Living the Legacy: Legacy Auth in Office 365

Recently a discovered a problem with a client’s tenant. All the sudden, the authentication that I’ve used for a decade to get my command line utilities to authenticate to work wasn’t working. But it was just this tenant. No other clients had the problem, so it was a mystery as to why things were happening. Getting to the answer caused me to fire up some old neurons and get some clarity on the way things worked.

Joining the WS-Federation

Many moons ago, when claims-based authentication was still new in SharePoint, I was speaking about claims-based authentication and how it worked. I was the contract CTO for a startup who was trying to solve the authentication problem in K12. I was also helping write some of the guidance for authenticating in SharePoint with this new approach. See Remote Authentication in SharePoint Online Using Claims-Based Authentication. So, this isn’t something that’s new to me, but it is something I haven’t focused on for a while.

As I was warming up the old neurons, I began to remember that the way we bounce from location to location and server to server is a standard called WS-Federation. It’s a “passive” authentication flow where the browser bounces from place to place to authenticate a user. Ultimately, the browser gets the user to a site that authenticates them, and the site issues a ticket. This is passed back through a chain of sites until you get back to the site that originally requested authentication of the user, all the while reissuing tickets. The article above explains the process in substantially more detail.

Ultimately, it’s all about one site (the relying party) trusting another site (the issuing party) to authenticate the user That’s all fine, but what do you do when you want to authenticate in a program instead of a web browser? Well that requires WS-Trust.

A little bit of WS-Trust

A different approach, an “active” flow, is needed to take care of programs that want to authenticate on behalf of a user but can’t follow a series of redirects. Think about the program that’s calling an API: it expects the results, not a series of redirects, so WS-Federation won’t work. The good news is that WS-Trust performs the same function as WS-Federation except that the server for the API makes the request for authentication on behalf of the user. The bouncing around is handled as the servers negotiate between each other where to go and whether the authentication succeeds.

The WS-Trust standard accommodates the normal case of a username and password to authenticate a user – but it has some serious limitations in a world where we’re beginning to use multifactor authentication.

Modern Authentication

Modern authentication, according to Microsoft and others, doesn’t rely on usernames and passwords. The idea is that we’re moving to a more secure platform where users need to authenticate with something more than a username and password. This is fine, except what do you do about authenticating programs that need to take action on their own behalf or on behalf of the user? The answer is effectively a username and password.

Some will argue that the shared secrets we give to applications aren’t passwords – after all, they’re called shared secrets, or keys, or something else. However, they amount to a password, but a substantially longer password than any user could ever manage. We’ve addressed the security problem by making the password sufficiently long.

In any case, we’re moving towards greater security, which includes multifactor authentication – and that can’t be accomplished in a username/password combination way. The result is that we call the simple username/password situation “legacy.”

When Legacy isn’t Legacy

Microsoft introduced a switch that you can turn off to disable “legacy” authentication. It makes sense at some level. There’s a new modern authentication that we want people to use, and, until recently, you needed to actively enable modern authentication. So, what do you call the old approach? Well, you call it legacy.

The problem is that legacy conveys that it’s old and should be replaced or disabled. And that’s what this client did. However, most utilities that allow for a user identity associated with the results created by the tool. When they disabled legacy authentication, they broke an entire class of applications.

Modern Application Authentication

In defense, there are new ways to authenticate applications into Office 365. However, what the labeling doesn’t make clear is that those modern authentication approaches only work for a subset of the APIs. Thus, there are some places where you don’t have a choice but to use the “legacy” authentication approach.

Certainly, should we be moving to modern authentication for our applications? Yes. However, it needs to happen when the APIs we need to access work with the new authentication. In this case, the new APIs would work – if we recode the tool we are using.

So at least in this case, “legacy” may mean today –even if we’re new to the platform.

Book Review-Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice

I’ve known for some time now that it’s better to be lucky than smart. The organizations and people that are successful are more frequently the result of luck than intelligence or skill. So, then the key question when you’re looking to compete is the one answered in Clayton Christensen’s title Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice. The unfortunate thing is that there aren’t any easy answers.

Jobs to Be Done

The kernel at the core of Competing Against Luck is the thing Christensen has been working on for a while. Back in The Innovator’s DNA, he spoke about how consumers hire products to do jobs for them – to solve problems that they don’t want to have to solve for themselves, or at least not have to solve them over and over again. One story includes why people buy milkshakes, and the split between two different answers. The first answer is for the morning commute, to have something that will stick with people during their drive and through the morning. The second answer is as a way to say yes to a child to one thing – instead of having to say no to everything.

This example presents a problem, because the morning commuter wants a shake that lasts longer. It’s thicker, so it should be served through a smaller straw, and thus take longer to finish. (See Nudge for simple and unconscious ways to change the outcomes without people noticing.) However, the parent wants the shake they buy their child to be done as soon as possible, so they can move on with the next thing on their task list. The product is the same, but the job that the product is being hired to do is different.

Cheap Labor

One of the interesting things that happens when this “jobs to be done” theory is applied to innovation is that, frequently, the disruptor – the innovator – in the market enters the playing field at a significant disadvantage. Their products are technically inferior to the historical products – but much cheaper. This allows many people to try them out and allows the disruptor to develop more robust product offerings.

Even Khan Academy, which was started by Sal Khan to help his young cousin, was “cheaper and crappier” than the educational videos already online – but it allowed students to learn at their own pace, and that made the difference. The disruptors are those in the market who can focus on the aspects of the product that are essential and do it at a price that the market can bear.

Hiring for a Different Job

An important point when considering a potential innovation is whether it solves the same problem as the existing players in the market. For instance, Airbnb competes not just with hotels but also with not going on the trip or staying with friends or relatives. Uber competes not just with taxi and limousine services but also with public transportation and asking a friend to give you a lift.

The beauty of innovations is that they can help to redefine a category in ways that broaden the potential market. These changes are natural as the market evolves. Magical numbers happen in the market where utilization takes off. VCRs and DVD players – for instance – both started to take off in popularity when the mean price point for them hit around $200. Suddenly, they became viable alternatives to going out to the movies a few times a year. The same is true for high definition televisions. Once they became “affordable,” they changed how people started to think about where and when to buy them.

Needs and Behaviors

Behaviors aren’t explained by needs. There’s a stunning gap between what people say they want and are willing to spend money on and what they will part with money for. There’s a disconnect between the emotional brain that makes the buying decisions and the rational brain that answers survey questions. (See Thinking, Fast and Slow for more.) It seems what people will actually do is shaped by their perception of how OK the solution is – and how powerfully they feel the need.

Everett Rogers discovered that there are many factors for the rate of diffusion (or adoption) of an innovation with Iowa farmers as explained in The Diffusion of Innovations. He found that some people were willing to adopt very early, where others needed more social evidence that the innovation worked. So just having a need isn’t sufficient to cause a change in behavior. It takes a sufficiently large motivation to break the inertia of continuing to do the same thing.

Indicators and Causality

As Nassim Taleb points out in The Black Swan and Antifragile, causality and correlation are different things. Competing Against Luck quotes Nate Silver from The Signal and the Noise in his clarification about correlation and causation. It turns out that neither ice cream sales nor forest fires cause the other. It just so happens that they’re both correlated with warm weather.

Sometimes the key metric, the one that leads to the results, isn’t the one that you’d expect. (See How to Measure Anything for more on leading indicators.) Batting average isn’t – it turns out – the best way to measure offensive success in baseball – on-base percentage is. When looking for innovations, we need to consider whether we’re measuring our results against the right yardstick.

Ethnography

Christensen is effectively advocating for ethnography. He’s saying that someone needs to get to the point that they understand the culture of the target audience so well that they can see the product the people need – that they never even realized they needed. (See The Ethnographic Interview.) Sometimes, you can’t listen to what they’re saying. You must look for ways to experience the situation with them to learn more. (See Creative Confidence for more.)

It’s possible to do market research with the illusion of truth in quantitative numbers. However, to truly understand the nature of the situation, you need the qualitative answers. It’s only through these answers that you can see the struggles that are washed away by statistics and averaging. Qualitative answers give you a palpable feel for the people you’re studying as potential customers. It’s in this feel that you can often find the best insights.

Peace of Mind

If you stare deeply into the data about innovations, a strange thought starts to emerge. Peace of mind is a necessity in today’s world. It’s not a luxury upgrade. If you think about successful products, whatever they are, they’re likely selling peace of mind. (See The Deep Water of Affinity Groups.) Peace of mind is so hard to come by in today’s world, we often find ourselves seeking it out – and craving the relief it provides.

Peace of mind takes many forms. Some of the peace of mind can be conveyed by the brand, and some of the peace of mind is conveyed in how completely the solution solves the job for which the item was hired for.

Commanders Intent

The armed forces, and particularly the Army, has been known for its command and control attitude. Great plans are created and assumed to be how things need to happen. However, there’s an old army saying that “no plan survives engagement with the enemy.” That’s why orders now come with a specific “commander’s intent” component. That is, in addition to the specific details of the mission, the commander’s goal is clearly articulated, so that the army soldier can find a way to meet the intent, even if the specific plans are thwarted. This commander’s intent is key to soldiers operating in the uncertain world of today.

Luck and Timing

Much of luck, I believe, is timing. The market must be in the right spot for the right idea. We can try to time the market, outthink it, or outsmart it; but, in the end, it’s luck and, particularly, the right timing that drive a lot of success in business.

While I appreciate Christensen’s title, I’m not sure that there’s much specific to offer in the way of Competing Against Luck – unless you expect that your behaviors are going to bring you better luck. Still, trying to learn how to compete is better than not.

Rogue Revision Rewind

One of the frequent concerns of users that prevents adoption is what happens when you accidentally delete or corrupt a document. It used to be that, if you accidentally deleted something from a file and saved over it, there was no going back. SharePoint makes recovering from this a breeze, as we explain in this video.

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Book Review-An Appeal to the World: The Way to Peace in a Time of Division

I’m no stranger to the Dalai Lama’s writings and conversations. An Appeal to the World: The Way of Peace in a Time of Division didn’t fundamentally shift my understanding of his point of view. However, it did give me a chance to reflect on some of the positions that I’ve observed through his writings.

This is a short book. It is only 128 pages in its printed form. As a result, there isn’t much to say – nor many notes from me to pull from in writing this review. The good news is if you’re looking for a quick read to understand the Dalai Lama’s position on peace in general, this can be a place to start

Internal Peace

You cannot give what you do not have. It’s a simple axiom. It stands to reason, then, that if you want to give the world peace, then you have to have peace yourself. We’ll never convince our world to resolve its differences if we can’t resolve our differences with other people. We can’t hope to find forgiveness and acceptance if we’re not willing to practice it ourselves.

To create peace in the world, we need to first create peace in ourselves. We must learn to let go of anger and hate. We need to learn how to cultivate understanding, acceptance, and compassion.

The Path to Peace

Finding world peace has become a cliché that’s used in movies and pop culture to represent an unobtainable goal. On a personal level, many people believe that they’ve got a pathway to peace. They believe that they have figured out the one answer to inner peace.

In a sense, I’m sure they have. They’ve figured out their way to their inner peace. They’ve found the perfect recipe that leads them to calm. However, if you’ve ever been to a chili cookoff, you probably know there is more than one path to great food, and the same is the case with inner peace.

Just like there are some common ingredients in chili – no matter what the recipe – there are some common components in the cultivation of inner peace.

  • Patience – The patience to accept that not everything happens in the present moment.
  • Detachment – Recognizing the impermanence of life and how everything has a time – and how we don’t control outcomes, we only influence them.
  • Acceptance – Reality is what it is. People are who they are. We’re not going to directly change those facts, and to attempt to do so denies the fundamental reality of the world.
  • Empathy – Our ability to connect with others is hard-wired into us. When we “understand this about you,” we connect with others and align more fully to the way we are created.
  • Compassion – Compassion is a desire to alleviate the suffering of another, which, obviously, requires empathy. But it goes further and recognizes that we’ve become the dominant life form on the planet by helping each other.

The techniques that are used to include these ingredients together may be meditation or something else, but these components make up the core of any good path towards inner peace.

Our Better Selves

If the goal is greater world peace, and that comes through greater inner peace, then all that is left is how to cultivate that in everyone. The list above are a set of characteristics or states that lead to peace in each of us. However, what are the paths to these?

In most of the world – particularly the Western world – education is focused on the technical, logical, and rational endeavors of the mind. While we recognize that we’re an embodied cognition that includes both rational and emotional components, for the most part, we train and skill ourselves in only those things which we can touch and measure.

That’s why the Dalai Lama suggests that we need education of the heart.

Education of the heart

So, what is education of the heart? What is it that we’d teach? A list from the book appears below – with my descriptions:

  • Love – Most of the time, it appears that the intent is loving kindness, or the Greek word agape used for God’s love or universal love. Love comes naturally to humans, but in many people, it is snuffed out or reduced to embers that don’t resemble the burning fire that we start with.
  • Compassion – As mentioned above, this is the desire to alleviate someone else’s suffering. At times, the Dalai Lama has appeared to use the words love and compassion interchangeably.
  • Justice – What is right for everyone isn’t always easy to see. Learn to see another’s point of view and accept a need to find a solution for all.
  • Forgiveness – This is letting go of the hurt that someone has caused you; without allowing it to continue is essential to prevent the escalation of violence.
  • Carefulness – Here, I might use the word “mindfulness.” It’s simply paying attention to what you’re doing and caring how that would impact others.
  • Tolerance – Another word might be “acceptance.” Allowing other people to be who they are if they’re not harming you.
  • Peace – Not a singular thing but a set of things that result in an undisturbed mind.

You can’t test the results of education of the heart with a standardized test. You don’t ever arrive at completion, but perhaps if we can educate the heart, we can answer the Dalai Lama’s Appeal to the World.

Book Review-A Force for Good: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World

If you start a list of the people who are the most concerned with the welfare of everyone on our planet, names like Mother Theresa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and the Dalai Lama are certain to make the list. In A Force for Good: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World, we get a deeper look into what the world might be like if the Dalai Lama got what he believes is best for us.

Our Responsibility

The vision starts with our responsibility to our fellow humans and to the fragile planet on which we live. Historically, we might have been able to delude ourselves into the belief that we are not all connected to one another. We could believe that our actions didn’t impact others and theirs didn’t impact us. However, in the last century, we’ve conquered travel and communications and made remote destruction all the more possible. We’ve learned about our delicate ecosystems and how changes in one part of the planet have ripple effects everywhere else.

Despite the reality of our world today, we continue to believe that we’re the center of the universe. The sun and universe don’t just revolve around the Earth but around me personally – or so we think. The self-centered, ego-centric view isn’t new or unexpected, but it is harmful. Through self-reflection and developing compassion for our fellow man, we can break the bonds that have us all – to one degree or another – thinking first from ourselves and then to others.

In the Evolution of Cooperation, Robert Axelrod demonstrates how, historically, cooperation tended towards better results. A Force for Good speaks of the research of Kiley Hamlin. Children show an affinity for shapes that “helped” other shapes in a simple movie; even before their second year, they’ll show generosity.

So, while there’s a natural tendency towards self-centeredness, there is a counter-balancing force towards cooperation, collaboration, compassion, and even altruism.

Thinking About Feelings

One of my all-time favorite learnings is the idea that anger is disappointment directed. Why is this such a pivotal learning? It’s simple. Anger is a frightening emotion that many have been told isn’t safe or acceptable. (See How Emotions Are Made for some thoughts on the emotion itself.) However, converting anger to disappointment makes it safer. It’s safer to deal with disappointment than anger, because it’s not so burdened by the judgements that others layer upon it.

When teaching conflict resolution, the idea that anger is disappointment directed is always at the core, because it allows people to convert anger into something that they can process. They can assess who they’re disappointed in – whether that’s someone else or themselves. Further, they can evaluate whether the disappointment is realistic or not.

Basically, the transition here is the ability to think through a feeling to understand how it is formed. It’s not that any emotion is bad. It’s only that we gain the ability to contemplate our feelings when we have a framework for taking them apart and examining them.

We are encouraged to review our wisdom and our hidden assumptions; however, as a part of our path towards an integrated self-image (see Rising Strong part 1 and Beyond Boundaries for more on having an integrated self-image), I believe we should also consider examining our emotions to understand them – but not necessarily to change them. I mentioned in my review of The Book of Joy that it’s relatively easy to address perspectives, and this can lead to changing emotions.

Destructive Anger

In Destructive Emotions, there is a long discussion about the possibility of afflictive (destructive) compassion and non-afflictive (non-destructive) anger. The conversation includes the Dalai Lama saying that anger (translated from khongdro) is, by definition, afflictive. The example given is anger at someone who isn’t listening to you, yelling out to them to stop – because they’re about to harm themselves by walking off a cliff.

I think that here, I believe there are multiple things going on – as the discussion in the book says. I believe that there is a compassion to help the other person, which is good. I think there is then also an anger at yourself for being unable to stop the harm. Let me unpack that a bit. So, there’s a belief that your yelling out to them has the capacity to impact the outcome. You expect that it will. When you fail to be effective, you’re disappointed at your lack of efficacy and therefore angry – at yourself. This anger is then displaced to the other party, because your ego thinks it silly to be angry at yourself when you’re demonstrating compassion. Here, we get to anger through compassion – but not really. We get to anger through the gap between our expectations of our power to change others and the inability to accomplish that.

It is possible that the Dalai Lama is right that there is no anger that is non-afflictive; however, I do believe that sometimes it’s necessary to cause action and provide the energy necessary to make change happen.

Buddhism – Religion or Philosophy

In an interesting turn for the religious leader of Tibet, the Dalai Lama seemed unconcerned as to whether others considered Buddhism a religion or a philosophy. “If,” he concluded, “you consider Buddha as a buddha, okay. But if you consider him a philosopher, a teacher, a social theorist, or a scientist—that’s okay too.” In The Book of Joy, the Dalai Lama commends on Gandhi’s response when asked if he was a Hindu: “Yes I am. I am also a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist, and a Jew.” The book finishes with, “We were looking for human truth, and we would drink from the cup of wisdom from whatever source it came.”

For me, it’s easier to accept Buddha as a philosopher and a teacher. It’s easier to see him as someone who struggled through his thoughts to find a path that was better than those around him.

Compassion and Burnout

The Dalai Lama has some of the best conversations with folks. He gets to have conversations with leading scientists and luminaries who study our inner states through modern technology and time-honored meditative practices. A focus of his has been the development of compassion, both personally and for the entire world.

Compassion and burnout seem miles apart. Compassion is about a desire to alleviate the suffering of others, and burnout is the experience of having been consumed, to be depleted of resources. It intuitively makes no sense that a desire to help others – and, presumably, expend additional effort to reach that goal – could possibly insulate and protect someone from the effects of burnout. Despite this distance and lack of intuitive sense, it appears possible that the very contemplative development of compassion may have some role in protecting individuals from burnout.

Transparency and Trust

There is a degree of trust in the development of compassion. We trust that our fellow human beings are basically good, and that we have the capacity to help them. However, trust is contextual (See Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy for more.) We trust some people more than others and some situations more than others. Trust takes a long time to develop – and can develop with different loci among different groups (see Trust: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order for more). One of the catalysts for the generation of trust is transparency.

Ironically, the development of trust is triggered by very little need for it. The more transparent your dealings with others, the less they need to trust you and the more, over time, their trust grows. Think about this from the point of view of compounding interest. If, in your first encounter, you consume only a small portion of the trust that someone is willing to grant you, that trust remains in their bank account for you accruing interest. The less trust you consume, the more is available – and over time, the buildup of trust can be quite large.

This may account for the positive effects seen for long term friends and acquaintances. (See The Deep Water of Affinity Groups for more on this.)

Positive Other, Positive You

An interesting pattern that was offered for dealing with conflict involves a confrontation between Mike Tyson – the boxer – and a philosophy chair. Told to stop by the philosophy chair, Tyson asked if he knew who he was. The response was to acknowledge Tyson’s preeminence in the world of boxing and to then indicate his high status as a philosophy chair. The interaction is interesting because of its ability to diffuse conflict.

I’d venture to say that, having acknowledged the status (and worth) of Tyson, he had little need to prove what was already known – a fight between Tyson and a philosophy chair isn’t a fight, it’s a beating. Instead, Tyson could be curious as to what would make a philosophy chair be willing to put himself in danger. Curiosity, then, could create the space for conversation.

Ten Thousand Year Death Rate

Would you say that we’re living in the most peaceful or most violent times? If you look back into the past and look at the death rate due to human-on-human violence, you find the rate to be somewhere between one in five to one in ten deaths about ten thousand years ago. Today, the death rate seems to be about one in one hundred forty people die by human-on-human violence. So, in the long arc of time, we’re hurting each other less – even if we’ve got better media now to recount all of the human-on-human violence. Even if we account for all the world wars and the conflicts across the world, we’re still better off today than we were ten thousand years ago.

If you reflect upon your life and the forces that you apply to the world around you, do you view them – in summary – as good or bad? Are you leaving the world better than you found it, or worse? If your trajectory isn’t what you want it to be, then perhaps it’s worth taking a look at the Dalai Lama’s vision for our world in A Force for Good.

The Real Data Type for Dates and Times; and Microsoft Flow’s Perspective

It’s OK to call me old school. For me, dates are stored as floating-point numbers. It’s still that way in many applications, including Microsoft Excel. Sometimes I think of date and time as a series of seconds after a fixed time – so, a very large integer, because that’s another way we’ve classically represented dates and times in code. However, Microsoft Flow takes a different approach. To Microsoft Flow, a date/time is a string – a standard ISO timestamp.

Background

The next three sections provide some background on how we came to understand dates and times and how we represent them. If you’re just interested in the details of implementing dates in Flow, you can just know that they’re strings – and skip the background.

Tracking Dates and Times

Most of us take it for granted that we all agree it’s the same day – but until 1875, that wasn’t the case. That’s when everyone officially agreed upon the Gregorian calendar that we’re all familiar with. Similarly, few people need worry about the fact that the agreement only stabilized dates back to 1582.

Our relationship with time became more concrete around then. While we had chronometers – which were capable of relatively stable timekeeping – since 1764, it wasn’t until the introduction of the railroads that people officially standardized times to allow for train schedules that worked across large distances. Before that, “high noon” literally meant when the sun was directly overhead in the place where you are. Time zones started to be ratified across the globe, and by about 1885, we had a framework for the time zone system we use today.

The ISO 8601 Timestamp

Getting dates and times from one computer system to another is a classic problem. Storing dates as the number of days past a fixed point, as is done for both floating point and integer representations of a date, requires that everyone agree on what the fixed starting point is. The problem is that people didn’t. Sometimes they used January 1st, 1900, and other times other dates were used. This created problems where dates would seem to shift. As an attempt to resolve this issue, the ISO 8601 standard was first published in 1988.

It spells out the details of how to convey a date and time (as well as durations) in a standardized way. This addresses the difference between the folks in the US, who often represent dates in month-day orientation, and folks in Europe, who are more accustomed to day-month approaches. More than once, I’ve had to look at a date carefully to figure out what was intended because of the possibility of these transitions.

Time Zones and Daylight Savings Time

One of the tricky challenges that happens in computer systems is addressing times across time zones, particularly dealing with daylight savings time. I’m based in Indiana, and for my formative years in computers, we didn’t observe daylight savings time. Though we do today, I vividly remember my joy at not having to adjust every clock in the organization I worked for twice a year. Today, this is mostly handled automatically, but back then it would have been a task for some poor human.

When we refer to our time, we do it conveniently. I refer to 5PM in my current time zone. Two people speaking of meeting at 5PM are fine if both are in the same time zone. If they’re not, one of the people may have to wait a while. Because of time zones, 5PM in one place isn’t the same time as 5PM in another place. It sounds obvious, but it leads to a challenge when sharing times across time zones.

The solution in aviation is that all times are referenced in Coordinated Universal Time (“UTC” came about as a compromise due to the different order of the words in French), which is also called Greenwich Mean Time or, in aircraft parlance, Zulu time. This is the time zone from which every other time zone is referenced. Eastern time – my home time zone – is UTC-5. Thus, if I want to meet someone at 5PM, I’d say 10 PM, or, more properly, 2200 Zulu. That is, I’d use a 24-hour clock instead of the more common 12-hour clock with AM and PM designators that we’re used to. Well, that’s not exactly correct.

If we were observing daylight savings time when I was trying to meet, I’d have to subtract one hour, because daylight savings time advances our clocks one hour. So, it would be 2100 Zulu. One would think that daylight savings time would be consistently observed, but it’s not. Each country chooses when to observe and stop observing daylight savings time. The United States Congress has changed the official dates of observance more than a few times. So, even today, trying to understand what time it is in another place on a given day can be challenging.

The result is that the ISO 8601 standard defines a time zone designator that can indicate the time added to or removed from UTC time to get to the time indicated. This keeps the time human-readable and ensures that it’s possible to get to the exact time.

Standard Date Problems

There are a set of problems when working with dates that we’ve grown accustomed to. Adding days is easy, but adding months isn’t. Because months don’t have a standard number of days, adding a month could mean adding 28, 29, 30, or 31 days to the current date. Similarly, adding a year to the current date could mean adding 365 or 366 days – though, in practice, few people worry about this problem. The good news is that Flow’s Date and Time activities allow you to address these standard problems.

There are a second cluster of problems that Flow’s activities don’t solve. That is the common requirement that dates be expressed in terms of business days. So, if you’re a five-day per week operation, the dates should be advanced five business days. This isn’t possible directly with the actions provided, but it’s possible to leverage the dayOfWeek() method to determine how to address weekends. However, holiday observance isn’t something that’s feasible today.

Times in Microsoft Flow

The good news is that all the challenging activities – like adding and subtracting from dates and converting from one time zone to another – are available as activities. You must remember that the dates are strings. If you want to see more about the out of the box flow activities for managing dates, take a look at Working with Dates and Times inside of your flows.

Content Tamper Alarm

In this engagement video, which you can share with your organization, we explain how we like to know when people enter our physical space.  We’ve got doorbells and “please knock” signs and security systems. However, SharePoint allows us to figure out when someone enters your virtual space.

If you want to share this video, you can get it ad-free. All you need to do is click here to sign up, and we’ll send all our engagement videos to you via email.

Book Review-Advice Not Given: A Guide to Getting Over Yourself

I didn’t really intend to spend so much time investigating Buddhism. Mark Epstein was recommended reading for me as I tried to integrate Western thoughts on positive attachment and Buddhist beliefs that attachment is the root of suffering. As I read Advice Not Given: A Guide to Getting Over Yourself, I began to see how both traditional Western psychotherapy and Buddhism revolve around finding a way to align our thoughts with reality. It’s not that we don’t need ego, and that it should be crushed or destroyed – nor does it mean that we should necessarily inflate it to be bigger than it should be.

In The Trauma of Everyday Life, Epstein looks at a few small components of Buddhism centered around the concept that life is suffering. In Advice Not Given he walks, chapter-by-chapter, through the Eightfold Path, introducing the traditional thinking and integrating Western psychology. However, he starts by framing the primary work of the path: our ego.

Our Ego

It’s the one affliction that we all have in common. We all have egos. We’re constantly tending to the size and shape of our ego – or it’s running amuck and causing havoc to us and to others in our lives. Unrestrained, the ego implores us to be bigger, better, stronger, richer, more attractive and more. The result is a constant nagging fear that we won’t be enough. It’s a self-doubt that is hard to shake. (See I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t) for more on being enough.)

Conversely, some degenerate the ego and believe that it’s bad. John Dixon in Humilitas says, “One of the failings of contemporary Western culture is to confuse conviction with arrogance.” That is, those whose ego is sufficient to operate with conviction are confused with those whose ego is out of control. (See The Wisdom of Not Invented Here for a collected set of ego references.)

Enlightenment

A Hunger for Healing quotes a Zen (Buddhist) saying: “After enlightenment, draw water, chop wood.” Advice Not Given repeats this as, “after ecstasy, it is said, comes the laundry.” That is that while the Eightfold Path – and all self-reflection may lead to enlightenment– it doesn’t alleviate our need to be in the world and attend to our material needs and duties. After all, enlightenment (or awaking) doesn’t make the ego disappear, it changes our relationship to it.

The Eightfold Path to enlightenment is:

  • Right View
  • Right Motivation
  • Right Speech
  • Right Action
  • Right Livelihood
  • Right Effort
  • Right Mindfulness
  • Right Concentration

Before looking at each component, it’s important to pause and address the use of the word “right.” Epstein makes a point that the word doesn’t have to be translated to right as in “correct.” The original word could also mean “realistic” or “complete.” Epstein shares that he thinks of it as balanced, attuned, or fitting. This is important, because there’s no one “right” way to walk the path. There is a way of walking the path that is balanced or attuned to you, your needs, and the needs of the world around you.

Let’s walk the path as Epstein did.

Right View

Accepting reality as it is – not as we want it to be – is hard. It is, however, necessary to be in harmony with it. The right view has us constantly seeking to accept reality for what it is. The Serenity Prayer includes, “Taking, as Jesus did, This sinful world as it is, Not as I would have it.”

Too often, we see something unpleasant or discomforting, and we turn away from it. We seek to avoid the suffering of this life and only make it double. Right view isn’t eliminating suffering, but it’s changing how we approach it, so that it’s no larger and no smaller than it should be. It’s recognizing that both happiness and suffering – and everything else – is temporary. We don’t need to grasp onto it too tightly.

Right Motivation

We all have unconscious desires that drive us. Right motivation suggests that we don’t have to be at the mercy of our neuroses. By shining light into the dark places of our soul, we can come to know them – and address them in healthier ways. We must, of course, admit that the dark places exist. We must accept that there are parts of ourselves that we don’t yet know and some that we may not like.

Motivation also means a balance between the need to develop wisdom and the need to cultivate compassion. Epstein recounts more than one situation where a hermit was admonished for not living in the world. Buddha made a point of having his monks go out into the community each day to keep them connected to the world and realize that they weren’t above or apart from the rest of the world.

Right Speech

Traditionally, right speech is about refraining from harmful talk, like lying, gossip, and such. However, it can have a deeper meaning about not just the talk that we share outwardly with others but also with the talk whispered under our breath and our self-talk. If people heard what we say to ourselves about ourselves, they would be appalled. We speak to ourselves in such a compassionless and unfair way – and we continue to allow it.

Right speech leads us to pay attention to the space between thought and action to create more space and give us greater opportunity to intervene before harmful words or actions occur. Sometimes that intervention is to prevent us from adding more meaning than is there. (See Choice Theory and Argyris’ Ladder of Inference for more on how we add meaning.) Sometimes that intervention is to assess whether what we’re thinking is just a thought or whether it is reality. Too often, we believe that we know reality, when we’re just making a series of assumptions.

We can create a space where we’re open, accepting, and inquisitive about our inner lives and the inner lives of others. In this space, we can process our thoughts and emotions, comparing them with reality and enabling us to prevent past hurts from being borne out into the future.

Right Action

Right action is about not acting destructively. This means many of the things that make God’s top ten list (also known as the Ten Commandments): killing, stealing, etc. It also includes things like excessive drinking, which didn’t make God’s top ten list but are addressed in the Bible. It’s important to recognize, as the Dalai Lama has pointed out, that all religions fundamentally operate in the same direction – towards love. (See The Book of Joy for more.)

Much of right action could be compared to The Marshmallow Test. It’s denying our selfish, immediate needs in the service of greater rewards in the future. It’s difficult to delay our gratification and be willing to confront difficult decisions when they don’t fit with our previously established ideas or vows.

We have to live in the world – even when what is happening to us in the world isn’t what we planned. If our lives aren’t going along the script that we had planned, we have to accept that and only take the actions that we can to move us forward – without an attempt to overcontrol things.

Right Livelihood

Everyone has to make a living –but you don’t have to do it in a way that is deceitful or exploitative. The heart of right livelihood is finding a way to live which enriches your life – and the life of others. Making money is necessary. However, making money while preying on others isn’t.

Right Effort

The middle way – neither living in self-denial or indulgent materialism – is what right effort is about. It reflects the nature of life where both extremes on a continuum are bad. Only a middle path balances discipline and love. Children, as Donald Winnicott noted, need “good enough” parenting that doesn’t over indulge nor neglect the child for them to develop normally. Children need challenges, but, at the same time, they need to know that they’re supported.

Like strings on an instrument that can be too tight or too loose, we need to find the right grip on the things we work at so that we neither over- nor under-control. This delicate balance – the middle way – isn’t easy, but the result of the rightly-tuned string is good music. The result of the rightly-tuned life is happiness.

Right Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a bit of a misnomer. The word used is sati – which means “remembering.” When we’re being mindful, we’re remembering to pay attention to the world – and ourselves. Mindfulness isn’t anything special or additional that must be done. It’s not something that’s done only in the midst of meditation. Mindfulness is a way of viewing things where you keep an eye on your own mental processes.

In the learning and education space, it’s called “metacognitive.” In the Buddhist context, it’s keeping a distant eye on the processing that’s happening, so that we’re more aware of it.

Right Concentration

In terms of teaching, concentration is typically taught before mindfulness, because it’s useful in the process of trying to be mindful. In truth, we’re not taught how to concentrate in our schools or societies. Though concentration is a powerful force – like how focusing light makes a laser that can cut metal – it’s not something that most folks know how to do.

Together

Together, these ideas are the path towards enlightenment. However, even those on the path may find that they are buffeted by the waves of uncertainty and change. If you’re trying to find peace, Advice Not Given counsels, it’s important to remember that the waves are a part of the ocean. They rise, and they descend, but they’re all a part of the ocean.

Perhaps my favorite part of Advice Not Given is the ending. “Our egos do not have to have the last word.” Our egos may keep us from accepting advice, but it can’t stop us from reading Advice Not Given.

Book Review-The Trauma of Everyday Life

Trauma is everywhere. It spares no one. The constant march of time propels it forward without end. It’s The Trauma of Everyday Life that Buddha spoke of when he used the word dukkha. It’s the suffering that we all face. Mark Epstein in The Trauma of Everyday Life succeeds in helping to explain some fundamentals of our mental worlds as they intersect in Western and Buddhist philosophies.

Suffering

A man was being followed. Every street he turned onto, this figure followed. He ran, and the figure ran, too – as fast as he did. Every step, the figure followed. As he slowed, so did the figure. It was half an hour before the man realized that he was running from his shadow. That’s the experience that we have in life when we seek to avoid suffering. Wherever we go, suffering and trauma is there. We cannot escape it, because it’s an inescapable part of our lives.

Buddha called it dukkha, which is most typically translated as “suffering,” but the literal meaning is closer to “hard to face.” In Jewish and Christian traditions, it’s described that we live in a fallen world. The brokenness, pain, and suffering we experience are – according to the tradition – a result of the original sin. They’re a part of our existence now.

In Buddhist writings, there is a story of a woman carrying her dead baby and looking for a physician to bring the baby back to life. The Buddha told her to bring back mustard seeds from a family that had never known death. Of course, she couldn’t find any family who hadn’t experienced death. In the process, she realized that she wasn’t alone in her suffering and finally let go of her baby.

Suffering is a universal and unfortunate part of our lives, but we can’t run from it; we must accept it as a truth rather than try to pretend it doesn’t exist.

It’s Not Your Fault

Suffering or tragedy is not your fault. It’s not “ye of little faith” that causes the suffering. You didn’t do anything wrong. Even with Buddha’s belief in karma, he believed that perhaps only one in eight bad things that happen to a person is related to their bad karma. That is even the most consequential view. The good or bad you did that was reflected back to you didn’t necessarily lead – in his opinion – to suffering. Suffering is, as was the first noble truth, simply a part of life.

When you accept that suffering – or “trauma,” the word Mark Epstein uses – is a fundamental part of our world, you can let go of the shame and guilt that you’re receiving suffering as the consequences for your living. You can address only the suffering and not the feelings that the suffering brings up.

The Path Through Suffering

Many people believe that the way to happiness and joy is to avoid suffering. This is like the idea that mental health is the absence of mental illness. (See Flourish.) Both are fallacies. Joy isn’t the absence of pain and suffering. Joy is something else.

In fact, the path to joy isn’t in the opposite direction of suffering – it’s through it. In The Book of Joy, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and The Dalai Lama speak of the path to joy – and to how their joy led them both through struggles. If we stop short of joy at inner peace, we find that it too takes a path through suffering – not around it.

We can’t avoid suffering, we can’t run in fear that we may be hurt. Instead, we walk through it, not minimizing the suffering but acknowledging it as impermanent – only temporary. When we choose to run away from the possibility of suffering, we cheat ourselves out of a whole life and spend our time running from our own shadow, pretending that we can get away from suffering.

A View of Suffering

The pain we feel from something that goes wrong, misses our expectations, or harms us is only the first thing. What is more challenging – and longer lasting – is the harm that we cause ourselves by the perspective we take to the suffering.

Consider a beautiful vase in a store that you see crash to the ground. Though it is bad, you’re likely to not feel much. When the same vase is in your home and it’s a prized possession, because you bought it on your last vacation with your mother before she died, it will likely bring more suffering. The vase itself is the same. The meaning that we assign to it – and the perspective on the loss – is different. It’s that difference that causes the pain.

Another point of view is the old story about two Buddhist monks who had taken a vow to never touch a woman. Seeing a woman struggling and in need of assistance across a river, one carries her to the other side. He continues for the rest of the day with his companion, who finally explodes, “How could you carry that woman? You took a vow.” The first monk responds, “I only carried her across the river; you’ve carried her all day.” In one perspective, the monk was responding to the greater need for compassion than the limitation of his vow, and, in the second, the broken vow was unforgivable.

The first monk presumably suffered with the conflict between his vow to not touch a woman and his commitment to cultivating his compassion. This conflict was suffering – but briefly held as he moved on. The other monk presumably felt the same conflict but carried the suffering as his companion carried the woman.

Suffering is less about the objective pain or discomfort that we feel and more about how we view that pain – as having meaning or being pointless. (For more, see The Hope Circuit.) The way that we process the pain is substantially more important than the pain itself. (See Flourish for the difference between post-traumatic stress disorder and post-traumatic growth.)

Basic Buddhist Meditation

There are many kinds of meditative practices and perspectives on those practices. However, the most basic meditative practices in Buddhism are about watching your breath or body. The idea is not that you’re trying to change anything. Instead, you simply watch your thoughts and gently guide them back to your breath.

Not only is there no condemnation if your mind wanders, there is an expectation that it will wander. Even the most practiced meditators find that their mind wanders from time to time, and they simply lead it back gently and firmly, like you would a child.

Embedded in this practice is a paradox. People often come to meditation to change their life, to make pains disappear, or to feel less anxiety. The meditation itself isn’t trying to change anything. People change through these practices while they’re not trying to change anything.

Impermanence

One of the things about our breath is that it is constantly changing. Each breath is slightly different from the last, like snowflakes gently drifting down into our consciousness before melting away. All of life is like these snowflakes, which are here for the moment and then gone or changed the next. Our perspective that things are permanent is an illusion.

Scientists typically prefer to picture time as being laid out along a line and that we are simply moving along that line. Everything that will happen has – in essence – already happened. While this challenges our belief in our free will, it helps us visualize impermanence. We don’t expect that our home will exist in the same way that it does forever – or that we’ll even own it. Instead, we can recognize that everything that we feel is permanent really isn’t.

Absolute-isms

We like to believe that the world is much more cause-and-effect than it really is. We like to forget that there are probabilities in everything. We believe that we’re going to drive to the store safely – even though there is a small chance of an accident. These absolute-isms that things are going to be OK are what allow us to function. (See Change or Die for more on this.) Trauma can take these absolute-isms from us and force us to deal with our world in a more realistic way.

For me, losing my brother to an airplane accident was probably my singularly worst moment. In addition to losing a brother and a friend, I had to confront that even the best pilot and mechanic could have a set of things happen that he couldn’t compensate for. I had to come face to face with knowing that, no matter how good a pilot he was, it wasn’t enough.

Emotions

The mistaken impression of most is that Buddha transcended emotion. He eradicated it from his life and from the things that burdened his spirit. However, in truth, it’s more accurate to say that he learned how to come to terms with his emotions. He didn’t fear that they would overtake him and run amuck. Nor did he berate himself for negative (or afflictive) thoughts. He learned to simply allow his emotions to pass by as he saw them.

So many people want relief from the pressures of their emotions. The result is they turn to drugs, alcohol, sex, and other maladaptive coping strategies to allow them to numb themselves from their unpleasant emotions. This approach is different than the approach of learning to work with your emotions.

The Problem of Attachment

Buddha was surrounded by those who thought that the path to enlightenment was found through denying oneself and through inducing more suffering. However, as Buddha articulated, life is suffering. There is then no reason to try to add to it. There is enough suffering. Conversely, there were those who believed that there was no reason to suffer, that they should live life to its fullest and be materialistic in their desires. This too, he thought was wrong. Thus, he developed a middle way, which acknowledges life for what it is and still seeks to make it better.

In the middle way, Buddha realized that there is nothing wrong with pleasure. The problems that most people ascribed to pleasure were really problems with attachment to the outcomes, objects, and people that are necessarily impermanent.

Integrated Self Image

Epstein speaks of Buddha’s dreams and how he learned how to accept himself fully. He didn’t trouble himself with second-guessing. He accepted his bad parts – and his good parts – as one integrated person. He isn’t the result of one decision, one thought, or one action. He’s one collective whole. This is a concept that I’ve written about before in my reviews of Rising Strong, Schools Without Failure, Compelled to Control, and Beyond Boundaries. Clearly, it’s a recurring concept and important to me personally. I believe that developing an integrated self-image is key to surviving The Trauma of Everyday Life. What do you think?

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