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Comfort Zones and Older Lessons

In 2003 I joined a small Montreal firm as their Systems Administrator.  When I say small, there were four of us in the office.  I had just passed my first certification exam, and I thought I was really something.  Of course, I wasn’t… but I wouldn’t learn that until much later on.

I say I joined as their SysAdmin.  What I should really say is I was their Computer Guy.  They had a server, but when there are only four people in a company it is seldom the roles will be so clearly defined… my job was more like ‘whatever we tell you to do.’  I am sure anyone who has worked in such a small company will know what I mean.

We manufactured novelties.  Mostly things like lava lamps, but anything that we could find a customer for we would have manufactured in one of our partner factories in China.  We spent a lot of money on a graphic designer for the packaging, and one day the owner decided that I should learn the tools she used so that we could save a little where we could.  I did a little research and couldn’t find any English Adobe courses in Montreal; It was the first time I got to spend time as an adult in Ottawa.

Several years later I hardly remember a thing about PhotoShop or InDesign.  It’s not that I remember a lot about Adobe Illustrator… but I remember enough to be able to work with it.  In the years since those courses I have installed Illustrator a few times when I needed to create or manipulate images.  To say that I am good with the program would be a laugh – I expect I would have to be much more artistic for that – but at least I was semi-competent.

Fast Forward twelve years. November, 2015.  This week.  Tokyo.

It is nice to be the IT Architect on a project that will affect 18,000 users around the world.  I have spent over a year working on the project, leading my team of capable IT Pros.  We have created a VDI system that users, if they so choose, will be able to use as a second system… and that they can access securely from any device and any location.  The project is just about finished… but in order for it to be considered a success, people have to use it.

So how do you get employees to use an optional system?  Probably the same way you get consumers to.  You make a good product, you make it appealing, and then you market it.  You will probably either hire marketing experts who are familiar with the tools and have the skills and knowledge to make it succeed.

Internally it should be the same… except there is no budget to hire marketing experts.  We have to do it ourselves.  ‘Hey does anyone know how to use PhotoShop or Illustrator?’

So this week I have been working well outside of my comfort zone.  I have been creating flyers and posters and t-shirts.  I designed a logo, and I even wrote and filmed a commercial (Stay tuned! You might get to see that here soon!).  I have been working in Adobe Illustrator Premiere, not to mention Camtasia Studios (Thanks Betsy!).

Okay, so despite having the great tools, my video editing skills are lacking.  I’ll hire an outsider for that.

It was over a decade ago that David sent me to Ottawa to learn how to use Adobe Illustrator.  All these years later, I guess I should thank him!

A (Mostly) Boring Trip

I really did have images of going out and having fun every night.

I really planned to travel outside of Tokyo and see the country every weekend.

That is not what happened.

Don’t get me wrong… I have gone out for dinners, if mostly close to home.  I have also been spending a lot of time relaxing at a pleasant spot called Le Connoisseur Cigar Lounge – certainly not a Japanese name, and certainly not a French lounge.  But I have been enjoying it nonetheless (as seen in this article  It turns out that it is a chain of lounges, and I have spent many evenings at the one that is within walking distance of my apartment.

I have also traveled out of Tokyo twice – once by Shinkansen (Bullet Train) to Kyoto), and once by car (with a friend) to Mount Fuji.  Well, he tells me we were at Mount Fuji… it was a very overcast and rainy day and the mountain was absolutely invisible through the clouds.  We made up for it though – we went for a very authentic lunch (on tatami mats on the floor and all) at a local restaurant, we went for a distillery tour at the Kirin Gotemba Distillery, and we spent a couple of hours in the onsen (hot springs) before having an agreeable dinner and then driving back to Tokyo.

But all in all, I am not doing even as much as I did the last time I was here… despite having more money to spend (if I wanted to), more free time (okay… about the same free time), and living a little closer to the action (I am four subway stops from Shibuya).

I am spending most of my evenings in one of two places – at the cigar lounge, or at the apartment.  Yes, after the first week in a hotel room slightly smaller than a respectable prison cell, the company found an apartment for me.  It may be small to some, but having moved out of the shoe box it feels utterly palatial to me.

I watch TV – that is to say, I download the American TV shows I would normally be watching at home – and I watch movies.  I do have work to do in the evenings, as I am still taking care of the network back in Oakville.  However if I wanted to there is no reason I couldn’t (if I so desired) be out exploring the city every night.  I just don’t seem to want to.

I want to be clear – I am not loving Tokyo less than I used to.  It is an amazing city and I love being here.  I probably went out more at the beginning of my stay – I went to Shibuya several evenings – but maybe it is the result of my being in a reasonably posh area; there is every sort of restaurant I might want to try (If you are following me on Facebook you will know that I have had Yakiniku, Soba, Tempura, and of course loads and loads of sushi… not to mention a couple of Chinese and a couple of Korean meals just to mix it up a bit.  All within a kilometer of my apartment.

I should mention that I am not staying home every night; I have gone out on the week-ends (Halloween was amazing, and I have also gone out with friends to a few different areas).  It is just a little less frequently than it could be… than it once was.

Maybe, a little too late, I am becoming the homebody that my ex-wife wished I had become much sooner.  Maybe I am just not enjoying being on the road as much as I used to.

I miss my kids… I speak with them on Skype and VoIP often enough, but it is not the same.  And of course, my girlfriend is all the way back there too.  It is harder to be separated from her for longer periods than it would have been for me a few years ago.  Maybe at long last I am growing up.  Maybe I am finally… Naaah!

I have really been enjoying my work, and I am glad to be here for that.  My boss and I discussed it earlier, and we agreed that this is the length of time we needed for me to be here for this project.  I am enjoying working with my team, and meeting other people on other teams.  It has been a blast, and I hope I can continue to work with this company on other projects when this one is over.  We’ll see…

Two weeks before I head home, and the trip is far from over.  I might still venture out of town one more time, and I have several evenings planned… with friends, colleagues, and even one with a reader who reached out to me.  How cool is that?  Each of those will be another evening of fun and excitement, hopefully exploring new places and areas and discovering new foods and treasures.

But unlike past trips, I am counting the days… I am so looking forward to getting home, to hugging my kids, playing with my dogs, and of course seeing Stephanie.

Fourteen days to go.

Why We Test…

It is Friday morning in Tokyo, and there is a line out the door.  If you didn’t know any better you would think that they were lined up to get an autograph from the latest pop icon.

However if you look at the sign on the door it does not say ‘Tokyo Arena’ or ‘Tokyo Hilton.’  It says IT Service Desk, and the throngs lined up are users, and each one has their laptop with them.  It seems that they are all having similar problems, either to do with not being able to log in at all, or Outlook crashing when they receive HTML based e-mail.

If I were a Help Desk Technician I might be thinking right now that this was a bad day to get out of bed.  If I was an IT Director I would be <figuratively> screaming for answers, needing my team to find the root cause… Is it malware? Are we under attack?  Was there just some massive incompetence that killed our systems?

It wouldn’t be long before I discovered the answer.  Are we under attack?  No.  Is it malware?  No… at least, not in the most commonly accepted definition of the term.  What we were facing was a patch from Microsoft that was causing our myriad issues.  Patch KB3097877, part of the November 10 patch roll out cycle, is to blame.

With that knowledge, as an IT Director, I would be setting forth the following plan:

  1. Train the Support Counter techs to resolve the issue (as found in this article from Microsoft);
  2. Ensure the patch was immediately removed from WSUS; and
  3. Once the ‘crisis’ was over, I would bring the interested parties into a room and do a post-mortem… that is, figure out what went wrong, and how to prevent it from happening in the future.

The second point is easy.  Once you know what patch it is all you have to do is have a WSUS admin mark it as DECLINED.  The first point is stressful for the support techs, but they are well trained and will handle it.

It is during the third point – the post mortem – that I would be looking at my team and wanting them all to simultaneously burst into flames.  Because someone – one of these people whom I trust with my infrastructure, and therefore with the ability for the entire company to work – would have to look at me and say ‘We accept and push out all patches immediately without testing them.’

If I am an extremely diligent IT Director I will know that in our IT Department Policy and Procedures Statement there is a policy about applying patches, and likely it says that patches should be applied only after proper testing.  If we are a less stringent company the policy might read that patches should be applied only after a reasonable delay has passed, and the appropriate forums and blogs on the Internet have claimed they were okay.

If there is no such policy then the blame lies with me.  I can glare at the others, I can even yell if I am a bad leader.  However the buck stops here.

If however there is such a policy, I would be looking at the team and asking them why the policy hadn’t been followed?  I imaging they would be looking at me quizzically and someone would say ‘This is just what we do… it’s never caused problems before!?’

I might look at the admin who said that and ask if he wears a seat belt when he drives a car.  I might ask if he wears a life vest when he goes boating.  Chances are if you don’t, nothing will happen.  You wear them to be safe and increase your chances of survival if something does happen.  It is the reason we test patches (or let others test them) before we apply them.

The mistake caused by the admins neglecting to test patches might cause hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost productivity… and yet it is almost certain that nobody will lose their job.  They probably won’t even get a reprimand.  None of that is necessary.  What is necessary is that we learn from this.  Patches do not break things very often, but we have to remember that they can, and because of that we must take the proper steps – do our due diligence – to make sure we don’t get hit.

Kyoto is to Tokyo…

I got off the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) at Kyoto Station, which was a hustling and bustling place, just like Tokyo Marunouchi Station where I had embarked.  In fact while the layout was different and so were the shops, there wasn’t all that much to differentiate this building from all of the other major ports I had visited.  I might as well still be in Tokyo for all the difference it made.

I walked outside, and by the time I was a couple of blocks from the station I realized I was in a very different world from the Tokyo I had left behind less than three hours earlier.


Don’t get me wrong… Kyoto is busy and bustling and there are lots of people around… but unlike Tokyo (where everything is modern and neon, unless you are around a temple or shrine), this city had a different look, a different feel… a different vibe, if you will.

At first I thought it was the slightly smaller scale.  When you exit the station it feels more manageable, less overwhelming.  It might be like traveling from Montreal to Calgary – the smaller city being easier to manage.

A hawk flying overhead at the Ginkakuji Shrine

Then I thought it might have to do with the people… Tokyo is a very stressful place after all, but Tokyo moreso than the rest of the country.  Maybe it was like going from Montreal to Vancouver – a little less stressed, a little more laid back.

And then someone told me that Kyoto had been spared the aerial bombardment that Tokyo endured during World War 2; he told me a story about American Secretary of War George Stimson who had honeymooned in Kyoto, and spared the city because of his wonderful memories of it.   In fact, Kyoto, was the top choice of the Targeting Committee tasked with deciding where to drop the first atomic bombs (this committee included Robert Oppenheimer).  Stimson did veto it, but it might have had more to do with the fact that Kyoto had little military significance, and the destruction would have been entirely civilian.  (Source:

One of the gates to the Hingashi Honganji Shrine

So instead of having a city completely rebuilt after 1945 (while there are many older sites in Tokyo, many of the temples and shrines have been rebuilt to look like the originals), Kyoto actually has buildings and sites that date to the 15th century… and earlier.  Maybe a more accurate comparison would be to equate the Tokyo-Kyoto trip to the Toronto-Quebec City trip.  Tokyo and Toronto, the busiest metropolises in their respective countries, modern, crowded, stressed; both replete with modern skyscrapers reaching for the heavens.  Kyoto and Quebec City, calmer, quieter, shorter… while there are modern buildings, they are smaller, and there are many historical sites dating back hundreds of years, lovingly preserved; both more concerned with history, beauty, and culture than with the race to be the best.

One of the towers of the Hingashi Honganji Shrine

I could have spent another week in Kyoto and not seen everything there is to see.  I don’t know when I will be back, but I hope I will have the opportunity soon.

Wireless Networks: Know your strengths!

It is not uncommon for me to hear people complain that their wireless network is not stable, is not working properly, disconnects, is slow, and just isn’t good enough.

Unfortunately, unless you are a networking specialist, wireless connectivity is essentially a binary state: It works… or it doesn’t work. There are three things I ask people to check before I get involved:

  1. Wireless device driver issues (try downloading the latest driver);
  2. Interference (verify that there are no microwaves or wireless phones or devices between the computer and the nearest wireless access point;
  3. Distance to nearest wireless access point (move closer and try)

Of course, when we talk about interference or distance, there are a lot of factors, and while it can be binary insofar as ‘Yes there is a problem or No there isn’t a problem,’ the reality is that signPowerShellal strength is decidedly not binary.  Knowing what the signal strength is can be directly related to your answer.  So how do we check this in Windows?

Of course, many wireless adapters have their own software that will provide this information.  But that is no way to standardize things.

There is a quick PowerShell script that you can run though that will give you exactly what you need:

(netsh wlan show interfaces) -Match ‘^\s+Signal’ -Replace ‘^\s+Signal\s+:\s+’,””

Notice that we are using a netsh command, which you will agree is not PowerShell.  However if you try to run this in a basic Command Prompt it will come back with an error because if the command line switches.

I ran the script from my desk at Rakuten; I am sitting about fifteen feet from the nearest wireless access point (WAP), so my response is 99%.  I know that Rakuten (who just moved into their new offices last month, and spent a considerable amount of time planning for connectivity and productivity) wants all of their employees to have the best possible signal.

For the sake of ensuring I was not always going to get the same number I ran the same script sitting in a busy Starbucks location in Akasaka, where they are more concerned with patrons buying coffee than they are offering fast Internet.  Here are the results:


A paltry 79%… which may seem great, but when you take into account the entire room is maybe 15 metres by 20 metres you realize there is probably interference… until you account for the fact that there are another dozen patrons connected to the same single Access Point at the same time, and at least three of them that I can see are watching streaming videos.

Of course, many IT Support people will want to run this command remotely.  No problem:

Invoke-Command {(netsh wlan show interfaces) -Match ‘^\s+Signal’ -Replace ‘^\s+Signal\s+:\s+’,””} -ComputerName RemotePC

(Making sure you get all of the single and double quotes and regular and squiggly parentheses correct Smile).

Of course, if you have a group of users you who are complaining you can run it in a batch by using a Session:

$session=New-PSSession -ComputerName RemotePC1 RemotePC2 RemotePC3
Invoke-Command -session $session {(netsh wlan show interfaces) -Match ‘^\s+Signal’ -Replace ‘^\s+Signal\s+:\s+’,””}

Now that you can measure the wireless signal on your computer, you can

  • Determine if the signal is the problem, or if you have to look elsewhere;
  • See if you need to implement more access points, or distribute existing ones differently; and
  • Figure out where the best place to sit in the lunch room is when your favourite hockey team is playing when you have to work.

No go forth and administer!

Kyoto: The Ancient Capital

The last time I was in Japan I did not leave Tokyo. This time I vowed would be different. Before I left Canada I bought several Japan Rail passes, and I was ready to explore.

After consulting with my peeps over here, and with Simon’s help tracking down a room (it seems autumn is a difficult season to your last minute!) I made plans to spend my first weekend out in Kyoto. Saturday morning I redeemed my first JR pass and boarded the 11:03 Shinkansen (bullet train) on the Osaka Line. I was in Kyoto at 1:44, having enjoyed the train ride even though I was working on a report.

Riyoyan 1I have stayed in enough ‘western style’ hotels to choke a horse, and the Tokyo Efficiency hotels are way too cramped. I reserved a Ryokan- a very traditional Japanese room, that looks very much like the ones you see in movies depicting the times of the Shogunate. I arrived after a short walk from the train station and was welcomed by the front desk, and a bellhop in traditional Japanese attire carried my bag to my room on the sixth floor. Upon entering the room I removed my shoes in the foyer, and walked into the tatami room. There was a table with a tea service, and that was it. I loved it.

Notice I didn’t say anything about a bed; in a traditional ryokan the maid comes in the evening, moves the table to the side, and sets up your bedding on the tatamis. Spectacular!

Ryokay Ready for Bed

Before I left Tokyo I tried to book a number of bus tours, but was informed that I was too late. Oh well, right? Well it turned out to be for the better, because I was able to book the exact same tours at the Kyoto Train Station for much less money. Woot!

Dinner is served!The evening tour would involve a very traditional Kyoto Cuisine dinner. They tell me that because Kyoto is surrounded by mountains it was difficult to get fresh seafood in, and because of that the chefs are tasked with creating wonderful dishes that are simpler than you would find in other areas.  The chef at our restaurant did a magnificent job – both the presentation and the taste was fabulous!

Our next stop was Gion Corner, where we got to experience seven forms of Japanese art and culture in one sitting.  The show is designed to not only expose gaijin (foreigners) to the beauty of Japanese culture, but also to show a generation of Japanese growing up in a modern society their roots.

The show started with the emcee asking the audience for volunteers to experience the Japanese tea ceremony, and my hand shot up.  Two of us got to experience it, with the Tea Master and her apprentice working hard to make sure the experience was highly authentic.  We were shown how to turn the cup, and how to hold it in both hands.

Koto Players 3

Flower Arranging 1As we sat in the tea corner, the next two sets of artists took to the main stage: Two women playing an instrument called a koto (a 13-stringed instrument that lies flat and is strummed with the fingers) played, while two other women took turns arranging flowers.  It had never occurred to me that flower arrangement could be a performance art, but for a culture that for centuries has revered the beauty in simplicity, I suppose it makes sense.  These two pairs worked side by side for the next several minutes.

When this group left the stage the next musical act came on.  The gagaku is a style of music that was played exclusively in the ancient imperial court, and as such never gained the widespread popularity of other arts.  While the music did not appeal to me, I found the costume of the conductor (who was almost dancing) was amazing, and well worth the show.

Gagaku Conductor 2

Once the Gakaku left the stage we were introduced to a Japanese comedy troupe.  It is easy to imagine that there would be a language barrier to understanding, and at first there was.  Three men in kimonos came onto the stage in turn, and after a few minutes the language fell away, and their performance triumphed.  They were a hilarious hit with the mostly foreign audience!

Let's Drink 7

Next came the Maiko dancers.  Apprentice geishas, these dancers are meant to be flawless in their beauty and movements.  As you might imagine, I took a couple of pictures… along with the videos!

Geisha 4Geisha 1

The last performance was a form of puppetry that I had never imagined before.  Three men came onto the stage dressed entirely in black – two of them were hooded as well – in control of a single marionette-cum-Muppet.  I confess that I did not follow the story line very well, but I was enthralled by how the three men worked in unison to control this person (and they did such a great job of bringing her to life that I thought of her as a person).  She walked across the stage, then climbed the tower, and it was easy to forget that she was made of wood.

Puppet 1Puppet 3

The following day I woke at a reasonable hour and after getting breakfast I went on my second tour.  We were to visit three temples and shrines, and each was incredible to see.

At the Golden Temple 2

It struck me as our tour guide spoke (okay, as the translation played in my ear) that nearly every site we were shown was on the World Heritage or National Treasures or some other fancy list.  However when you see the spots we visited it is no wonder… Kyoto is absolutely breathtaking.

The picture of me near the Golden Shrine is not the best picture I have taken, and was indeed taken by a fellow Canadian I met from another tour.  He and his wife were in from Vancouver, and seeing that I had a good camera as well, they were happy to let me take a picture of them with their camera, and I let them take one of me with mine.

Unlike many parts of Japan, I am told that Kyoto was spare the destructive power of the U.S. Army during World War II.  Consequently many of the sites date back to the days of the Shogunates.  Unlike tours I took in Tokyo, when they mentioned that a temple had been rebuilt after the original had been destroyed by war, that was was usually hundreds of years ago.  It is no wonder that there are so many sites recognized internationally and by the Japanese as Heritage sites.

Ginkaku-ji Shrine was built by Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa as a retirement villa in 1982 (ten years before Christopher Columbus set sail for ‘India’).  Walking around, you can see that the Shogun (military ruler, and separate from the Emperor) knew how to live.  ZSC_0279

Our last stop of the tour was the Kiyomizudera Temple, and while it was also a World Heritage muckety-muck, I was more interested in observing the people.

Kiyomizudera Temple 1

We were there on a Sunday, and it was an absolutely gorgeous day outside.  I suppose these factors contributed to a plethora of Japanese visiting the temple for religious reasons.  When I think of dressing up for synagogue I always think of putting my best suit on (my Saturday best?).  Here they dress up as well, but their outfits are not western.  And so there were a plethora of Japanese women (and quite a few men) in their traditional kimonos.

ZSC_0390 As you can see from this duo, many of them were out taking the same sort of pictures I was (note the ‘selfie stick’).  However unlike them, I was certainly not dressed for the occasion.  Nevertheless they were all very happy and smiling, and most of them were thrilled to pose when asked.
All of the kimonos were colourful and bright.  I am told that women tend to opt for less colourful kimonos later in life, but these were all happy colours. ZSC_0360

From what I was told, no visit to Kyoto would be complete without experiencing the special and unique sweets they make.  Made by hand, they are difficult to describe… other than absolutely heavenly.  Depending on the variety they can have macha or sesame or chocolate or any of a dozen other fillings, and the ones I tasted were magical.  I brought some back to the office as Omiyage and they were extremely well received… possibly even moreso than the Quebec Maple Candy I brought when I arrived.

All in all I had a wonderful time in Kyoto, and strongly recommend spending a few days there the next time you find yourself in Japan!

Five Years Of WordPress: A Celebration?


It honestly doesn’t seem like that long ago… and of course it seems like forever.  Of course I have been blogging for well over a decade, but I seem to remember sometime in 2010 when Cory Fowler started telling me I should migrate my blog from Community Server over to WordPress.  I was pretty happy with what I had, but I trusted Cory and told him that if would help me to do the migration then I would do it.  And so on November 2, 2010 he and I set a meeting to sit down at Artisano Bakery Cafe in Oakville, and as I watched on he did the heavy lifting… that is, he exported my old blog (a couple hundred articles deep at that point) and then created my new account here, on

There was a slight cost involved (as there still is to this day) so that my blog appears at (and instead of at  Remembering the advice I received from people wiser than myself (and that I have since passed on to many aspiring IT Pros) I needed to build and maintain my brand… a professional site should not be a redirect.

I do not remember how many visitors I had in 2010 (combining the old site and the new one), but I think I was pretty happy at the end of 2011 to have welcomed nearly 26,500 visitors.  Five years later and for the first time ever I am on pace to record 210,000 visitors for the year… and while that makes me happy, it does not make me satisfied.  What really satisfies me is when people tell me that they have read my articles; when they have enjoyed the personal ones and grown or learned from the professional articles, that is what really makes me keep at it.

Thank you for your continued readership.  If you are a new reader, then I am glad you found it, and I hope you stick around.  If there is something in particular that you would like for me to write then just ask… my blog is about me, but it is for you.

Thank you for your comments, your questions, your inquiries, and yes thank you for your occasional donation!  Of course, if I am in your city (or you are in mine) rather than going through PayPal I am always glad to accept a drink or two Smile

I know that I sometimes fall behind in my writing… I know that so many of you were looking forward to a bunch of new posts once I got to Japan, and that didn’t happen… I wrote a few but have not published them yet.  They are coming, I promise.  One or two professional ones, along with one of two personal ones.  Stay tuned, I promise I am back!


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