I entered, I was greeted by Carl, who was wearing a shabby looking Santa hat.
“Merry Christmas!” He barked as I walked toward the pile of blue shopping baskets.
“Merry Christmas,” I halfheartedly echoed, as I smirked at him dubiously.

Right down to his name, Carl bore an eerie resemblance to every junior high shop teacher ever. He wore black horn-rimmed glasses, which marvelously accented his crew cut gray hair. He was short, slim, and wiry. He wore sensible shoes and seemed like a sensible fella. His sole concession to an alter ego rock-star persona, was the gray soul patch nestled just below his lower lip. I couldn’t picture him without it, however.

Any time I ended up at his register, he’d comment on each record I’d chosen.
“That’s a good one!”
“I don’t know this one?”
“Man, this one brings back memories!”

These were but a few of his stock assessments. He especially loved anything from the late ’50s and early ’60s. I’m pretty sure he knew both the Everly and Righteous brothers personally. From what I had gathered, he wanted to know Nancy Sinatra biblically. He’d seen Elvis play Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor Michigan at the show that would ultimately end up on the Moody Blue album. But his favorite artist of all time was easily Roy Orbison. He knew everything there was to know about the man—he was an Orbison savant.

I’d never entertained the prospect of hanging out with the various characters who worked the thrift store circuit. Most were quirky, strange, or just flat out freaks. They were the carnies of retail. But it seemed like talking Orbison with Carl over a few beers at the lackluster sports bar across the street might be a smashing way to kill a weekend afternoon.


Excerpt from Finding Fidelity, the forthcoming novel from Blake Charles Donley

Prologue

The console and stereo was positioned along the rear wall of the cork wallpapered family room. It faced the back of the endless brown davenport, leaving just enough room for single-file passage between them. My father had deposited the records along the back side of the davenport. As he eased himself onto the ground with a large crate between his legs, I dropped what I was doing and sat next to him.

He flipped past dozens of record jackets and stopped at one with a man sticking his thumb up. The man’s thumb was painted like an American flag. I recall being struck by this now-indelible image. My father uttered some profane exclamation of glee and quickly unsleeved the record to examine it. After a minute of holding it at various angles and blowing on it a few times, he lifted the Plexiglass cover of his turntable and put the record on post in the center. As he flipped a number of switches on the various brushed aluminum components, a calm voice pierced the silence…”A long, long time ago…”. As my dad leaned against the back of the davenport, he closed his eyes and began to sing along. I quickly moved closer and gazed at him as he sang. This moment seemed to last forever. As an eight-year-old, nine minutes and twenty-four seconds was an eternity.

That song that ended my innocent enthusiasm for nursery rhymes, Sesame Street anthems, and the seminal children’s feel-good record: Free to Be You and Me, the song that ushered me into the great wide world of adult music, the song that popped my aural cherry was Don McLean’s magnum opus: “American Pie”.  I would be the song that altered the course of my life.

But for me, sitting next to my father hearing it for the first time, this would not be the day the music died. Paradoxically, it would be the day my melodic odyssey was born. From this day forward, songs would become an acoustic chronicle of my earthly adventure.  A deeper appreciation of music would be the impetus for a pursuit that would nearly bankrupt me, a pastime that would often allay the disquiet of my journey, and a passion that would truly save my mortal soul. Throughout the remainder of my days, music would be that one true friend—proving its fidelity time after time.

 —
Excerpt from Finding Fidelity, the forthcoming novel from Blake Charles Donley

Diamonds and Rust

I often found myself amid things that people had used up and among used up people’s things. Regardless of which thrift store I approached, there was a noticeable dinge that marred nearly everything from the parking lot to the display racks to the merchandise. Other than the sporadic “new old stock” item still unopened from its heyday in some more quaint and benevolent version of the modern day big-box store, most items had been reduced to ragged castoffs. There was the bin of random cords: AC adapters with nothing to power, various non-standard lengths of coaxial cable bound with masking tape, and a dozen nearly obsolete 24-pin adapters of every conceivable configuration. There was the dusty catch-all shelf where every unpaired, mismatched, and friendless dumbbell, ankle weight, and sauna suit—top or bottom, never both—was exiled. Then there were the shelves of occasionally warped, sometimes moldy, but always dusty LPs—the flame to my moth.

I could easily overlook all of the somewhat-functional electronics, half-used personal care products, and chipped brick-a-brack, because there were records. And regardless of the condition of the outer jacket and inner sleeve, vinyl records were nearly indestructible. You could rescue a vinyl record just like you could rescue a stray dog: with a bath (a dip in the SpinClean MKII), a trim (removing any gluey price stickers), some medication (a Windex wiped down to remove any mold) and a bit of love (repairing split seams and new protective sleeves).

Despite the general air of dinginess and aroma of discarded fabric—half of any thrift store inventory, thus I assume half of all donations, was clothing—there was something utterly soothing about stuff that used to clutter the lives of others; stuff that was pre-loved. Unlike the blight of cheaply made $1 goods that greets shoppers at many major retailers, the thrift store contained mainly durable goods. No item that had outlived its previous caretaker could be considered anything less. As for the items that were orphaned prematurely, at least they had survived the “burn in” period.

Some abandoned stock was special, however. It came from a different era; a time when craftsmanship was the rule not the exception. As I mingled around late ’70s silver era HiFi components, dumbbells made of actual iron, and vintage tools that had put in a lifetime or three of hard labor, I was awash in reverence. People used to care about the stuff they made and made stuff people cared about. Today, everything is made to be discarded within the season. This presents a most arduous paradox as there is greater-than-ever penchant for weathered, worn, and rustic objects, yet nothing is engineered to last long enough to accumulate authentic wear and tear.  A bizarre outcome of this disposable culture is the manufacturing of items that appear aged but are in fact brand new. Faux patina, distressed finishes, and counterfeit rust are the new tricks of the trade. Graceful deterioration is as obsolete as durability itself. Only at the thrift store can you find sturdy old things.

There is a clipboard that hangs on a bent nail in my basement. The metal clip at the top is rusted and creaks when depressed. The board itself is quarter-inch-thick wood that had been stained and varnished. It had clearly served outdoors in a previous lifetime. In my mind, it hung on a nail on the inside of a barn door. It held the list of chores, which marshaled a brood of farm kids through their daily responsibilities. Early each morning, over a cup of steaming coffee, a farmer sat at a small wooden table scratching out the day’s toils on a sheet of paper torn from a notebook. Just before he suited up to face the frosty morning air, he grabbed the list. As he entered the barn, he grabbed the clipboard with one calloused meaty hand and depressed the clip with the opposite palm—up went the list. The farmer then disappeared into the barn.

Thirty minutes later, the first of his six children stumbled toward the barn to peer up at the list with bleary eyes. Each drowsy cherub scanned the list for his name. Once he found it and memorized his marching orders, he hung the clipboard back on the nail and stumbled into the barn. This ritual was repeated five additional times each day, hundreds of times each month, thousands of times a year, for years. The farm prospered, the children grew, and the clipboard endured. Depending on the season, the clipboard would inevitably be dropped onto the frozen, muddy, or parched earth. Depending on the prevailing mood, the clipboard would be hung carefully, clumsily, or sternly back on the nail. Depending on the weather, the clipboard would be subject to persistent dampness, blinding sun, and every temperature from below zero thru beyond oppressive. And yet it endured—reliable as the land itself.

The only remnant of the original finish remained on the middle of the board where a sheet of notebook paper barely shielded it from the elements. It was a shadowy reminder of a previous lifetime and the ghosts that once inhabited it. This was the best thing about my clipboard: it bore the scars of real life, and it was built of memories as much as wood and metal. As it hung in my basement next to my desk reminding me to gather paperwork for Tax Day, to pick up my dry cleaning, or what to purchase my kids for Christmas, it gathered only dust and new memories.

In thrift store after thrift store, day after day, I explored these neo-ancient artifacts. Often times, just the approach from the parking lot elevated my mood. The anticipation of discovery was a sublime agitation. Once inside these labyrinths lousy with the past, every new aisle was rife with possibility. All of the shelves were brimming wondrous congestion. Each garish fossil like an orphaned pet looking for a home…again. At any given moment, I could uncover an impossible treasure or something magnificent from the past. One day it was the fantastic clipboard that surely came from a farm. The next day it might be a wicked lava lamp with neon orange goo inside. On my best days, it was an armload of sweet vinyl records that I would save and then savor.

This confluence of mystery and possibility was unique to thrift stores with their ever-churning stock of discarded goods. Thanks to my father, I was a jaded veteran of second-hand venues. Flea markets and swap meets tended to be divided evenly between new shiny tchotchkes, dubious collectibles and gimmicks like custom-made wood signs, hand-made jewelry, and artisanal bread spreads. Antique stores were bloated with haughty goods that carried presumptuous price tags. Online auction sites were devoid of the charm and visceral experience of ogling and fondling inanimate objects—you were resigned to window shopping in the most virtual sense. I had experienced them all and found that only the lowly thrift store presented the diligent scavenger with endless opportunity.


Excerpt from Finding Fidelity, the forthcoming novel from Blake Charles Donley

Say Goodbye to Hollywood

In any corporate setting, there were seven deadly sins you could commit. In our little world of corporate bliss, these sins were committed regularly, often with callous disregard for privacy, decency, and humanity.

By far, the greatest of these—the 1st deadly sin—was touching another’s laptop screen or computer monitor. There was nothing more unnerving than demonstrating something for a colleague and watching them lunge toward the screen with an outstretched index finger. Whenever this happened, I’d recoil in horror. As their greasy digit jetted toward my pristine LCD surface, I’d secretly pray the offender would pull up just shy of the surface and hover in their effort to literally point something out. A few of my MVTS cohorts did have the good manners and good sense not to fondell screens. And one of my colleagues routinely used her fake nails to tap my screen. Although still a technically a sin, I could forgive her, because her nails left nary a smudge.

“The touchers” had become a well-worn inside joke between Jules and me. Since she was the colleague most likely to be drawing her pointy finger to clarify something, and vice versa, it was a relief that she too understood the sanctity of the screen. I shudder to think what would have become of our work marriage if she was a serial screen molester.

Unfortunately, there was a notorious toucher who routinely visited our cubes. She was a business analyst with whom we regularly collaborated. She rarely visited just one of us. Whenever the toucher was in Jules’ cube, likely marring her screen with all manner of fingerprint graffiti, all I could think was please don’t come to my cube, please don’t come to my cube… But my prayers were often in vain. Inevitably, the toucher would sashay into my cube and proceed to drag her evil greasy flesh pencil all over my monitor. At times, she’d do a press-and-drag with such intensity that she’d distort the colors displayed on the monitor. After she’d leave, Jules and I would shut off the display on our monitors and compare the carnage. We’d try to determine who suffered the more brutal drive-by fingering. Often our screens would look like they’d been left out in a garden laying screen up and vandalized by a gang of advancing slugs. After a consensus was reached on who got more aggressively fingered, we’d head to the copy room for some monitor wipes to mop up the damage.

The 2nd deadly sin was whistling. Pursing your lips to make a shrill melodic stain on the pristine white noise of the corporate catacombs was tantamount to laying down a thunderous fart in church. Whistling had no place in an office. Whistling had no place anywhere else for that matter. In fact, the only acceptable whistling I was aware of was in the opening minute of the Scorpion’s classic anti-Communism anthem “Winds of Change”.

Beyond the shrill disruptive force whistling inevitably exerted on the eardrums of anyone within earshot, it was one step away from signing out loud, or playing a flute. It always struck me that everyone hates it when someone whistles, even other whistlers. So why does anyone whistle? Despite what the seven dwarfs believed, no one should whistle while they work.

We had a pair of whistlers at MVT. Both were older gentleman who clearly felt entitled to impose their melodic wills on us all. One of these oral bandoleros mainly whistled in the restroom. I always felt he did this, because he didn’t want to disturb the rest of his cube mates. Did he love whistling so much, that he just had to cut loose whenever he was in the restroom? Did stifling his urge to whistle throw him into a whistling fit every time he had to cut a whizz? Like alcoholism or drug addiction, does this unquenchable desire to whistle secretly afflict so many? I was thinking that MVT needed a whistling room akin to the designated smoking areas on the back patio. This would solve two problems. First, no one, except other whistlers, would be subjected the infernal jubilation. Second, if all of these whistling fools were in the same space whistling away, maybe they’d finally understand how fucking annoying it was.

The 3rd deadly sin was clipping your nails at work. Like whistling, the noise of the two clipper blades closing on the nail—launching it into orbit on an unpredictable trajectory—was cringeworthy. The racket of a cubicle mani aside, there was the distinct possibility that the remnant of fingernail would land outside the boundaries of the clipper’s cubicle. Why anyone would leave small remnants of themselves scattered all over their workspace would forever baffle me.

Jules shared a cube wall with our area’s nail tech. Every time the high-pitched clipping noise would emanate from over her wall, she’d stand up and execute the universal charades maneuver for gagging. In fact, any time she even mentioned nail clipping, she’d pretend to stick her finger down her throat and screw up her face. She was easily the most onuxophobic person I knew. Our clipper was neat and meticulous, however. I mentioned to Jules that I did manage to catch him clipping one time, and he was bent over launching nail bits into his waste basket. She was not impressed, she screwed up her face and acted out a full body retching.

The 4th deadly sin—mainly a male infraction—was failing to wash your hands after pissing. As the classic cartoon aptly illustrates, if someone was willing to handle their package, then forego the trip to the sink, they were basically walking around with a cock where their hand once was. If a handshake was in order, I might as well shake his junk. If I was next up to use the conference room laptop and mouse after Dick Dapper, I might as well drag his package all over the mousepad. If I was up to use the conference room phone after Cocky McClean, I might as well dial his unit. If I had to open the break room fridge after Mr. Pristine Prick, I might as well grab his penis and give it a gentle tug.

The 5th deadly sin was making microwave popcorn in the break room. Sitting in a 12′ x 12′ space filled with the aroma of radiated chemical sludge that causes popcorn to pop inside of a sealed bag inside of a sealed microwave was no break. In fact, being overcome by synthetic butter fumes in a break room was nearly as treacherous as sealing yourself inside of a shower while scrubbing the grout with bleach and a toothbrush. And just like the noxious aroma of bleach, microwave popcorn stank could linger for days.

We had a gal on our floor who was on a “popcorn diet”. As far as I could tell, this required that she exchange her normal lunch with a sack of the toxic corn. Her diet was making the break room uninhabitable for a few hours each day to poor air quality. While this regimen was doing very little for her waistline, it was doing plenty to build resentment. So much so, that it spawned a dark fantasy deep in my psyche.

As I caught her marching down the hall with her packet of popcorn, I would follow her into the break room. As she pushed the door release on the microwave to insert the WMD, I’d violently intercept it. When she turned, startled, I would slap her across both cheeks with it, throw it on the floor, and stomp it to death with my wingtip. I would scrape the obliterated bag and neon-orange goo from the floor and my shoe, wave it in her face and yell, “Pop this bitch!” I’d throw it into the microwave and slam the door. Then, I would turn and exit quietly, leaving her to contemplate the aftermath of her daily chemical weapons assault.

The 6th deadly sin was also an olfactory offense. On one end of the spectrum there were the ladies who dabbed on a bit too much perfume and their counterparts who splashed on a bit too much aftershave or cologne. On the other end were the mostly men who opted for the au naturel aroma of Eau de B.O. There was a scale of acceptable stink in any corporate setting, and the goal was to stink right in the middle. These two extremist groups stunk to high heaven and like hell, respectively.

There were numerous days when I trudged up the stairs to my cubicle, not with some double-stepper eating my ass, but with the fragrance ghost of the woman preceded me. If you can leave a fragrance ghost of yourself in a stairwell, for any length of time, maybe take it easy a bit with the Bath & Body Works holiday gift basket.

Then there was the rare dude who could mark an entire stairwell with his bracingly sweet scent. I always wondered if these dudes forgot they were accounting clerks, because they smelled like male models strutting the catwalk at fashion week in Paris. The universal cologne of the accounting clerk was Ivory soap, not Eternity for men.

While the over-scented could slap your face with their aroma, the unscented could smack you upside the head. I often wondered if the two dudes on our floor with chronic B.O. just couldn’t find a deodorant strong enough to keep their organic aroma at bay, or they just didn’t bother with hygiene at all. Regardless, everyone suffered as a result. It struck me that these folks clearly couldn’t smell themselves. What a super power that was, as they were kryptonite for the rest of us.

The 7th deadly sin was PowerPoint. Not the most egregious, but easily the most insidious of the lot, PowerPoint presentations were a punch line in and of themselves. And yet nary a meeting transpired without someone launching into a deck of mind-numbing slides. The same people who’d dive for their phones when a PowerPoint deck was projected onto a conference room screen would show up at the next meeting only to launch into their own presentation. PowerPoint presentations were like family reunions: everyone loathed them, yet no one dared skip them. Nearly all PowerPoint presentations started with an apology. If nothing else, at least the presenters were honest.


Excerpt from Finding Fidelity, the forthcoming novel from Blake Charles Donley

Friday 9/29 – We’re doing it all wrong, I’m pretty sure



Blake’s Takes…

This is the capstone entry for the extravaganza that was Microsoft Ignite 2017. First, top five observations…

  1. GRE should have had about a dozen people here. I realize that such mass attendance is not realistic, but the information that I was able to absorb myself (approximately 0.09% of all the information presented at this conference) pertains to every group in IT. The exception being the telecom folks and the possibly the PMs. 
  2. Microsoft blew me away! I’ve likely been to 20+ conferences in my 22-year IT career–this one was in a league of its own. 
  3. Microsoft is rolling out new features based on community feedback at a rate no other technology company is going to be able to match. At their current pace, Microsoft will put all of the vendors on the Expo floor out of business within five years by incorporating and improving the services they are currently hawking into the Microsoft 365 platform.
  4. Nearly every aspect of this event was done with a level of thoughtful professionalism that I couldn’t help admire, envy really. There is a chasm between Oracle and Microsoft in terms of forethought, strategy, and ability to execute.
  5. And most importantly, we’re doing it wrong.

What Did We Do?

It is understandable that when we set out to move from one ECM platform to another, we used history as our guide.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
–George Santayana

Sure, but…

I’ve got news for Mr. Santayana: we’re doomed to repeat the past no matter what. That’s what it is to be alive.
–Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

And so we set out to build a an information taxonomy in SharePoint based on the GRE org chart; just like we’ve always done; just like in OCS. Except, if we use past adoption/use/success of OCS/CTD/ETC as a gauge, it would appear we are again striving for mediocrity by taking the approach everyone is expecting.

This is illustrated by my presentation to senior staff last year. I showed them the Transmission Contracts migration in SharePoint and the chief “innovation” I touted was better search capabilities. In essence, we copied what we had in OCS (down to the metadata fields), moved it to SP, and announced that the search would be better.

Honestly, if we did deliver a better search experience, it would be a welcomed “innovation” from the user community, and we all would have marked this as “mission accomplished”.

Well, it turns out MS365 is so much more than enhanced search, so, much, more. And it’s possible that we will not achieve MS365 greatness at GRE to the same extent other companies will/have. But if we roll out what we piloted for transmission contracts, we’re not even trying. And that’s not just my humble opinion, it’s a lead pipe cinch.

What Should We Do?

Gang, I’m here to tell you that the world of Microsoft Three Six Five, the one that Most closely aligns with where Microsoft will drive future vision, strategy, and enhancements, starts with the Groups tile. This was the clearest message throughout the conference. It perfectly aligns with my idea of a personal dashboard approach (as opposed to a corporate taxonomy/portal) I have been pitching since the release of the new UI Collaboration and Communication sites, but it’s more centralized (in a decentralized way) than that.

Conventional wisdom dictates that IT knows best when it comes to technology. But when it comes to this idea of enterprise collaboration…

  • content management
  • digital asset management
  • portals
  • search
  • chat
  • wikis
  • blogs
  • social
…users already know more than IT. 
The consumer web experience…
  • Dropbox
  • Google
  • Facebook
  • YouTube
  • Spotify
  • Instagram/Snapchat
  • Pintrest
  • Yelp
  • eBay/Amazon
  • TripAdviser
  • OpenTable
  • AirBnB
  • Uber/Lyft
  • Goodreads
  • the list goes on forever
…is light years ahead of the corporate web experience. And it has been that way for a while now. In fact when users come into work each day, it’s not unlike stepping back in time, like a “Back to the 50’s” weekend when it comes to technology.
And that’s understandable to a certain extent. As much as I advocate for anarchy in my personal life, as a member of the IT staff, it’s not that appealing in a corporate setting with technology and data and all. And that is where this whole idea of MS365 comes in–that is what the entire Microsoft cloud experience will be branded as in the forthcoming weeks.
So the idea behind MS365 is that (nearly) every conceivable tool required for a knowledge worker to do the vast majority of his/her job is available on one platform. And from what I’ve seen all week, this is not a clever marketing campaign, a cool theory, or vaporware.
The starting point for any knowledge worker using the MS365 platform is the Teams tile. Why? Because as it turns out, people mainly work in teams–structured and unstructured–shocking, I know!!! I’d like to think that whatever Randy Carlson, Sloan Carlson, Natasha Peterson, or Lauri Petersen is doing is very fascinating and of much interest to me. In reality, I’m mainly interested in what Joe’l and Tammy are doing. That is my structured “team”. They are the ones with whom I exchange the vast majority of information (80%) required for me to do my job. The other 20%, I’ll find via search on the various other team collab sites.
Now I am on other teams to be sure. I’m interested in what the Adept folks are doing. It would be great if we had a team that functioned as an Adept COE. I’d totally join that team! I’d share procedures, tips and tricks, and whatever else made sense with that team. But I’d likely visit it on an as-needed basis as opposed to a day-to-day basis. It would be informational rather than operational.
When it’s all said and done, I may end up a member of a dozen or so teams. And that would serve me for the vast majority of information I need to do my job. My personal dashboard would show those teams as well as the associated collaboration/communication group sites and salient content. The entire experience would be built around the individual; it would start there; it should start there.
I truly believe that this is the future of content management and collaboration in the corporate setting, mainly because this future is now in the consumer setting. And we can surely continue to follow the age-old, highly-structured, taxonomy-driven approach. But if statistics are any indication–Google Analytics specifically–that approach only drives users to find other more flexible and functional options for content management and collaboration. And if Microsoft is to be believed, we’d be doing it wrong…again.



Thursday 9/28 – Accelerate productivity with search and discovery in SharePoint and Office 365

Official Description…

Effective search and discovery needs to know what information that is relevant to you, your colleagues, the work you do and your context right now. Find out how we have used insights across Microsoft 365 to create such a personalized search experience. A new search UX has been developed focusing on simplicity and performance enabling the user to quickly interact with a more personal and semantic organization of data. Find out how search now also supports multi-national corporations and all the improvements inside the Microsoft Graph. Also learn about the roadmap for enterprise search in SharePoint and Office 365 for new experiences, and the convergence of FAST and Bing search innovations.

Slides: <link>

Blake’s Takes…

The presenter is advocating for using the SharePoint tile as your starting point for all of MS365. Search is being engineered with a lot of AI to “learn” how you use it and customize and fine tune your experience.

Searching for people will soon bring back results based not only on their AD information, but on the activities they’ve being doing inside of MS365 (documents updated, groups accessed, etc.). The use case was that you heard a colleague was working on a travel document that you wanted to look at, but you don’t know the title other than it probably contains the word “travel”. They demonstrated how it would found faster by searching on the colleague’s name rather than a generic search for “travel”. It came up as the first result for that person under files.

The search preview has been further refined in that it does not leverage the native app to preview a document. Instead, it brings up a viewer with full application capabilities but no hassle of openeing the file in the native application…

So the Graph is the key to everything cool. It is heavily leveraged for search improvements…

The search they are designing is an enterprise search only if we are able to drive the users work tasks into MS365. Then, all of that becomes discoverable–the enterprise becomes discoverable.

The presenter is covering the difference between consumer search (Google, Yahoo, Bing) and enterprise search (where no one can find anything). So consumer search is all about popularity. Enterprise search may not be best if it’s based only on popularity, because corporate content isn’t exactly “popular”.

MS search is shifting from matching and popularity to \people and behavior. Also, scannability of search results is a focus. Other features being refined are search within and scoped (faceted) search.

Rich people driven search results are sourced from Delve profiles. The more of the profile that is filled in, the richer the results.

Visual Content Intelligence – indexing of special content (images specifically) by extracting text or context and making the data available via search. This will be an upcoming feature. This might be totally groovy for PDF drawings.

The example they gave was of a scanned receipt that had “Ribeye” on it. The presenter recalled having a really great ribeye steak, but couldn’t remember the name of the restaurant. She searched on “ribeye” and found the receipt, which had the restaurant listed.

Again, they are stressing the office.com experience. The new search features are available there as well as in the O365.

Here is a cool MS Graph graphic…

Multi-GEO search is also a new feature that we’ll never use. It is important for companies that are global and have data residency regulations.

The much anticipated future of search slide:

But seriously, they are REALLY focusing on search. I still feel like search, especially enterprise search, is the killer app in this heaping pile of apps.

Thursday 9/28 – Learn best practices for SharePoint site owners

Official Description…

For SharePoint site owners provisioning a site is only the start.  Come learn all the best practices for managing your SharePoint team sites including how to get started, drive and measure engagement, and manage access.

Slides: <link>

Blake’s Takes…
This was a full on demo walking us through the steps of creating a modern UI SP collaboration site. The focus was on document libraries and lists.
On document libraries…
  • Pin most important document, so that those documents appear at the top of the list.
  • Pinned documents can be unpinned if they are no longer “important”
  • Quick view allows mass metadata updates
  • Create views for quicker access to focused content
  • Making site columns/metadata required prevents users from adding content w/o filling out metadata
  • There is a view called “Files That Need Attention” that brings up files with missing required metadata
Site Contents > Site Usage – gives you analytics for the specific site.
So in an effort to test this outside of the GRE VPN network, I have learned that you need to be connected to VPN to access SharePoint, as this URL is hit during thet login process: https://sso.grenergy.com/idp/fBNbe/resume/idp/prp.ping. Obviously, w/o being VPN connected, that fails…
This is sort of an issue for our claim of “access anywhere”, right?

Thursday 9/28 – Manage Office 365 more effectively: What’s new in Office 365 administration

Official Description…

The last year has been an exciting year for Office 365 admins. Office 365 administration has been evolving at a rapid pace, making more features and functionality available to admins on an almost daily basis. Attend this demo-heavy session to learn about improved capabilities that make it easier, and more efficient for you to manage Office 365.

Slides: <link>

Blake’s Takes…

So a REALLY long analogy is being unrolled between the Nokia 6021 and O365 administration. And the punch line was predictable: phones evolved, O365 administration tools evolve. Like we’re seven minute into this, and the presenter is still working the phone analogy.

There is a feature to “offboard” a user with one click. This effectively blocks access to all O365 assets (Outlook, OneDrive, etc.). In addition, the blocked user’s O365 assets can be partitioned out to other users for clean-up, content recovery, or whatever.

Just out of curiosity, I wonder how this will be handled at GRE? Who? It gets into the realm of everything in O365. When we move Outlook to the cloud, this will have to be addressed.

“Metadata is super valuable” – why? The degree of random hyperbole at this conference is spectacular.

According to Microsoft’s research, forcing users to change passwords every 90 days actually reduces security. When users have to come up with new passwords on a regular basis, they make poor choices for passwords, because they choose something easy to remember. When users don’t have to change their passwords, they choose better (and harder to hack) passwords. Interesting…

They are continuing to hammer home the idea that the entire MS 365 experience should start in Teams. They just added Teams stats into the site usage reports. THey will be available to everyone in about two weeks.

The site usage stats can be anonymized, so that stats do not list users by name, They are again touting the “Report Reader” role to give access to the site usage reports in the admin center w/o being granted the admin role.

The new Office 365 Usage Analytics functionality is coming in Q1 of 2018. It is considerably more robust than what is available today. Instead of just surfacing statistics, it surfaces concepts like adoption, popularity, activities. It looks pretty fantastic and useful for all the analytics we’d ever need.

There is also an API for MS Graph data if we wanted to create custom analytics.

There is a health notification email service being launched. We can opt in now if we want.

They are also revamping their release updates in the admin message center. “Major” updates will be called out in large boxes at the top of the list of updates.

So they have a thing called the Office 365 Training Center. It looks rather promising as a training resource for our users.

They also just launched the Microsoft Virtual Academy. It contains free training for the geekier folks.

They both look quite useful, I have to admit.

The all-important roadmap…