When Your World is Very Small…

Pearson In my first year as a Road Warrior Glenn Fincher and I were I were in the Rental Car Shuttle heading to the terminal at Charlotte International Airport.  It had been another successful delivery, and except for the fact that he threatened to leave me at the diner where we had breakfast unless I ate grits, it was a very successful week and one that led to a casual friendship with a respected colleague.  There was a woman on the shuttle with us who proclaimed for all to hear that ‘…this has to be the absolute worst airport in these United States.’  Glenn and I looked at each other and smiled… he had a lot more miles under his belt than I did, but I wasn’t quite new.  I suspect we were both thinking the same thing.  ‘Then I suppose you’ve never flown out of Chicago O’Hare?’ I asked.  ‘Oh dear Lord no… I have but never traveled north of the Mason Dixon Line… I am a true southerner!’

In the seven years or so since that interaction my horizons have expanded greatly.  I have traveled a lot more extensively, across six continents.  Let’s just say that I have come to appreciate O’Hare, for having seen much worse airports.

Saturday afternoon I flew in from Seattle, Washington.  Now I should mention that of the myriad airports around the world, I have a real appreciation for SeaTac… especially after the recent renovations that have made it even better organized, and even more efficient.  It truly is a well planned and run airport.  As I waited at the baggage terminal I heard two younger gentlemen talking next to me, complaining about how long it was going to take our bags to come out.  I was the first passenger off our plane to arrive at the carrousel, and I had not been waiting more than three minutes.  ‘Don’t make any plans, we might be here a while.  This is absolutely the worst airport I have ever been to, especially with regard to baggage handling.’

I looked at them for and smirked. ‘You’ve never been to Bogota, have you?’  Of course the answer was no.

I thought back to the day that I got off the plane in Colombia.  I had been in transit for what felt like a hundred hours, and because it was the first leg of three weeks in South and Central America I had the appropriate amount of fresh clothes, not to mention my personal laptop and my Mobile Datacentre – two 17” HP laptops that ran my servers, along with the switches, cables, and power adaptors.  I was standing at the appropriate baggage carrousel and somehow came to discover that the man standing next to me and I shared a common language.  We struck up a conversation in Hebrew, but he told me that even while we were chatting to keep an eye on the carrousel. ‘If your bags go around once and you don’t grab it, they take it off the carrousel in the back… immediately.  You might get it back later… once they have rifled through your things and decided what they like and what they don’t.’  Nearly an hour later when my luggage finally came through (in one piece) I was relieved… and thanked my Israeli friend who was still waiting for his.

I do not remember the exact story of what happened when I got off the plane in Sao Paolo (Brazil), but I do remember that it took close to two hours to get out of the airport from the time I got off the plane until I was in line for a taxi… and that was just after midnight local time.  I got into my hotel room at 2:45am.

Toronto’s Pearson International Airport (YYZ) has its good days and its bad, and I am not saying that it is perfect… believe me, far from it.  But when we call something out we should put it into perspective.  I understand why these guys were badmouthing the service there… I have done it too.  But how bad is it really?  Probably somewhere in the middle of the pack.  For years I badmouthed Vancouver International – in the years leading up to the Olympic Games there is was a disastrous madhouse.  Now?  Much better.  Is O’Hare really as bad as some of us say it is?  It is certainly a madhouse, and compared to the busiest airport in the country (Atlanta) it is a bit disorganized, but it also has a lot more snow days that does Hartsfield-Jackson would. 

What those airports have going for it, Toronto does not.  YYZ is the home base (and hub) of a single major carrier – Air Canada.  No other airport calls it home.  Sure, it is the entry port to Canada for a lot of people and goods, but for an airport as singularly important as it is it does not get a great deal of respect.  Important how? According to Wikipedia it is the world’s 35th busiest airport by total passenger traffic, 23rd busiest by international traffic, and 18th busiest by total flights.  For those of us in the IT industry, imagine a company of ten people being tasked with running Microsoft IT.  They do the best with what they have, and sometimes they succeed and sometimes they do not.  Yes, I have gotten off a long flight and waited 45 minutes for my bag to come out… on the wrong carrousel.

…Not bad for an airport that was never meant to be the main hub of Canada – when it was originally planned it was Montreal that was Canada’s primary airport.

Can Pearson improve?  Sure.  Can we all?  Probably.  Is it good enough?  I think so.  Would I be happy paying $20 more per flight for that improvement?  No.  I really do think that they do a pretty good job… even though you do hear me complain about it from time to time.

Bon Voyage!

Fourth Year: Thank you once again!

Thank you.

Three years ago The World According to Mitch, a blog that I started because the two or three dozen people to whom I would e-mail my thoughts and insights got sick of getting my e-mails, was recognized by BizTech Magazine as one of the 50 Must Read IT Blogs.  For that year there was no nomination process that I knew of… out of the blue I found out via Twitter that the blog had been put on that list.  There are a few tipping points when the blog readership jumped, and that was certainly one of the bigger ones. (Read A Humbling Recognition)

A year later when the 2012 list was released I was thrilled that The World According to Mitch was one of the few blogs to repeat – I was thrilled, partly because that was the first year that readers were invited to vote for their favourites… and then again in 2013! (Read A Humbling Accolade, A Humbling Accolade, Year 3)

50 Must ReqadThis week my heart leapt when I was informed that once again The World According to Mitch made the list for 2014 as well.  The 50 Must-Read I.T. Blogs 2014 includes this humble site.

I am not going to lie, this year I actively solicited your votes.  I was worried, because I did go dark for a few months… as you might have read, this year has not been a good one for me (personally or professionally), and the number of articles I wrote dropped drastically from previous years.  I am so glad that so many of you stuck with me (and I can tell you that there are ‘friends’ who did not) during my darkest times.  I promise that I will do my best to not disappoint – I will continue to blog and to do what I can to help entertain and inform you all.

For the fun of it, there are only three blogs on this year’s list that have appeared every year… Chuck’s Blog (Congratulations Mr. Hollis!) and CIO Dashboard (Chris Curran of Price Waterhouse Cooper)… and my little site here.  I am humbled to be in such esteemed and respected company.

While I am naming names, I want to congratulate CanITPro, the Canadian IT Pro Connection – or the IT Evangelism Team at Microsoft Canada.  While I am no longer with that team or a resident blogger on that site, it is great to see them recognized for the amazing work that they do.

As you know, I am no longer a Microsoft MVP.  Oh well, I’ll move on.  I did not blog because I was an MVP, I was an MVP in part because I blogged.  I am not going to stop doing what I do because of something so petty.  I am also no longer affiliated with the Microsoft DPE Team.  That is both good and bad – bad because I no longer have the same level of access I had, good because I no longer have to temper my words according to Microsoft’s marketing message.  When Microsoft does something good I will say so and talk about it… and when they blow it (and yes, it happens!!!!!) I am going to tell you (and them) about it.

Thank you all for sticking with me, and as I will do with Microsoft, please tell me when I am getting it right… AND when I get it wrong!


Mistakes Happen… Please let me know when they do! :)

In August, 2008 I wrote an article called The Vasa – Learn from History! It talked about the Vasa Museum in Stockholm and I drove a direct line from that doomed ship to the IT industry.  It was well received, and according to the statistics the article has been read by thousands of people in the nearly six and a half years since it was published.

This past week-end a friend of mine mentioned that he was heading to Sweden, and I told him to look up Sweden on my blog for suggestions of places to go.  I know that I had written a number of articles about the country, and thought he might benefit from it.

I make mistakes… we all do.  As careful as I am with my articles, every so often a typo or other error gets through.  Usually they are pointed out within minutes or hours… but if I do not hear about it within a week it is fairly safe to assume that either there are no errors, or that the errors I did make were pretty obscure (or in some cases that simply nobody is reading that article) .  Either way, it is not going to be pointed out.

Peter read this article and e-mailed me to commend me on it… and he pointed out a mistake.  It was pretty glaring – I wrote the ship sailed in 1968 instead of 1628.  On the one hand, what is 340 years between friends; on the other hand, the ship was commissioned (according to my article) in 1625, and for it to take three years to build is reasonable.  Had it taken 343 years to build, well that would require a special kind of laziness.

I am always happy to hear when I made a mistake.  I read and appreciate every comment to the blog, whether I publish them or not.  Please feel free to scrutinize my work and let me know when I get it wrong, whether that is a typo or a concept.  I will either take the appropriate action, or respond in why I disagree with you.  Either way, I appreciate you reading the pieces!

My OMAC Profile

omacWCLogoA little over a year ago I was going to take over management of the website for the Oriental Martial Arts College (Master Kim’s OMAC).  Several issues, including my long-term relocation to Japan, aborted that.  However I am thrilled to be back with OMAC now, as a Senior Instructor and not as a webmaster.  This week I was honoured when the webmaster, Mr. Al Poulis, added my profile to the new site, which has now been renamed OMAC World Class Martial Arts.  MY profile can be seen here.

I want to commend Mr. Poulis, who has done a much better job of redesigning the website than I ever could have!

Losing Me…

At the beginning of October I wrote an article called ‘Losing a Part of Me… What I would like to share.‘  I subsequently named the blog which I am correlating all of my weight loss articles ‘Losing a Part of me.’  I have even registered the domain name LosingAPartOf.Me.

I got the idea from a friend (Bill Sparks) who lost a lot of weight a couple of years ago, and I was inspired by him.  He registered the domain name http://iamlosing.it/, and blogged through over 100lbs of weight loss.  When I saw him last he looked amazing – much better than any time since I met him when he was in college… back in 1998!

So what is it exactly that I am losing?  Sure, I am losing weight, which is great and I am thrilled about it.  But there is more to it than that.  You see, there are things about me that have been a part of me for a long time… and I realize that I am slowly losing them.

On Saturday I am flying to Seattle for my last MVP Summit (I am no longer a Microsoft MVP, but I am allowed to go to one last Summit).  During the week there will be a lot of food, drinks, and merriment.  Everyone will be trying to buy me a drink, and I will be saying no to almost all of them… I might accept one drink or two throughout the week.  There will be a lot of very good food (both at Microsoft and at the various parties), and I have to train myself to NOT look forward to the food… and to kerb what I do take in.

Since I was first introduced to them as a teenager I have been a glutton for Buffalo Wings.  I remember ‘in my prime’ being able to devour a bucket of fifty all on my own.  I still love them… but I can’t eat them – at least, not more than five.  It’s not that I am unable to – I am reasonably sure that if I sat down with that bucket of 50 I would knock them back old school.  I simply can’t allow myself to do that anymore.

Pizza is the same thing… I can’t, just cannot allow myself to order pizza.  ‘Oh,if I order the Large I will have leftovers for tomorrow.’  BULLCRAP.  If I order the large pizza I will eat the large pizza.  Answer?  Either get the SMALL pizza (and Fortino’s has a great 10″ pizza that I enjoy occasionally) or I do not get the pizza.

Until very recently I have eaten without thought.  I now am very particular to enter every morsel of food into my smartphone app – I track not only calories, but also carbs, protein, and fat.  I am also very careful to at least try to eat six times per day – three meals, three snacks – and to plan my calories and intake accordingly.  It is not easy, but it is something I am forcing myself to do.  I was very proud of myself in June when I received notification from MyFitnessPal that I had logged my food for 100 days in a row.  Unfortunately while I was in South Carolina there was a glitch with my smart phone, and the count started all over again.  Yesterday I received notification once more that I hit the 100 days streak.  G-d willing that will continue.

I am no longer a kid and I am no longer in my twenties… although Lord knows that I was not slim in my 20s – at least, not once I was out of the army.  I cannot continue to eat without thinking of the consequences.  So now as I go through life without large pizzas and buckets of wings and endless Chinese food with plenty of sauce and all of the beer I wanted and myriad other things that gave me comfort and joy I have lost a part of me… but hopefully absent all of those I will eventually be slim and in shape, and the part of me that I will have lost will have been replaced by something else.

Losing it isn’t easy – ask anyone who has tried.  Losing a part of me is not easy and it is a lot more than ‘just eat less.’  I have had to change my attitude, and deal with the emotions and accept that even when I am having a crappy day and everything is bleak I cannot turn to food for comfort.  However as I do drop pant sizes and inches it is starting to feel better… hopefully in the end that will be more than a consolation prize.


A Picture is Worth…

A couple of years ago I attended the Microsoft Convergence Conference in New Orleans.  The HP booth had hired a caricature artist to draw people, and using his Wacom digitizer he drew an absolutely amazing one of me.  His name by the way was Stephen King – no relation to the author.  I used that picture for… well, everything ever since.

Recently my friend Jen Fox came to visit from Halifax.  She was visiting schools in the area, deciding which one she wants to go to.  However she is also a professional photographer, and while she was here I took advantage of that.  She took pictures of me, of my son, and of the two of us together in various environments, including at the Taekwondo dojang.

It should be clear that Gilad is far more photogenic than I am.  He is 4.5 years old, is absolutely gorgeous, and is almost always smiling.  Getting good pictures of him is easy.  Getting them of me, well that`s tough… and I commend Jen for her patience!

Of the several hundred pictures she took of me, some of them actually came out well… no fault of hers, I generally hate what I look like.  For those of you who are wondering, I do not know if this will change as I lose the weight… I have never liked looking at myself.

10714523_10152355745801898_2490539028709203721_oAnd so I decided to take this opportunity to pick one picture as my new on-line image.  I picked one that combines several symbolic elements; Taekwondo has been a very important part of my life for several years, and I hope that it will remain so for many years to come.  However the weapon – nunchaku – has been my favourite weapon since I first picked them up nearly twenty years ago… long before I ever took up Taekwondo The stance I am in is a modified Crane Stance; the crane is symbolic because recently we discovered that the root origin of our family name (Garvis) is the Lithuanian word for Crane.

I gave this picture a lot of thought.  My personal and professional lives are intertwined on my web presence, something that I have been warned is a bad idea.  However I am who I am, and it likely that people who know me professionally also know a bit about my hobbies, and those I know as friends know what I do for a living.  In short, I am the sum of my experiences, and I do not feel that the Taekwondo picture – even one of me brandishing a weapon (that is illegal in Canada and some states) – compromises who I am.  If anything does, it is how fat I am in my picture :)

As I continue to lose weight I will take more pictures and will change this more often.  Assuming Jen will be going to school in Hamilton I hope she will honour me by helping me with these pictures – it would be great to take a picture with the same pose every twenty pounds or so and show them side by side to accentuate the difference.

I welcome your comments… if you like it or if you don’t, please feel free to let me know!

Slinging Chucks

I love Taekwondo.  I took it up seven years ago as an activity I could share with my son, but he never took to it the way I did.  Okay, we still do other things together… and I am now Instructor Garvis to the myriad Taekwondo students at OMAC.

Taekwondo was not my first martial art.  In fact, my first exposure to the martial arts was as a kid when my parents enrolled me in Karate at the YMHA in Montreal, under the tutelage of Sensei Yaki Mendel.  I think I earned my Yellow Belt before quitting (something I was very good at as a kid and right through high school).  In my late teens my girlfriend at the time (Beverley) and I signed up for Shotokan Karate, which we both enjoyed… for about six classes.  That was it.  Soon thereafter my friend Johnny Mo, who claimed to be a Kung Fu sifu, taught me and a couple others a few Kung Fu lessons at a gym, and some of what he taught us actually stuck.

Mitch Chucks 1It was not until the army that I really got involved in Martial Arts.  I took to Krav Maga like a fish to water, and loved every minute of it.  Thank G-d, because over the years I have used what I learned to get out of a couple of less than favourable situations.

Around the same time as I started learning KM, I was in the Central Bus Station in Haifa where I found a store that sold nunchaku.  By my math that would have been around twenty-one years ago.  The first time I was there I bought a pair of foam nunchaku, thinking back on the Bruce Lee and Ninja movies I had seen where I was always fascinated by them.  I started to teach myself how to use them, and I fell in love with them.

My proficiency and understanding of the weapon started there, but it was when I was posted to a shithole of a base near the Gaza Strip when I met someone who instructed me in them… the right way, from the beginning.

I should mention off the bat that I hated the foam nunchaku.  Right from the beginning I loathed them – they bounced off your hand and oh, by the way, in order to keep their shape they are actually soft foam around a hard PVC tube… and those tubes are going to break the first time you hit anything with them.  So the next time I was in Haifa I picked up a pair of wooden nunchaku, and I have not looked back.  They are easier to catch, they don’t break when you use them… how can you go wrong?

You want to know how you can go wrong?  Easy… You have two pieces of reasonably heavy wood attached to each other by a rope or a chain that you are whirling around at extremely high speeds, around your body, arms, back, neck… you change hands with them at an alarmingly fast pace, and the only thing that you can use to control the piece that is not in your hand at any given second is a keen understanding of the momentum involved.  What am I saying in plain English?  Moreso than any other weapon that I know of, it is extremely easy to get hurt while using nunchaku… even for people who are extremely good with them.

Mitch Nunchaku The story I like to tell is of a beautiful day on the beach of Netanya.  I spent six months living with a family in the suburb of Ramat Poleg, and it was a short walk to the beach.  That was where I went to practice, and I would spend hours doing it… walking along the dunes, doing my best to go faster and faster, until I thought I could do it with my eyes closed.  It was on this beach among these dunes that I remember one day waking up… but I had no recollection of going to sleep, or even sitting down.  All I can tell you is that I had a giant Flintstones lump on my head, I had a splitting headache, and my nunchaku were lying a couple of feet away from me.  It did not take a rocket scientist to figure out what happened.

While they are not strictly speaking a Taekwondo weapon, we do nonetheless teach nunchaku at Master Kim’s OMAC.  Some of the kids love it, others… well, less so.  But that is fine, they are optional (as are all weapons classes until 2nd Dan).  Instructor Peter Wolchak does a brilliant job teaching the students – even though he prefers the Bo Staff :)  It should be noted that everyone – including Instructor Peter – uses foam nunchaku for the class.  it is a matter of safety.

Recently I was working on my own choreography – there was nobody around so I was using my proper wood nunchaku.  I don’t know exactly what happened, but I missed a catch, and the wood hit my side and left a proper welt.  It was a good reminder to always respect the weapon – and the minute you think you can do it without paying attention is the minute you get hurt.

Let me rephrase that.  If you practice with nunchaku, especially wooden ones, you will eventually get hurt… possibly badly.  Nunchaku are a very serious weapon – not a toy – and by the way, they are illegal in Canada as well as several U.S. states so don’t think that this is ever going to be the weapon you carry for protection.

I have no plans to put my nunchaku down… ever.  Welts, bumps, bruises, and all, I love the weapon, and if I do say so myself I am pretty good with them (after 22 years I should hope so)!

I have a few different pair, each one for a different purpose.  A keen and knowing observer may notice the pair in these pictures is very different from most common pair – for one thing, they are octagonal – I just like the feel better.  They are connected by string instead of the more common chain – I like the feel better, not to mention they are much quieter.  This pair is also unique in that the two sides are connected by a much shorter rope than usual – 1” rather than the more common 4”.  In truth I bought them by accident a few years ago and couldn’t be bothered to return them, and it is only recently that I have spent a lot of time getting used to the differences between the weapons – while the size, shape, and length of the wood may alter the feel of the nunchaku (octagonal as opposed to round, 12” are my preference) the shortened distance between the sides changes everything about the weapon – how it flies, how it reacts.  It is not better or worse… just different.

I have gone through several pair of nunchaku over the years – a score or more in all likelihood.  While I have ordered for myself a new pair to try out, I think I have found the combination that I am most comfortable with… for now.  Will that change?  We’ll see… but in the meantime 12” (with the 4” rope) octagons are what I favour… and if you want to come watch, I just might choreograph something special for my next Belt Test! :)