Category Archives: Article

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!

How Many Changing Rooms Do We Need?

washroom_sign-img-1216In January Christina Blizzard of the Toronto Sun published an excellent piece called Political Correctness Shouldn’t Trump Common Sense.  I heard her interviewed on the radio, and was impressed.  She took the Ontario Human Rights Commission to task.  It seems that she had been in the changing room at her health club, and a ‘woman’ – in quotes because it was actually a man who claimed to identify as a woman – who despite whatever he/she might identify as had a very male anatomy, and from what she could tell all of the bits worked perfectly; this she claimed because he/she was hitting on another woman in the locker room, and the male bits got… as male bits tend to get when its owner is sexually aroused.

In February there was another case where a ‘self-identifying woman’ was taken into a shelter for battered women, but it turned out that the ‘woman’ was actually a sexual predator who proceeded to take advantage… as sexual predators will.

Following these two incidents I reached out to a number of friends who are more knowledgeable about the whole ‘wrong chromosome identification’ situation – they have friends who self-identify as being of the gender that their natural bits are at odds with.  They admit that there are certainly bad people out there who will abuse the system, but all in all the transgendered community are a misunderstood lot who are persecuted and need to be protected, and need society to respect that them as what they want to be, rather than as what they are.

Transgender_symbol_HiResI want to be clear… I respect a person’s right to choose in almost every respect.  If a man wants to sleep with women or men that is their own lookout, I will not judge or persecute.  However when it comes to what bathroom they should be allowed to / forced to use when in public I am of a mind that the needs (and rights) of the many should outweigh the needs and rights of the few.  I also strongly believe that one bad apple will eventually spoil the whole bunch, and the best way to prevent spoiling the whole bunch is to leave all apples in the right bushels.

I have changed or at least softened my opinion somewhat over the years – I tended to believe that if you are born with male bits then I am going to call you a HIM; over time I have realized there is no harm in referring to a man who wants to identify as a woman as a HER… it does not change who I am and it doesn’t hurt anyone.  However that is a far shot from saying ‘Hey, you have a penis but you say you are a woman so you can use the changing room where all of the women are walking around naked.’

So in response to that argument one friend argued that the man who identifies as a woman will feel embarrassed changing in front of all of the men in the men’s changing room.  The simple solution to that is use a bathroom stall to change.  If you think that person’s rights are being trampled on because they are being made to change in a room full of men, why would it be more acceptable to force every woman in the club to change in a room with one man?  It doesn’t matter if the man has an erection or not, those women should have the right to not be exposed to the male bits as they change.

The entire concept of political correctness in today’s society seems to completely discount the rights of the many – I have a right to be whatever, despite what anyone else thinks of it.  Leaving aside the two obvious cases of abuse called out herein, why should my wife or mother or niece forfeit their rights as women because  we have to accommodate everyone?  Wouldn’t that be the same as discriminating against them?

toilet-signs (35)[9]I joked recently with a friend (regarding the Changing Room case) that if I was ever to open an establishment with public restrooms I would forego the ‘Men’s Room’ and ‘Ladies’ Room’ of old and instead have one washroom marked ‘For people born with external plumbing’ and ‘For people born with female plumbing’.  As ridiculous as this may sound, it is in response to a ridiculous set of circumstances.  Thirty years ago who would have imagined there would be a circumstance where someone would actually argue which washroom was appropriate to use, and to actually sue for the right to use whichever they chose?

At the Chicago Pizza Pie Factory in Tel-Aviv (which I am told has since closed) they used to have a sign at the back that read ‘To the Johns…’ behind which there were two doors: ‘Olivia Newton’ and ‘Elton’.  Discounting the fact that these two ‘Johns’ are among the most ambiguous they could have selected, we always thought it was rather amusing.  In today’s politically correct society these signs might as well be changed to: ‘People who liked Grease’ and ‘People who like Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting’,.  Please, leave the musical theatre jokes out of it… I like musical theatre, and I am very much a straight male – although I might soon have to stop admitting that too loudly because we are among the only groups that is seems politically-correct to persecute and deride.

Another Opinion

Before publishing this article I asked a couple of people with different points of view to review it, and got a couple of answers that really shocked me.  I am not sure what I was expecting, but one person, who studies gender issues at university, wrote the following:

From a radical feminist perspective, the whole concept of gendered bathrooms is ridiculous and just another tool used to reinforce the binary concept of gender. All humans have genitals, no matter what form they take. We don’t ask men with small penises to change in different rooms. Or what about women with large clitorises? Should they also be shunned?

feminismAll humans (poop and pee). They all do. It transcends gender because all bodies need to excrete waste. Why are our washrooms divided, split, along binary gender lines, when we are all doing the same things in there? Aren’t separate stalls enough?

Why are we so ashamed of bodies that we must segregate when changing? Doesn’t this just reinforce the binary genders?

If we taught tolerance, of all gender expressions, women would not be alarmed when a man who identifies as a woman changes in the women’s change room. It is about tolerance. It is always about tolerance for the things we do not know enough about. It is always about the conversation that can help us learn, help us become more tolerant.

Wow… this answer completely shocked me.  I had never even heard the term ‘binary gender lines’ before.  Now that I have had nearly a week to consider this position I am ready to completely disagree with it, but I am not going to disrespect her point of view.  Call me old fashioned or traditional, but I still think that there are some things that we should be allowed to do privately, and while I consider women to be completely equal to men, I am nowhere near ready to say that we are all the same.  However I did ask for her opinion, and I am glad to share it, word for word (I reworded the words in brackets).

For the record though, as someone who has never studied gender studies nor read any feminist literature that I can think of, I would be surprised if this view was shared by the majority of feminists.  I was going to continue on to say what I thought they might think, but then realized that as I am not a feminist, I will not take the liberty of trying to speak for them.

Conclusion

I am all for giving people whatever rights they need to get by and not feel bad about themselves… but as a society shouldn’t we demand a little give and take? We can call men who want to be women ‘Her,’ ‘She,’ and ‘Madam,’ and in return they use the restrooms and locker rooms that correspond with the physical?  I don’t think this would really be too much of a problem – as I suggested earlier they are welcome to use bathroom stalls to change, and from experience I know it is possible to avert ones’ eyes so as to not see anything they are uncomfortable looking at.  Here’s a little secret I’ll share… most guys are as uncomfortable looking at other guys’ male bits as you ever would be.

In this world where common sense is uncommon, why can’t we try to muster it… rather than taking these issues to court and tribunals, lets just all try to do the right thing… and yes, that includes those people who are demanding we recognize their rights.

Disconnecting Mitch

IMG_0122My son Gilad is truly a chip off the old block.  In some ways that is a good thing, but when he decides to be difficult it can be a real nightmare for his parents.

Take, for example, Wednesday morning last week.  Gilad was happily playing with his cars down in the family room when I walked in and told him that it was time to go to school.  He was not having any of that… he was very content to continue playing with his cars and did not want to go anywhere.  When I insisted he threw a temper tantrum – screaming and crying and just not being at all cooperative.

It should be known that we have a pretty reasonable schedule in the mornings… Theresa and I coordinate to make sure both of our children get to school.  Aaron leaves early for the school bus, and one of us will drive Gilad to pre-school.  Depending on what each of us has scheduled for the day we determine who makes the drive out to Hamilton with the young’un.  On this particular Wednesday Theresa had meetings, and I was driving to Montreal… I had no real timeline that I had to follow, so I was driving Gilad.

Because I was making the trip to Montreal I knew I couldn’t forget anything.  I had my suitcase, my messenger bag with my Surface Pro, and another bag that I needed to bring.  Three bags.  That was very important, because I could not forget any of these and still get anything accomplished in Montreal.

It took much longer than usual to Get Gilad coordinated this morning, owing to the temper tantrum from Hell.  He is usually a very happy and cooperative toddler, but when he makes his mind up to be otherwise he is much more than a handful.  Theresa and I worked as a team to get him out the door – right shoe on, right shoe tied, left shoe on, left shoe… wait, why is the right shoe on the floor now?  Repeat the exercise… several times.  All the while the boy was shrieking to the point where an outside observer would have suspected we were abusing the poor child and called Children and Family Services.  It should be known that the situation was quite the opposite, and had the outside observer seen the whole picture he or she might have offered to buy drinks for the very patient parents.

We finally had two shoes properly secured to his feet – we were only minutes away from breaking out the duct tape to keep them in place.  We then moved on to the jacket, which was another battle completely, and one that really requires a bit more cooperation than simple shoes.  Of course, since he now had shoes on he was even more able to run away from this unconstitutional forced enclothing.  Fortunately I was able to head him off at the stairs and his mother, in a move that would have impressed NFL scouts, avoided a block thrown by a doggie-linebacker and sacked the boy… scooped him up in her arms, and withy a practiced skill got down to the task at hand. 

‘Get the stuff out to the car and come back to get him so that we won’t have to go through this again!’  Good idea… I grab my suitcase, the bag, and the boy’s lunchbox, which he was obviously not going to carry himself.  Three bags.  Once they were in the trunk I ran back, got the boy, and somehow I was able to get him into the car without having a neighbour call the police on me.  It took two stops – one at McDonald’s, one at Tim Hortons, before Gilad Hyde transformed back into Dr. Gilad Jeckyll, and believe me, late as we might have been getting him to school, it was a relief.

It truly was an amazing transformation… walking into school with a big smile on his face you would never suspect that just ten minutes earlier he had broken his father’s 37 year old record for longest and loudest tantrum by a four year old.  This was just one of the things I was thinking of as I made my way eastbound on the 401 toward Montreal.

You should know at this point that I am considered by most to be a very good driver.  Unfortunately I have, like many, developed the very bad habit of glancing at my smartphone when it beeps, especially when I am on a very straight and dry road.  I might even respond with a one- or two word text if appropriate and (reasonably) safe.  However when I got the text asking me to send someone a detailed e-mail a couple of hours into my drive I was not going to risk an accident (or a hefty fine) and do it behind the wheel.  I pulled off at the Big Apple exit and pulled into Tim Hortons.  I opened the trunk and there it was… as clear at the sky, once Gilad’s lunchbox had gone into the school I was left with only two bags… neither one of which was my Surface Pro messenger bag.

Crap.

Let’s face it, the pending e-mail was not a problem… I can just as easily type it on my smartphone as on my tablet.  Unfortunately my trip to Montreal was not entirely a pleasure trip, and I would need a computer for some of my work… not to mention that I had a meeting to work remotely with a colleague in Japan for several hours Wednesday and Thursday evenings.  That could not be done on a smartphone.

Oh, and did I mention that I am the hyper-connected geek who has never gone five days without his computer?

Of course I could have turned around… I was about two hours from home, and turning around was not really a viable option – it would have added four hours to a 5.5 hour drive, not to mention the grief I would have gotten from my father for making him wait up for me.

Interestingly enough I had also forgotten my wristwatch, which I always wear.  I don’t want to have to pull out my phone to know what time it is… I want my wristwatch, and would again, to a lesser degree, be lost without it.

Mitch was, for all intents and purposes, disconnected… what would he do?  How would he survive?  Over the next few days I will talk about what I did and how I managed… and what obstacles I faced, beginning with the fact that my smartphone charger was in my messenger bag too!

Surface Pro 2: Oh yeah!

It is not so hard to believe that it has been a year since I bought my Microsoft Surface Pro.  I liked it, but as I am not an average computer user, it did not take too long for me to realize that it was simply not powerful enough to be my primary laptop.  Don’t get me wrong, it was a great companion device, and I used it as such for the past year.  It was great for e-mail, web surfing, and e-book reading.  I watched a ton of movies and TV shows on it, but that was really the extent of what I used it for.  The long and the short of it is that once it was relegated to the secondary role, I could have settled for the less expensive (and even less powerful) Microsoft Surface with Windows RT.  What’s done is done though.

Following the launch of the Surface Pro 2 I noticed that the specs were identical in most (and superior in some) aspects as my primary laptop.  I decided to give it a try… the last week of January I stopped into the Microsoft Store in Yorkdale Mall (Toronto) and picked one up.  Of course money being a factor, I decided to settle for the 4/128 base model (4GB RAM, 128GB SSD).  For $999 it was not as powerful as I wanted, but to try it out…

surface-pro-2I spent precisely a week with it before I realized that if it was a little more powerful this could be my primary laptop.  I debated and debated… and then when I got a $50 gift card for the Microsoft Store I decided to bite the bullet… the store’s return policy is 14 days, so on Day 11 I went back… only to find out that they were completely out of stock.  However, they told me, the new Square One location had plenty in stock.  I hopped into my car and zoomed down there.  Yay, they had it!

One of the things I really appreciate about dealing with the Microsoft Store is that whether I have my receipt or not they can look up my past purchases by e-mail address.  They found my most recent transaction, and within a few minutes they exchange was done.

**FEATURE ALERT!**

Mitch-SurfaceWhen I started using the original Surface Pro last year I was worried that 128GB of storage would drain pretty quickly, so I also bought a 64GB Micro-SD card, and through the magic of Windows 8 I configured most of my profile (documents, pictures, videos, downloads, desktop) to redirect automatically onto that chip, which I left inserted permanently (See article).  While I never came close to my 128GB storage limit on the device, this strategy made migrating my data the simplest of operations… I took the Micro-SD card out of the old machine, inserted it into the new, and redirected the appropriate folders.  Done.  Between that and SkyDrive, I am loving Windows 8.1 more and more every day!

**How does it feel?**

With zero exceptions, the only thing that is slightly less comfortable on the Surface Pro 2 (in comparison to my Lenovo Carbon X1) is the keyboard.  I still like a full sized keyboard, and that is lacking when I am on the road.  However the Surface 2 Type Keyboard (now backlit!) is great in almost every respect… I am just not a fan of the mouse pad, but as I almost always use an external mouse (and touch screen and stylus) it is really mostly irrelevant.  I still would not have cared for the touch keyboard, but the tactile ‘I can feel the keys when I type’ keyboard is great – I am a fast if not great typist, and I do not find myself making any more or fewer typing mistakes on this keyboard than I do on the laptop.

**How long does it last?**

That, of course, is the $64 question.  The simple answer is that I don’t know yet… I have not run the battery down.  However the 128GB model that I replaced with this one charged overnight Friday, and I used it for demos all day Saturday at the Microsoft Store… it wasn’t until midday Sunday that I needed to plug it in.  As for this model, I charged it overnight Tuesday, and will not plug it in again until the battery dies.  I will report back the results.  However remember again, this is the only device I am using this week, and I already have a couple of virtual machines running so while results may vary, I assume I will be on the lower end of expectations.

One thing I was told with regard to the battery life is that the firmware update (available from Microsoft Updates) greatly improves the battery life… I applied the update yesterday, so it shouldn’t adversely affect me.

**How are you managing it?**

Because I am no longer ‘with’ Microsoft, I don’t really want to join the Surface Pro to a domain.  No problem, I have a subscription to Windows Intune, and I simply installed the agent and poof… I can manage it, and aside from that (and patch management) the Windows Intune Endpoint Protection (WIEP) began protecting the computer right away.  For my money there isn’t a better product on the market for what it does.

**But can I do…**

Mitch-SurfaceI got a call this week from an old friend asking if his customer would be able to install his own software on the Surface Pro.  In fact, the Surface Pro is a complete Windows 8.1 machine with no exceptions or limitations.  It runs Windows 8.1 Pro (although that can be replaced with Windows 8.1 Enterprise for corporate users).  It has a kick-ass Sandy Bridge CPU, and as I said… it does everything that my Lenovo does.  In fact, when I travel I can leave the Lenovo at home and just take its port replicator/docking station, because with the USB 3.0 port on the Surface Pro 2 that is all I need to transform it into a multi-screen workstation with all of the desktop peripherals in my hotel room.

Now with that being said, I just bought a Surface dock on ebay.com (they seem to be impossible to find otherwise) and am really looking forward to it… the device sits seamlessly in, and I can take it with me to my hotel whether that be in Japan or wherever… and just take the device when I go to the office or to a client (or a café or an airport).

**Summary – What do you think, Mitch?**

As I look at the Surface Pro 2 (and not how it compares to the Surface 2) I have to smile… it is a fully functional computer that weighs in at just under 2lbs.  The power supply uses the same connector as the stylus so you can either charge it or connect the pen, but that is a minor issue.  The fact that the power supply has a USB port to charge devices rocks by the way.

The ports – Mini-DV for whatever video I need, Micro-SD slot (discussed earlier), USB 3.0 port, and audio jack are fine for when I am on the go, and the ability to plug in any external USB  3 docking station or port replicator means that when I am at home (or semi-permanent space) I can plug in as many external devices as I want, especially my dual 21” monitors in my home office. 

The keyboard is great compared to everything else in its class, but when I am docked I will still have an external keyboard and mouse – I have an abundance of those anyways.  However I like having the options.

What do I think?  I think that what you spend versus what you get the Surface Pro is the best deal in town.  There are other great fully-functional tablets on the market, but this one has and does everything I need, and the price is right.

Oh by the way… there has been a lot of discussion about the addition of a second position of the kick-stand.  I cannot begin to tell you how much I do not care about that – Maybe at some point I will use it, but for now every time I have flipped it down I tried it for ten seconds and decided that no, I prefer the original.  However I am sure that some people will like it… it’s just not for me; it neither appeals to me nor bothers me.

Thanks Microsoft, for coming up with a device for me.

Now if you will excuse me, I have to go do something in Hyper-V.  What, you ask?  Anything I want… the Surface Pro 2 supports it!

The World… for the World According to Mitch.

Somalia. Greenland. Vanuata. Montserrat. Cook Islands. Samoa. Mali. Sierra Leone. Burundi. Federated States of Micronesia, Liberia, Equatorial Guinea, Niger, Djibouti, British Virgin Islands, Northern Mariana Islands.

What do these sixteen nations have in common?  Certainly not geography – some are tropical islands, others African nations, and of course Greenland should, by all rights, be its own continent (albeit a frozen one).  You cannot even say that they are all members of the United Nations, as Greenland is actually a Danish territory, and the British Virgin Islands are a British territory.

In fact, the only thing that these sixteen states have in common are that they are tied at 1… a single hit has been logged to The World According to Mitch from each in the year 2013.  Mauritania, French Guiana, Vatican City, and French Samoa are ties for second (with two hits each), and Bhutan stands alone with three hits.

In total, over 173,000 hits have been registered to The World According to Mitch to date in 2013.  I guess we sort of hit our stride this year, because with two weeks to go in the year (let’s face it, I expect the numbers to tank from Christmas) we have registered 72,000 more hits than the total of 2012 – a 73% increase year over year.

That number includes visits from 207 countries/territories/protectorates, accounting for every single member of the United Nations except one (No hits from North Korea), plus fourteen others (aside from the aforementioned, Vatican City, the Palestinian Territories (66 visits), Taiwan (1,219 visits), Hong Kong (1,204 visits), Puerto Rico (198 visits), Guam (15 visits), and a number of others.  Interestingly enough, Kosovo – the last of three independent states not members of the UN, also did not register a visit.

Owing to the free nature of the Internet and the fact that one little blog is hardly worth blocking, there were roughly 7,300 visits from countries that would prohibit me from entering (or worse, prohibit me from exiting).  Owing I would hope to my technical articles rather than those of my travels I occasionally am invited to consult for companies based on my blog.  In July of this year I was invited to consult for the national bank of one of these nations – an invitation I politely turned down.

The hottest month of the year (by far) was October… 17,333 visits based on twenty-two posts – eight of which were technical, the others mostly about travels and my experiences in Japan.  However the highest total hits was registered in June (the post was about the flood in Calgary, which I experienced first hand).  The second highest total for a day was in November (I was answering questions for a www.microsoftvirtualacademy.com Jump Start, and posted the link to an article I wrote), and the third highest was in December – the day I wrote about my hat.  Incidentally the week that started with that article was my highest per-day average over a week – 597 hits per day.

While I am not sure I have a definite formula for what does work and what does not work, it seems to me that a solid balance of all sides of me – work, leisure, travel, opinions – is what accounts for the best average for me… I never expect one article to be a home run (although there have been a couple, thanks Server Core and Netfx).  When I balance my articles between the technical and the non-technical both sides of my readership seem most content.  And so that is the direction that I will continue along in the coming year.

By the way some might ask what effect spending a year as a resident blogger for www.canitpro.net had on my own blog.  I would guess that a some of my readers were introduced to me from there (but I also expect some of my foreign readers found that blog because of this site).  I like to think that both blogs complemented each other, with neither leaning heavily on the other.  If the statistics are accurate then any readers I gained while blogging there have remained with me, as only one of the last four months is slightly below any of the preceding twelve… and that was September, when I was in negotiations with a client and trying to remain tight-lipped about leaving my position with Microsoft Canada.

The World According to Mitch received a number of honours this year – for the third year in a row it was listed on BizTech Magazine’s list of 50 IT Blogs You Must Read, and I retained my position on Evolven’s POWER35 Insightful IT Bloggers.  I was also selected as one of the SMB 150 – honoured by my peers with their nomination and votes.

Mitch HatAll in all 2013 has been a banner year for the World According to Mitch banner… and the promise I make to you, my loyal reader, is that I will endeavour to keep up or improve the quality of the posts… and I will try to keep up the pace as well!

May the holiday season bring you and your family blessings of joy, health, and happiness, wherever you are in the world, and whatever holidays you celebrate.  Most importantly, let us all pray for peace in the world in 2014.

Mitch Garvis

A Sad Day…

I spent much of the week hearing people discuss how tragic it was that Paul Walker died.  I am not going to rehash the argument, knowing that I would be opening a can of worms.  Believe me, I am about to open a larger one.

I arrived at the office in Sydney, Australia this morning and as I often do when my students are running late I opened Twitter.  Immediately I was hit by messages that Nelson Mandela passed away.

nelson-mandelaNelson Mandela is, by any measure, a worldwide hero.  He spent a lifetime fighting for what was right.  He spent twenty-seven years incarcerated as a political prisoner by the South African government for opposing Apartheid.  He was released from prison in 1990, and four years later was elected, as the president of the African National Congress, became the first black African President of a country in turmoil.  More than anyone he was instrumental in that country’s survival and evolution.

Over the past year every news outlet you turned to could have had on any given day a top of page story about Mr. Mandela being hospitalized.  I could not believe that this was considered news, but not because I don’t care about Mr. Mandela.  With respect, the man was ninety-four years old when these stories started appearing, and anyone with an elderly grandparent will tell you that they likely spend some time in hospital.  It was, to my mind, not news.

The death of Mr. Mandela is not a tragedy.  Is it sad? Yes, extremely.  However it is not a tragedy.  The man was ninety-five years old, and died of natural causes.  That is simply not a tragedy.  It is sad.

What is a tragedy is that this very special man spent twenty-seven years in prison.  However if history had been different he likely would not have been able to help end Apartheid.

stevebikoThe life of Nelson Mandela is actually a miracle.  He endured terrible treatment for years, but survived and changed the world.  The tragedy is in names like Steven Biko and countless others – contemporaries of Mr. Mandela who were imprisoned and died in jail.  Men (and women) who could have helped South Africa to become a better country – a free nation where all people are equal.

As the world mourns the loss of Mr. Mandela I hope that you will save a moment to think of of Steven Biko, and all of the heroes who died years and decades before the realization of their dream of a free South Africa.  Nelson Mandela did not do it alone – he had a lot of help, he just happens to be the most prominent name and face of the revolution.  I respect everything that he did, but I cannot consider his death a tragedy – not of natural causes at the age of ninety-five.

Rest in peace Mr. Mandela…and Mr. Biko, and all of your generation who were part of your struggle, whose names never became household names.

What IS your Laptop Bag?

**NOTE: The links in this article have been fixed. -M

I have been in a bit of a ‘writing rut’ of late and I am sorry for that.  This week I sat down and decided to write something… anything.  While I am working on a few technical issues these days none of them are very inspirational, so to break my rut I decided to write a piece about something completely different! -M

Forrest Gump: Those must be comfortable shoes, I bet you could walk all day in shoes like those and not feel a thing.

Nurse: My feet hurt.

Forrest Gump: My momma always said you can tell a lot about a person by their shoes, where they go, where they’ve been. I’ve worn lots of shoes, I bet if I think about it real hard I can remember my first pair of shoes.

In this day and age of mobility it is easy to imagine an alternate version of the opening scene of the classic movie:

Forrest: That looks like a comfortable laptop bag.  I bet you could carry that laptop bag all day and not feel a thing.

Nurse: My back hurts.

Forrest: My momma said you could tell a lot about a person by their laptop bag… where they go, where they work.  I’ve carried a lot of laptop bags.  I bet if I think about it real hard I can remember my first laptop bag…

I am spoiled… I admit it.  I have indeed carried a lot of laptop bags, and to the best of my recollection I have never paid for one.  The first one I had was a leather Targus bag that came with my very first laptop (a Gateway 486 model that I bought second-hand) and was completely mismatched to my circumstances… it must have looked amusing to people to see me traveling on the train with an M-16 assault rifle and a leather laptop bag – back in the days when most people did not have laptops!

My second foray into mobile computing was with a Toshiba Satellite A70.  It was (at the time) blindingly fast, with a Pentium 4 processor.  It was also purchased used, and fittingly was going to go right into the old Targus bag when a friend stepped in and gave to me a TechNet branded laptop bag that he had won at an event.  I was thrilled – at the time I thought there was a cool factor associated with carrying the Microsoft branded bag!  I was so proud of it, not realizing it would be one in a long string of bags…

That was in 2005, and in the eight years since I have likely gone through three dozen bags.  Some of them were event-branded (WPC 2012 & six consecutive TechEd North Americas), others were product-branded (you can imagine the number of Windows bags I have gone through, including Windows Server, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8, SBS, Microsoft Office, and more).  A few of them were branded by different teams or divisions within Microsoft (Microsoft Learning, System Center, MSN, MSDN, TechNet) and a few were branded by other companies (HP and Dell have given me bags, but one of my current favorites is Veeam).

The Microsoft MVP program has contributed more than a few to the collection, including a messenger bag I rather liked (but whose shape was not entirely compatible with the laptops I owned), a nylon briefcase-type bag that I think my wife is currently using, and most recently a backpack branded Microsoft as well as the MVP logo, this time in red (instead of the usual blue) and a Canadian maple leaf. 

I have, as a STEP presenter as well as a Virtual Technology Evangelist, been given bags to give away… they are always a popular giveaway item, and the branding is almost as important as the design/style.

With all of the discussion about branding one might think that all I care about is that the bags are free or cool.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Functionality and comfort are frankly the only things that really matter to me in a laptop bag… and while it may sound strange, I have narrowed my ‘everyday use bags’ down to four, depending on where I am going and for what.  The winners are:

1) Ogio Module (branded Windows 8)

I am not going to say that my Microsoft Surface Pro saved my back, but it really did go a long way to my rethinking my load, down to the bag that I carried.  The messenger bag that one of the product teams gave me a few months ago has room for two Surfaces (the Pro and the RT) plus a ring binder (I still take notes by hand, and having the notebook with me ensures that I can continue to do so even when told to turn off my devices.  In addition I carry a single power charger for the two devices (one might run out of juice, but never two at a time), a Microsoft Wedge Touch Mouse (not my favorite mouse, but compact and Bluetooth), a stylus, my video dongles, a micro-USB cable, and my a-Jays Four earphones.  That’s it.  The fact that the bag doesn’t have room for anything else ensures that this slung messenger bag will never weigh more than 5lbs… a relief when I am on the go!

I have, by the way, gotten more than a few comments about this bag.  Whatever its advantages may be, there is one downside… it looks like a murse!  I have had to explain to numerous people that it was actually a messenger bag, and I was not trying to make any sort of metrosexual statement with it… not that there’s anything wrong with that ;)

2) Brenthaven Prostyle Lite Expandable SC (branded Microsoft Learning)

Unlike many of the laptop bags that I have gone through, this is a subtler, classical briefcase-type bag, rather than the larger backpacks that are very popular these days.  I got it as a present from Microsoft Learning at WPC in 2012, and love it for the subtlety of it (the branding is black on black, so hardly noticeable), as well as the size – while it easily fits my 14” X1 Carbon laptop, its size and design are not conducive to carrying much more than the necessities.  It has space for a mouse (currently a Microsoft Explorer Touch Mouse), the charger cable, and not much else (unless I want/need to expand it by unzipping… which I seldom do).

When I am close to home and need the power of the X1 Carbon over the compactness of my Surface Pro I will carry this bag, although it is not uncommon for me to take both with me… the two combined still weigh less than my old laptop bags, and I can distribute the weight across both shoulders.

3) Wenger Swiss Army Scan Smart Backpack (co-branded Windows Server 2012 and Veeam)

The backpack is bigger than my previous two choices, and when I am traveling this can be important… when getting onto an airplane I may not need my external hard drives and other sensitive equipment on board, but at the same time I will never again trust an airline to check my fragile equipment (thanks to a mishap in Saskatoon) so I make sure that anything delicate is in my carry-on.

The laptops that I carry with me may not change, but when I travel I carry a lot of things that I wouldn’t need at the office… a docking station, speaker and cables to connect to watch movies in the hotel (as well as an external DVD player), cameras, and a bunch of other stuff.  I also put a couple of non-IT related things in the bag – namely my Black Belt and Taekwondo uniform top (I can easily buy a pair of track pants, but replacing the top and belt is impossible).

Depending on the length of my stay in one place, once I get to the hotel I usually unpack the backpack and continue on with the messenger bag or briefcase (which I will have packed into my suitcase).  One advantage of this system is that by emptying the bag every time I can reevaluate the importance of the odds and ends in the bag, allowing me to shed unwanted weight.

4) Ogio Terminal (branded Windows & Microsoft MVP)

This really is a ‘last but not least.’  In truth it is (by far) the largest of the four, and is only used for one specific purpose: My traveling datacenter.  When I am teaching my Private Cloud class (or one of the many IT Camps that I deliver for Microsoft Canada) I need to carry a pair of 15” laptops with me, plus the chargers and other cables needed for the deliveries.  Each laptop weighs about 9lbs before the massive chargers are taken into account, and while checking these systems is unconceivable, so is any bag that is not on wheels.

The fortunate bit is that I usually have enough space in this bag to place all of the extras that I would usually need the backpack for, so I will often travel with this bag and my Ogio Module bag.  Because it is designed to fly it fits into the overhead space of most airplanes, and for the exceptions I am glad to gate-check it because I will see it being loaded on and then off-loaded from the baggage area.

Brands

My laptop bags may all be freebies (as was my golf bag and a few others lying around) but when it comes to actual luggage I am a lot pickier… although this is a reasonably new phenomenon.

I remember one of my suitcases falling apart after a long tour.  My wife was in the US visiting family and I asked her to pick up a new suitcase for me while she was down there.  When she told me what she had spent I was floored… until I realized that there really are better suitcases.  What she came back with were two Briggs and Riley Baseline suitcases.  My friend and colleague Jay Ferron had bragged about his before, how they were not quite indestructible but it didn’t matter because the company would fix or replace any suitcase (even if it was damaged by an airline) for free. 

Since then I have decided for myself that I will never go back to cheap luggage.  The quality is obvious, and for the number of miles I travel in a year (over 100,000) whether by plane, train, automobile, or boat, I do not want to have to worry about any luggage failures.  After nearly four years both cases have a couple of dings, and before my next big trip I will likely have to send them in… but not to worry, I know it won’t cost me anything to have them restored to nearly-new condition.

Impressions

The bags one carries says a lot about a person.  When I tweeted that I was working on this article a colleague commented that the contents say more… but unless the person is willing to let you rifle through the contents of his bag, it is the bag itself that will give you the impression.  What impression you want to give is up to you. 

When choosing a bag you should remember that it will be a part of you – and your appearance – for years to come.  Do you want to look practical, professional, stylish?  Do you want to look ergonomical or economical?  Do you have to carry a heavier load… remember that even if you are strong and in good shape this may have long-term effects on your back and posture.  However if your bag is too small it might require you to replace it.

Protection – don’t leave home without it!

Fashion versus practicality is an interesting conundrum for many, but as I am seldom seen as a fashionable guy I don’t worry about colours or style, only look and feel (and practicality).  Although I would never tell someone to buy a $90 brand name shirt over a $40 no-name shirt, I will say that there are cheap laptop bags that feel cheap, and end up costing you in the end because you have to replace it. 

It is also important that the bag you select protects your gear.  Several years ago I had a customer who bought his daughter a $3000 laptop and a $15 laptop bag.  She asked me to take it to my office to clean it out (it was severely infected) so she packed it all up in her bag and gave it to me.  As I walked out of their office to my car the carrying strap snapped, the bag fell to the ground, and aside from a few dents on the screen I suspected the hard drive might have been damaged; unfortunately we couldn’t verify this because the 17” screen was smashed into little pieces.  It cost $1500 to fix, and would never have happened with a decent bag.

Conclusion

When I got my first laptop in 1996 there wasn’t the same variety in laptop bags that you have today.  They were black or grey, and essentially came in one general size.  Today with laptops outnumbering desktop PCs (and tablets set to overtake laptops in the not-so-distant future) there is a bag for everyone – colour, design, style, whatever you want.  However when you go shopping for your bag remember that it will be a part of you whenever you take your system with you.  Most of us do not change our laptop bag every time we change our clothes, so buying a bag because ‘it goes well with that outfit’ may make sense right now, but unless you can afford (and want!) a bag to match every outfit then practicality should win the day.

You might buy something that matches your personality… there are designer bags of course.  I would worry less about a bag going out of style in a year or two because that may be the lifespan of the bag anyways.  Buy something that you like, that holds (and protects) your gear, and that you won’t be uncomfortable carrying wherever you go.  If you opt for wheels remember that your laptop doesn’t like all of the jarring vibrations of city streets so you might buy an extra protective sleeve to double-up.

In short just make sure it works for you… good laptop bags are not cheap and should not be looked upon as disposable.  Give it the same consideration you would a pair of every day shoes… try it out, make sure it fits and is comfortable, and make sure it is what you like.  Nobody else has to carry it!

The 1%…

Image representing LinkedIn as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

Last year when people were occupying anything they could pitch a tent near we started hearing a lot about the 1%… the ones who control all of the wealth, the ones everyone else was supposed to be supported by.  I did some quick calculations after checking my banks account and credit card statements and realized I was safe: I may be comfortable, but by no means am I wealthy; in fact beyond this blog I would be hard pressed to name anything that I control when I am not behind the wheel of my car (including my wife, kids, and dogs).  I was doomed to live my life as part of the 99%, albeit the part of that fraction that supports himself and doesn’t want a hand-out from anyone.

So this morning – it was this morning as I type, which means it will likely be yesterday when this article is published and possibly even last week by the time you read it – I was thrilled to receive an e-mail from LinkedIn congratulating me that my profile was among the top 1% viewed in 2012.

For a few minutes I was thrilled!  How exciting to be among the top one percent! And then the math kicked in…

1. One percent of two hundred million is still two million.  Okay, so my profile is among the top two million.  If I was one of the two million best basketball players in the world I still wouldn’t make the NBA.  In fact, if I was in the top one percent best basketball players I still wouldn’t make the cut.

2. Before my e-mail came in I saw tweets and Facebook posts from at least thirty friends saying they had received the same e-mail.  Now I know I have some great friends, but that is a bit of a coincidence, isn’t it?

3. Three hundred or thirty thousand people can view my profile and then move on… that number is irrelevant to me.  As my old friend Sigmund Marcus used to say, Show me da money! (Sorry Tom and Cuba, Sigmund said it before I saw your movie)  My profile can get a single view by a headhunter who has a great opportunity for me, or  y a potential client who has a great consulting mandate, and that number means something.  The number of people who simply looked at it means… nothing.  Oh sure, the more people who see my profile the higher the chances that I will speak to a hiring manager or CIO with a consulting mandate, but I learned a long time ago that volume does not equal quality.

I saw another interesting statistic today, quoted by a spokesperson for LinkedIn who is also a career coach.  She was quoted saying that when building your profile you should aim for 50 contacts, and to remember that LinkedIn is not Facebook… your contacts on LinkedIn should be people that you can pick up the phone and call for a professional (career-related) favour… and not just people you know.  The last time I checked I had over eleven hundred contacts… and I admit that I do not remember who many of them are.  Many are likely people who attended a class or a seminar that I gave, others are contacts of my contacts.  Either way, I do not consider my contact list impressive… I feel I should spend some time trying to cull it when I have a moment free.

I suppose a thousand contacts is a good way to get into the top 1% but in the end it doesn’t mean anything.  Maintaining a LinkedIn profile that is professional and impressive means that when someone looking for someone with your talents does see it they will like what they see… but the sheer numbers are meaningless.  Like anything else you should focus on quality, not quantity.  If you do that, then you are in the top 1% in my books already! Congratulations.

Another Humbling Accolade

People may find it weird, but every time one person reads my blog I am thrilled.  It is why (when I have the time) I follow the hit counts on both The World According to Mitch and the Canadian IT Pro Connection religiously.  It isn’t about ego (although I do suppose it is a bit of a boost to that!), rather it is about knowing that I am able to influence, educate, enlighten, and touch people, mostly within the IT Pro community.

While I started blogging in 2002 (it was called something else back then) I only launched The World According to Mitch in July, 2007 – and re-launched it in November, 2010, which is when my current counters were reset and I essentially started with a blank page (replete with a lot of content).  In that first month back up I had 1,567 hits, which for several months would remain the high point (bottoming out in February, 2011 with 746 hits).

I don’t know if I got a lot more serious about blogging at that point, or if I just got better at it, or if frankly I just got better at self-promotion.  However the hits started coming, gradually at first, and the more hits I got the more I was encouraged to post.  I remember teaching a Windows 2008 boot camp in Virginia Beach last July, and while the students did their labs I dug up old posts that I had written and had somehow not made the move to the new site.  For the first time ever I started scheduling posts rather than simply hitting ‘Publish’.  Because I had so many such articles I put them out for 8:00am and 1:00pm daily, a trend that I have more or less followed – I found traffic much better when articles are published at 8:00am, and if I do need to post twice in a day then it is first thing in the morning and first thing after lunch.

Although I got plenty of comments from friends and students, the first official recognition I got for the blog was in September, 2011 when my blog was recognized as one of the 50 Must-Read IT Blogs by BizTech Magazine.  I had read their articles before but did not realize that they read mine as well.  I was thrilled to find out in September that I was recognized on this list for the second year in a row (see article).

This week I was humbled yet again to find out I was included on Evolven’s Power35 Insightful IT Bloggers.  According to the article, this is a handpicked list of insightful bloggers focused on IT.  It means a lot to me because I know there are a lot of really smart people in this industry and I work hard just to keep up with them.  I started blogging because I wanted to share my insight with my peers, and being recognized for that is absolutely heartwarming.

For the month that ends today (October, 2012) the hits on my blog will exceed 14,000 – close to (if not more that) it had in the first 10 months combined (14,099 from November 2010 through August 2011).  I hope that this is an affirmation of the fact that I continue to listen to your needs and wants, and continue to pay attention to the industry.  That is my goal – to remain current, to remain a resource to all of my readers (old and new).  I hope that my students see the blog as an extension of my classes, and that you all see it as a resource to use, reference, and share.

Thanks,

Mitch

Windows 8 – Coming soon to a screen near you!

It was nice to be in the room for a change.

For nearly two years now I have been counting down the #EndOfDaysXP on my Twitter feed (@MGarvis) and encouraging users and corporations to migrate to Windows 7.

Since the Developer Preview for Windows 8 was released in November of last year I have been getting the occasional reply to the tune of ‘Shouldn’t I just wait for Windows 8 at this point?’ and I have been telling these people no, it is time to get off Windows XP.  Besides, until there was an actual release date for Windows 8 it was still a long way off.

At the Keynote Event for Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference, held in Toronto’s Air Canada Centre, Tami Reller announced that Windows 8 would be released to manufacturing (RTM) in the first week of August, and that general availability (GA) would be around the end of October.  I was way up in the nosebleed seats, but I was there… and it was nice for a change to be able to report the news live rather than the usual retweets and such.

Of course, neither of those are actually dates.

Earlier this week we found out that RTM would actually be Wednesday August 1st.  As well Steven Sinofsky announced at Microsoft’s sales meeting that GA will be October 26th… which for those of you keeping track is a Friday.

I wasn’t in the room for that, but it is good to know.

To be clear, GA is the date that you will be able to walk into a store and purchase a copy of Windows 8, or a new computer with that OS pre-installed.  If you have a volume license agreement (VLA) with Microsoft – or a TechNet Plus or MSDN subscription – then the RTM bits will be available to you on the RTM date.

Now the question that everyone has been asking: What about Surface?

When Steve Ballmer announced Surface he stated clearly that the RT version would be available when Windows 8 was released (i.e.: General Availability), and that the Pro version would be available within 90 days after that.  In other words it looks like the Pro version will miss the Christmas rush, but if you have loved ones who are jonesing for a tablet to compete with the iPad then Santa should be able to put a Surface under their tree for Christmas morning.

Exciting stuff, huh?

Another Scam… and another article on Oakville.com

English: The Oakville Centre for the Performin...

English: The Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts in Oakville, Ontario, Canada (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have been a bad boy.  I am usually a monthly columnist for www.Oakville.com, but of late I have been a little delinquent… deadlines being what they are, and I have to find the inspiration.  I have, as a result, missed a couple of months.

A few weeks ago I got an e-mail from a fellow resident of Oakville (or at least he used to own a business here… he certainly lives within 50 miles of here.  He is not someone I know well, but I certainly know him and when I got an e-mail telling me (and everyone) that he was traveling abroad and ran into trouble, I was suspicious… and rightly so.

The article is called Another Scam: Is your friend abroad really in need? it came about in hopes of preventing my readers from falling victim to this scam.  I wish I could remember who it was, but I met someone a month before who actually had been victimized.  Hopefully this article will prevent others from suffering the same embarrassing fate.

Read the whole article here, and leave your comments!

An Instant Windows 8 Convert

Ever since I showed my teenage son Windows 8 he hasn’t stopped talking about it.  Combine that with two factors – his old Dell laptop is falling apart, and he just graduated Grade 8 and is going into high school in the fall – and I decided to give him a surprise today.

Theresa and I told him that we would buy him a new laptop this summer.  But then I realized… sometime between now and whenever Microsoft is releasing Windows 8, and with that there will be a plethora of hot new hardware available – not the least of which will be the Microsoft Surface.  So I told him that if he wanted I would let him use one of my HP EliteBook 2740p hybrid tablets from now until then, and when the time came we would take that back and buy him a new device.

‘Dad, do you mean that you would really let me use an HP Elite PC? Why don’t you just give me that and you don’t have to buy me a new one later? That machine is incredible!’

I looked at Theresa who said that if I was okay with it, so was she. 

When can I have it? Dad does it really run Windows 8? Can I really have all of that? When when when???

Wow… there aren’t a lot of things I have offered my son that has gotten him this excited, and since we didn’t have plans for the evening I decided to prepare it for him immediately.  He even asked if he could watch me prepare it, so I invited him down into the office, and pulled out my Windows 8 USB Deployment Point, wiped out the previous configuration (multi-boot OS Boot from VHD) and got it going.

I knew he was already excited about the new OS, but I had a great opportunity to show him a few new tricks up the old man’s sleeve.

Integrated Microsoft Account

Aaron asked if he would have to set a new password for his account.  He’s had a Live ID for several years, and when the Windows 8 installation asked for his e-mail address, he (like many people) assumed it was so that Microsoft could keep track, or send you e-mail alerts.  He was really impressed when I showed him that it was actually going to connect his Microsoft Account (the new name for Live ID) so that he could use the same credentials to log on, and that it would be completely integrated.

He was also impressed that it asked for a cell phone number so that if you lose your password if can send you a token to reset it to your phone.  I like that idea too!

To the Cloud!

My poor son, earlier this year, came to me in a panic.  The USB key where he saves all of his documents for school (and I assume other stuff) broke, and in fact he did lose all of that data.  In truth I hadn’t realized that he had been saving his important data to a USB key instead of his hard drive (which would have been synched to a file server and in turn backed up), but there it was.

As I was preparing his new EliteBook for him I installed the SkyDrive App, and showed him that any file that he saved there would then be backed up to the cloud, with the added bonus that he could easily access his files from anywhere, anytime, by just going to www.skydrive.com.

Oh, so it’s like Apple’s iCloud?

Ahem… Can iCloud do THIS? And from a web browser I created a new Word document on his SkyDrive.

So wait, you aren’t going to install Microsoft Office for me on the computer? Doesn’t that mean I would have to be connected to the Internet to work on my files?

Of course I am installing Office on your computer… but imagine that you are working at a friend’s house, and they don’t have Microsoft Office (yes, it COULD happen…) but you are working on your homework assignment together.  As long as they have a computer (even a Mac, or even a smartphone) you can still create and work on all of your files.

Wow… that is so cool!

Location, location, location!

Dad, I know you mostly work with Microsoft, but can you install Google Earth?

I showed him Bing Maps (built into Windows 8).  The first question it asked was if it could use our location.  It then showed us a map of Oakville… with a flag on our house.  I showed him how to switch from Streets view to Aerial View, and how to get directions,  and he was impressed.  He still thinks Google Earth has some features that Bing is missing, but I told him that he could install that for himself. 

He did like Inrix… more on that later Winking smile

The Store

Dad, are there any games available for Windows 8?

I told him that anything that he had on Windows 7 could be installed on Windows 8… but I am not really a game guy.  There are a couple of exceptions to that, and I showed him the Windows Store… and what seems to be the ‘next Angry Birds’ – Cut the Rope!  I downloaded it for him quickly and showed him how it was played.  I then went back into the Store and showed him what else was available.  I could see it in his eyes that before the night was over he was going to download everything available!

Internet Explorer 10

As I was espousing the virtues of Windows 8 he asked me about the browser.  I told him that Internet Explorer has two different modes – Desktop Mode and Metro Mode.  I showed him that he could navigate to any page, then use his fingers to zoom in or out.  He was thrilled, but I could see that he was chomping at the bit… he wanted Dad to stop talking and just give him his new computer!

He feels the Need… the need for SPEED!

I told him that there was one last thing I wanted to show him… I shut down the PC, made sure that it was completely off.  I told him to count, then turned it on.  Within 10 seconds we were at the logon screen.  He was really impressed, but Dad can I just have the computer so I can use it please??  I handed it over, gave him the power cord, and got another incredible hug.

As it was with Windows 7, my son is now the first of his friends to have Windows 8.  He asked me if I thought Microsoft would let him review it for them, and I made him a deal: I want him to write his thoughts and impressions of the new OS, and I would publish those thoughts on this blog.  I will help him when I can, but he is a very bright and articulate (and thorough!) kid, and I expect that we will have a budding new technology reviewer on our hands.  Watch out Ed Bott!

Can you convince your boss to let you get certified? UCA!

English: Microsoft Certified IT Professional

One of the benefits I get from conferences like Microsoft TechEd is reconnecting with friends and colleagues that I only see at these shows.  David and I have been friends for a couple of years, and when we discovered that we were  both staying over an extra night we decided to splurge and drive a ways to Tampa for dinner at what is in my opinion the best steakhouse and among the best restaurants in North America – Bern’s Steakhouse.

Of course it is slightly over an hour’s drive each way, so in addition to the 2.5 hours we spent in the restaurant we had plenty of time to discuss all sorts of topics, some personal but many business and technology related.

David works on the Microsoft Windows team at Microsoft.  His current area of focus is virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), which is a subject that have been talking about to user groups for the past six months.  We definitely had a lot to discuss!

He was telling me that in a past job he ran an entirely VMware-based virtualization infrastructure, which makes sense because at the time most virtualized datacenters were running VMware.  He told me he thought it amusing that to this day a Google search of his name comes up with a presentation he did years ago at VMworld.

Speaking at VMworld is a very prestigious gig, on a par to speaking at Microsoft’s TechEd or MMS.  I would have thought that in order to be invited you would have to have at least a VMware Certified Professional (VCP) cert.  He told me that he wasn’t, and the reason for it was VMware Learning’s requirement that you take their course before you sit their exam, and since he knew the product well enough to run a datacenter for the City of Las Vegas, it was a tough sell to his boss to get them to give him the week off as well as pay for the class and exam.  It was not a battle he was ever able to win, so he never got VMware certified.

We started talking about his employer’s position, and that it was, after all, a reasonable one.  In the case of an IT pro who is already proficient on a technology, certifications are for your next job, not for your current one.

Some people are able to learn a technology on their own better (and certainly cheaper) than they could from a class.  Is this always true?  Of course not… it is only true of some of us.

If you know a technology and you have proven it in a production environment for your employer then although it may be reasonable to spend a couple hundred dollars on an exam that is done in an afternoon, there is little value in paying thousands of dollars for a course that takes you away from your job for several days to a week.

So if my previous statement is true, that certifications are for your next job, then what value should a company see in an IT education and certification budget and plan for its employees?

There are a number of answers to that question, and depending on the individual in question one of the following answers should help.

1)      An IT professional may know version X of a technology, but that does not mean that they will know version X+1.  For example, I am certified in Network Infrastructure on Windows 2000 and 2003, but I still studied for and wrote the exam for Server 2008.  Why?  It covers new technologies that most of us could not simply read about and then implement following best practices.  New roles and features such as virtualization, Remote Desktop, and IPv6 meant that I had a lot to learn.  A company who has technologists working on legacy products would benefit from a course that teaches the new technologies, as well as a good refresh to the old ones.

2)      When employees change roles – even within IT – education can prepare them for that new role.  I know plenty of IT pros who have been promoted out of desktop support into the server side, but knowing the one does not mean you automatically know the other.

3)      Certifications are the proof that you have the respect for your profession to learn the material the right way, and then take the time to sit down and write a test created by a panel of subject manner experts (SMEs) and prove it.  They are also a good way to learn where you are weak.  Whether you pass or fail the exam your score report (from a Microsoft exam) will let you know what aspects of the technology you are weak on, so you can go back and study those specific parts more.  The first exams I ever wrote (Windows 2000) simply said ‘Fail’ or ‘Pass’, which meant I never learned how close I was to succeeding, nor what I had to brush up on in order to do that.

4)      Technologies change, job roles change.  Over the past ten years desktop deployment specialists have had to learn components of Windows Server, Active Directory, Windows Deployment Server, Microsoft Deployment Toolkit, the Windows AIK, and of course System Center Configuration Manager.  Individually some of these are easy enough to self-learn, but for most of us they take a good deal of learning to get right.  Hacking around in Active Directory or System Center production environments when you don’t know what you are doing is just a bad idea.  A class, especially one led by a leading trainer who is also a consultant and can discuss real life scenarios and experiences that can point out shortcuts and pitfalls to be aware of is often worth so much more to the company than the cost of the class.

5)      There are companies that require industry certifications by virtue of corporate policies or external regulatory bodies.  Although many certifications do not expire, they do eventually become irrelevant.  A professional who was hired based on Server 2003 certifications nine years ago was cutting edge, but as the infrastructure is migrated to Server 2008 or Windows Server 2012 those certifications are now meaningless, and with the changes in the industry (such as the advent of the Private Cloud) they may be required to recertify as an MCSE: Private Cloud (for example) in order to remain within scope of the policy or regulations.

The list can go on and on, but the simple fact is this: spending one million dollars is not a waste if you can prove that your return on investment (ROI) will be two million dollars.  If you are struggling to convince your employer/manager/director that they should be sending you for certification training, you simply have to show them what that ROI will be.  However remember to balance that with what it would cost them to replace you with a newer model with the current certs!  Experience and tenure are important, but the era of corporate loyalty is behind us, and I have seen too many times professionals talk themselves out of their jobs by telling their boss how much they have to spend on certification and continuing education.

Good luck!

My Future Goals in Tae Kwon Do and Why I Want to Achieve Them

On Saturday May 26th I pre-tested for my Second Dan Black Belt test. The actual test is this coming Saturday, June 2. The Second Dan candidates were given a writing assignment to complete: “My Future Goals in Tae Kwon Do and Why I Want to Achieve Them.” I spent most of Sunday thinking about this, and writing. On the advice of Master Beis what began as a twenty-five hundred word essay has now been edited down into two more manageable articles. Only the second of these, which I will publish later in the week, will be submitted to my Grand Master this afternoon. I look forward to hearing your opinions about this first piece. –Mitch Garvis, 5/31/12

When I was seven years old I attended my first organized martial arts classes. Sensei Yaki Mendel taught us to count in Japanese, and taught us stances and punches. I was not a very athletic child, and had enough trouble getting my gi on properly. My friend Mark Nadler and I lasted ten classes then called it quits.

Over the course of the next three decades I took up and eventually dropped several martial arts. That is not to say that when I walked into GrandMaster Kim’s OMAC in January, 2009 I was not a good fighter – the Krav Maga I picked up in the army has won more than a few fights over the years – but I was never really a martial artist.

If the truth is to be told, from that first Tae Kwon Do class it would take another seventeen months for me to call myself a real martial artist, although I had probably used the term anyways. It was then – on June 12, 2010 – that I earned my Black Belt.

My reasons for studying Tae Kwon Do are simple: my goal in Tae Kwon Do is to find an inner peace that I have not known in my life. I practice to be a better me, and to escape who I used to be. That does not mean that I wish to learn Tae Kwon Do as a sport, but more as a way of life. I wish to follow the same mantra that I have heard from wise martial artists in the past: we train to fight so that we will never need to fight. That is why I prefer Poomsae (pattern) training over sparring.

Unfortunately the pragmatic side to me knows that the real world is not as peaceful as I would wish for it to be, and there are places that I travel that are not as safe as Oakville. In the past year I have had to fight – not for honour, not for glory, but to save my life in situations where there was no alternative. That is why when I train I understand the importance of completing every punch and kick and block as if there was an invisible enemy facing me. People have commented that there is a look of anger in my eyes when I perform my patterns, but they are misinterpreting the look; it is the look of pure focus in my eyes that an observer might misinterpret as anger… but if in a real-life situation it convinces that opponent that fighting me would not be a good idea then they can call it what they like… it has done the job.

Black belt, 2nd danWhen I joined Grand Master Kim’s OMAC in January of 2009 I did so to support my son, and to have an activity in common with him. While Aaron did not immerse himself in Tae Kwon Do, I fell in love with it, with the help and guidance of a couple of special individuals to whom I owe everything. I have on several occasions reevaluated my reasons for dedicating as much time as I do to Tae Kwon Do, both in and out of the Dojang. So many of my students (in IT, not Tae Kwon Do), friends, colleagues, readers, and people I meet on airplanes have heard about my testing by now that I am sure the lot of them are sick of it. My blog (which was chosen as one of the top IT blogs worldwide recently) currently has eight articles on my training and progress… more I recon than I have written about computers in the last month.

As Tae Kwon Do seems to be a big part of my life, then the better question may be what are the goals I have in life, and how do I plan to achieve them?

  1. I want to continue to lose weight. In preparation for my upcoming test I have lost fifty pounds since January. It has been tough and although I have not hit the goal that I set out for myself, but I did get nearly 80% there… and unlike when I lost a lot of weight in preparation for my first Black Belt, I do not plan to resume my old eating habits after the test. There will be some major celebrating to be sure, but the morning of June 3rd I plan to go out for a jog… and I will not stop doing that as part of my routine.
  2. I am still not nearly as flexible as I would like to be. I visited an OMAC dojang recently in New Westminster, BC where Master Suh told me that one of the pre-requisites to test for a Black Belt in his system is to be able to do the splits. I am not nearly there, and doubt that I will ever be. I am probably past the age where you would start training your body to do that, and coupled with injuries I have sustained over the years I do not believe it is a realistic goal. However better flexibility is not only possible, it is likely a necessity. I know that I can bend a lot better after the weight loss, and expect that when I have lost the rest of it (that might still take a year) I will be more flexible still. By continuing in Tae Kwon Do, attending classes makes me more flexible every time. I will continue on those two paths.
  3. I would like to continue to grow in Tae Kwon Do and continue to make it a part of my life… present, past, and future. One of the most important lessons I have learned in my life is that you never know what you do not know. I do not know what the future holds, but I know that I want to continue to do as much as I can. Knowing myself I will continue to push myself harder and will test again, and if all goes well sooner rather than later. However none of us know what the future holds, so my only current goal is to achieve my Second Dan Black Belt.
  4. In January of 2013 I look forward to bringing my younger son, Gilad, into the Dojang for his first Tiny Tigers class. Gilad was only three weeks old when he watched my 1st Gup (Black/Red Belt) test, and was five months old when he watched my Black Belt test. He hasn’t been to the dojang in a while but every time he comes he watches us kicking, punching, and blocking with such fascination that I cannot help but expect that he will take to Tae Kwon Do like a fish to water, and that he will continue to enjoy it throughout his lifetime. I have spoken with my wife about this and she agrees. One of the many regrets that I have is that my parents did not force me to stick with Karate as a child (No mother, I am not blaming you for anything, and I have little doubt I would have resented you had you forced it. I simply wish I had known then what I know now). Theresa and I agree that Tae Kwon Do will not be considered a sport or an extra-curricular activity; it will simply be part of the routine. When he is old enough to decide for himself and he wants to quit, then let him quit with a Kukkiwon Black Belt certificate… when he is older he will understand the value.

I can go into as many points and details as I like but the reality is that I decided several years ago that I was tired of not achieving my goals. The Black Belt was a goal, and now the Second Dan is a goal. All of these goals are summed up in the words of Grand Master Kim. I want to be a winner!