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Are you kidding me?

I have figured out why Godzilla was able to attack Tokyo without any advance warning. It’s because everyone was going about their business, distracted… Either by cell phones or manga books or just generally ignoring their surroundings. 

If you haven’t met me, let me paint a picture: I am 6’2″ tall (a head taller than the average adult male here) and I tip the scales at around 350lbs… Not to mention that 21 years after my enlistment I still walk like a cross between a soldier and a tank.  Let’s add the cherry on top… I wear a big cowboy hat.

And yet… People walk into me, step into my path (half a step from getting hurt), or else walk toward me expecting I will get out of their way… Even though there are ten lanes of pedestrians walking with them, and only two lanes of pedestrians in my lane (yes, there are pedestrian lanes here, and for the most part they are respected).

Folks, I am a big guy, and while I was once a lot nimbler than I am, that was a long time ago. If my stride is going to take me forward, by the time you unexpectedly decide to occupy treat space that I have a half a second to not move into suddenly… It’s too late.

Oh, and I should mention something else… If I outweigh you by 200lbs (that’s about 90kg before you try to make that excuse) and you and I collide… Well let’s put it this way: I will feel it… But it won’t hurt me. The physical recollection of our brief accidental encounter will be a memory for me forgotten within minutes, and quicker if I am thinking of something else.  You, on the other hand, will likely fee like you got hit by a truck. It will hurt… A lot… For a long time. Why? Because I stand like a brick wall and walk like a tank. I may be fat, but I am solid… VERY solid. ‘Let’s put Mitch in the CENTRE so nobody can get into our key’ solid. ‘If we need to walk through a crowd of rowdy people let’s put Mitch out front and we can walk through the clearing he causes’ solid.  Physics will work against you unless you are a sumo wrestler… And you’d better be super-heavyweight at that.

So Tokyo (and all of Japan), I want to leave you with this simple lesson. Look up. I’m not going to hurt you on purpose… But if you are lookin at your cellphone and not at me when we walk into each other then you are about to be having a very bad day.

I love you. Really. So please, don’t do it. Pay attention when you walk.

Comfort Zones and Older Lessons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A (Mostly) Boring Trip

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

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

That is not what happened.

Don’t get me wrong… I have gone out for dinners, if mostly close to home.  I have also been spending a lot of time relaxing at a pleasant spot called Le Connoisseur Cigar Lounge – certainly not a Japanese name, and certainly not a French lounge.  But I have been enjoying it nonetheless (as seen in this article http://garvis.ca/2015/10/16/sushi-cigars-welcome-to-japan-mitch/).  It turns out that it is a chain of lounges, and I have spent many evenings at the one that is within walking distance of my apartment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fourteen days to go.

Why We Test…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warning: The Tax Department Is Not This Efficient!

I received what on the surface looked like a very welcome e-mail today from the Government of Canada, Specifically from the Canada Revenue Agency.  Specifically, it looked like this:

No Refund

I was thrilled… and then I remembered that anything that looks too good to be true probably is.

  1. The e-mail address it came in from bears no resemblance to a Canadian Government address;
  2. The CRA has my bank information.
  3. I owe the CRA money.  Yes, I may be entitled to a refund for this year, but that refund would not be deposited to my account, rather it would be applied to what I owe them.

To make a long story short: This is just one more example of a group of feckless losers (i.e.: Those losers completely devoid of all traces of feck) preying on the ill-informed.


Have a great week-end!

Weekend in Tokyo… What to do! :)

Later this evening I will likely write about what I did yesterday, but today is a gorgeous sunny day, and I am heading out om the town.  I am taking with me my Nikon camera, along with my 18-105mm lens, which so far I find to be the most versatile.  I have not decided yet where I am going, but there is a good chance that this evening I will end up in Shibuya.  Stephanie wants a picture of me in a typical Tokyo setting.. and that is it!

Lemons and Laurels

I don’t generally do this, but I had a great experience with a computer store’s service department last week… and a lousy one.  I want to give credit where credit is due.

Firstly I am not going to badmouth the store that treated me poorly.  I was not impressed, and suffice it to say I will not be going back.

From that store I went to Best Buy in Burlington to speak to the Geek Squad.  Even though my computer is not from their store (nor is it a model that they carry) they were willing to help me.  In the end I’m afraid they were not able to resolve my issue, but that was because there was a broken piece off a motherboard, and that is beyond the purview of what they should be able to fix.  However the fact that ‘Q’ spent an hour trying, and then refused to charge me for his time… well suffice it to say I will be going back to Best Buy in the future, and will happily recommend them to anyone who needs computer service in Burlington.

Thanks Q, and your entire team!

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