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I have been watching the numbers on the site for years. This month we have broken almost every record for the site’s history. A couple of hours ago The World According to Mitch welcomed its 20,000th visitor for the month of August. That is by far a record… and considering today is only the 28th, the bar will be set VERY high! :) Thank you to all of my readers! -Mitch
I was in the army and did not own a computer. I had vowed to put the world of computers behind me. But twenty years ago today, on August 24, 1995, Bill Gates got on to the stage and launched Windows 95.
Microsoft Windows was, of course, already ten years old at the time; Windows 1.0 was released in 1985 with very little fanfare or acceptance. Windows 2.0 was really only used by people who wanted to use Ventura Publisher (a desktop publishing package). Then when Windows 3.0 (and later 3.1 & 3.11) came out there was already a bit of an uptake. But it was Windows 95 that really made a difference. Before that day the majority of the mainstream had no idea who Bill Gates was… but they know now.
Thirty years after the launch of Windows and 20 years of Windows 9x and everyone knows who he is. Microsoft changed the world, although whether it would have changed without them is a fair debate.
Happy birthday Windows 95… Many happy returns!
It is almost ten years since I started blogging. It is hard to believe that it has been that long, but there it is… A little over twelve years ago I registered my first domain and opened my own website, and I used that as a pulpit from which to to ‘speak’ to the masses. I was thrilled when I got 20 hits in a week.
Although my blog has moved a few times (and has been renamed once) I have always said that I do not do it for the money… mostly because there has never been any. I have never sold an ad, never accepted money to post an article. Don’t get me wrong, the fact that I have a site with nearly 900 articles on-line does lend to my professional credibility, and I am sure that has brought me business over the years. My reasons are not entirely altruistic. Primarily so, but not entirely.
Sometime in 2014 I followed a friend’s advice and posted a ‘Donate’ button. It took me a few minutes on PayPal figuring out how to even do it, but I did… and then I forgot about it. Why? Because nobody ever clicked it, but mostly because I have never blogged for the money, and was not going to start now.
It happened last week. I got an e-mail from PayPal notifying me that someone had sent me $5. I assumed it was a refund I was waiting for from eBay. I went to see if I was right, and I was not… someone had found one of my articles very useful, and made a donation! I was elated!
Of course, over the years I have received hundreds of thank-yous for different articles; people have left comments, I have had people buy me drinks, and dinners, and coffees, and once a small stuffed animal. But after a decade this was the first time I had reaped financial gains from the blog. Yes, it was only $5… but that is $5 more than the reader had to send.
I don’t want any of you to think that this is a whole ‘I have my hand out’ article… that is not the intent. I was just happy about it… and happy is a good way to end a week. Happy Friday!
Over the years I have consulted for many companies, from really small to really large. I have managed organizations of five users, and of fifty thousand. I realized a long time ago – and have never been shy in saying – that while the two are very different, the truth is that while Enterprise policies can be modified to SMB (Small & Midsized Business), the opposite is hardly ever true.
I was reminded of this recently when a friend of mine who manages a small company lamented to me that he couldn’t get his users to lock their computers when they leave their desks. This is certainly a subject that I am familiar with, and have seen it happen many times in businesses large and small.
In large companies it is easy to decree, and more often than not an IT Manager will get corporate buy-in. The truth is, it is impossible to know who in a large company may be on their way out, or looking for ways to embezzle, or a hundred other scenarios that would cause people to see an unlocked workstation as a prize.
But what about in a smaller company? Say, a company with ten employees who are all family, friends, or at least very friendly. The type of organization where everyone knows everyone’s business not because of gossip, but because everyone shares? The type of organization where everyone trusts everyone and for good reason. Should the policy be any different in this type of company?
Let’s face it: unless you are an IT service provider then chances are that most of the people in the company will not understand IT; they will simply use their computers for their needs, and assume that their computer come on because that’s the way it is. They do not understand IT… and they frankly do not need to understand IT, as long as their computer keeps coming on.
So in a large organization with written Policy & Procedure statements for proper computer usage, it is easy to mandate how users may use their computers. If they are curious about a policy that does not make sense to them then they are free to ask IT about it, but at the end of the day they are not allowed to simply ignore the policies that they do not like, understand, or agree with.
In a smaller organization things can be trickier. For one, there is seldom a written document outlining how people can use their systems, and when there is one, it is usually harder to take any real action against someone, unless the IT department has complete executive buy-in… and how often do you think that is?
When I was at Microsoft there was a written rule that anyone leaving their computer unattended for any period of time must lock it. There was another written rule that we were forbidden from touching anyone else’s workstation for any reason. There was, of course, a third rule that nobody was allowed to enter the office who did not belong there. Okay, we should be covered. On the odd occasion when someone did leave their workstation unlocked, the worst that might happen is that someone on the team would send out an e-mail from that person’s computer that they (the person who had left their unlocked workstation unattended) were buying beers for the team. More often than not, it wasn’t even that.
There used to be a website called www.unlockedworkstation.com. It was a common tool used by IT tricksters to remind people who had made the mistake once to not make it again. I was quite fond of that particular trick… but the page disappeared at some point, and what can you do?
All of these tricks that people play may be cute and funny… but what are the real ramifications of leaving a workstation unlocked? Lost or stolen or otherwise compromised data, people reading compartmentalized documents that they should not be able to, not to mention what they could do if you have passwords saved for your accounting or HR or any websites including banking. It can be costly or disastrous.
Are any of these likely or possible in a smaller, family-type company? Probably not. However there are best practices in IT, and if the Enterprise best practices that apply to large corporations are applied to a smaller organization are generally a good idea… especially when people take their laptops out of the closed and safe confines of their locked office. If they are not used to locking their workstation every time they stand up from their desk, are they sure to remember to do so when they stand up to go to the restroom in a cafe? What about when they are at a client meeting, or trade show? When an action is drilled into you, eventually it becomes a habit that you will do the same every time, whether in private or in public.
I have known a lot of IT Pros throughout my career, and most of them are not megalomaniacal power-hungry fiends who impose rules just to show that they have authority. The policies that they set are not meant to prevent users from working, they are meant to protect the company, and to enable the worker to work safely.
So should a seemingly useless policy like forcing end-users to lock their computers be enforced in small businesses? The answer is yes… just like they should have to change their password every 30-60 days, they should have to have a screen saver, and they should not be allowed to leave corporate secrets on the table at Starbucks. It’s just common sense.
Now getting them to comply… that’s a different fight!
Back in 2012 I spent a lot of time talking (and writing) about Windows to Go (WTG). This was Microsoft’s newest feature that allowed you to install Windows 8 on a USB key. In theory I loved it, in practice… well, most of the USB keys that I tried it on (the certified ones, and not just the ones that I got for free at trade shows) worked… they just didn’t work very well. They were… flimsy is probably the right word. I had finally built my key just right, and one day I was demonstrating it to a group in Tokyo and… it just stopped. It turned out, after hours of troubleshooting, that the connectors were not connecting properly. After speaking with the company (who made me follow a less-abridged version of the troubleshooting steps I had already taken) offered to replace the key for me under warranty. A few months later we had the same conversation on the replacement device.
So when I walked into the Ironkey booth at MS Ignite in Chicago this past May, I was intrigued by two promises they made: They told me that they are MilSpec (Military Specifications, which means they should be nearly indestructible), and they promised it was full lengths faster than the competition. I told them that I wanted to see that for myself, and they obliged by sending me two devices: An Ironkey W300, which is a heavy-duty 64GB key, and an Ironkey W500, which is just as heavy-duty, but includes hardware encryption.
I want to start by saying that I have nothing bad to say about either device. However there are only so many hours in a day, and if I am going to get any work done (you do realize that I have an actual day job, one where they expect me to accomplish things) I could spend a little while testing both devices, but I was only going to focus on one of them. Since the W500 is hardware encrypted, I made that my own, and only ran some cursory tests on the W300 before handing it off to an associate.
I should mention that there was another reason that I handed the W300 off… My colleague James is a Mac user, and the hardware encryption of the W500 is not compatible with the Mac. For that reason the W300 was perfect for him. However let me be clear: if I hadn’t been extremely satisfied by the performance of the hardware-encrypted W500 I would have kept the W300 for myself. Yes, there is a difference between the two; it is less of a difference than you would notice if you switched out your solid-state drive (SSD) with a 15k rpm hard drive though. That is to say that although the actual speed tests that I ran do show a marked difference between the performance of the two, to the naked eye for what I do on a daily basis there is very little difference.
At First Glance
There are some hoops to jump through in order to create the W500 as a Windows To Go (WTG) device. Because it is natively encrypted you have to download the Administration Toolkit from their website, so that your Windows OS can recognize and build the key. Okay, I am willing to live with that… after all, it is still easier than taking off my shoes and emptying my pocket at the airport. You also have to download the Customization Toolkit, which modifies the install.wim file that you are going to use to build the key. No problem, it took a few minutes and it was done.
If you are a normal user and are willing to RTFM then the process is fairly simple. If you are like me and figure it will just work the way you think it will work, then it might cause a bit of frustration. However once you realize that you don’t know everything and read the instructions, things go very smoothly.
So here’s what I did: I unlocked the device, I modified my ISO, I put the device into Configuration Mode, I created my Windows to Go (that was the same Windows wizard I already knew), and then I put the key back into Deployment Mode. All in all it might have taken half an hour or so. No big deal.
When you put the device back into Deployment Mode it asks if you want to modify your hardware so that it will boot from USB before any other device. If you are using the same computer for both (or even just for testing) then this is a good idea. However my primary use case for WTG is work from anywhere on any device. Make sure you know what key allows you to select the boot device before you boot it up… on HP it’s F9.
So we were off to the races… I built the key on a Lenovo T420s that I have at the office, and it seemed so simple to just reboot that device into my WTG environment. Ok fine. As it was booting I got the Windows 8 logo… and then an unfamiliar screen. I arrived at the Ironkey Pre-boot environment, prompting me for my password. Password entered, it rebooted into Windows for me.
**Note: At this point I should mention that I started these tests on the key with Windows 8.1. On July 29 I downloaded the ISO for Windows 10 Enterprise and rebuilt the key. So please note that while I may say one or the other edition at any point, the experience was quite similar, so interchangeable.
My Windows 10 environment loaded up on the Lenovo very quickly, despite booting from a USB key. While I had the option to join it to my corporate domain, I opted to configure it with my Azure Active Directory (garvis.ca) because I would be using it for both business and personal. I did add the VPN client for my corporate domain though, because I wanted to make sure I could use the key the way I originally intended it, and the way I hope my users will use it when we deploy across the company.
So I knew what Windows to Go could do because I worked with it before; the proof of the pudding is in the tasting though, and I wanted to see how this device would really feel from the user’s perspective.
In a word… seamless. Once you are in Windows I notice no difference between using WTG and not… and that was always my concern with the other USB environments I had previously sampled. This key showed the potential to be more than the ‘when all else fails’ alternative… it wants to be (and can be) a first class device that its competition never could be. It is fast, it is solid, and it is reliable (a major area of contention with previous devices, as mentioned earlier). While I didn’t perform the drop-test while inserted in a USB port (more out of fear of damaging the computer than the USB key), I did do a drop test. I was listening to a podcast earlier and they talked about the standard four-foot drop test. That’s nice of course, but if you have a USB key that can’t survive 4’ then you didn’t get your money’s worth. No, I dropped this USB key from the second floor balcony of the cigar lounge where I am currently sitting, then walked down, picked it up off the concrete floor, then came back up and booted back into it. No problem!
Two of the other devices I had tested either came apart or just stopped working reliably after a couple of weeks in my pocket (with my keys and coins). Ironkey’s W500 laughed at that test… not even a scratch.
Until recently I had the key connected to my keychain. It made for a heavier and more unwieldy keychain to be sure, but I was fine with it… and it was only when my girlfriend borrowed my car for a day that the lanyard wire connecting the key to the keychain came open and got lost. I suppose a woman’s purse may be no match for the pairing… but the Ironkey worked fine.
So my T420s worked great, but how about switching to another device? I plugged it into my Surface Pro 3 and booted up. I had to install device drivers, but it worked great. But these are two pretty modern, corporate devices that are lovingly maintained by myself and the IT department at Kobo. What about something less… modern and well-maintained?
In my girlfriend’s living room there is a computer that I would not want to spend a lot of time working on. She readily admits it is ready to go to the corner – although she is wrong… it just needs a new hard drive. Until recently she used it to watch Netflix and… that’s it. It wasn’t good for anything else, seeing as it took 20 minutes to boot. It’s old (the Windows sticker on the bottom says Windows Vista), but it is still an HP Pavillion… it shouldn’t be too bad. It doesn’t have USB 3.0, so I wouldn’t expect much from it. Once I installed the device drivers onto the Ironkey W500 Windows this 10 year old laptop purred like a kitten… I mean it really worked flawlessly! It still popped up warnings that hard drive 0:0 was dying, but that did not affect how well the device worked. It just.. worked!
That use made me think once again of all of the possible use cases for Windows To Go… I could now go into any Internet cafe, any hotel business centre, any mother-in-law’s place in the country, any airport lounge; No matter how poorly they maintain their computers, I can boot into my own hard drive on their ragged virus-ridden hardware and still be productive. That rocks, because I do get to those places on a surprisingly regular basis!
Honestly I was surprised… while it is definitely faster, I didn’t feel like I was getting out of a Ferrari and into a Trabant… more like I was getting out of a Toyota Camry and into a Corolla. Yes, the Camry is faster… but the Corolla is very close. I spent a day working on it before giving it back, and when I went back to the W500 I was not at all disappointed by the very minor speed difference… I am happy to make the allowance for the security…
…and that is not to say that the W300 is not secure… it fully supports BitLocker drive encryption, which is absolutely solid and more than most people would need in an encryption layer.
Both devices are the same size by the way… 81mm x 21mm – that is to say, about 3.2” x .9”. They have not blocked the adjacent ports on any computer that I have tried them on. They also (surprisingly, since Microsoft told me this would not work) both booted just fine when connected via a USB 2.0 hub. That means that even on my Surface Pro 3 I don’t have to sacrifice my only USB port in order to use it.
In this day and age of terabyte hard drives it is hard to imagine that I could be satisfied living off a 64gb USB key… but remembering that most of my files are on-line anyways, this worked just fine for me. What it did do was make me think do I really need this… every time I went to install another application. I also considered disabling my Outlook Cached Mode, but then I wouldn’t have access to my e-mail off-line, so I decided to set the cache to a week instead of a month.
But what if it gets stolen?
I have said many times before that if someone steals my computer then I don’t care if they have a new device for themselves… as long as they cannot access my data. I can always buy a new computer, but my data is not only irreplaceable, but in someone else’s hands it can be disastrous. So the W500 has two different modes, that I call Self-Destruct and Soft-Destruct. The default behaviour is simple… if you type the password in wrong ten times, the key self-destructs. The circuits inside the key fry. By the way, that is also what happens if someone tries to pry the device open (and Ironkey has made that extremely unlikely). Soft-destruct is less… terminal. After 10 wrong password attempts it wipes your device back to clean… I tried this before, and that is exactly what happened. I was able to rebuild it as a new key, but there was no data left on it… not even traces.
If you need a solid and reliable device for Windows to Go, then there is nothing to think about… this is the only device for you. Oh and if you are running an IT department and concerned that deploying dozens or more of these keys will be cumbersome, rest assured that Ironkey will provide you with the tools to deploy as many at a time as you have USB ports. They also have a great tool for managing the hardware… if you want more information I’ll introduce you to them.
If you are worried (dare I say… paranoid?) about security, then this is also the device for you. Whether you want to use it as an individual, or centrally manage hundreds or thousands for your organization, you will not be disappointed.
I definitely give the device two big thumbs up. By the way, the majority of this article was written on a patio in Burlington, Ontario… with a cigar lit, and my Surface Pro 3 running my Windows To Go environment.
By the time you read this, we will be a few days into August, which means that Windows 10 started to become available a few days ago, and chances are this is not the first piece you are reading on Microsoft’s newest OS.
Over the past few years Microsoft has been talking about a single OS for every platform. Windows X seems to be that. I don’t have an Xbox (or any other gaming console), nor do I have a Windows Phone (Sorry Cortana, I’m with Siri). However I do have four different installation types that I have installed on, and am glad to share.
Because I have so many other portable devices, I find my (personal) Surface Pro 3 stays docked more than 90% of the time. It was the first of my devices to upgrade to Windows 10, simply because it was the device that I used for my Insider builds of Windows 10 beta. It was a seamless experience, and when the Start Menu (and not the Start Screen) takes up only a bit of real estate on the giant double monitors, it was great. I played with Cortana a bit, but I have not been home enough to really give her a go.
My corporate Surface Pro is managed by the company, and as such upgrades and patches are blocked until approved by Tokyo. However I have a bit of a cheat… more on that later.
7″ & 8″ (Atom) Tablet
If you read my blog recently you know that I have a pair of HP tablets – the Stream 7 and the Pro Tablet 408. The Stream is still waiting its turn, but on Wednesday (GA Day) I had the 408 open on my desk when it told me the upgrade was ready. The process took longer than on my other devices – wifi combined with a slower Atom CPU – but it was seamless. I glanced over at it occasionally to see that it was still going, but it was only as the clock approached Bingo Hour (the time I need to leave my office to catch a train) did I get nervous. The upgrade finished at Bingo -2 minutes though, and I was good to go.
Windows To Go
Woohoo! If you have ever heard me discuss WTG you will know I am a fan, a lot more so now that I have discovered the Imation Ironkey W500. Fast, secure, and milspec indestructible.
I will be writing a separate article on my Windows To Go experience… Believe me, I am happy with it… but mostly because I have my Ironkey USB key. I suspect that when I try it on the other devices that I had tried I will be just as unhappy with the overall experience as I was with Windows 8.1.
What you will lose when you update
Here is where I first noticed something that irked me: All of my Windows 8 Apps (now known as Universal Apps) were there… but my legacy apps (including Microsoft Office and Live Writer) were nowhere to be found. I am sure if I went looking through my Windows.old directory they would be there, but an Upgrade is supposed to be just that.
Microsoft wants us on Universal Apps; I get it. When I worked for them they were very specific about reminding users that their corporate IT department can side-load corporate apps, and their deployment tools will already be set up for their legacy apps. Now I am Mitch Garvis, and I know a thing or two about Windows and deployment and installing. What about the 50 year old housewife who agrees to an upgrade because Windows Update recommends it, then finds out that all of her programs are gone? She probably doesn’t have a record of every program she used (many of which she bought on-line) and has now lost, if only because she forgot how or where or what.
Fortunately most of the apps I need have worked the way they need to… one exception was Windows Live Writer, but with a little help from my friends I was able to figure out how to get that to work (see article). However let me give Microsoft one huge LEMON for not telling us that our legacy apps will be gone… and in some cases may not be recoverable.
What should I do BEFORE I install?
While Microsoft has made upgrading to Windows 10 (Windows OS X?) easier than ever, there are a few things that you should still do before upgrading.
What if you are still not sure?
One of the great things about the age we live in is that we can dip our feet in the water without diving right in. If you are unsure if you really want to upgrade your system before you get a chance to try it out, most modern systems will allow you to create a virtual machine and install an instance on your existing OS without affecting what you have. Whether you do it with Hyper-V, VMware Player, or Oracle VirtualBox it doesn’t matter… just remember that the experience you will have will be that of a virtual machine, and you should test features and feel rather than performance.
When you decide that you like it, then you can go ahead and install. Until you do, remember that what you have still works, and most of the features that are new to Windows 10 are great, but you have lived your entire life to date without them… you can go another few weeks.
I was hoping to spend a few hours on Tuesday upgrading my corporate tabtop (laptablet?). However I had also hoped that a particular project would be done by then, but no such luck, I had to spend a few more days working on it. While we keep hearing that the upgrade is a seamless process, it is not always quick… while you can continue working on your stuff as the bits download, once the actual installation starts your computer may be unusable for a couple of hours. If you have several systems available to you that might not be an issue, but since I can only connect to my corporate network from my corporate device, I decided to put this one on hold until I know that I have a few hours to relax. (It should also be noted that I have already verified that most of my apps, most importantly my custom VPN client, will work.)
How do I know if my program will work?
If you are an IT Pro for a large organization, you should be installing lab environments and running compatibility tests for everything you need. If you are an individual and are unsure if your applications or devices are compatible, there’s a site for that. The Windows Compatibility Center allows you to type in any software package and find out. So if you are one of those who bought Adobe Acrobat 7 and never paid for the upgrades, you can type that in to the tool and you will get this page. Now granted, there are a few different submissions for the same package, and you can also end up with this page. Obviously there is ambiguity, but at least you know that some people have said there are issues, so you should be careful. If, on the other hand, you want to know about QuickBooks 2012 Pro, you will see that nobody seems to have an issue (see page). However if you have any app or program that you are worried about and on which your productivity depends, I always recommend spinning up a virtual machine or Windows To Go key and see if it works firsthand.
By the way, one of the areas around which compatibility has always been an issue come new OS time is printers and other devices. We have to recognize that the device manufacturers who made your LaserJet 4000n in 2001 are the same ones making modern printers today, and while they will probably get around to releasing a driver for legacy hardware eventually, their main responsibility (and source of income) is their latest and greatest. Once their newest drivers work on Windows 10 they will probably go back and write one for the hardware they stopped officially supporting during the Clinton Administration.
Where is Mitch TODAY?
I started writing this article on July 30th, one day after Windows 10 was officially released. Because of my participation in certain programs I did have the final bits on one device a couple of weeks earlier, but it was only on the 29th that I got in line and waited like everyone else. Here we are, a week later, and this is where I am:
I have several devices working on Windows 10, including my personal Surface Pro, my HP Pro Tablet 408, and my work/test Lenovo T420s (docked). Additionally, I have also created a Windows to Go (WTG) key on the T420s, which is really a combination of everything, and a computer unto itself… to prove that, in the middle of this very paragraph I saved my work, shut down the WTG on the Lenovo, plugged my USB key into my Surface Pro, and I am now working very happily in the same place on the same installation of Windows, but on a different CPU, monitor, keyboard, and mouse. That’s pretty cool; expect an article on Windows To Go in a few days time.
My corporate Surface Pro 3 and my personal HP Stream 7 are both still running Windows 8.1. Why? The reasons for each are different; the Surface Pro 3 needs my company to get a license for Windows 10 Enterprise assigned to it (which I could easily get around by using my own license, but seeing as you probably just finished reading the paragraph called Caveat Installer a few minutes ago, you will know I have other reasons as well. The HP Stream hasn’t been upgraded yet because, like many of your computers, it is still waiting in line for the go-ahead.
Incidentally, if you received an e-mail ostensibly from Microsoft telling you to click here to install Windows 10, do not do it. There seems to be a new ransomware going around – what this package does is encrypts your data and doesn’t give it back to you until you pay in untraceable Bitcoins. In other words, don’t do it… it won’t turn out well for you.
As I walked away from my desk this morning with a couple of colleagues I said, out of the blue, that I was actually enjoying the Windows 10 experience. There are certainly things that I am not happy with, and things I haven’t yet figured out. However for the most part I am happy with it. It integrates better with my Windows Account Microsoft Profile than any previous iteration of Windows, it saves my having to redo all sorts of work on each device I use, and with few exceptions all of my apps run on it. If we assume that Microsoft spends millions of dollars trying to not repeat the mistakes of the past (notice the Start Menu is back), and learning from those mistakes, the user experience of Windows 10 should be exactly what the customer (you and me!) ordered.
Should you upgrade? That’s up to you… as I mentioned in a previous article it is no longer my job to convince you to do so. However if you do want to, you will probably not regret it!
Let me start by saying that I had the greatest time at the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games. It was a pleasure to spend eight days (plus training) with a group of mostly like-minded individuals who, when they were asked, signed up by the tens of thousands to volunteer at the Games… in any capacity asked.
That being said, I admit that I applied specifically to volunteer for the Taekwondo competition. It is the art that I have learned, practiced, and taught for nearly eight years, and I will likely continue throughout my life. Had the Organizing Committee seen appropriate to offer me a spot at another venue, or for another sport, I would have availed myself of the opportunity to decline when I received the offer in January. I took a lot of time off of work (unpaid) to work the games, but my interest was specific. Fortunately for me it worked out.
I received several things along the way – a uniform and a shoulder bag, tickets to the dress rehearsal for the opening ceremonies, and a gift certificate to Joe Fresh. I received a couple of pins, a pair of cheap sunglasses, a keychain, and a Pachi doll. After my last shift I was handed a generic certificate thanking me for volunteering. While these were all nice, the value of all of them combined does not come close to the wages I did not earn on any of those days… not by a long shot.
[vol-uh n-teer] /ˌvɒl ənˈtɪər/
1. a person who voluntarily offers himself or herself for a service or undertaking.
2. a person who performs a service willingly and without pay.
I looked up the word to be sure because some (not most, but a vocal some) are expressing sour grapes about several of the things we received. They wanted something in exchange for their service. Some of them were upset by the quality of the shirts, the scarcity of the pins and key chains (whaddya mean we all only get JUST ONE?) and, on the last day, the participation letter that we all received. ‘It’s too cheap, it’s not personalized, and anyone can Photoshop it to make it look like they volunteered too!’
I think the first time I volunteered it was to collect signatures to have Anatoly Sharansky released from a Soviet prison. I don’t know how old I was the first time I did so, but as he was freed several years later (when I was 14 years old) we can assume I was 10 or 11. It never would have occurred to me that I should receive compensation for my work… but when Sharansky moved to Israel in 1986, I beamed with pride.
That was 30 years ago; can someone else claim that they did what I did? Sure, it’s easy. Does that mean they did it? Of course not. In the same fashion, anyone can mock up a letter that says they volunteered at the Toronto 2015 Games… but they don’t have the memories, the experiences, and the new friends to back it up.
‘But that doesn’t change the fact that someone could put it on their resume and tell prospective employers that they volunteered!’
Firstly it doesn’t take a lot to do that… 99 times out of 100 an interviewer is not going to say ‘Hey, you claim you volunteered… can I see the certificate to prove it?’ But they might ask you to talk about the experience and what you learned from it… who knows?
I was in a bar several years ago with some friends, and there was someone telling people that he served in the Israeli Defense Forces. He was trying to impress women, and from what I could tell he was about to succeed. I went up and started asking him a couple of questions. Nothing like ‘Where did you serve?’ or ‘Did you see action?’… I asked him what his Mispar-Ishi was… I didn’t explain to him that it was his Army Serial Number, because if he served he would have known… no matter how bad his Hebrew was. It took about 30 seconds to expose him as a fraud, and 30 more seconds for him to understand that one day he was going to claim to be something he wasn’t… no, there was no violence involved, but I put the fear of G-d into him. For those wondering, he left the bar alone that night… and quickly.
In the same vein, you can claim to have volunteered… but it wouldn’t take more than a few questions to either prove you were a fraud, or at least put enough doubt into the interviewer’s mind that you won’t get the job. Unless you are Mike from the show Suits you are not going to fool anyone for long.
What did I get out of the games? Believe me, I have memories that will last a lifetime, and while there are some pictures, there is no piece of paper that matters compared with the memories. I also have the swag, some of which is cool and most of it is not. But the parts that matter… nobody can take that away from me… and nobody can fake it.
So what’s my point? If you volunteered and had a bad experience (there were 23,000 of us, and I have heard some stories) then I am sorry to hear it. I’ll bet we all are. If a venue lost track of you and you showed up for a shift and were turned away because there was no record of you, well that sucks. If you are disappointed that security guards hounded you for free pins, well that is pretty crappy. If you didn’t get the right size uniform or there were too many volunteers so your credentials were cancelled, I really do feel for you. But overall, the games were an overwhelming success; Toronto 2015 was a well-oiled machine and the nightmares that everyone anticipated did not actually happen. There were no empty venues, there were no gridlock-apocalypse, and aside from one Brazilian water-polo player who is wanted by the Police here and four Cubans who decided to defect, the athletes thought the games were amazing. Hopefully, most of the volunteers did too.
If an event like Toronto 2015 was expected to be business as usual for the city then there would be nothing out of the ordinary about it… but it was never going to be business as usual, and they were extraordinary. Did things go wrong? Sure. Did the vast majority of things go right? YES.
Thank you Toronto, and on behalf of the volunteers, in light of the few loud bad apples, I apologize..