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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!

Sushi & Cigars: Welcome to Japan Mitch!

No matter how you fly, getting from Toronto to Tokyo is a long flight.  Sitting in the window seat of Row 62 probably makes it that much longer… especially when you are my height and size.  Since Friday was going to be a regular working day for me, my real first relaxing evening would be Friday, and even so I decided to stay close to the hotel.

On my first trip here I discovered that while Japan is a nation of smokers, cigars have not quite become mainstream here,  So imagine my surprise and delight when walking around my hotel looking for a bank machine I discovered a cigar lounge with a walk-in humidor filled with (mostly) Cuban cigars, and a very respectable selection of single malt whiskies. 

Following my first sushi dinner of the trip I walked back to Le Connoisseur Lounge in the Akasaka Flora Plaza in Minato-ku.  Once they explained to me that there is a cover charge of 1,080 Yen (about $10) they seated me in a lovely leather arm chair.  I settled in, then walked over to the bar to peruse their selection of whisky.  The bartender noticed, and asked if I wanted to try a Japanese whiskey, not realizing that while I am not quite a connoisseur I am definitely a keener.  He handed me the list, and I immediately noticed that my all-time favourite – Nikka Yoichi 15 – was on the list.  This was a bonus, because the 15 year old has been discontinued, and is very hard to find.

As I sat down the waiter brought me a hot towel; this is not uncommon in Japanese bars and restaurants, and is extremely welcome, especially on a humid night where one will walk in from a light mist outside.

While their humidor is extremely well stocked and the prices are reasonable, I had left my hotel not realizing I would find a cigar lounge, and I had my own.  I asked if I was allowed to smoke my own, and they said that I was.  A lot of places I have visited add a ‘cutting fee,’ but I suppose that is offset by the cover charge,  no worries.  As I prepared my H. Uppman cigar, the waiter brought my drink – neat of course – and a glass of ice water on the side, and a small bowl of popcorn. 

Connaisseur2At my table waiting there was an ashtray, as well as a lit oil candle, and a shot glass with cedar sticks for those who did not bring their own butane torch.  If my Japanese was better they would have offered to cut and light it for me (I observed them do so for other patrons), but either to save my having to explain that I don’t understand, or because they saw me put my cigar punch and torch on the table they let me punch and light it myself.

The atmosphere here is wonderful – while you can smell the cigars, it is well ventilated and the smell is not overpowering.  The furniture is rich leather, the bar mahogany, the staff wearing white shirts, black neckties and vests.  As I look around there are a dozen people in the place including three women (none of whom are currently smoking).


Along with their bar (which does not seem to have the typical well drinks), they also have a cappuccino machine for those who prefer caffeine to alcohol.  While I did not ask about food, there is a trio of Japanese businessmen from Osaka at the table in the corner who have a selection of edibles that they are sharing.  And yes, they have WiFi for those of us who are dedicated to writing for our readers on a Friday night.

I have been here for an hour, and decided to shift from the Yoichi to another whisky I have been meaning to try – the Taketsuru 17 Pure Malt.  While strictly speaking it is not a single malt, my understanding is that Pure Malt (a Japanese concept from what I can tell) is a nice compromise, and is extremely nice and smooth.  I would compare it favourably to a Glenfiddich 15, with a fruity bouquet.  To accompany the new whisky I lit a new cigar, this one a Romeo y Julieta Belicoso.  As he reads this I can imagine my friend Brian saying to himself that he wished he could hop on a plane to join me.  Brian, come on down!

Le Connaisseur ( was a great discovery.  With six locations around Tokyo (Ginza, Shibuya, Roppongi, Chiyoda, and Minato-ku are all areas I am familiar with) it has become easier to decide where to go when I do not want the hustle and bustle of my regular standing bar.

If you find yourself looking for a great place to hang out in a normally hustle-bustle city, this is definitely the place.  I can assure you that I will be back!

Using External Storage to Simplify Windows Installation

I have been searching for hours on how to use a SD card as a hard drive to install win10. The laptop I am trying to upgrade gives a message you need to add at least 9GB to continue.  Can I use the SD card to finish the install or will it not work?

I have gotten this question, and several like it, a lot recently.  Here is my simple answer:

I have several questions for you:

1) I assume, but want to confirm, that you are upgrading a Windows 8 laptop?

2) Are you installing from an ISO, and if so what device is that stored on?

3) How much RAM do you have, and how big is your swap file?

My first answer is NO, you cannot extend the size of the C drive using another drive, SD card or not. The %systemdrive% has to all be on a single device.

With that said:

1) If your hard drive is not big enough to install Windows 10 onto (I assume this is not the case) then you have other issues. If the drive IS big enough, and there is just extra stuff on the drive, you should use the SD Card to clean it off. Things like ISO files, and anything in c:\Users\<User>\Downloads are a big one.

2) If you are installing from an ISO, and that ISO is on your C drive, STOP THAT J

3) If you have a large swap file, reducing it for the duration of the install will help.

The Windows installer has to copy a lot of stuff to your C drive. When it is done you will have a folder on it called c:\Windows.old. You can delete that at your leisure, but remember that during the installation, the hard drive hosts:

· The original installation of Windows, plus all of the apps and software

· The installation files required to install

· The new installation of Windows 10.

On a smaller hard drive that is quite the burden! While you cannot actually install it to your SD card, or use it to store any of those, you can use it to store the things we forget we accumulate over time – documents, videos, downloads, and more.

Good luck, and let me know how it goes!

Virtual Machine Snapshots: The useful tool that will drag you down.

Note: Once again I accidentally scheduled a technical article to publish on a holiday.  In honour of Canadian Thanskgiving I am republishing this article on Tuesday. -MDG

The Story:
One of my clients called me and asked me why some of their servers were running so terribly slow.  Actually, that’s not entirely true… they told me that they were working on Server1, Server2, and Server3 and all three needed more CPUs and more RAM.  Because we live in a virtual world, this is easy enough to accomplish.  It took me all of five minutes to accomplish this for the three servers, and that included the time it took me to walk back to my desk via the coffee machine.

I did not respond so hastily when over the course of the next few weeks I was asked to increase the resources again… and again.  What are you guys doing, trying to run NASA?  No, we are developers working on our tools, and they are just too slow!

Rather than increase the resources again I decided to do some investigating.  I wanted to see why these computers (servers with 12GB of RAM and 2 quad-core virtual CPUs) were running so slow… and yes, I checked to make sure that it was not just greedy users who wanted more more more, the computers really were running – no, that is the wrong term – they were crawling slower than they should have.

SnapshotsAfter checking several possibilities over the next few days I figured out that somebody had taken VM snapshots of these servers – rogue VM snapshots, because there actually is a written company policy about the proper and acceptable use of VM snapshots – months earlier, and they had just continued to grow… like mold.

The Methodology
The way VM snapshots work – and I should mention at this point that they work about the same in VMware as in Hyper-V – is that the virtual memory and hard drive files are paused, made read-only, and delta files are made for both.  You will not see any difference from within the virtual machine – the memory will continue to work as it had, as will the hard drive – but the files that comprise the virtual machine will change.


The snapshot file will continue to grow… and grow… and grow.  As you can see from this image, the file is at about 12.5GB in size.  Not too bad, right?  Well look at this:


Did I forget to mention that while the Virtual Memory snapshot file is shown in Datastore Browser, the actual delta files are not (just like the Flat files are hidden).  This is what we see when we connect to the host and look at what is going on under the hood.

This VM Snapshot is less than an hour old.  Over time the file will grow… to ridiculous sizes.  And yes, eventually your virtual machine will slow down… and then crawl… and then, eventually, it might stop.  However if you were to look at your performance monitors, both from within and from outside the virtual machine, the performance baselines will look perfectly normal.  The performance of course will not, and that is where things get dicey.

So Why Use Them?
Virtual Machine Snapshots (or Checkpoints, as Microsoft has taken to calling them) are a great tool when used responsibly.  They should never be considered a long-term solution to anything.  What they are is a great way to step forward into the unknown… you have a change to make, a patch to apply, a program (or even an operating system) to upgrade, and you are worried that something will corrupt.  Before going ahead with the change you can take a VM Snapshot, make the change, and once you have confirmed that it worked you can delete the snapshot.  If the change did indeed hork something, you can revert to the moment in time before you started, and all is good.

…But don’t keep them longer than you need to!
I mentioned that the client in question has a written company policy about the proper and acceptable use of VM snapshots.  That is for a couple of reasons:

  1. If you follow the policy, you don’t just take a snapshot – you name it and make notes.
  2. When only one person takes the snapshots, that person can keep a diary of what snapshots there are; they can know who requested them, and they can then follow up with the requesting party to make sure they can be deleted.

When rogue administrators (Have I mentioned before how I loathe letting anyone who doesn’t need administrative rights have administrative rights?) take snapshots without following the proper procedures – which includes deleting the snapshots when they are no longer needed, then you will run into problems.  However when the proper policy is followed, this will never become an issue.

VM Snapshots: Good or Bad?
Just like any potentially dangerous tool, the answer is both good and bad.  When used properly they are great, but with time they become rotten to the core.

How do I know if I have them?
If you spend any amount of time in vCenter, you know that there is no simple way to determine what VM snapshots are in your environment… short of going into the Snapshot Manager for each VM and checking.  However if you are an avid reader of this blog you may have caught an article I wrote a little over a year ago called How do YOU Manage?.  IN it I mentioned a tool I love called RVTools.   Among the myriad reports it will generate for you is one called vSnapshot, and when you use it while connected to your vCenter environment it will list all of the snapshots you have.


You can download it from  While it is free (Rob calls it ‘Nice to haveware’) there is a Donate button, and although it is in Dutch, it will allow you to donate through PayPal.  I just did by the way… as a way of saying Thanks! to Rob for the hard work he puts into it that I was then able to benefit from!

If you use PowerCLI (also discussed in the article) there is a way to get the same information in PowerShell, which is:

get-vm | get-snapshot | format-list

…And for those of you running System Center Virtual Machine Manager and not vCenter Server, there is a PowerShell script for you too.  It is available here, and is a free download from the TechNety Script Library.

I have been telling people for years that Snapshots/Checkpoints are good but dangerous.  As I always say: If you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it.  Using these tools will allow you to measure, manage, and then eliminate VM Snapshots in a timely manner… before they become a problem.

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!

Going Away…

When I leave town for two or three days my preparation depends on two factors: How am I going (by car versus by air or train), and what will I be doing (business versus pleasure).  My usual MO is to pack two bags: Clothes and sundries in one, electronics (photography and computers) in another.  Depending on how I travel I will pack differently – if I am driving I don’t need to be anywhere near as efficient as if I am flying, because I can just throw things into the trunk.

When I leave town for a week or longer I have to be more careful; will I have the ability to do laundry where I will be, and so on.  However aside from that, the only thing that usually changes is that for more than three days I will take a proper suitcase instead of throwing my clothes and kit into a backpack.

What about longer trips?  As I write this I am less than a week from getting onto a plane that will take me away for nearly two months.  I will be going to a different country with a different culture, different language, and different customs.  There are several factors I have to consider for a trip of this magnitude, and a lot more planning goes into it.Japan1

I am going to Japan… one of my favourite countries in the world for sure, but definitely a different culture.  So here are some of the things I planned for, and hopefully will help you the next time you head out on the road:

1) There’s no question about it… I can’t get away with a single suitcase.  The reason isn’t as simple as I need more clothes – although I do.  However other things that will go into my suitcase will include my small laptop bag and my messenger bag, because I like to carry most of my electronics on me (and especially my computers and camera equipment) as carry-on, so rather than just carrying on a small and unobtrusive laptop bag, I start with the fact that I need two carry-ons – one for my camera equipment (which is a full sized backpack), and one for my computers… even though both of my computers are very small, there is a lot of extra gear that I will take with me.  On the other hand, once I am in Tokyo I do not want to have to lug my large Briggs & Riley laptop bag (which when empty weights three or four pounds) back and forth from the office to my hotel.briggsu174ol

2) You never know… and that’s the problem, you do not always know what you will be faced with once you get to the destination.  That goes for both camera equipment (and so I am taking two camera bodies and five lenses), and computers (which is why I will take a docking station, external speakers, as well as a plethora of cables and connectors and adapters (and not to mention a wireless network switch).  Why?  Because I might need to connect to HDMI… or VGA, or Display Port.  I will likely want to watch TV and movies in my hotel, but that will mean downloading them to my computer, and then watching them (hopefully with my computer connected to the hotel’s TV).  I need a PowerPoint remote for when I present, and I need a ton of other things that I can’t think of… but don’t want to have to buy again (I remember arriving in Hong Kong only to discover I had forgotten my wireless presenter mouse, and had to buy a presenter and a mouse).

3) Cell phone woes… If I were going to the USA for seven weeks I wouldn’t worry about it because of my cell phone plan.  However I wasn’t sure with regard to Japan so I called my provider and asked, and sure enough, there was no good way for me to use my Canadian cell phone in Japan.  The first thing I did was had them unlock the phone for me, so that I could just get a SIM card to put into it in Japan.  I asked my colleagues in country to look into the best way to do that, and they did.  However what I wouldn’t have thought of before was this… My cell phone plan costs about $140 per month.  I will not be using it for the next two months.  I cannot cancel it… but what I did do was change the plan to the least expensive one they offered.  It leaves me with enough data for the week until I leave, but no more.  Rather than having the lavish 10GB per month plan with unlimited North American calling, I now have a 1GB plan with ten hours per month.

**NOTE: If you are going to do this, you also have to make sure you change it back at the tail end of your trip.  I put a reminder in my calendar to call them back the day I get back.

4) Renew prescriptions! If you are my age there is a decent chance you have at least one medication that you take daily.  Make sure you have enough for the entire trip.

**NOTE: Insurance may screw you on this.  In speaking with my pharmacist last night I found out that insurance plans often will not allow you to renew your prescription until you are 2/3 way through your last refill.  Make sure you don’t get dinged.

5) Weather the whether… or whatever.  I am leaving for Japan on October 14.  I know what the weather will be like this week.  However I also have to anticipate what the weather will be like in Japan in six weeks, so that I am not stuck wearing shorts when it is 5C outside.  If you are traveling across seasons, make sure you have enough appropriate clothes for both seasons.

6) SHOES ARE IMPORTANT!  I always pack with the philosophy that whatever I forget I can just buy when I am there.  When I was preparing for my first trip to Japan my boss warned me that I will not be able to get shoes in my size in Japan, so I made sure to take an extra pair… just in case.

7) The last time I went away for a long period of time I lived with my family.  Now that I am living on my own it is important to make sure someone is checking in on my condo every couple of days.  Let’s be honest… the one bamboo plant I have does not need watering; however it is important to make sure that there are no leaks, that the pipes don’t freeze, and that nothing goes wrong.  Every few days should be enough, and that is taken care of.  Also, rather than ‘stopping my mail’ it is a good idea to have someone bring the mail from the mailbox into the house.

Traveling abroad for longer periods can be fun… even when you are going for work.  Planning for every contingency is impossible, but giving it a bit of thought will make your trip more enjoyable.  As they say, Luck favours the prepared mind!


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