NW Chicago JavaScript Meetup: Setting Your Data Ablaze with Firebase – June 21

On June 21st PSCGroup will be hosting the NorthWest Chicago JavaScript Meetup in our offices from 6-8:30pm

This month’s speaker is a lecturer at Northwestern, the awesome Mark Thompson

For more information check out the Meetup site



PSC Tech Talk: AI in Action – Azure Cognitive Language Services

In this short but interesting presentation Mark Roden and Jalal Benali talked about how they had used Azure Cognitive Language Services (Translation API) to elegantly solve a client’s need to have their intranet available in multiple languages across multiple territories.


One of PSC’s clients has sites in multiple countries and as part of their intranet consolidation they wanted to provide a manner by which their corporate messages could be translated for the various countries/languages. The intranet was hosted on DotNetNuke CMS system and needed to be configurable, flexible and above all easy to use for the business. The business had looked at publicly available services like Google translate, but determined that on a private intranet site, they did not want any corporate information being taken outside of their control.

Azure Cognitive Language Services Translation API was selected as the solution because it is secure, private, easy to use and surprisingly flexible when it comes to converting web based content.


PSC created a custom module for DotNetNuke (DNN) which allowed content managers to create translated versions of the data at the click of a button. The solution was tied into the out of the box language capabilities of DNN whereby the languages available to the user for translation were those enabled in the DNN core configuration. In this manner if a new site, in a new country was purchased, the administrators need only turn on the new language for it to become available.

Because the Azure translations need to be reviewed for accuracy by a local admin in-country, PSC created the ability to have the new message held back for administrative approval. Once approved it is then published on the appropriate language version of the intranet.

Once the translations were created the global administrators would be able to monitor which ones were then subsequently modified by the local content manager. In this manner content corrections from the original English would not necessarily be translated and overwritten onto the newly corrected translated versions.


  • The number of characters which can be translated at any one time is 10,000
  • No automated translation will be perfect, but for normal conversational English we found it to be better than we expected. For technical documentation the results were not as successful.
  • Some languages were better than others on the accuracy when they were reviewed by the testing teams in-country


Depending on which service you use and usage, the pricing varies from free to $4.50 per million characters translated (as of May 2018).

Retention of HTML formatting

One surprising, significant, benefit of using the Translation API what that when fed an HTML string, the HTML tags were ignored. This meant that the formatting of the translation returned was identical to the original. While this does increase the size and number of characters translated, this would not approach the limits necessary for this effort.


The solution PSC implemented allowed the client to securely translate sections of their intranet and then manage the translated pages once they were published. Overall our experience with the Translation API was a very good one. We found it very easy to set up and simple the implement.

Cookies that cause Error 400 Bad Request when accessing Microsoft websites

For those people who interact with many sites across the *.Microsoft.com domain this may be an issue. I was looking for an update on Office Add-Ins and I came across this issue.

If you see a 400 Bad Request Size of a header exceeds the limit error, for no good apparent reason, that cause is likely cookies.

The following image was taken from just trying to access the Microsoft 365 Blog site. As you can see there are a LOT of cookies picked up from all over the MS domain.

The simple solution, clear your cookies. This process will vary per browser but once that is done, we are in business again.



Microsoft is not the only company with this issue as I wrote about before 🙂

Office Add-ins community call

“The Office Add-ins community call is our quarterly event for developers to connect in real-time with the folks who are building the Office Add-ins platform and JavaScript APIs.”

The fact that we have a general office Add-in community call now is fantastic and shows how significant the community is to the product group.

The call was blogged and posted here: https://dev.office.com/blogs/office-add-ins-community-call-april-11-2018

The next Office Add-ins community call will be on Wednesday, July 11, 2018. You can download a recurring quarterly calendar invite at https://aka.ms/officeaddinscommunitycall.


Problems with Miracast? Could be a display adapter driver…….Solved

We use Miracast in the office to connect to the Tvs in the conference rooms. I used it for months without issue and then a few weeks ago it stopeed working for no good reason.

The display would say I was actually connected – and it would not come up on the TV. Eventually it would just die and tell me I had a problem.

After a considerable amount of trial and error it turned out to be the intel display adapter driver….ok then. Figured I should share.

  • Right click on the desktop
  • Display settings
  • Find display adapter properties


  • Properties
  • Update Driver


And after that and a reboot – Miracast back and working !!!



Create custom functions in Excel

As of MS Build 2018 custom functions in Excel are available for all developers to use and implement.


For more information on how to create a custom function in Excel using the JavaScript Add-In model check out this link.


“Custom functions (similar to user-defined functions, or UDFs), enable developers to add any JavaScript function to Excel using an add-in. Users can then access custom functions like any other native function in Excel (such as =SUM()).”

This is actually a huge deal because one of the limitations of the Add-In model in the past is this ability to create a custom function without having to add it to the tool bar as an icon which has to be clicked. With this release it means that develoipers can create their own functions in excel in an analogous manner to VBA. The simple example below adds the two numbers and for no good reason adds 42 as well. But you get the idea.

custom functions




Outlook Add-ins community call

Back in March the Outlook Add-In development community had it’s quarterly meeting. The notes from the meeting were blogged and released here: https://dev.office.com/blogs/outlook-community-call-march-21-2018.

These calls are really helpful to spread the new on the progress being made in the Outlook Add-In area. Some really interesting points of notes at this call were the upcoming preview requirements for API 1.6


I have a particular selfish interest in the “Office.context.auth.getAccessTokenAsync – Added access to getAccessTokenAsync, which allows add-ins to get an access token for the Microsoft Graph API.”

I think I am going to play with that 🙂

Next call will be at 8:00AM PST on June 20, 2018. https://aka.ms/outlookcommunitycall

PSC Tech Talk: Change Management

“It’s all in the way we listen”. It’s the PSC motto and especially relevant when it comes to helping clients migrate platforms. With our knowledge and experience we’ve seen that technology is often not the problem in our projects, it is people. Humans are masters at making systems serve our needs, but in general people don’t change quite so easily.

In this light hearted presentation with a serious message, one of our most experienced consultants, John Bigenwald (@john_bigenwald), talked about how he approaches change management when helping client migrate platforms. While this is not “Technology Talk”, it is something we do every day at PSC and relevant to every technology project we do.

Tech is easy – People are hard

Not to minimize how hard developers have it, but code can be refactored and changed without having to hurt it’s feelings or years long emotional attachment to the application.

Why do project fail?

Based on research done by a French company, of their own internal projects:

  • 11% of large projects fail because of quality
  • 39% of projects fail due to a lack of planning resources and activities
  • 57% of projects fail due to “breakdown in communications”

The problems are with “soft skills” and not “hard skills”. Staying in contact with the program mangers as we are going through a project is critical and essential to its success. Communicating with the users not only buys us good will, but gives us better insight into how they work. During this time we also uncover many issues which, left unaddressed, could cause the failure of the project.

Lewin’s Change Management Model

No one starts a project intending to fail. There are three stages to Lewin’s Change Management Model:

  • Unfreeze
  • Change
  • Freeze

In a survey 75% of the project managers expected that there would be some form of failure in their IT projects. It is the expectation from the outset based on history and experience telling them not to expect success. Even 15 years ago, The Harvard Business Review stated in an article that:

“Managers expect to be able to plan for all
variables in advance, but they can’t.
Nobody is that smart or has a crystal ball that clear….”

Unfreeze is the key to the change

How you prepare the organization for change will be the driving force behind the whole process. You have to create a sense of urgency, build coalitions and create a vision for change.

  • Preparing the organization to accept the necessity and/or desirability of a change. It involves breaking down the existing status quo before you can build up a new way of operating. You need to develop a compelling message showing why the existing way of doing things cannot continue.

John then went on to draw an analogy between “change management experts” on tv and real life.

In the “Property Brothers” on HTGV they work with people buying a new house and renovate it. As they walk through the show there are issues uncovered and they all need to be handled within budget. The news is not always good and pleasant to have to deal with, but the home owner has to determine what is most important for them to have implemented to call the project a success. They never know what’s going to be behind a wall at the start of a project.

In “The Walking Dead” tv show people are living in a post-apocalyptic world where they have to survive by using their experience and wits to avoid becoming one of the hordes.

There is a point to this….I assure you 🙂

Creating Urgency

The status quo is unfrozen only by creating a sense of urgency. Stalling and slowing the process is not only a high risk, but gives people who want to be obstacles, leverage to not change.

In the Walking Dead a zombie horde in the camp really creates a sense of urgency. But that urgency is driven by fear, which often leads to bad decisions. A poorly thought through decision causes someone to do something unexpected which puts the whole group at risk.

In the Property Brothers they create urgency by painting a vision of the future. This provides the impetus for change. Besides designing and building a new home, an integral part of the brother’s job is to paint of vision of the future. This allows the client to better handle the unplanned nightmare behind the wall. The overall goal is the overall goal and that which is in front of us right now is only an obstacle on the way to the goal.

So how do we create urgency? Hire some zombies to crash the office?? No…..

Urgency is created by a desire to achieve a vision. The greater the vision, the better the promised future, the greater the urgency to reach that future. Losing a ton of money in a certain area, does not necessarily sway the budget lines for the overall plan. This is only one example but the thought process is the same. Without a sense of why this needs to be done now, why is it important enough to move to the front of the queue? Without a sense of why a change will improve the program, your job, your life, there is no urgency to make the change – inertia will win.

Building coalitions

As projects evolve your change agents can switch and they aren’t always the people you think they will be. In the Walking Dead the group’s leader was a former deputy. Others in leadership are a housewife and a survivalist loner. You would not have chosen them as a team to start with but they need to work together for survival. Over time people are lost from the group and new members join as needs change. In the same manner, hidden structure, long term friendships and who is impacted by the change can drive the dynamics of the coalition.

Create a vision for change

Going to the Walking Dead again……they are always talking about a better life, it drives them forward. They don’t talk about how one direction has fewer zombies over there, they talk about the better life when they get there.

In Property Brothers they do not talk about the size of the house, they talk about entertaining, having dinner with the kids and how that will give you a better life.

Unless you have a clearly defined vision for where we are going, and some people to help you get there, and a sense of urgency to do it….. your chances of failure are higher.

Big thinking precedes great achievement

– Wilfred Peterson


Understand what is driving the change. Use that knowledge to paint a vision of the future. Logic drives technology; Emotion drives people.





PSC Tech Talks – A Journey to the Programmable Data Center

During this PSC tech Talk Geremy Reiner gave us an overview on his “Journey to the Programmable Data Center”. The emphasis of the presentation was not on the technologies involved, but on the concepts and processes which enable infrastructure to be deployed as code and then from there what business solutions become enabled by the infrastructure.


There is more to innovation that technology for the sake of technology. When asking the question why should we build programmable datacenters the answer is much more than “because the technology is better”. We need to consider how a modern datacenter:

  • Provides a business focused approach to infrastructure
  • Simplifies datacenter management
  • Increases speed of delivery
  • Extends benefits of automation and orchestration

Datacenter Ascendancy

As technology has evovled, so has the way we use it to solve business problems. But technology is not the only thing which has to evolve to be able to maximize the cost reduction and productivity gains which a modern datacenter can provide. The organization has to embrace the new capabilities as well.

A traditional datacenter is stable secure and reliable but to achieve that it has a large footprint, it is generally utilized at only 20% of capacity on average, has a high management cost and is very expensive to scale.

A virtual datacenter has increased scalability, can be managed at a computer not at a rack terminal, is generally utilized at 50% or greater and is much quicker to stand up a new capability.

Cloud computing or “IT as a service” uses highly automated self service portals, the abstraction of infrastructure creation and “click of a button” deployment of managed services . With a global footprint, the capacity on demand model now allows business to plan for the future without having to make large CAPEX investments and planning for its needs for the next 5 years.

Organizational maturity

As the organization matures so can the technology. When the needs of the business can be reflected in a truly self service manner where everything from a new site to a new templated service can be deployed with nothing more than a set of configuration parameters and a button, the automated datacenter comes into its own.


Software defined datacenter

Geremy went into more depth about what a programmable datacenter is composed of. From application, to automation, to infrastructure, all with business oversight the modern architected datacenter provides visibility at all levels.


So then what?

With all this in place, Geremy then got into the real business benefits, with examples, of where the modern data center enables business flexibility, cost saving, speed to market etc.

Process automation

When we talk process automation at a high level we are generally talking about frameworks like ITIL which cover the best practices for delivering IT services. How we respond to the needs of the users, outages and other unplanned issues requires the ability to know what is going on at any time and to be able to respond to it in a repeatable manner.

In a modern datacenter that is generlly an amazingly well defined automated process.

If a service looks like it is not responding as expected, a new instance of the service is spun up, the necessary configuration changes are made to direct traffic to the new service and the old one is turned off – automatically. The end goal is for this to be seemless to an end user.

Continuous Delivery 

The modern datacenter enables us to create business enables “DevOps” capabilities whereby not only is code tested automatically, the infrastructure enecessary to run the test on, is created programmatically at time of testing. Servers and test suites are stood up and then broken down (or turned on and then turned off) as necessary. This level of automation allows high productivity but keeps costs down for the business.

Azure Resource Management (ARM) templates

There are configuration stanadards for being able to describe how your infrastructure should be created, deployed, sized and run. This can make a sizeable difference to being able to deploy capabilities for your business.

As an example, if you wanted to go from zero capability to a deployed SharePoint farm with SQL server and supporting services, you would be looking at a quarter to half million dollar’s worth of capital investment in hardware and infrastructure, months of planning, service creation, setup and configuration and then installation of the software.

With ARM you can literally deploy the entire sharepoint stack within 15 minutes hosted on Azure, using 9 servers, with the click of a button. At the time of the presentation this build would have cost approx $5000 a month. The cost benefits are clear and significant.

To help get orgnaizations get started with using Azure, Microsoft has created many open source ARM templates and posted them on GitHub for general consumption and improvement. They can be downloaded, configured for personal needs and you can be up and running within hours, not months.


Working in the real world

PSC worked with one of our clients to create a 19 server, repeatably deployable process for them, whereby they could sell their services to end customers. Through a web interface, the client team could answer questions on a form which in turn built the custom ARM template. The ARM template was programmatically used to automate the deployment of the necessary environment for the end client based on their requirements.


A modern data center is designed around what business need can it flexibly solve for end users, now and in the future rather than how it can rigidly support the business needs of the present past. PSC has proven experience in deploying infrastructure as a service using ARM templates, automated deployment and management of virtual infrastructure and utilizing modern datacenters to help our customers future-proof their technology needs.

PSC Tech Talk: UX Design – Not just making things pretty

Many companies used to treat design and user experience second-class requirement when creating technical innovation (most people my age will know what I am talking about). Functionality was more important than how easy a product would be to use. As has been the case for many years though, this is certainly no longer the norm. The expectation for design, function and “how it makes me feel” is assumed in the same manner that requirements need to be met.

Our Senior Design Consultant Jay Kasturi gave a presentation on User Experience design, which to a room full of hard core developers was a challenge in itself.

UX Design – Not just making things pretty

Jay spoke about the history of user experience which has its roots in industrial design/human centered design practices and precedes the world of web development.

“UX is the design of everything
independent of medium or across media
with human experience as an explicit outcome
and human engagement as an explicit goal.”
– Jesse James Garrett

The goals of UX are to improve customer satisfaction and loyalty through the utility, ease of use, and engagement provided in the interaction with a product.

UX focuses on the user, paying attention to how the user is engaging with the senses, the body, the mind and the emotions. Beginning from these considerations we work to gain a better picture of the user’s capabilities, constraints, and their experiential context. This is the foundation that user research provides and from which iterative design and development can proceed.

The emotional capacity of UX has only really been addressed in the last two decades. In the book the experience economy they talk about how we have for a long time we have discounted experiences as entertainment only and that is not an accurate description.

How does UX and design thinking work together?

Design thinking is a simple solution framework that anyone can use for innovation. Using it we can empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test our assumptions generated during the process and ensure that we are meeting the needs of the users.

Jay went on to show her vision for how UX is composed of many facets which together build the bigger picture of creating a website for a client.

UX and development

In development, users and roles serve a specific purpose in mapping the architecture needs and flow of an application. But through UX we can develop personas and use cases to uncover user tasks, edge cases, and unmet needs that could be translated into features and find/address usability concerns.

Simply put, developers can get pretty clear requirements of how an application works – but often times how stakeholders envision the application working for themselves is not how others would use it. Just because a functional requirement is met, does not mean that an end user will find it intuitive to use. This is the gap that a thorough UX process will bridge.

UX and UI are not interchangeable

They do touch on each other and do share a great deal of information but it’s important to delineate what each terms is referencing. User interface design is concerned with layout, typography, the visual flow and consistency of elements/components. UI without UX can create products that are visually great, but may not serve specific user needs or make actively confound their tasks.


Jay went on to show a Personal and Journey map she created for a client which spoke to how the user journey prior to and through the app, and beyond it. Going through this exercise with the client helped contextualize and prioritize key moments in the user experience:

We also saw examples of wireframes with callouts on the page for a different client:



Jay’s UX experience and knowledge has had a significant positive impact on our projects since she join PSC last year. Being able to show some of the cool things she has done, and spread the word internally of how she does it made for a very powerful and well-received presentation.