Originally posted on Losing A Part of Me.
Originally posted on Losing a part of me:
The last couple of months have been a disaster with regard to the weight loss and all. I am trying to get back on track… and there are days of brief success. However I am trying to integrate little things into my routine that will work for me.
Four days a week I take the GO Train into Toronto to work, which of course means that those same four days I take the train back home to Burlington. Aside from the walk to and from the train station (on the work side… I have to drive to the station in Burlington) is a good walk (and especially invigorating when it is Holy Crap Degrees Below Zero, as it was all last week), but I decided to add a bit to that.
I am not sure why I started… it could have been the bitter cold and trying to keep my…
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When I moved into my condo in September I made a conscious decision to not subscribe to cable TV. The decision had nothing to do with reducing the number of hours I spend watching TV, it was simply a question of money… I had been unemployed for eight months, and although I was earning a salary again, television was a very low priority for me. Instead I did exactly what I did when I was in Japan… I downloaded the shows I wanted to watch.
On the advice of a friend of mine in Australia, I decided to go out and buy a little computer that runs XBMC; on an impulse I walked into Canada Computers with my son, and we walked out with a XIOS DS Media Play NUC (Next Unit Computer). The price tag was $99.99, but I got an open-box special for about $65. Of course, the open-box special meant that the sale was final.
This is the first Android device that I ever owned. That was five months ago, and I have to admit that it was not a positive experience.
Having watched a few reviews and read a few tutorials on-line, I know that I could extend the functionality of this device; however I spend the vast majority of my life working with computers, and when it comes to watching television I just want it to work. So while I am sure it is a decent solution for some people, I never got to like it. Even so, I spent five months with it… crappy remote, beta software and all. Had I not made a quick stop in at the Microsoft Store in Yorkdale last week, I would still be using it.
That is not entirely true… I posted recently that I was waiting for tech support at the Apple Store in Bellevue, Washington. I decided to check out the Apple TV. It is sleek, exciting, and does just about everything you could ask for… as long as you are an Apple person. Unfortunately the sales guy told me that I could not use it to stream videos from my Windows-based PC. While I am sure there is a way to jailbreak it to change that, I was not interested.
I did not go to the Microsoft Store to buy anything; I had a meeting, and I was waiting for it when I noticed a little device called a Roku Streaming Stick. I asked one of the sales associates and he told me that it did everything I wanted – play music (both from the Internet and from my PC-based collection), watch videos (same), and even a few things I hadn’t tried with the Xios, such as Netflix (there is an app on Android, but like I said, I didn’t want to spend my time off figuring that all out) and YouTube. There are even some live channels that stream to the device, such as news and sports. Price tag? $49.99. For reasons I won’t go into I had a gift card in my wallet for slightly more than that, so I bought it… knowing full well that if I didn’t like it i could return it without a hassle the next week.
It took five minutes to realize I was going to like this device better than the Xios.
Let me be clear: it is not that the Xios was a bad device, it is that I did not spend the time learning it… and patching it, and figuring out how to download the apps that i wanted. Because I never did any of that, I did not like the experience of the device… that, and the flimsy remote control was not very comfortable… or functional. For a lot of the things I needed to do (often… such as shutting down XBMC and restarting it because it arbitrarily lost network connectivity to my computer) I needed to use an external mouse, and was relieved that I had an extra one lying around.
I plugged the Roku into the HDMI port of my TV, and then into the USB port for power. Immediately the screen lit up with the purple splash screen. Things were happening.
To this day, if you turn on the Xios it flashes you warnings about it running beta software. The Roku informed me (once I connected it to my wifi network, which was only long because I needed to navigate the on-screen keyboard to enter my password) that it was downloading the latest patches, and would reboot itself once that process was done.
I should mention here that I did shortly thereafter have to check for more updates, which was easy as pie. There was an error installing almost any of the built-in apps, but a quick check on-line reassured me that this was related to my Canadian IP address, and had already been resolved with an extra patch.
The remote control felt a lot less flimsy, and because this is not a computer that is also a media center, I didn’t need a keyboard and mouse to get the full experience. That’s a good thing too… because there is nowhere to plug them in!
The on-screen experience is a breeze… it is much more user friendly than XBMC, and when you add to that there is nothing else (a truly KISS experience) I was hooked.
Yes, I am using apps… I connected the Netflix app and YouTube apps to my account, and watched a few minutes of Sky News on that channel. From top to bottom it has been a positive and enjoyable experience; the only scare was that when I connected it to my TVersity Server (which runs in my Surface Pro 3, and which shares videos from external hard drives) every video I tried to watch appeared to be lost or corrupted. Then I realized that my Surface was not docked as usual, but was sitting with me on the couch. Of course it couldn’t find the files… the external hard drive was disconnected!
The Microsoft Store also sells the next model up – the Ruku 3. I am sure the device is better in all sorts of ways… but from what I can tell, for the things that I want to do, the Roku Streaming Stick does them all, and probably does them as well. So I am not going to be returning it for exchange this week… even though I told the sales associate that if the cheaper one didn’t do it for me I would.
The website claims an added benefit – I can take it with me when I travel; the device needs precisely two things to work – an HDMI port and a USB port (or I can plug the micro-USB charger into the wall). However knowing me, I will leave it plugged into the TV at the first hotel I use it at. thanks, I think I’ll pass.
Now that I am making a little more money I haven’t decided if I will subscribe to a cable package or not… It is not an immediate expense I want to take on, but maybe eventually. The Roku however has made my cutting the cable experience a lot better than it was!
When I moved into my condo I bought a refurbished Cuisinart coffee machine. You know, the type that brews Keurig coffees. It was my first purchase for the condo, and I was very proud of it. Why? Well for one thing it is a very nice machine, and for another… well, mornings are just better with coffee.
A few weeks later it started leaking. I was busy with other things, but in December I looked into it and sure enough it had a 90 day warranty. I called Conair Cuisinart Canada because by now it was probably Day 89, and they told me to ship it to them and they would honour the warranty, and I would have the machine back within 10 business days.
I shipped it out on January 2nd.
After a month I called and by chance reached the same rep I had originally spoken with, and he told me that they were replacing it, but they had been out of stock of the refurbished machines which explains the delay. ‘Don’t worry Mr. Garvis, the machines are now in, and we are sending it out to you today. You will have it by Friday.
Friday came and went. So did next Friday.
I called back and was told by another rep that the machine had definitely not been shipped, and that they were out of stock. I asked to speak to the supervisor. I was transferred to a voice mail box, and left a message.
The following day, fully twenty-seven hours after leaving the voice mail, I called back. After nearly an hour on hold I reached a rep and I immediately asked for the supervisor, but not their voice mail. I won’t bother to explain the ridiculous conversation that followed, but in the end I was at last speaking with the supervisor… the same man who had told me to ship them the machine and that I would get it back in 10 days; the same supervisor who told me two weeks prior that my machine was being shipped out that day. The same supervisor who, in my eyes, had lied to me, and had no credibility.
‘I have great news for you Mr. Garvis! We still don’t have the refurbished machines in stock, so a decision has been made to send you a new one. You should be thankful that I was able to arrange this… we don’t do this often!’
I should be thankful.
Over the eight weeks that I was without my coffee maker I bought a cup of coffee nearly every day; assuming that I only bought the one cup (probably not true, but let’s average it), then at $2.36 per cup per day, I spent $132 on coffee… an operational expense that I originally bought the coffee machine (capital expense) to avoid. And while a simple search of BestBuy.ca (and without doing any comparison shopping whatsoever) shows that the exact model I bought sells for $199.99… but another simple search of eBay shows I can get a new one for $79.00… not to mention that my refurbished one originally cost me $65.
All of this to say that with the $132 I spent at Starbucks since December, I could have bought myself another machine… and had plenty of money left over.
…and yet, I should feel thankful that they sent me the new one (which of course will only come with the warranty for a used model).
Had I had that conversation in December I would have just gritted my teeth and called it what it is… what we get in a day and age where customer service is not considered important, and companies are unwilling to spend the money to go the extra mile to retain their customers. However two incidents in January showed me that there are some companies for whom customer service is extremely important, and customer retention is everything. They both happened on the same day in the same mall, from two very different companies.
When I came back from Japan in January, 2014 I needed a new cell phone, and rather than selling my soul to my cell phone provider, I bought a used iPhone 5 from eBay. I don’t remember what I paid, but it was reasonable. From what I could tell the phone was a little over a year old, and worked fine… for now.
Over time though some issues arose, but I would just live with them. The first was that the power button stopped working. This is less of a game-stopper than you might think, because the only time my phone is off is when the battery dies, and when you plug it into a charger it immediately turns on again.
I noticed the battery life diminishing… so I went to speak to a ‘Genius’ at the Apple Store in Square One mall and he told me that I should be getting at least eight hours out of it… as long as I turned off vibrate mode. As for the power button… well they could take it in and ship it out to be fixed at my expense, but I would be without a phone; I decided to use the phone until it was no longer useable, then get something else.
I woke up Monday morning in Bellevue, Washington the second week of January, and my colleague and I went to the Microsoft Store to look into an issue with my corporate laptop. We had to wait a couple of hours for the appointment, so we were going to find somewhere to sit and talk when my phone died. It was 10:15am, I had charged it overnight, I was not awake two hours, and the battery was dead.
I said ‘You know what, we have time to kill… let’s go into the Apple Store and see what they tell me.’ We did just that, and yes we had to wait in line for a ‘drop in’ appointment.
The Genius who helped me was a nice enough guy, and after I explained the situation he examined the phone and then he asked me something that surprised me:
“Your phone is registered in Canada with Rogers, so if I replace it for you it will not activate until you get back to Canada and it can connect to a Rogers tower. Would you be okay with that?”
The phone was nearly 18 months out of warranty, purchased from a different company, in a different country. And yet Apple was willing to replace the device for me. I was shocked, and told him yes, I would be okay with that.
He was wrong by the way… the phone activated on my Rogers account as soon as it connected to the AT&T network, and I was not without my phone for any period of time.
They owed me nothing… I have in my lifetime bought a grand total of one thing from an Apple Store, and I sold it on Craig’s List three months later. The Apple Store could very easily have said ‘Yeah… you’re not really our customer, but here are a bunch of devices you could buy from us to replace your device that has clearly been used into an early obsolescence. Instead, he pulled out a refurbished iPhone 5 that was identical to my old one, and gave it to me.
That is Customer Service. THAT is a company that wants to earn or retain my loyalty.
My corporate laptop is a Microsoft Surface Pro 3, i7 model. It is certainly a Microsoft product… but it was purchased from another company in Japan, re-imaged, and was not working the way it was supposed to. We were hoping the technicians at the MS Store could tell us what was wrong with it, but we assumed it was going to have to go back to Japan. Michael and I had even discussed how we would do that – he would give me his identical device, take mine back to Tokyo, and have it dealt with. It would not be convenient, but that’s the price of doing business sometimes.
The technician spent thirty minutes trying to resolve the issue. I confess, I sometimes find it tedious watching retain technicians work through all of the troubleshooting steps I have already followed, but this time I was glad for it because Michael and I actually had business to discuss. He tried this and that and the other thing, and for love or money he just was not able to resolve the issue.
“Mr. Garvis, we know this device has your corporate image of Windows 8.1 on it, but I would like to replace it for you because I cannot resolve the issue. Is that a problem, or do you need the corporate image? If you do, I can send it in and they can fix it.”
Once again… the device was nearly a year old, bought from another company, in another country… and yet the Microsoft Store was willing to replace it for me with a brand new device. Oh, the best part:
“Look, normally we would give you a refurbished machine, but in this case we don’t have any refurbs in stock so I’m going to give you a new one.”
In the event that the corporate image had been important, Michael had the ability to image it in his hotel room… but it wasn’t – I was able to install all of the necessary software on the Microsoft image… and it works great.
That is Customer Service. THAT is a company that wants to earn or retain my loyalty.
I do not know if the customer service issue is a Canadian thing, or if it is just that I was dealing with a bad company or a bad department or a bad rep. Whatever it is, Here is a lesson for Cuisinart Canada. The next time I buy a smartphone it will probably be an iPhone; the next tablet I buy will absolutely be running Windows, and there is a very good chance that I will buy it from Microsoft. And the next time I buy a kitchen appliance it will not be a Cuisinart.
But how can I say that? After all, they did send me a brand new coffee maker, even though I had sent them a refurbished one.
It’s not that the device was defective. Welcome to Earth, sometimes consumer products don’t work and have to be fixed or replaced. Hell, look at my Surface Pros and my iPhone. The reason is not only that I was lied to repeatedly (but I was); it’s not that Cuisinart makes bad products (they don’t); it’s not even that I had to sit on hold for nearly an hour each of the five times I called regarding this issue (I did).
It’s simple… After all that, Cuisinart wanted me to be grateful for what they were doing for me. They felt they were doing me a favour, and I should be singing their praises. That is not what customer service is supposed to feel like. I shouldn’t have to genuflect because you helped me – you are customer service and that is what you are supposed to do.
Microsoft and Apple both demonstrated to me that they wanted me as a customer, and even though they are two of the biggest companies in the world, they need me as a customer. Cuisinart thinks I need them more than they need me… and in this case, to fix or replace my coffee maker they were right. However in the grand scheme of things, I do not have any need to be a Cuisinart customer. I have two of their appliances, and I think that is just enough.
Back in 2013 I published an article about free e-books from Microsoft Press, and I got some great response to it. Why? My readers love books, and everyone loves getting something for nothing. That is just simple math.
I was having a conversation with my team last week, and they told me they did not have the budget to purchase the reference materials they needed to properly learn the servers they were deploying. That reminded me of the free books, and I decided to go on-line and see what was currently available.
There are a few categories that I will call out because they are the areas of focus that I touch on (namely infrastructure), but I can assure you the list for developers and end-users it there too.
Now here’s the best part: If you have an e-book reader such as a Kobo (or any of the others) then there is a very good change you can download these books for that platform directly from your merchant’s on-line store. For example, a quick check of www.kobo.com finds Introducing Windows Server 2012 R2 available as a free e-book.
This will not be comprehensive, but fortunately for us Kobo owners you can also download the e-books and side-load books to your device. (Full disclosure: I am on contract to Kobo, so yes I favour them over the competition)
So without any more fanfare, here is a list of titles currently available:
- A Guide to Claims-Based Identity and Access Control, Second Edition
- Introducing Windows Server 2008 R2
- Introducing Windows Server 2012
- Introducing Windows Server 2012 R2
- Migrate Roles and Features to Windows Server 2012 R2 or Windows Server 2012
- Understanding Microsoft Virtualization Solutions: From the Desktop to the Datacenter, Second Edition
- TCP/IP Fundamentals for Microsoft Windows
- Windows Server 2012 R2 and Windows Server 2012 TechNet Library Documentation
- Cmdlet Reference for App Controller in System Center 2012 SP1
- Introducing Microsoft System Center 2012 R2
- Microsoft System Center: Building a Virtualized Network Solution
- Microsoft System Center: Cloud Management with App Controller
- Microsoft System Center: Configuration Manager Field Experience
- Microsoft System Center: Designing Orchestrator Runbooks
- Microsoft System Center: Network Virtualization and Cloud Computing
- Microsoft System Center: Optimizing Service Manager
- Microsoft System Center: Troubleshooting Configuration Manager
- Technical Documentation for System Center 2012 – Virtual Machine Manager
- Administrator’s Guide for Microsoft Application Virtualization (App-V) 5.0
- Administrator’s Guide for Microsoft BitLocker Administration and Monitoring 1.0
- Administrator’s Guide for Microsoft Diagnostics and Recovery Toolset (DaRT) 7
- Administrator’s Guide for Microsoft Diagnostics and Recovery Toolset (DaRT) 8.0
- Administrator’s Guide for Microsoft User Experience Virtualization (UE-V) 1.0
- Deploying Windows 7: Essential Guidance
- Developing an end-to-end Windows Store app using C++ and XAML: Hilo
- Introducing Windows 8.1 for IT Professionals
- Autoscaling Application Block and Transient Fault Handling Application Block Reference
- Building Elastic and Resilient Cloud Applications – Developer’s Guide to the Enterprise Library 5.0 Integration Pack for Windows Azure
- Building Real World Cloud Apps With Windows Azure
- Building Hybrid Applications in the Cloud on Windows Azure
- Cloud Design Patterns: Prescriptive Architecture Guidance for Cloud Applications
- Create Your First Application – Node.js and Windows Azure
- Developing Multi-tenant Applications for the Cloud on Windows Azure (3rd Edition)
- Deploy SQL Server Business Intelligence in Windows Azure Virtual Machines
- Drupal on Windows Azure
- Introducing Windows Azure for IT Professionals
- Exploring CQRS and Event Sourcing: A journey into high scalability, availability, and maintainability with Windows Azure
- Migrating Data-Centric Applications to Windows Azure
- Moving Applications to the Cloud, 2nd Edition
- Moving Applications to the Cloud on Windows Azure (3rd Edition)
- Rethinking Enterprise Storage: A Hybrid Cloud Model
- Using Windows Azure Mobile Services to Cloud-Enable your iOS Apps
- Using Windows Azure Mobile Services to Cloud-Enable Your Windows Phone 8 Apps
- Using Windows Azure Mobile Services to Cloud-Enable your Windows Store Apps in C#
- Windows Azure and SQL Database Tutorials
- Windows Azure Prescriptive Guidance
- Windows Azure Service Bus Reference
- Deployment Guide for Office 2013
- First Look: Microsoft Office 2010
- Microsoft Office 365: Connect and Collaborate Virtually Anywhere, Anytime
- Microsoft Office 365 for professionals and small businesses: Help and How To
- Security and Privacy for Microsoft Office 2010 Users
- 5 Tips for a Smooth SSIS Upgrade to SQL Server 2012
- A Hitchiker’s Guide to Microsoft StreamInsight Queries
- Books Online: Backup and Restore of SQL Server Databases
- Books Online: Data Analysis Expressions (DAX) Reference
- Books Online: Data Mining Extensions (DMX) Reference
- Books Online: Data Quality Services
- Books Online: High Availability Solutions
- Books Online: Master Data Services
- Books Online: Monitor and Tune for Performance
- Books Online: Multidimensional Expressions (MDX) Reference
- Books Online: SQL Server Distributed Replay
- Books Online: Transact-SQL Data Definition Language (DDL) Reference
- Books Online: Transact-SQL Data Manipulation Language (DML) Reference
- Books Online: XQuery Language Reference
- Data Access for Highly-Scalable Solutions: Using SQL, NoSQL, and Polyglot Persistence Extracting and Loading SharePoint Data in SQL Server Integration Services
- Integration Services: Extending Packages with Scripting
- Introducing Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2
- Introducing Microsoft SQL Server 2012
- Introducing Microsoft SQL Server 2014
- Master Data Services Capacity Guidelines
- Master Data Services (MDS) Operations Guide
- Microsoft SQL Server AlwaysOn Solutions Guide for High Availability and Disaster Recovery
- Microsoft SQL Server Analysis Services Multidimensional Performance and Operations Guide Multidimensional Model Programming
- Optimized Bulk Loading of Data into Oracle
- Planning Disaster Recovery for Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services in SharePoint Integrated Mode
- QuickStart: Learn DAX Basics in 30 Minutes
- SQLCAT’s Guide to BI and Analytics
- SQLCAT’s Guide to High Availability Disaster Recovery
- SQLCAT’s Guide to Relational Engine
- SQL Server 2012 Tutorials: Analysis Services – Data Mining
- SQL Server 2012 Tutorials: Analysis Services – Multidimensional Modeling
- SQL Server 2012 Tutorials: Analysis Services – Tabular Modeling
- SQL Server 2012 Tutorials: Reporting Services
- SQL Server 2012 Tutorials: Writing Transact-SQL Statements
- SQL Server 2012 Upgrade Technical Guide
- SQL Server Community FAQs Manual
- Transact SQL by TechNet WiKi Community
- Troubleshooting SQL Server AlwaysOn
Now go forth and learn, study, and implement!
It’s not what you’re thinking… I am still doing what I did professionally, although I did have a bit of a hiccup in my schedule today.
I live in a condo building in Burlington. I have been here since September, and while I try to be friendly, it doesn’t seem that many of the neighbours know each other. I know the people who live right next door to me – they have a puppy named Steeler who is absolutely adorable, and does not seem to bark. I don’t think that I actually know anyone else. In fact now that I think of it, I know the dog’s name, but not them or their children.
I know the cars that park next to me in the lot; to my left is a young lady in a Toyota Echo, and to my right is a Lincoln Navigator… or at least I think that’s what it is. I think he has a Mustang that he drives in the summer. I had seen the owners of the cars a couple of times in passing, but not often.
One afternoon this week I was about to go to Taekwondo. It was not my night to work or for class, but I was going to go see my son; Gilad goes Tuesdays and Thursdays, and so I go for his class even though I am off duty. However when I got to the car I checked my cell phone, and there was a message from Theresa that Gilad did not want to go this evening – he was dealing with a stomach bug, and we both understood.
As I was about to get out of the car, my neighbour (the young lady in the Toyota) pulled into her spot… and her car was hissing at me. As I didn’t think I had done anything to upset it, I asked (the driver) if everything was okay. She said she had just run over something and she thought she might have blown a tire. As we watched the tire go flat, I could see her spirits go down with it. “Well, I guess I have to call CAA and they will change the tire for me.”
I thought about it for a second and offered to do it for her. “No, that’s why I have CAA! I don’t change tires… I wouldn’t even know how to start.”
“Look,” I said. “If you call CAA, they will come in the next hour (or two), they will put your car up on the jack, take the tire off, put your ‘doughnut’ on, take it down, and tell you to go to the tire shop to get a new tire. By that time, the stores will be closed, and you will have to do it tomorrow morning. If I do it for you, it will be done in ten minutes, you can go to the store, and you don’t have to take half a day off of work.”
She asked if I was sure, and was very appreciative. Seven minutes or so later the spare was on tight, the flat was in the trunk, and she was asking if she could bring me a cup of coffee or something.
I didn’t want anything in return… although I suppose if she had invited me out for coffee I would accept because she is cute. I was just glad to be able to do a good deed, and told her that the next time she has the opportunity to offer to help someone, she should do it.
Of course, I won’t be able to wear these pants again until they get washed, and my gloves are a bit dirty… but I put a smile on the face of a woman in need, and that’s not all bad.
“Just remember Mitch… you are coming into an environment where people love their Macs and their Linux. As long as you don’t come in and try to convert them, you will do well here.”
Yes, when I had my initial conversation with the leadership at Kobo I was told something very much like that. Obviously with my history as a Microsoft Evangelist that could be a concern, and I was glad to reassure him that I was not coming in to change anyone… at least, not on the desktop side.
Funny enough, the only reason I was excited that head office had assigned me a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 was because I would be able to carry it in my messenger bag, and would not need to start carrying a larger bag. Yay.
On my first day in the office we realized I was missing a couple of things, all of which might be easily resolved. For one, I needed a USB Ethernet dongle to connect to the corporate network. The only problem: they were out of Windows-compatible dongles… all they had left were a few white ones with Apple logos on it. We tried it out, and sure enough… nothing. Windows did not even detect it.
There was a time when that would have been the end of it; however as hardware becomes more and more compatible between the two platforms, I decided to see if there was a solution to be found.
It didn’t take long to realize I was not the first person to encounter this issue, and there was a known solution: Boot Camp.
Five years ago I bought a MacBook Pro, and I wrote a series of articles on installing Windows 7 on the device. The best solution at the time was a piece of software called Boot Camp, which allowed you to create a dual-boot partition, and then install Windows.
The relevant part of the discussion is that the Boot Camp Support Software (a free download at http://support.apple.com/kb/DL1638) includes all of the drivers necessary to run Apple hardware from within Windows (because it is obviously not included in the default Windows 8 installation).
It was different five years ago, but with today’s smaller computers (including the MacBook Air) dongles are a big part of day to day functionality. While the Boot Camp support software assumes you will be running Windows on Mac hardware, all it really knows is that you are running Windows and need a driver for the dongles.
So we downloaded the support files (currently version 5.0.5033), and then followed the following steps:
- We extracted the Boot Camp package on the Surface Pro 3;
- We navigated to the directory <root>\BootCamp5.0.5033\BootCamp\Drivers\Asix
- We executed the package AsixSetup64.exe.
It took less than a minute, and it worked!
When I first got my Surface Pro 3 (mine, not the corporate device) I was told that I needed to buy all of the Surface branded dongles. Before I spent the money I tried out a few of my own dongles (some Lenovo branded, others generic) and was delighted to see that they worked. It was not a stretch to assume that the Apple dongle would work too, but since Apple very often uses their own proprietary hardware, it stands to reason that you would have to download a driver. I am glad that the two platforms work, and I can use the dongle as hoped… and who cares if it is white?
If you know me, you probably know that I am a whisky drinker. Had you asked me eighteen months ago I would have said I am a scotch drinker, but that changed when Michael Kulwicki joined the Rakuten End User Technology team in October of 2013.
Michael is Scottish, but is living in Tokyo with his wife Noriko. He joined the EUT team and we worked very closely together for the next three months. During that time we became friends. Although it is easy to think that we were the only two Anglo-Saxons working at a Japanese company and so we naturally hung out together, that would be a wrong assumption. We had a lot of common interests, ranging from IT to James Bond and other literature to – you guessed it – scotch.
Being married to a Japanese woman, and having lived previously in Japan teaching snowboarding, Michael has several distinct advantages over me, not the least of which is that he speaks Japanese, as well as reading it. He reads and writes it, and when we were out and about he was an excellent companion for many reasons, one of which was his ability to translate the world in a country that is quite unilingual.
Knowing that I enjoyed scotch, he started talking to me about Japanese whisky, from the history and how a gentleman names Masataka Taketsuru (and his Scottish wife) brought the whisky-making process to Japan, to different distilleries and expressions available to us today. We made sure to look for decent bottles whenever we were out and about, and we found quite a few.
The best of the expressions that I would eventually discover though was not with Michael, rather at one of the myriad Duty Free Stores at Narita International Airport. These stores will allow you to sample several of the whiskies that you are considering, which is, for someone like myself, a very smart way to get my business. You see, I am always loathe to buy a bottle for ¥8,000 (at the time around $75) blind for a bottle that I might love… or not. And so it was on my way home to Canada that I first experienced the YOICHI 15 year old expression from Nikka Whisky. It is, in my opinion, the best whisky that I have had for less than $100 for a litre.
I was excited last April when another colleague – Ross Cavanaugh – was coming to Toronto from Japan. I was going to pick him up from the airport and bring him to the Kobo offices in Toronto… and while I would have done so anyways, I was especially eager because he was bringing me a bottle of my favourite expression. Of course, he was not flying straight from Tokyo – he flew to New York and then to Boston, and only then did he come to Toronto. As you can see in the photo above, the bottle did NOT get here safely. I hope the TSA Agent at Boston Logan enjoyed it as much as I would have
In January I started a new contract back with Rakuten, which was very exciting for several reasons – not the least of which that I would once again be working with Michael. The first day of the contract found the both of us landing in Seattle for a week of meetings at Microsoft. Not one to miss out on an opportunity, I asked him to bring me a bottle, and of course he did. However the bottle (pictured above) is not what touched me, not what I will treasure forever.
Michael and Norkio frequent a bar in Tokyo where the bar allows you to buy a bottle of your favourite spirit, and they will keep it for you. They would put a name tag or label on the bottle I suppose, and when you came in they would pour it for you. I don’t know all of the specifics, but it sounds simply marvellous to someone like me who does not usually go in for the whiskies that most bars keep on hand. I promise you the next time I am in Tokyo I am going to try to go to this bar though to experience it for myself.
At some point, it would seem, the bar owner decided to make special name plates for his patrons. He cut a piece of wood, painted (caligraphied) the patron’s name on it, then ‘’chopped” it – signed it with his personal stamp. Noriko and Michael asked if he would make one with my name on it, and he did. When I opened the box that contained the whisky, the name plate was around the neck of the bottle.
I was thrilled to get the bottle, don’t get me wrong. While I do not drink a lot or often, I am very happy to have the bottle back in my bar. However bottles come and bottles go… this name plate means so much more to me than that, and it will be with me for a very long time to come.
Now, for those of you wondering “What if it doesn’t really say Mitch?” I have a simple way of being sure. When I was in Japan I asked someone to type my name in Japanese so that I could add it to my e-mail signature. Even for the year I was not working with Rakuten, I maintained it… I thought it was a nice touch I suppose. So when I was back in my hotel room I went to my Outlook and I checked. Sure enough: ミッチ. The characters matched up perfectly!
(Does it strike anyone else as odd that the middle character of my name looks like a happy face emoticon? ッ
Of course, even if they didn’t, I would keep it… I just not plan to display it prominently on my ‘bottle of honour’ for the rest of my life!
Thanks Michael, and thanks Noriko. This means so much more to me than the bottle or anything else I got in Japan. It is personal, it is meaningful, and there is a story behind it that I will never forget.
Of course, Michael did not only bring the single bottle to Seattle; he brought one for his own enjoyment as well: A Taketsuru Pure Malt 21 Years Old. Although it is a pure malt (malt whisky from several distilleries vatted together) it was still excellent, and when I am next in Japan I am not sure that I won’t bring one of these back. I’m not sure yet, because there are a few others I want to try… probably the Yamazaki or Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve or the Single Malt Miyagikyo 15 Years Old. We’ll see, I have a few months before that trip so I have time to decide.
And with that, my friends, I think I am going to pour myself a drink! Enjoy your week.