Setting Up Let’s Encrypt on an Azure App Service

Once I had my blog ported over to WordPress running as an Azure App Service, I knew I needed to figure out how to secure my site, both because I wouldn’t want to be logging into it, randomized unique password or not, and because I wanted to be a good web citizen and secure all the things.

I saw that my pal Jeramiah had used Let’s Encrypt to secure his site, so I did some Googling, and asked him if he’d used the Azure extension I’d seen mentioned in a few blog posts, and he confirmed he had.

I read a few guides on getting it done, and while I had a few issues along the way, I finally got everything working. In an effort to save people from the starting and stopping and Googling that I had to go through while working through it, I decided to document the entire process from start to finish on a fresh blog.

You’re going to need an Azure Storage Account

Once you’re logged into the Azure portal, look for Storage accounts on the left-hand menu.

Azure Storage Account 1

As you can see here, I have no storage accounts. Click Create storage account.

Azure Storage Account 2

You’ll need to fill out and select some options here. I like to name every account or aspect of an App Service based on the overall name of the App Service, so I went with geekfoodblog.

I left Resource Manager as the default, selected general purpose v1, located in East US, and selected Geo-redundant storage (GRS). That may be overkill for my needs, but based on the storage costs for this blog last month and the amount of MSDN credit I have, it’s moot.

I believe Secure transfer required was Disabled by default, and I left it that way. If you have more than one subscription, you can select that here.

I did choose to drop it into the existing geekfoodblog Resource Group, since I had already deployed WordPress as an App Service before setting up Let’s Encrypt.

I did not choose to configure  virtual networks, nor did I pin this account to my dashboard, and with that, I clicked Create.

Azure Storage Account 3

Click on Access keys and copy your primary Connection String into a secure note somewhere for later use.

Azure Storage Account 4

Now you need a Service Account (or App Registration)

You may see this referred to elsewhere as a Service Principal. Azure calls it an App Registration. So click on Azure Active Directory, then App registrations, and then New application registration.

Azure Service Principal 1

You can see how I named mine. You’ll make use of auto-complete later, so using a few memorable letters as a prefix helps.

Also, as noted below, the Sign-on URL doesn’t matter in the sense that it doesn’t have to be something you own or are working with, but it does has to be something that is recognized as a legitimate URL.

Azure Service Principal 2

Now you’ll need to create a client secret or key.  Click Settings, then Keys.

Azure Service Principal 3

Give your key a description – I used letsencrypt, and I selected Never expires as the duration. That’s probably terrible, but it’s a huge key, so sue me.

When you click Save, you will be warned to copy the key value, as you won’t be able to retrieve it later. Stick that in the same secure note with your Storage Account connection string from above.

Azure Service Principal 4

You’ll also want to copy and paste the Client ID of your Service Account / App Registration.

As you can see below, and as you’ll notice in the screenshot I saved with the Client ID error I left in, the Client ID is not what you named the App Registration, but rather the Application ID.

You can copy and paste this into your secure note, or you can go grab it later as I did.

App Registration App-Client ID

Time to assign permissions for your Resource Group to your Service Account

Now you need to make sure your Service Account has permissions to your Resource Group, in particular so it can access the Storage Account you created above.

Click on Resource groups, then on the Resource Group of which your Storage Account is a member.

Azure Service Principal 5

Click on Access control (IAM), then click Add. For Role, select Contributor.

Start entering the name of your Service Account in the Select field, and select it, then click Save.

Azure Service Principal 6

Azure Service Principal 7

Now let’s install the Let’s Encrypt Extension

But first, so you can avoid an issue I noticed when I first set this up, let’s ensure your App Service is configured to always be on.

Click on App Services, then click on your App Service.

Azure Extension 1

Now click on Application Settings, and scroll down to Always On and make sure it is set to On.

Mine was not for some reason, and I noticed an error at one point.

Azure Extension 2

Now click on Extensions, then Add.

Azure Extension 3

Look for Azure Let’s Encrypt by SJKP. Click on it, then OK to accept legal terms, then OK again.

Azure Extension 4

Before proceeding, to help you avoid an issue I’ll show with a screenshot later, go ahead and restart your App Service.

Scroll up to click Overview, then click Restart. Then scroll back to and click Extensions.

Restart Service

Click on Azure Let’s Encrypt, then click Browse.

Azure Extension 5

Azure Extension 6

If you didn’t restart your App Service, you might get this error below.

Azure Extension 7

Now fill out the Let’s Encrypt Authentication Settings

First you’ll enter your Tenant URL, which will be unique to your Azure tenant.

You’ll then add your Azure SubscriptionID – also unique to you.

Next, for ClientID, you’ll enter the Application ID of the Service Account / App Registration you created above. Did you copy and paste that into your secure note? If not, you can find it under Azure Active Directory > App Registrations > Name of your Service Account.

For ClientSecret, enter the Secret / Key from your Service Account / App Registration.

Enter your ResourceGroupName and ServicePlanResourceGroupName – which for me are the same thing.

Be sure to check Update Application Settings, as this is required for the web job that will renew the certificate later.

Azure Extension 8

At this point, assuming you already have your hostnames configured, you should see something similar to what I did below. So click Next.

Azure Extension 9 Azure Extension 10

Select the hostname, enter your email address, and click Request and Install certificate. 

I’d already done this once before, so I was fairly sure it would work, so I didn’t bother checking the UseStaging box.

Azure Extension 11

Now you’ll need to add the SSL binding to your Azure-hosted domain. So go to App Services Your App ServiceCustom Domains.

While you’re here, if you haven’t already done it, switch HTTPS Only to On.

Scroll down and click Add binding next to your domain

Azure Extension 12

Select your custom domain under Hostname. Select the new SSL certificate under Certificate. Click Add Binding.

Azure Extension 13

Time for some Azure WebJobs goodness

If you stopped right now, your site would be secured until the Let’s Encrypt SSL certificate expired in 3 months. Let’s ensure that doesn’t happen by connecting your Let’s Encrypt WebJob to the Azure Storage Account you created above.

Go to App Services Your App ServiceApplication Settings.

Scroll down to Connection Strings and create AzureWebJobsDashboard and AzureWebJobsStorage.

Both of these should have a value of, you guessed it, the Connection String you copied from your Azure Storage Account above.

Azure Extension 14

You can confirm your WebJob is running by going to App Services Your App ServiceWebJobs

Azure Extension 15

And once you’ve done all this, fire up your web browser, go to your custom domain, and check your your shiny new Let’s Encrypt SSL certificate.

Azure Extension 16

WordPress as an App Service on Azure

I’ve blogged on the WordPress platform for years, starting way, way back when I had what I thought of at the time as a shell account at Pair Networks. Since then I’ve installed and run WordPress on other web-hosting accounts, as well as on virtual private servers and, for a short period of time, even on a spare Linux box under the desk in my office. I’ve spent most of my career doing Windows system administration and a goodly bit of it using a Mac as my primary desktop/laptop computer, but I learned just enough Linux to install and keep Apache, PHP, MySQL, and WordPress running. At some point I grew tired of caring and feeding for WordPress itself, so I just imported my blogs into, paid for domain mapping and their “no ads” service, and let the folks at Automattic worry about it.

Will This Be Hard? No.

My first thought about running WordPress on Azure was that I would rather not go back to managing WordPress the old fashioned way involving managing the entire stack from the OS (Linux or Windows) on up. Turns out, as Jeramiah alluded to in his recent post, I don’t have to. There’s certainly more opportunity (and need, especially since I wanted to make my Azure-hosted blog secure) to fiddle with nerd knobs running an Azure App Service, but when it comes to getting WordPress up and running, it took about the same amount of time on Azure as it did at Want to see how easy it was? Let’s build another one together.

1. Log into the Azure Portal and click on App Services, then click Add.

0718 Azure Add App Service

2. You may be tempted to select one of the WordPress options you see right away. Resist that urge, unless of course you want to run WordPress on Linux or something else.

0718 Azure App Service Search

3. Instead, type WordPress into the search and hit enter. Select just plain WordPress as shown below, then click Create.

0718 Azure Just Plain WordPress

4. This next step is important for a few reasons. First, whatever App name you choose here will become your hostname in the domain Second, you will choose whether to create a new resource group or (if you have one), use an existing one. Most importantly, and it may not be obvious at this step (it wasn’t to me), you’re choosing whether you want to run and pay for a separate database service to run MySQL. I went that route at first, but after conferring with Jeramiah, I decided I’d rather save the money/credit and just run MySQL inside the App Service plan. I’ve included the disclaimer Azure shows you below as well.

Azure App Service Options0718 Azure DB Disclaimer

5. Click Create. I chose to pin my new App Service to my dashboard.

So five steps (maybe a couple more total clicks) to deploy. It takes Azure a minute or two to deploy the new App Service, and once it’s finished, it is fully live, as shown here:

Azure WordPress Setup

And just a minute or two after filling out the basic info for the WordPress Setup, I had a working install up and running, and even prompting me to update to the latest version.

Azure New WordPress

Back in the Azure Portal, I was presented with a nice data-rich view of my new App Service, along with lots of options, some of which I’ll go into when I detail how I used Let’s Encrypt to secure my new Azure blog.

Azure App Service Dashboard


And once I finished taking the screenshots I needed for this post, deleting the App Service was just as easy as creating it. Just click Delete, confirm by typing the App Service name, and click Delete again.


Azure Delete App Service

So Why Do This?

That’s a fair question. As I mentioned in my previous post, this blog was being neglected over at, but I could have simply fired up MarsEdit and kept posting to it there. But I want to learn more about Microsoft Azure, maybe get outside my comfort zone a little bit, and I figure one way to encourage me to do that is to port this blog over and set myself a challenge to document the experience. So that’s what I’m doing.

If I didn’t have an MSDN subscription with a monthly Azure credit, would I pay to host my blog here full time? I don’t know – maybe, maybe not. But I do, so I am. I figure hosting my blog is the least interesting thing I can do in Azure, but it’s a start.

If you have suggestions for other stuff I can try in Azure, let me know via Twitter, where I’m @mikestanley




Climbing Back into the Saddle

I love to write. Heck, my email address at work is And yet, somehow, I haven’t written a single blog post for more than a year and a half. The reasons why don’t matter. What does matter is that I’m tired of not writing, and I recently received what was almost certainly an unintentional kick in the behind from my buddy Jeramiah Dooley. Jeramiah published a post entitled “Who Needs Some Lab Gear” on his blog. I was intrigued that Jeramiah, a guy I met when my former employer was considering the vBlock, had started a new job at Microsoft in the Azure engineering group, and was divesting himself of a ton of “home” lab gear and moving his blog over to Azure.

That got me to thinking. I don’t really have a ton of lab gear… in fact, what little I do have, shown here, hasn’t been powered on since we bought our current house 13 months ago, so I should probably get rid of it as well.

Home Lab

What I do have, however, is an MSDN subscription with a healthy monthly Azure credit. I’d played with Azure a bit over the years, spinning up a virtual machine for a few hours until I did the math and realized I couldn’t keep it running all month, but that’s about it. I’ve been using it to test Microsoft Intune for a project at work recently, but when Jeramiah mentioned he “moved everything over to an Azure App Service, so no need for servers at all,” my curiosity was piqued, and I figured I could at least try to do the same thing.

Azure’s Pretty Cool, and Easy to Work With

I’ll detail this in another post, but it turns out, getting something up and running in Azure is crazy easy. I even messed up a few times, selected the wrong option without considering the consequences, but that wasn’t a big deal – I just deleted the App Service and started over. Once I decided what I wanted, it took me far less time to get the basic service up and running than it did for me to decide which photo I wanted to use as the header image for this blog. Here’s my current Azure dashboard:

Azure Dashboard

Since this was a learning experience for me, my next post will detail the process of getting a blog (on WordPress, in my case) up and running in Azure. For now, here’s a a meme:

Blogging Azure Style

Non-IT Training for IT Staff – It Matters

IT Training (the norm)

I’ve worked in IT for more than 20 years, with most of that being in higher education at the University of Tennessee. We’re a state-funded university, and the training “budget” (when there even was one) in the various groups I’ve worked for has never been what I’d call large, and for many years I would have said it was non-existent.

Still, I’ve been sent to numerous IT training classes or conferences over the years – most funded by my group/unit, with a couple funded by a vendor. While working on the HelpDesk, I volunteered to attend, along with a few other people, evening classes over a six month period of time, to get my MCSE, way back in the Windows NT 4 days. Since then, I’ve attended Microsoft, Citrix, and VMware classes, and attended a handful of conferences, including MMS, Synergy, TechEd, Ignite, and Dell World.

I worked for various incarnations of the central IT organization for UT Knoxville for 17 years. During that time, I received the bulk of the IT training I refer to above, and I’m grateful for it. With the possible exception of a couple of Microsoft courses delivered by professional trainers in the early 2000’s whose primary skill seemed to be the ability to read the official courseware out loud, every class and conference I’ve ever attended has made me a better IT Administrator.

Non-IT or “Soft Skills” Training (not the norm)

I work at a university, so it wouldn’t be fair to say that I’ve never received any non-IT training until recently. But I believe choosing to work on a second BA in Creative Writing using my (then) university-granted fee waiver benefit was fundamentally different from what I’m about to write about.

Since 2013, I’ve worked for the UT Institute of Agriculture, and my boss, our CIO, places a high value on developing his employees not to be just better technologists, but better leaders. Given that, he asked me last year if I’d like to attend the Dale Carnegie Course. I knew he’d sent a couple of my coworkers through the course before I was hired, so I said sure.

I remember thinking in vague terms that this course, as many people do, was mostly about  helping people become better public speakers. I’ll write more specifically about the course someday, but let’s just say calling the Dale Carnegie Course a public speaking class would be like calling Walt Disney World a place with a few neat rides. Sure, it is, but it’s so much more than that.

The Dale Carnegie Course may not have taught me anything directly related to doing my IT job in a technical sense, but I can say without hesitation that it didn’t just help me become a better employee and a better member of my group – it’s helped me be a better person. After missing a session due to some work travel, I recently made up that last session and graduated from the course.

What’s so awesome about working for the Institute of Agriculture and UT Extension is that this sort of training and professional development is promoted throughout our organization. My boss paid for some of this course from our group’s budget, but he didn’t have to pay for the whole thing because I applied for and received the Lloyd and Nettie Downen Endowment Fund Leadership Enhancement Award. That $1,000 award covered about 60% of the cost of the course.  I continue to be impressed with how much of an investment the leadership at the Institute places in developing its employees.

My Advice

If you’re a manager of IT people, consider investigating non-IT training that may benefit your employees. If you’re an individual contributor, look for a course (I can highly recommend the Dale Carnegie Course) and see if your boss might be willing to fund it. We may all work in IT, but so much of what we accomplish in our jobs is impacted by and dependent on the relationships we have at work – with coworkers, partners, leadership, customers. Learning about new technologies can pay off well. Learning softer skills can pay off even more.





I’m actually more proud of this certificate than I am of either of the two diplomas I have for my degrees.



My coworker, Daniel Hinton, and I attended the Dale Carnegie Course together.


A [very late] Update on Carpal Tunnel

Last year I posted that I had to take an unplanned break from blogging. That break lasted longer than I expected on this blog, although I did manage to post periodically on my food blog, Geek Food Critic.

Well, I’m back with a short update on what happened, how I dealt with the continued issue of RSI/carpal tunnel syndrome, and word that I’m once again participating in the 30 day blog challenge #vDM30in30.

The Medical/Body Side of Things

As of last December, I was waiting to see a specialist. I managed to finally get an appointment with him in late December. I saw an orthopedic surgeon who had actually performed an operation on my wife’s elbow, and she liked him a lot. I did too, although I didn’t really enjoy the nearly two hour delay in being seen the day of my appointment. He was apologetic, however, and I could tell the delay was due to how much time he spends with each patient.

I described my pain, numbness, and tingling to him and he did several manipulations and tests of my hand and fingers. I ended up getting a cortisone (I think) shot that day, and let me tell you, that was both terrifying, as someone who isn’t fond of needles, and oddly pain-free, thanks to some sort of magic cold spray the nurse used on my wrist. After a day or two the shot kicked in and it was like magic. My hand and wrist felt better than it had in years. I kept using the various trackballs and even the Evoluent mouse my boss ordered for me, but figured I might be able to just go back to my usual Logitech mouse.

Wrong. The magic wore off three weeks to the day from getting the shot, and the pain was even worse than before.

So I went to see the doctor again, but first I saw another doctor to have some sort of strange electro-shock torture test done on my hands and arms. I believe this test measured the time it took electrical impulses to travel up and down my arms and hands and fingers, and would have been required by my insurance company (oh how I love my health insurance company) before any possible surgery to address the carpal tunnel syndrome.

Except it turned out that the test was fine, mostly anyway, and showed no serious nerve damage. I asked the doc if that meant I’d just caught this early enough that none had occurred yet and he said that was possible. He didn’t recommend surgery, which was fine with me because I don’t want to be cut open if it isn’t absolutely necessary. So I got another cortisone shot, with an explanation that he really only recommended 2-3 of those in a calendar year, so hopefully this one would last longer.

And it has – right up until this week. That familiar pain and tingling is starting to come back, so I would imagine I have another trip to the doc and at least one needle in my wrist in my near future.

The Tech Side of Things

So what have I been using or avoiding in trying to deal with this issue over the last year? I ended up trying multiple trackballs, a Logitech trackpad, the Evoluent wireless mouse, and what I settled on for regular use at home and at work for a while was the Logitech M570.



At home I adapted to using the M570 for gaming for a few months, but I noticed some discomfort after an hour or so, so I’ve mostly stopped gaming on the PC on a regular basis. That meant I used either my MacBook Pro or my iPad Pro at home, and over the last few months, I’ve used the iPad Pro almost exclusively. It’s easier on my hands and it’s plenty powerful enough to do what I need to do. I’ll be finishing this blogpost later tonight on the iPad, in fact.

At work, I use the M570 almost all the time when I’m using my MacBook Pro at my sit/stand desk. Recently, for at least 1-3 hours every day I have to work with a PC to work with networking and security equipment, and while doing that I use my old Logitech mouse, but I try to grip it lightly and take my hand off it and use the keyboard as much as possible. Typing that out makes me realize I need to just put in an order for another M570 for the PC – thankfully they’re cheap.

I use my MacBook Pro rarely in meetings at work – it’s a 15″ beast, after all. For most meetings I use my 9.7″ iPad Pro with the Logitech Create case.

Supplements I’m Taking

Something I hadn’t tried by last December but did start by the time I saw the ortho doc was taking a couple of supplements based on recommendations from friends who had dealt with carpal tunnel syndrome. I’ve taken Tumeric in capsule form twice daily for the last 11 months, as well as a B12 vitamin every day. I’m not sure if they’ve helped, but from what I’ve read they both help with inflammation.

So What Comes Next?

I don’t know, but I’m going to start using an M570 on my PC at work and hope that reduces the irritation of using a normal mouse as much as I’ve been doing lately. I’m also very close to going all iPad all the time at home, given my disappointment with Apple’s latest and very late new MacBook Pros.

If that helps, great. If it doesn’t, I’ll see my ortho doc again and see how another cortisone shot works. I’d like to think that surgery isn’t in my future, but the truth is I use my hands all day every day to make my living, and I’m not sure what else I can do to lessen the impact of all of the repetitive and stressful movements I make doing my job.

An Unplanned Break from Blogging

So this will be even shorter than the one I’d spent a painful half hour typing before Squarespace decided to eat the post.

I completely failed in my commitment to keep up with and successfully complete the #vDM30in30 blog challenge. 

I did that for two primary reasons:

  1. We decided we needed a new, larger vehicle in November. As is normal for me, I obsessively researched the purchase.  We settled on a Kia Sorento and bought it the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Most of the spare time I had in November was spent doing car research, and nearly all of that on my iPhone 6S Plus because of reason 2.
  2. In late October I developed carpal tunnel syndrome. I’m still dealing with it now, having seen my primary doctor and am currently waiting to see a specialist. 

I typed up a good bit of info about my experience so far in the post Squarespace ate (and that I, admittedly failed to save – won’t make that mistake again) so I’ll just post a pic and a few links to what I’m trying right now.

This is me with the 2 trackballs I’m using with my right hand these days.  Not pictured is the one I also use with my left hand.

I’m using the Kensington Orbit with my left hand when I feel like I need to give my right hand a break. It’s cheap and not the best feel/quality, but I had it in a box at home and it’s good enough, for now anyway, for my off hand.

For my left hand, I am alternating between the Logitech M570 for precision work and the Kensington SlimBlade for general use. I bought the Logitech right away when I started hurting because I didn’t want to wait on the purchase process at work, and I figured I would need one at home anyway. I’m currently borrowing the Kensington Slimblade from my boss for a few days because, as the most expensive of the three, I want to make sure it will do well by me before asking him to drop nearly $100 on it.

I’m also going to borrow an Evoluent vertical mouse from a colleague this week. I’ve heard good things about vertical mice. I have tried and will be returning an Anker vertical mouse. It’s too small for my hand and gets fairly crummy wireless reception.

More to come as I figure all this out

I’m planning to post more about this as the pain allows and as my experience with it grows. I’m going to try to experiment with blogging via dictation either via my Mac or iPhone. While I anticipate needing to do some layout and image adding by hand, just being able to save typing most of these words would have been very nice.

My First Terrible Experience at the Apple Store

I don’t like the term “fanboy” but I’ve had it applied to me many times due to my preference for and, admittedly, advocacy for Apple products among my friends and family. I switched to the Mac at work back in 2002 because our Mac person left, and within a few years, all of the computers I owned were Macs. I still prefer them today, although I work more with Windows on a regular basis, and I’ll admit that Windows 8 and Windows 10 appeal to me more than 2000/XP ever did.  All this is to say that I’m firmly grounded in the Apple ecosystem, both on the OS X and iOS side of the house.

I have always loved the Apple Store. I remember when ours opened up here in Knoxville, and it is still the only store I will gladly walk into at the mall. Over the years I’ve had occasion to visit the Apple Store a handful of times to have Macs repaired, and in one instance replaced – perhaps a story for another time highlighting how great Apple customer service can be. But today I want to briefly explain how bad the Apple Store experience can be, as I recently had reason to take my 5 days old iPhone 6S Plus in to be looked at.


I made my appointment at the Genius Bar using the Apple Store app, for the first available slot, around lunchtime two days later. For the next couple of days I anticipated walking into the store for the same individual, personal attention I’d received numerous times over the years. I knew the Apple Store is crazy crowded these days, but surely, if I’m making an appointment, especially two days in advance, I’d receive the same type of customer service I always had. It is, after all, one of the things Apple has proven a real differentiator in its retail experience compared to its competitors over the years.

I couldn’t have been more wrong, although I wouldn’t realize that until about 10 minutes into my appointment. Because everything started out the same – check in with the traffic cop employee, who notifies someone via their headset that I’m here, then a helpful Genius showed up to escort me over, not the Genius Bar, as it was packed, but to the side of one of the tables across from the bar. And for a few glorious minutes, I received the kind of customer service and personalized attention Apple is famous for. Until it became obvious that my problem wasn’t going to be resolved in 10 minutes, and the Genius’ next appointment showed up.

If you have a problem that can be solved in under 10 minutes, you may still be able to walk out of the Apple Store feeling like you received targeted personal service. If, say, you have to restore your iPhone 6S Plus from an iCloud backup (15-20 minutes, minimum), what you will experience is a sort of frantic, start and stop, hold on while I check on this person kind of triaging that can probably be OK to terrible, but simply can’t be great.

For longer than an hour and a half, I was juggled along with at least 6 (I stopped trying to keep up with them) other Apple Customers by one frantic Genius moving between at least 2 locations. He’d come over to me for a minute or three, try something, start a process that could take another 10-30 minutes, then move onto another customer he was helping. And with up to 4 of us at any one time, the squeaky wheel got the grease, or in this case the attention of the Genius, as he seemed to be caught by the couple of customers he had over at the Genius Bar several times while I waited (not so) patiently over at the table where he’d started with me.


Even though I was and continue to be extremely dissatisfied and disappointed with the experience I had at the Apple Store, I realized then an now that the individual Genius working with me was not to blame for the situation. He was polite and seemed genuinely interested in helping me, but he is working within a system that simply doesn’t afford him the ability to truly focus on an individual customer or problem they may be having for more than 10-15 minutes.

I worked on the HelpDesk early on in my IT career. I know how difficult and stressful it can be to help people who come to you with something that isn’t working. Imagine trying to do the HelpDesk job, but instead of answering the phone and dealing with one customer with a problem, if you don’t get the first customer issue fixed within 10 minutes, you have to start putting the first customer on hold at what is hopefully a natural pause point, to work with a second customer, then a third, and a fourth if necessary, all the while cycling between them. Every shift from customer to customer, problem to problem, must have an impact on efficiency, not to mention the inherent time to resolution increase while 1-3 customers sit there waiting to receive attention again.

Within the confines of this insane situation, the Genius did the best he could, and it was obvious either he’s naturally good at placating frustrated people, or Apple does a good job of training its employees to say the best words in this type of situation to try to mollify someone who, quite reasonably, is tired of being put off and juggled like a ball in a circus act. I don’t fault this young man for the environment in which he’s working and the decisions that someone above his pay grade made to turn the Genius Bar into a frantic, disjointed assembly line.


The day after my terrible experience at the Apple Store, I received a request to fill out a survey for it. I did so with as much bluntness and perhaps a bit more brevity as you find in this post. I noted that yes, I was willing to discuss the matter further if Apple needed to reach out to me, and sure enough, a couple days later, I received a phone call from someone at the local Apple Store.

We had a good conversation. Not a happy conversation, but a good one. I explained my history with Apple and the Apple Store in particular, and how frustrating the recent experience was. More than anything, I tried to convey that the experience made me feel like I was just a box to be checked off. The guy I spoke with was very apologetic about that and said that wasn’t at all what Apple wanted, and I get that.

I told him that after thinking about how absolutely packed the Apple Store is nearly all the time, I don’t know if there’s a good way for Apple to solve this problem. They can’t just hire more Geniuses – there’s no room for them or additional customers. I suppose they could double or quadruple the size of the store (assuming they could get the space) but that may just be a bandaid. I suggested exclusive appointments of a longer nature by default, but realized that would necessarily extend the wait time for an appointment beyond the 2 days I had, and possibly as long as a week or more. The Apple employee noted that, especially given the critical role an iPhone and other Apple devices play in people’s lives, asking them to wait a week for an appointment would likely just result in even more walk-in customers who are unaware of or choose to ignore the appointment reservation system. He said they do their best to accommodate walk-ins, but increased wait times would make it even worse.

He asked if I was aware of AppleCare’s telephone support, and noted that many issues they help with in store can be resolved over the phone. I told him I was, but as someone with a lot of years in IT, I rarely called any type of support because for nearly anything phone support could help me with, I usually find those solutions myself on the web. I also noted the Genius had, perhaps later in the process than I’d preferred, punted and simply swapped my iPhone 6S Plus for a replacement unit – so assuming that was actually necessary, phone support would’ve done me no good.

I thanked him for calling and I’d say our conversation was cordial and wistfully hopeful, but grounded in the reality that today, Apple has so many customers, especially iPhone customers (as I was in this case), that there is only so much that can be done logistically to improve this situation.

Moments of Awesome in the Midst of Frustration

Even while I was growing more dissatisfied and frustrated with the situation at the Apple Store, I paid attention to what was going on around me. It’s not like I had anything else to do other than get hungrier as my lunch hour came and went, after all. I observed a couple of really great interactions that helped then and now to remind me that Apple really does try to do customer service better than anybody.

The first involved a customer I’ll call Extremely Rude Old Dude. This guy was mad because his iPhone 6 (maybe 6S) wasn’t sending email from his Gmail account. His tone and demeanor were really off-putting, so much so that just as an observer of the poor Genius doing his best to help him, I found myself wanting to just say, “Hey buddy, how about you dial back the attitude a bit and cut this kid some slack while he’s trying to help you?” Being raised in the South, however, I didn’t say that to one of my elders, although I did keep thinking it. Through it all, however, the Genius kept his happy Apple game face on, and never once reacted to the rudeness he was dealing with. And you know what? By the time Rude Old Guy left, his problem was solved, and he even had Reachability explained to him so he understood it was there to help him, not a problem with his iPhone. I’d like to think if this guy had been a customer of mine, I could’ve been as nice and patient as the Genius helping him.

The second involved a customer I’ll call Tech-Savvy Grandma. She walked in with a white plastic MacBook and said she was giving it to her grandson and would like to have it wiped and have a fresh OS put on it. I just checked and this model of MacBook was discontinued in 2011, and her’s could’ve been older than that. So there’s no way it was under active warranty. But this is where Apple really shines. The Genius (the one helping me, in fact) just nodded, asked her to confirm there was no data on the MacBook she needed, and went to work. He connected the MacBook to the Apple Store network via Ethernet (I assume they have to use USB/Thunderbolt adaptors for newer Mac laptops), did a NetBoot, and installed the latest version of OS X that supported that device. She left happy with service I know she couldn’t have gotten anywhere else.

Will It Get Any Better?

I don’t know. I kinda doubt it. If Apple had remained just a computer company, this wouldn’t have happened. Of course, Apple might not have survived or at least thrived as it has on the basis of the Mac and iPod alone, so who knows? But given the truly enormous customer base the iPhone has, not to mention the iPad, and continued growth on the Mac side while the rest of the PC industry declines, I don’t know that Apple can fix this problem. I just know I came away from it feeling reluctant to risk returning to the Apple Store to ask for help unless I had no other option, and that is not how I want to feel about it, and I know that’s not what Apple wants its usually very happy customers willing to pay a premium for its awesome products to feel.

iPad Pro – Not For Me

I may end up regretting this, since some folks in my life revel in reminding me when I declare I’m not going to buy [name of Apple product] that I often later do purchase it, but I just don’t see the iPad Pro in my near future, and maybe ever.

That’s a screenshot of our university Apple Store pricing for the iPad Pro and accessories. As an aside, I think it’s hilarious that Apple knocks $50 off the price of a MacBook Air, but only $20 off the price of an iPad Pro, even though they basically cost the same amount of money.

There’s no way I would buy an iPad without AppleCare+, especially having endured the pain of dealing with a shattered screen on an iPad 4 without accidental damage coverage. So the least I could spend on an iPad Pro would be $1028 plus tax. Since I can’t see the point of going with something as large as the iPad without getting the accessories to make full use of it, at a minimum I’d need to add the Smart Keyboard for an extra $169, bringing the minimum to $1197. 

I can’t draw, but I do like to write notes and sometimes doodle, so that’s another $99, bringing the pre-tax total to $1296. And since the state of TN isn’t going to give it to me tax free (outside of tax-free weekend, but that was back in August), my real out-the-door total price would be $1,415.88.

If that makes sense to you for your use case, I am very happy for you. For me, if I’m going to spend $1400+ on a device, I’m going to need it to do more than an iPad currently can do for me. I own a 13″ MacBook Pro with Retina Display and love it, and I didn’t pay too much more for it than I would this iPad Pro.

I’m not sure who the iPad Pro is really for – artists maybe, or maybe folks who can live fully on an iPad but would like a bigger screen than the iPad Air 2 offers.  Even though it isn’t for me, I’m sure it will appeal to a lot of people, and I wish them well.

Apple TV 4th Generation – Early Impressions


This will not be an exhaustive review of the Apple TV.  If you’re looking for that, I suggest you read one of these:

Here are my early impressions of the new Apple TV. Full disclosure – I registered for and received an (essentially) free Apple TV through the Apple Developer Program, so I’m not coming at this from the perspective of someone who just spend $149 or more on the device. I also had the device for about a month before it came out, but considering the App Store wasn’t available until launch day, the Apple TV only served as an iTunes media extender for that period of time.

Unboxing & Setup – Some Good, Some Terrible

The out of box experience with the new Apple TV is a mixed bag. Of course it came packed in a box that made it seem like a Christmas present and of course it’s physically well-made and easy to connect – this is an Apple device, after all.

Powering the device on for the first time and setting it up with an iPhone (6S Plus in my case) via Bluetooth was outstanding, as it should be. The Apple TV sucked in my home network security information via my iPhone and connected to the Internet without a hitch. And that’s when the fun stopped.

First the Apple TV wanted my iCloud password. I’m not sure why since it had already magically gotten other information from my iPhone, but OK, maybe Apple means for it to be more secure. No way I’m going to willingly try to type my password on a remote, especially since my password isn’t short and simple, so off I go to the iOS App Store on my new 6S Plus to download the Remote app.  This app is awesome because it basically lets you use your iOS device’s keyboard when paired with the Apple TV and I’d used it with both the 2nd and 3rd generation Apple TV’s, so I was good to go, right? Wrong. The Remote app doesn’t work with the 4th generation Apple TV. No problem, I can also pair one of the many Apple Bluetooth keyboards to it just like I had on previous Apple TV’s, right? Wrong.

Here’s the interface you get to use while entering your (hopefully complex) iCloud password and any other password you may have to enter using the new Apple TV.

Have fun with that, I guess, if your password is complex, and especially if it jumps around on that crazy horizontal line for the alphabet. And if you happen to mistype your password, you get this.

So let’s review. Apple released the new Apple TV without support for Bluetooth keyboards, something previous generations supported, and did not update its own Remote app to work with the 4th generation Apple TV. This makes for a truly terrible and frustrating experience, and I can only imagine Tim Cook and Eddy Cue either have minions to do all this crap for them or have simple passwords. 

Major UI / user experience fail in my opinion.

The new Siri Remote – Not a Fan Yet

So i’m not a fan of the new remote, at least not yet. It’s too small for my hands, although it’s better than the old style that I never used anyway. While I suppose I will need to keep the remote handy if I want to take advantage of the integrated Siri functionality, that will be a bit of a pain as it will still be a secondary remote. On our main TV in the bedroom I have the following devices connected to a Sony soundbar and our 40″ TV:

  • Apple TV (4th Gen)
  • Roku 3
  • Tivo HD
  • Xbox One

I drive all that with a fairly middle of the road Logitech Harmony remote, which thankfully still works fine with the new Apple TV. Given that, I haven’t even picked up the Siri remote in a few days, and may only use it moving forward for apps/games that require the touch pad or to use Siri itself.

I will say I don’t find the touch pad to be particularly precise, although I’m willing to admit I haven’t put much time into using it or tuning my movements to whatever it requires. Still, swiping and clicking on an iPhone or iPad has never been something I could describe as imprecise.

What’s to Like – Apps

While I am pretty annoyed at the frustrating experience for entering passwords into the Apple TV and I’m still not used to the new remote, there is a good deal to like about the new Apple TV.

First of all, the device is much faster than my 3rd generation device. It’s doing more too, but even moving from app to app or app to video player, it feels so much quicker than previous Apple TV’s. Second, there are real apps now, not just those janky pseudo containers Apple worked with some companies to provide bland video experiences before.

While the app selection on launch day was fairly light, I was able to find a couple of gems on day one. Touchpress is an app that combines classical music, video of it being performed, and interesting visualizations like the notes falling onto a piano keyboard or an orchestra map with sections of instruments lighting up to the beat of the music. Star Walk Kids is a Apple TV version of the popular iPad kids astronomy app. Haven’t done a ton with it so far, but in the few minutes I showed it to our 3 year old, he really enjoyed it.

There is an enormous selection of games already, but I’m going to wait a bit before trying any of them. Mostly because I want to give it some time for the best ones to surface either via store reviews or review sites, but also because I can’t really see using the remote as a gaming controller.  Once I know there are several games I’ll like, I’ll check out reviews of Apple TV-compatible game controllers and buy one.

Siri – more than just a gimMick

To prepare to write this post, I played with Siri on the Apple TV. It does a number of the things we’re used to from Siri on the iPhone, so I’m not going to go into those.  What I will say, however, is that Siri is even better so far in actual use than I thought it would be based on the demo during the Apple event keynote a couple months ago.

I did a quick test, asking Siri to show me movies with Harrison Ford in them.  It did, with a list of movies scrolling off the screen. So I said, “just the action movies” and the list got smaller. Then I said, “from the last 10 years” and Siri showed me the ones from 2005 to 2015. Then I said, “Show me the ones from the last year” and there was only one left – Expendables 3. So that’s neat.

What’s even better, though, is that all of the voice controls for moving around during a video are not just limited to Apple’s video playing apps. I just bounced around a movie in Plex by just pressing Siri button on the remote and saying things like, “Jump ahead 5 minutes” or “What did he say?” and everything worked exactly as expected, either moving to the point in time I specified, or jumping back 15-20 seconds to replay what I had missed.

Plex – the killer app so far

I like Plex. I used to like it a lot more before the screwed their iOS app up so much that it transformed my 3 year old’s iPad from something he could use without any help from me into something that made no sense even to me. That’s a story for another time, though. I still have and use the Plex server, and for years, all I’ve really wanted was to be able to run Plex natively on my Apple TV without jailbreaking or any other hacking nonsense. Plex on the Roku 3 is great, and over time, the Roku 3 became my primary set-top box (we ditched cable nearly 5 years ago) – with my old Apple TV being relegated to playing only iTunes content and HBO NOW.

While I’ve shifted our family’s media consumption lately to include more iTunes content, which would make it easier to shift the new Apple TV into the primary slot, the fact that Plex is not only on Apple TV but the best implementation of the Plex client yet makes it a sure thing.

So Plex looks great, works well, and feels much faster on the new Apple TV than it does on my Roku 3. While I will likely continue to get kids shows for our son via iTunes so I can make sure he has a kid-friendly movies & tv interface, I will happily continue to rip my physical media and store it on my Synology NAS so it can be served up by Plex server to the TV’s in our house.

Apple TV 4th Generation – a mixed but hopeful bag

I’m looking forward to using the new Apple TV. For what it does well, I am very happy. For the terrible, and I mean atrociously bad setup and continued UI mess with entering passwords, I am very disappointed in Apple. They can do better, and I hope they do it soon by either updating the iOS Remote app or by enabling Bluetooth keyboard support for the new Apple TV.

I’ll say again that I got this Apple TV via the Developer Program, so I only paid $1 for it. Would I pay $149 or more for one right now? Probably, although I’d be even more mad about the password nonsense. I will likely buy a second one to replace the Roku 3 on our living room TV at some point, mainly so our son would be able to watch Paw Patrol on either of our TV’s.


New Blog, New Platform, New Challenge

I’ve wanted to reboot my blog for a while now and the timing for the #vDM30in30 challenge couldn’t be better. I participated last year and had a great, if somewhat stressful time completing the challenge, so why not add some spice to the holiday season this year, right?

Just like last year, I’ll be distributing my writing across (at least) two blogs – this one and my food blog, Geek Food Critic. I’ll keep the food stuff there and everything else here.

Topics I have in mind right now for either blog:

  1. My review of the new Apple TV
  2. My experience as a new Giganto Phone User (iPhone 6S Plus)
  3. A truly terrible experience at the Apple Store
  4. Thoughts on Dell World 2015
  5. Upgrading SCCM 2012R2 to the latest Cumulative Update
  6. A review of The Salt Lick, a BBQ restaurant
  7. A look back at our first year using Zoom video conferencing service

I’m sure there will be more, especially once I look at the backlog of food and tech posts I’ve meant to write for a while.

So why the blog reboot?

Good question. I started Single Malt Cloud in June of 2011 because I wanted to document a large VDI project I was spearheading and also (I thought) our university’s “journey to the cloud” – whatever the heck I thought that really meant at the time. I enjoyed writing about VDI and related technologies for quite a while, but I’m not working directly in that arena anymore. Over time I branched out and wrote about other topics, including consumer technology, IT conferences, my favorite podcasts – you name it. But it always seemed a little odd to be writing about that stuff on that blog.

The other reason is I was recently asked by a colleague what my blog name meant, and why it was named “Single Malt Cloud” and I realized two very important things:

  1. There was no reason for him or anyone else to “get” the little play on words I thought was so clever when I registered that domain name late one night, and explaining it stopped being fun a long time ago.
  2. I’m a father now, and while I am far from a prude, if I’m still blogging when my 3 year old son is old enough to read something his dad writes on the web … well, I’d rather it be under my name (or as close as possible given domain-squatting jerks), not a blog with a type of whiskey in the name.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do with the content over at SMC. I’m paid up through for a year, and it all lives at a free blog underneath the domain redirect anyway. I may leave all or most of the content there, or I may selectively pull some posts over here for continuity’s sake.

I’m trying out Squarespace for real this time. I’ve done a 30 day trial before and wasn’t pleased with the way mass imports from WordPress worked and I also didn’t like the idea of having to pay for an account for every domain on which I might want to host a blog, instead of just directing a domain to a subfolder on one account. That doesn’t bother me so much anymore, because as the father of a 3 year old I don’t have enough time to actively write for more than 1 or 2 blogs anyway. I’ve also played with podcasting a bit over the last year, and I like what my Twitter pal Keith Townsend has down with his CTO Chat podcast at Squarespace.

So that’s why I’m rebooting the blog, why I’m building it here, and what I’m doing for the first 30 (now 28) days. Wish me luck!


This is post #1 in the 2015 #vDM30in30 Blog Challenge