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Surface Pro 3: Two weeks later

Are there problems with it?  Yes.

Do I absolutely love it? I love my kids and my dogs… but I suppose I do like it as much as I have ever liked a laptop or tablet… and I have had quite a few of them over the years!

What are the problems? There is really only one that you should be aware of if you are thinking of going out to buy one.  It’s the patches and the battery.

How, you may ask, do patches and batteries wind their way into a single problem?  Simple… as you probably know, everything in computers is managed by software drivers… and that includes the battery to some extent.  When you buy the device (or any device) you are prompted to apply patches, and at this point a couple of them for the Surface Pro 3 are firmware updates.  You apply the first one, and then you have a problem…

…Windows tells you there is no battery detected.  Worse, if you unplug the device it shuts off immediately.  The firmware update actually tells the computer that there is no battery installed.

BUT THERE IS! Wait a minute!  I was using it unplugged just a few minutes ago!  Where did it go?  Oh… I get it!  The pesky firmware is what screwed me up.  Let’s check to see if there is ANOTHER firmware update.  Plug it in, connect to the Internet, run Windows Update… By Jove, there it is!  Install it, and presto changeo, there’s my battery!

…and what a battery it is!  My original Surface Pro probably gave me 3 hours of battery (with Hyper-V and a bunch of other things draining it).  The Surface Pro 2 was probably closer to 5.  The Pro 3? I haven’t had it run dry on me yet… for the first time in my laptop-owning life I am not afraid to leave the house in the morning without the charger.

THE SCREEN BOSS, THE SCREEN!
(Imagine the voice of Hervé Villechaize if you would…)

Yes, there are a lot of improvements over the Surface Pro 2, but wow I never would have imaginged that the 1.4″ difference in screen size (12″ over 10.6″) would make that much of a difference.  As I told you recently I have an external 16″ screen that I keep in the trunk of my car so that I can have the dual screen experience on the go.  I don’t know that I have pulled it out once since I got the Pro 3… the combination of the slightly bigger screen and the much improved screen resolution make the extra screen redundant… at least when I am on the go.

Don’t get me wrong… the day the Pro 3 docking station is available I am buying it – I have pre-ordered it from the Microsoft Store, and I have the voucher for it (from something else I returned).  All I need is the e-mail saying it is in… and I expect that to be around the same time the remaining Surface Pro 3 models (with the Intel i3 and i7 CPUs) are released, sometime in August.  When I am at home (or an office) I will still want the multi-screen experience.  On the go?  Not necessary anymore.

A lot of people are saying I should have waited for the Intel i7 version, but the reality is I have not found myself lacking.  The Surface Pro 3 runs everything I need it to with 8GB of RAM and the Intel Core i5 CPU, and frankly I don’t want to spend the extra money (the i7 version will come in two models – 256GB storage for $1,599, and the 512GB model for $1,999.  Too rich for my blood, but thanks!

Conclusion

I am asked pretty often (including 3 minutes ago, as I sit at the Microsoft Store in Square One Mall blogging) whether the Surface Pro 3 is really a laptop replacement.  The answer, as with everything, is that it depends.  I would think that for the vast majority of people the answer is yes.  If you are a true hard-core gamer? Maybe not; there are some gamers who need more than 8gb of RAM.  If you are a coder? I have a friend who is a programmer who needs to run virtual machines running more than 8gb of RAM at all times.  (Did I mention that I LOVE the fact that it runs Hyper-V?  Well I do…). Aside from them?  I don’t know too many users – even power users – who need more than 8gb of RAM ever, not even occasionally.  For them (like myself) I would say that this is the device for you.

If you are in the Greater Toronto Area come down to the Microsoft Store at Square One or Yorkdale Malls to check it out! :)

Home Entertainment in 2014

As some of you know I recently moved into a new condo.  Unlike my previous living arrangements, I will be living here alone… although my children will visit, they (and the dogs) will be living with their mother.

You all know me as a Windows guy, and that has not changed; however there are so many aspects to Microsoft Windows that there are few (if any) who know and use all of it.  Until the motherboard fried I did for a time use a Windows Media Center PC as my main TV controller, however after it died my wife (whom I married before the PC fried) suggested we just get a PVR from out Cable TV provider… and although the motherboard was replaced under warranty, I never did rebuild it as a Media Center.

Over the past couple of years I have heard a lot of talk about people ‘cutting the cable’… simply watching all of their TV over the Internet.  While I know that works fine for a lot of people, I am simply not there.  I like to sit on the couch with the remote control in my hand and channel-surf.  Call me old fashioned.  I also know that with my younger son (he is four and a half) it behoves me to have a TV with Disney Junior and whatever other channels he watches, lest his visits be very short and sweet.  So when I confirmed where I would be moving to, I called Bell Canada.  I know, they suck… just like all of the other providers.  Well my youngest loves the Fibe experience, so that is what I plan to get, along with a decent Internet package.

Here’s the problem… Bell Fibe TV is not available in all areas.  I am assured by a friend of mine on the inside that more often than not this is no longer a technical issue, they just roll out the marketing machine before they begin to offer the service.  So while I was able to get a decent Internet package (not spectacular, but I won’t be running servers anymore) for a good price, I was told that Fibe would not be available for a few more weeks… and in the meantime would I be interested in subscribing to their satellite service?  <No, what kind of idiot would make that deal knowing that the better service was coming in a few weeks?>

So the condo is taking shape; on Saturday my older son and I raided Ikea, and my living room is completely arranged.  On Sunday a buddy helped me move (read: disassemble, move, and then reassemble) my desk, and now my workstation is just about the way I like it.  And of course the technician from Bell Canada came Sunday morning, and after a little bit of confusion he got my Internet and Wi-Fi signal up.  But here’s the issue… while I have a TV, couch, and everything I need to watch TV in the living room… I have nothing to watch.  Doh!

Wait a minute… I remember when I bought the TV a friend of mine advised me to get one that supported DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance).  I even remember paying extra for a USB Wi-Fi adapter for the TV.  Maybe now was a good time to see if I could get that voodoo to work.  Remember… I’ve set up thousands of Windows 7 and Windows 8 machines before… but I have never set up a home group!

It took a little bit of figuring out – of course my computer was already connected to the network, but I had to configure my TV on the wireless as well, and that took some figuring out.  However once it was done, all I had to do was tell my Windows homegroup to recognize the device, and to share my movies, music, and pictures with it.  Voila, this evening I watched movies in the living room on a TV that wasn’t actually connected to anything!

What about Netflix & Xbox?

Yes, I do have a Netflix account, but so far I haven’t figured out how to watch it on the TV – of course, I can just take my table and plug the HDMI cable into the TV directly, but that is cheating.  In a month or two I will by an Xbox One and that will be my main Media Center (including Netflix, DVDs, and BlueRay), but for the time being I am okay being able to watch the movies I have stored on the computer.  However I do think I am going to have to figure out a good way to sort the movies… but that’s next week’s problem :)

Sad Times for an Industry

I used to say to my audiences that while the number of jobs in IT will go down, the best will always be in demand.  I then spent several months essentially unemployed.

The IT field has changed dramatically over the course of the last few years.  I suppose it is natural for an industry as young as ours to evolve drastically and violently… but I didn’t expect it would happen to me.  When I did find a job I was relieved to say the least.

During the time when I was looking I noticed that a lot of people turned their backs on me.  I thought for a while it was personal, but I have realized that people in our field are becoming a lot less secure than they were even a year or two ago… yes, some of the people who disappointed me did it out of malice or jealousy, but I have realized that there are also a lot of people who have realized that if they are not protective of what they have, someone else might get it.

I am not naming names… but one of the people who didn’t turn his back on me – someone who commiserated, and did everything that he could to help me – pinged me this morning telling me that he had been let go.  I know that a few months ago I had counselled him on a position at Microsoft, but realized before I even replied (because of time zones it was the first message I saw this morning) I realized that while I remembered him telling me that he found something, I had no idea where it was.  I suppose now it doesn’t matter… he’s not there anymore, and through no fault of his own.

There are a lot of reasons for someone to leave their company… often they will leave because of a better job offer elsewhere (I e-mailed a friend at VMware Canada last week and the message bounced… he turned up at Microsoft Canada this Monday).  Sometimes we are just fed up, and we leave of our own accord.  Of course there is also the termination for cause, and we all hope to avoid that.

All of those are reasons we could have done something about… but when the company simply cannot afford to pay us anymore – they don’t need five IT guys and are downsizing to three, or the project we were hired for was cancelled – it can come as a shock… we did nothing wrong, and there was nothing we could have done to prevent it.  We’re just… gone.  This is a lousy situation.

A few years ago when I went to the US border to apply for my TN visa so that I could work in that country.  Please remember that US border agents are quite loyal, and very protective of their country.  I was trying to explain to the agent what I did as an IT Pro helping companies to virtualize did.  After a few minutes he said to me ‘Let me get this straight: you want me to let you come into my country to teach companies how they can become more efficient and need fewer American workers.’  I could feel his eyes boring into me like lasers.  But the truth is I always felt that the students who learned from me would always be safe, because I was helping to prepare them for the inevitable shift in the industry.  And yet there I was, looking for work… for a long time.

The friend who pinged me this morning was one of those students… I taught him virtualization and System Center, and those are two very important skills to know.  But how do you prepare yourself for the company canceling the project?  It’s not easy.

I have said for years that one of the worst advancements in IT with regard to the IT Pro field was the advent of Microsoft Windows.  In the days of DOS, Novell, and AccPac computers were a mystery to most people, and it was only the real IT Pros who could make sense of everything for the masses.  With Windows `Press Here, Dummy!’ interface myriad people figured it out, and started calling themselves IT Pros.  Some of those people would eventually learn what was really under the hood, get certified, and thrive… but a lot of them did a lot of our customers a disservice and made those people and companies distrust the entire profession.  I see that coming back to haunt us even worse, in a time when automation and virtualization are making thing easier for the fewer IT Pros needed, we are living through the worst of times for the profession.

What is the solution?  I don’t know… but I do know that we can’t put the genie back into the bottle, and it is going to get worse before it gets better.  I hope we are all able to weather the storm.

Honesty in Advertising

EatHereThis week-end I lambasted a friend who hosts/produces a radio show about travel for posting that a particular hotel chain wanted to appear on his show to discuss his product, but refused to provide a free stay in exchange for the privilege.  I also told him that I know the entire industry works that way, and that I was not holding it against him.  My comment:

it is unfortunate that every single travel (and most sales-type) shows think it a given that they have to be pay for play… because of that we the general public cannot trust any ‘review’ on these shows because they are all just paid ads (at best) and whoring at worst. No restaurant review, travel review, or product review will ever be honest if the product is given to the hosts as a prerequisite and barter for air time. This is NOT limited to ‘<our show>, believe me… I know it is all of them.

We had a bit of a back and forth about it, and he ended by saying that in a perfect world he would rather companies pay for advertising, and he pay for their product (or stay home).  I respect that.

Here’s the issue though… If it is true that every travel show works like this (and It seems they do) then how can you ever trust that a place is worth visiting?  In the same vein, in the IT industry, how can you trust a site that only gives positive reviews to products that are given to them?

Take, for example, my blog… www.garvis.ca. If you are not familiar with it you will be interested to know that (unless I have been quoted or plagiarized) you are currently on it.  I write product reviews from time to time, but I have a policy: Verum quod integrity primoris (Truth and integrity first).  However I also do not believe in bad-mouthing products for no reason.  I may not like it for personal reasons, but it takes a lot for me to actually badmouth a product.

With that being said, when I am asked to write a review I make them the following deal:

  1. They have to provide me with the product.   If it is hardware then they cannot be loaning it to me, and if it is software they must provide me a complete, non-time-bombed license.
  2. I will work with it within 30 days of them providing it to me.  If I am going to write a review it will go up within 45 days, or on an agreed upon date.
  3. If I do not like the product, I will not write the review.  What I will do, however, is provide feedback to the company as to why I don’t like it.  This will be done in the same promised time frame as I would have written the review

If you ever wonder why you never see negative reviews on my blog, that’s it.  I do not consider my site to be a place for ads, a profit centre, or anything of the sort.  However I know there are a lot of sites and shows that don’t work that way… and I respect that, but I wish they would let their listeners and readers know that up front.  ‘Hey, this site is a pay for play site, and any product that we promote has paid us to do so, either in cash or product.’  At least that would let them know the truth… and more pointedly, when they badmouth a product (either on their show or site, or on any social media) they should be very clear that they are not doing so because the product is bad, but because they refuse to play ball.

I am not holding my breath… but in the meantime I will promise you my readers that any product or service that I endorse, I do so freely and am not compensated to do so.

Mitch Garvis

Do you believe…

This Easter week-end I made an unlikely call to a radio talk show on Ottawa’s CFRA.

Don’t get me wrong… I have called radio stations before, and am no stranger to being on the air.  However the circumstances of my call this particular Sunday morning were probably… out of character, or at least unexpected.

The topic of the show was: Can you be a good Christian if you do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.  While this might be a reasonably common topic of conversation between Christians, as a Jew it is not usually one that I would weigh in on… but as I listened to three callers in a row I felt that I had to say something.

The host (I do not know his name, but he was obviously religious and well-versed in Christian doctrine) was being bombarded and he was shocked that it seemed to be unanimous… caller after caller said if you did not believe, you could not be a good Christian.

The first caller I heard (I tuned in late) said that there is only one path to Heaven, and if you did not believe that Jesus died on the cross for you, and then rose from the dead three days later, you would be denied entry into Heaven.

The next claimed that if Jesus did not rise then there is no hope for any of us (I assume she meant Christians) to be saved, and there is no reason to believe anything else in the Gospel.

They continued on like this.  Now I should remind you that I am Jewish, and while I have been married to a Christian woman (and father to a Christian son) for many years, I still strongly believe in my own faith… I have never believed in the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth, which is why I never call him Christ (which translates to Messiah).  However that does not mean that I do not respect the rights of others to believe.

I called and told the screener my position, and she put me on right away.

The message of Jesus, both alive and since, has essentially been that you should be a good and kind and charitable person.  If you are a good person then you will be rewarded in the afterlife.  Of course there is a lot more to it than that, but if you read his words essentially the rest is just commentary.  Of course, Jesus was not the first person to say this, and he was not the last.  However as far as Christian tradition goes he is the most important of those.  Okay.  Does that message stop being right if he did not rise from the dead?

There are many aspects of Christian doctrine that I do not understand.  If Jesus did not die on the cross for our (their?) sins then what is the point?  If Jesus did not rise from the dead then there is no hope!  As a Jew I don’t get it…

…But here’s the thing: In this day of science and proofs and thousands of years removed from any ‘confirmed contact’ with G-d, do any of us really believe? I am not an overly religious person (I can hear orthodox Jews laughing at that understatement as I type it), but I believe in the Torah.  I think many of the stories are exaggerated… but if we start from the Forefathers I believe most of it happened.  However I also believe that a lot of the miracles that happened can be explained scientifically.  I won’t go into those details for fear of starting a holy war with my own people.  Does my belief that the ‘miracles’ could be proven scientifically make me less of a Jew?  Not unless I say ‘Well, there really is no G-d so I can live as I want.’  I certainly do not say that.

So getting back to Christians and the story of Easter, even if Jesus did not rise from the dead his message is just as true… being a good person will bring rewards. 

If you do believe in Heaven and Hell (and not just the Joe Jackson album) then I cannot fathom any deity, who in his time on earth spoke of kindness and forgiveness and turning the other cheek, being so petty and unforgiving as to not letting a person who spent his or her entire life being good and charitable into Heaven just because they did not believe in one part of the doctrine that was written after he was gone from this earth.

What if you do not believe in Heaven and Hell?  I believe the message is just as valid.  I consider myself to be a good person.  I am kind, considerate, caring, charitable, and so on.  I do unto others and so on.  However that was not always the case; there were years when I was angry with the world, and was not so nice.  At a certain point I made the conscious decision to become a better person, and over time, as it happened, my life got better.  I became happier, I had more friends, all of the things that happens to good people.  Even if I do not believe in the Afterlife (another Joe Jackson album!) my life on earth became better, more enjoyable… less of a Hell.  See?  Even as a Jew, following the messages that Jesus taught I am enjoying the positive results here on earth, in this life.

I am not going to go into what I believe as far as doctrine versus science… that is a conversation for another time (and hopefully over a scotch or three).  However it seems to me that anybody – Christian or otherwise – who judges others on their beliefs rather than on their actions cannot himself (/herself) be a good Christian… or for that matter a good Jew or a good Muslim.  If we are supposed to turn the other cheek.  I suppose it would not be a proper religious article if I did not quote scriptures at least once… “Judge not, lest ye be judged!”-Matthew 7:1. 

With that being said, if you are going to judge someone, is it right to do it based on their beliefs rather than their actions?  Who among us has not seen someone else’s spouse and had inappropriate thoughts?  That may be a bad idea, but there’s nothing illegal about it.  If we were to act on those thoughts, that would be wrong.  I expect there are many of us who are relieved that we cannot be judged (and tried and sentenced) based on our thoughts and beliefs alone… but to go to Hell for them?  I think even Jesus would scoff at that.

Happy Easter to all of my Christian friends and followers, and Happy Passover to my Jewish friends and followers.

Night of Defiance

Five years ago I was flying home from London just in time for the first Passover Seder.  I wrote an essay which I ended up delivering as a guest sermon to my synagogue the following year before Passover, and I have read at my family’s Seder every year since (for reasons I will not go into this year I did not read it).  However in light of what is going on in Ukraine this year, I felt I should share it with a wider audience.  Please feel free to share the link… I wonder what Vladimir Putin might say to it! –MDG

This night we sit in defiance.

As a people we have for centuries – even millennia – adjusted, fit in, integrated into the societies that surrounded us. We were a displaced people who have lived in too many civilizations to list or count. Some of those civilizations embraced us, many more tolerated us.

Most of us who live in the Diaspora do not remember what it was like from the destruction through 1948. If this country tomorrow were to pass a law barring Jews – ridiculous as that may sound – we have somewhere to go, a country where we will always be welcome, accepted, and truly home. It has not always been like that.

Tonight, this night, the first night of Passover we sit in defiance of those who have turned on us, enslaved us, humiliated us, oppressed us, and killed us. US, and not them; our ancestors are us and we are they because if we were to find ourselves in their place we would not have been spared. On this night we sit around magnificent and opulent tables, openly celebrating our holiday; we do so in defiance not only of the Pharaohs of Egypt but of the Emperors of Rome; of the Hamans, of the leaders both of countries and of churches who have banned our celebrations; we sit in defiance of the Spanish of the 15th century and of Adolph Hitler in the 20th century; we defy the terrorists who would push us into the sea and of anyone who would tell us that on the first night of Passover we should not celebrate and remember.

Why do we celebrate Passover? Why is the Passover Seder different from all other nights? Why is it so vitally important for us to gather around, lean comfortably in cushioned chairs, and read the story of our enslavement and exodus? It is not only because we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, but we were persecuted over the millennia by Greeks and Romans and Spanish and Germans and so many others – most of whom are confined to the annals of History now – who would be disappointed, upset, and outraged to know that we are still here reading the story of the exodus from Egypt. We read the same story every year and must never forget, because it could happen again if we let it.

Of course it is a ridiculous concept that a country such as Canada, the United States, or Great Britain would ever pass such a law. These are, after all, the most liberated societies in the world where people are free to be what they want, think what they want. These are countries where Jews live, work, and contribute to not only religious but also secular society; they own property and businesses, work in every job imaginable. Jews in our countries are comfortable because over the decades and for some even centuries they have become a part of the fabric of the secular societies of which we are a part. Laws like that could never be passed here, now, to us.

In the 1930s when Germany passed the Nuremberg Laws stripping rights from Jews they had lived, worked, and contributed to not only the religious but also the secular society of that country for hundreds of years. They owned property and businesses, worked in every job imaginable; they were comfortable because over the decades and centuries they became a part of the fabric of the secular society of which they were a part. Millions of them went to their deaths because they did not fathom that it could really happen here, now, to them.

In 1492 when the Spanish Inquisition gave Jews the option to leave, convert, or die they had been a part of that society for decades and centuries. They owned properties and businesses and worked in every job imaginable; they were comfortable because over the decades and centuries they became a part of the fabric of the secular society of which they were a part. The torture and humiliation and death and displacement took them by surprise but it happened, and the one country in Europe where Jews had known they were welcome and safe turned on them violently and thoroughly.

There are of course huge differences between then and now; however the only way to ensure that it will never happen again is to not let it ever happen again. As Jews we must not let it happen; we cannot be meek and we cannot be quiet, we must speak out and rise up and let the world know that we will never again be enslaved, persecuted, and slaughtered… always and loudly and with a resolution that will remind the world that Jews as a people and the Children of Israel as a nation are strong.

The State of Israel is a dichotomy to the ill-informed. It is a nation craving peace that is constantly at war; a nation of love that is the target of so much hate; a nation of hope amidst infinite despair. It has been a refuge for millions fleeing persecution around the world; escaping the Holocaust in Europe, persecution in Africa and the Middle East, poverty and troubles in the Soviet Union and then Russia. Israel offers Jews no matter where they are from a homeland when they want it, crave it, seek it, or need it. Likewise it is the guarantee that Jews will never again be rounded up and slaughtered.

For those who might waver in their support for Israel when the army is accused of wrongdoing they should consider what its enemies would do to it were the balance of power reversed. If Israel should elect a leader that they do not endorse whether they be right wing or left remember some of the leaders chosen by its neighbours such as Hafez Assad, Saddam Hussein, and the Ayatollah Khomeini.

Tonight we sit in defiance of them and countless more. We sit in defiance of Bashir Assad and Mahmoud Ahmedinijad and so many more who would not only deny the right of the Jews to a homeland, but to their very existence…

…and never again allow us to be slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt.

Stay out of politics!

A couple of years ago I went to Montreal with my colleague Damir Bersinic to do a presentation at the Montreal IT Professionals Community (www.mitpro.ca).  I was born in Montreal, and when I moved to Ontario in 2007 I found it interesting to see the point of view of the ‘Rest of Canada’.  Nearly five years after my move and shortly before that visit to MITPro I wrote an article (in response to one in the Globe and Mail) called ‘Does Quebec Have a Future In Canada?

If I do say so myself, Damir and I rocked the show.  We were discussing virtualization, specifically Microsoft Hyper-V, in the months prior to the release of Windows Server 2012.  We were a hit, and that was reflected in our evaluation forms that the packed house submitted after the event… all but one.

One of the evaluation forms that was returned to us had a comment ‘you should blog about IT and keep your nose out of Quebec politics.’  It was actually written in French, and included a number of colourful words to go with it.

Now I should mention here that while I was there as support, it was Damir who was running the show; Damir was the speaker, I was only there for support (and we went for a really nice dinner that night).  So why then should he get a negative evaluation from an attendee for something that I had blogged about?

If you enter the search term Quebec into the appropriate box you will find several articles return on my site, but only two have to do with politics – the one I referred to, and one about the Quebec student protests of 2013 (see article).  Having recently spent a lot of time in the province of Quebec it is amazing to discover that any blog anywhere does not focus exclusively on the politics of that province, but there you go.  Two articles in a decade of blogging.

However if you look at the title of this blog it is not IT According to Mitch, nor is it What Some People Think Appropriate According to Mitch.  It is in fact The World According to Mitch, and as such I write not only about computers and IT, but about any number of subjects, from IT and virtualization to airplanes, food, hotel, travel, martial arts, and yes indeed language and politics.  It is not only a professional blog (although it is certainly that) but a place for me to express my opinion about things that I observe during my travels through this world.

Starting tomorrow I have a series of articles that concern the politics of the Province of Quebec, as well as my observations of how the people are coping with the upcoming election.  It will not all be pretty and it will not all be popular, but it is all according to me, and I thank you for your continued readership!

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