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Pan Am… Do something for nothing, and get so much!

Volunteers_Logo_V14If you follow me on Facebook you will already know that I was selected as a volunteer for the 2015 Toronto Pan Am Games.  My decision to volunteer dates back to the 2013 Taekwondo Canada Open; at the end of the event the administrator thanked me for my hard work, and hoped that I would continue to volunteer, especially since Toronto was hosting the Pan Am games.  I promised I would be there.

For the Canada Open (that year, as well as the upcoming games) I answered an open letter from Taekwondo Canada, and they wrote me back thanking me, and telling me where to be.  It was silly, in hindsight, to think that volunteering for a worldwide multi-discipline event on a par with the Olympic Games would be as simple… and when I e-mailed them back in July, they gave me the website where volunteers had to apply.  I spent fifteen minutes filling out the application, and was told to be patient, I would hear back from them soon.

When I did hear back, I was told I had to do a ‘video interview.’  After putting it off for several weeks, I finally sat down and did it in November.  It was the second week of January when I got the e-mail offering me the position of Field of Play Crew, Taekwondo.

Of course I was thrilled… I was going to be up close and personal with some of the best competitors in the world in a sport that is near and dear to me.  I couldn’t be more excited; I figured great… now all I have to do is wait for July to come around.

I got an e-mail inviting me to join the (Official) Toronto 2015 Volunteers page on Facebook, which I did… and I was amazed by what I discovered.

Have you ever watched a major sporting event like the Pan Am Games, or the Olympic Games, and wondered how they can go off without a hitch?  You should meet some of the people on this Facebook page… and I can tell you, I am really looking forward to meeting many of them in person.

TO2015_BRD_Pachi_Tickets4C_KeylineI volunteered because I love my sport, and because the event is being held in my home city.  There are volunteers coming who are not athletes, but have volunteered in other cities for other events – some of them are discussing how housing of out-of-town volunteers in Toronto will differ from what they experienced in Vancouver (Winter Olymiad), Glasgow (Commonwealth Games), London, and Sochi.  To be sure, there are people volunteering for sports that they love (like me)… but there are plenty of others with positions such as Media Relations, Transportation Services, Food Services, Housing… and scores more.  What would make someone give up two weeks of their lives, often traveling from thousands of miles away (there is a special Facebook group for out of town volunteers, with over 200 members so far) to volunteer for games that, according to pundits on talk radio, nobody will remember in a year or two?

I suspect that the number of answers to that question will be too great to enumerate here, but I suspect for a lot of them it will have to do with dedication… and from what I am reading, a healthy measure of fun and appreciation.

Sure, there are going to be students who need volunteer credits for school.  there will be young people who are just starting out and need something to put on their resume.  But there are also people like me – professionals who will be taking time off of work (unpaid, of course).  There are stay at home moms, and there are retirees, and there are 20,000 different stories that you would come across if you spoke to the 20,000 volunteers.  It is truly amazing.

This is not my first international sporting event.  In 2002 Montreal hosted the Junior Maccabiah Games; I was working for IGS Security at the time, and we were responsible for security for the entire event.  It was a great experience.  Back then I spoke to a lot of the volunteers, and they told me how much fun they had.  I suppose I was sceptical at the time, but that was the way I was.

Over the next few months I am going to meet and get to know a bunch of great people through this event, and I am truly looking forward to it.  I hope that at the end of it I will come away with some new friends and a lot of great memories.  Either way, it will be a great experience!

My Next (and Previous) Challenge

I was in Montreal last week-end, and a friend of mine (Rick is a faithful reader of my blog) asked me why I have been so quiet recently.  I want to apologize to you all for being a bit cagey about what was going on… and to the myriad friends on Facebook who expressed concern when I mentioned that I was leaving Yakidoo.

When my contract with Rakuten ended at the end of 2013, the plan was always for me to spend a couple of months back in Canada, and then to return for a longer term contract.  It took longer than expected, but my conversations with the team and leaders at Rakuten never stopped.  When I announced that I would be leaving Yakidoo I wanted to announce why, but I really needed to wait until all of the contracts were signed and in place.  And even though I started the new gig several weeks ago, delays in paperwork prevented me from making an official announcement.

KoboSo Monday morning, February 2nd… three weeks after my actual starting date, I will walk into my new office at Kobo Books, a Rakuten company.  I will be on a long term contract as an IT Infrastructure Architect and Consultant, working with several of their teams, but primarily the End User Technology group.

RakutenWhile the parent company is lesser known in North America, Rakuten is a multinational conglomerate with over a hundred companies in fields such as digital content, finance, and travel.  It is a truly exciting company to be working for.  However the fact that I will be working for their Canadian company, meaning I do not have to live in a hotel for the year, makes it even more exciting for me.

While I love traveling, and G-d knows I love Japan, I also love my children.  Not being able to see them, hug them, be there for them for months on end was very difficult, and not a prospect that I was looking forward to repeating; as difficult as it was before, I cannot imagine how much worse it would be now that I am separated from their mother.  Now that I am no longer living with them, I have to put in a lot more effort to make sure that I remain an important part of their lives, and that is hard enough to do from Burlington… from Tokyo it would be so much worse.

As for what I will be doing for Kobo and Rakuten, well let’s just say that it is going to be an exciting year, and I don’t want to give away the plot.  However I promise you that my blog will, as always, have plenty of articles about the technologies I will be working on (without any of the specifics), which will be a nice combination of the familiar and the new to many of you.

I want to thank all of you who have expressed your concern and interest, and want to assure you that I am extremely happy and excited with the challenges I will be facing over the next year.

ADDENDUM (2/2/15, 8:44am)

Okay, so someone had other plans.  If you live in Southwest Ontario you are no doubt already aware that we are under a blanket of snow… more like seven layers of really thick blankets.  I tried to get my car out, but realized that even if I did, my all-season tires would be no match for the conditions today.  I was going to walk to the train when my on-site manager e-mailed me and told me to stay home.  So tomorrow it is :) -MDG

New Interior…

I nearly panicked when I boarded the Air Canada Boeing 777-300 that will take me to Vancouver, for the connecting flight to Seattle.  The First Class cabin did not have the pods that I was used to… just regular seats…

…or so it seemed.  In truth they have revamped the cabin and while the pods are gone, the seats are great.  There is a true lie-flat bed seat, and instead of the normal 3″x2″ pillow you used to find on your seat, there was a proper full-size pillow and a blanket that looks like a comforter.  Once we are in the air I look forward to testing it out.

The new in-flight entertainment system is a huge improvement… the screen looks to be a 15.6″ wide screen, and it does not have to fold out (which means it does not have to be stowed for taxi and take-off).

The pod looks and feels similar to the one on the Singapore Airlines 777 that I flew one leg on last year.  Make no mistake – it is nowhere near as nice as the Airbus A380 Business Class on that airline (see article) but it is certainly an improvement over the old Air Canada pods… which I rather liked.

The first time I ever flew in those pods was my flight to Hong Kong, shortly after the Microsoft Airlift for System Center Configuration Manager 2007.  My first time in this seat is heading to the WSSC vNext Airlift, seven years later.

The table is not very intuitive, but other than that (and more new ridiculous rules from the FAs) I approve :)

Welcome to What’s Next…

There is irony in the title of this post… What’s next.

I posted on Friday that it was my last day working full time at Yakidoo.  I really enjoyed my time there, and am glad that my next venture will allow me to stay on there on a limited basis.

This afternoon I am meeting a colleague at the airport in Seattle, and that will begin my first day at my new gig.  I will talk more about it in a few weeks, even though today will be my first billable day.  That is what’s Next.

However the reason he and I will be in Seattle – Bellevue/Redmond actually – is the Airlift for Windows Server, System Center (WSSC), and Windows Azure vNext… the next generation of datacenter and cloud technologies that Microsoft is ‘showing off’ to select Enterprise customers several months prior to launching them.  It will be a week of deep-dive learning, combined with the usual Microsoft Marketing machine.  How do I know?  It’s not my first kick at the can Winking smile

It is, of course, not my first such Airlift.  The first one I attended was for System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) 2007, back in November of that year. It was a consulting firm that had sent me, in advance of my heading off to Asia to teach it.  I have since been to a couple of others, each either as a consultant, a Microsoft MVP, or as a Virtual Technology Evangelist for Microsoft.  I have not given this a lot of thought, but this will be my first Airlift / pre-Launch event that I am attending as a customer.  It will be interesting to see if and how they treat me differently.

I suspect that the versions of WSSC that I will learn about this week will be the first that I will not be involved in presenting or evangelizing in any way dating back to Windows Server 2003.  I will not be creating content, I will not be working the Launch Events, and I will not be touring across Canada presenting the dog and pony show for Microsoft.  I will not be invited by the MVP Program to tour the user groups presenting Hyper-V, System Center, or Small or Essential Business Servers.  I will not be fronting for Microsoft showing off what is new, or glossing over what is wrong, or explaining business reasons behind technology decisions.  It is, in its way, a liberating feeling.  It is also a bit sad.

Don’t get me wrong… I will still be blogging about it.  Just because Microsoft does not want me in their MVP program does not mean that I will be betraying my readers, or the communities that I have helped to support over the years.  I will be writing about the technologies I learn about over the next week (I do not yet know if there will be an NDA or publication embargo) but at some point you will read about it here.  I will also, if invited, be glad to present to user groups and other community organizations… even if it will not be on behalf of (or sponsored by) Microsoft.  I was awarded the MVP because I was passionate about those things and helping communities… it was not the other way around.

What else can I say?  I am at the airport in Toronto, and my next article will be from one of my favourite cities in North America… see you in Seattle!

Onboard SAN… Issues.

A client of mine is a small business with a couple of physical servers and a couple of virtualization hosts.  One of the physical servers, a Lenovo ThinkServer, has been acting as a file server, so it has really been very under-used.  It is a good server that has never been used to its potential (like myself) but has been nonetheless a very important file server.  It has eight hard drives in it, managed by the on-board RAID controller.

When the server rebooted for no discernible reason last week, we were concerned.  When it didn’t come up again, and did not present any hard drives… we realized we had a problem.

I was relieved to discover that it was still under warranty from Lenovo, with NBD on-site support.  I called them, and after the regular questions they determined that there might be a problem with the system board.  They dispatched one to me along with a technician for the next morning, Their on-site service is still done by IBM, and in my career I have never met an unprofessional IBM technician.  These guys were no exception.  They were very professional and very nice.  Unfortunately they weren’t able to resolve the problem.

Okay, in their defense, here is what everyone (including me) expected to happen:

1) Replace the system board.

2) Plug all of the devices (including the hard drives)

3) Boot it up, and during the POST get a message like ‘Foreign drive configuration detected.  Would you like to import the configuration?’

4) We answer YES, the configuration rebuilds, and Windows boots up.

Needless to say, this is NOT what happened.  Why?  Let’s start with the fact that low-end on-board RAID controllers apparently suck.  Is it possible that a procedure was not properly followed?  I am not sure, and I am not judging.  I know that I watched most of what they did, and did not see them do that I felt was overtly wrong.

The techs spent six hours on-site, a lot of that spent in consultation with the second level support engineer at Lenovo, who had the unenviable task of telling me, at the end of the effort, that all was lost, and I would have to restore everything from our backup.

I should mention at this point that we did have a backup… but because of maintenance we were doing to that system over the December holidays the most recent successful backup was twelve days old.


Okay, we’ll go ahead and do it.  In the meantime, the client and I went to rebuild the RAID configuration.  We decided that although we were going to bolster the server – including a new RAID controller – we were going to try to rebuild the array configuration exactly as it had been, and see what happened.

Let me be clear… even the Lenovo Engineer agreed that this was a futile effort, that there was no way that this was going to work.  Of course it would work as a new array, we just weren’t going to recover anything.  I agreed… but we tried it anyways.

…and the server booted into Windows.

To say that we were relieved would be an understatement.  We got it back up and running exactly as it had been, with zero data loss.  We were not going to leave it this way of course… I spent the next day migrating data into new shares on redundant virtual servers.  But nothing was lost, and we all learned something.

I want to thank Jeff from Lenovo, as well as Luke and Brett from IBM who did their best to help.  Even though we ended up resolving it on our own (and that credit goes mostly to my client), they still did everything they could to make it right.

So my client has a new system board in their server, and hopefully with a new RASID controller, some more memory, and an extra CPU this server can enjoy a new and long, productive life as a vSphere host in the cluster.

…But I swear to you, I will never let a customer settle for on-board ‘LSI Software RAID Mega-RAID’ type devices again!

Happy week-end.

Private Posts

I want to thank all of you who reached out to me this morning when you could not get into my ‘private’ article.  I wanted to share something that I had written (that believe it or not is far too incendiary to post on this site) with an old army buddy, so I pass-word protected it.  I assure you that you have not missed any great wisdom regarding IT.  I was essentially venting about terrorism.

Thanks for your feedback and your continued loyalty!


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