Replay: Not quite a Second Shot, rather like buying Exam Insurance.

Microsoft certifications are worth the money… but there is certainly money involved.  You are paying USD$165.00 to sit an exam, whether you pass or fail.

Some time ago, Microsoft started offering Second Shot vouchers.  As long as you pre-registered for it, you would get the chance to re-sit an exam in the event that you did not pass.  They were a great way to encourage candidates to try, and if they failed, they would be able to take the exam again at no extra cost.

The last time I wrote about these vouchers was nearly 6 years ago.  I do not know if they have come up since, but I don’t think I have taken advantage in a long time.

MindHubThere is now a program called Microsoft Exam Replay.  This is not a free offer from Microsoft, rather it is like buying an insurance program up front.  Instead of purchasing the exam outright, you purchase an exam voucher + retake from MindHub.  The cost? USD$230, or USD$65.00 more than the cost of the exam.  In other words, it is a bad investment if your confidence level is high… but if you are really uncertain, it may be worth your while to look into it.

Reading the on-line reviews, there is no consensus.  It seems they are like olives… you either love it or hate it.  I am not planning to take any exams in the near future, so I will not be trying them out.  However, if you are concerned, then better safe than sorry.

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Microsoft Technology Roadshow

Azure-imageTuesday morning I stood up in front of a great audience of IT Professionals at the Westin Hotel in Ottawa.  The subject? Azure networking.

One of the slides that Microsoft gave me for the ‘Curtain Warmer’ contained a list of links for further information.  They are:

Azure Training:

https://azure.microsoft.com/en-ca/training

Azure Certification:

https://www.microsoft.com/en-ca/learning/certification-overview.aspx

Windows Certifications:

https://www.microsoft.com/en-ca/learning/windows-certification.aspx

Productivity Certification:

https://www.microsoft.com/en-ca/learning/mcse-productivity-certificatio.aspx

Mobility Certification:

https://www.microsoft.com/en-ca/learning/mobility-certification.aspx

Windows 10 Support Extended

Team10I know, I am a couple of months late on this… on February 1st, 2018 Microsoft announced that it would be extending support on Windows 10 Editions 1709, 1703, and 1607.  That means that instead of having 18 months of support, you will have 24. The bad news? This applies only to the Enterprise and Education SKUs of the product.

According to Microsoft, this is the current support calendar:

Release Release Date End of Support End of Support for Enterprise/Education
Windows 10 (1607) August 2, 2016 April 10, 2018 October 9, 2018
Windows 10 (1703) April 5, 2017 October 9, 2018 April 9, 2019
Windows 10 (1709) October 17, 2017 April 9, 2019 October 8, 2019

For those of you not paying attention, End of Support for Windows 10 (1607) was earlier this week, as well as End of Additional Servicing for Enterprise, Education for Windows 10 1511.

For those of you who say that it is unfair that Enterprise and Education SKUs get longer support cycles, please remember that most customers who buy the Home and Pro SKUs are buying much fewer licenses, and the free upgrade (via Windows Update, as well as numerous other channels) makes it much easier to manage, as compared to Enterprise and Education license customers, where customers often buy tens (and hundreds) of thousands of seats, and need time to check software compatibility and to actually roll out (via their enterprise deployment tools) the myriad seats that they have.

 

Where is 1803?

Team10For those of you who have been eagerly anticipating the release of the latest release of Windows 10 (Version 1803), you know that it was slated to be released to the public April 10th, 2018.

Those of us who went to our sources (mine is https://my.visualstudio.com), or expected to see it appear in our Windows Update stream, we were met with disappointment.

It seems that someone at Microsoft discovered a ‘blocking bug’ – that is, a bug that is serious enough to delay the launch of the new platform – over the weekend.  Because of this, they are holding off on the release until the bug is fixed.

While Microsoft has not announced a new release date (I don’t think they ever officially announced April 10 as the old release date), we can assume that they are working hard and fast at getting it out the door.  My conservative estimates would expect to see it by the last week of April.

Fortunately, because Microsoft recently extended the support dates for the Enterprise and Education Editions of Windows 10 (see my article dated April 12, 2018), there is no pressing contractual reason for them to rush a less-than-satisfactory version of their flagship operating system out the door.  Let them take the time they need to get it right before releasing it to the public.

Incidentally, according to my sources, for whatever it is worth the RTM (Release to Manufacturing) build will be Build 17133.  This is one of those interesting tidbits to almost nobody, but will be important for the few who really need to know.

I Think… therefore, I am uncertain.

I spend a lot of time speaking with clients about their environments.  From time to time, my job is to ‘interview’ them, so that I can properly document their environments.

Recently I was speaking with a couple of admins at a private sector company who were very proud of their environments.  They had hired a sub-contractor to deploy much of their infrastructure, and they were pleased to answer my questions.  They had engaged my serviced to audit the work performed by the other contractor, and were pretty sure that the meeting would be pro-forma, and I would sign off on everything that had been done.

MDG: How often are backups performed?
Client: Daily for most systems, hourly for highly transactional servers.

MDG: How long are your backups retained?
Client: Hourly and Daily backups are retained for 30 days, weekly backups are retained for 6 months, monthly backups are retained for a year.

MDG: How often are your servers patched?
Client: Monthly… we think.

Those last two words send chills down my spine… and I hear it more often than you would think.

Is it our job to know everything about our environments?  Maybe, maybe not… but if you think and you do not know, then you should be following up and making sure.

Why does it scare me that this was their answer?  Because one of the people in the room was responsible for the security and stability of the environment, and an unpatched server will eventually be an unsecure server.

It is not surprising that in a large environment that the manager does not know every detail of the day-to-day operations of his network; he has people reporting to him who are responsible for these things.  In fact, the person responsible for testing, approving, and applying patches was not in the room for this meeting.  He was, we can assume (as this meeting was held on Patch Tuesday), somewhere testing patches.  The manager does not need to know everything… but he has to be able to get that information.

question-markSeventeenth Century French philosopher René Descartes stated: “Cogito ergo sum” (French: Je pense, donc je suis; I think, therefore I am).  He was claiming that he knows that he exists, because he is able to think.  While I feel this philosophy can be disproven by a great many zealots who certainly are but seem unable to think, he was essentially saying that thinking is a good thing.  Socrates – the Athenian philosopher of the Fifth Century B.C.E., claimed that “The only true wisdom is in that you know nothing.”   He was not saying that stupidity is a good thing, rather that it is important to question everything.

So, is it better to think that you know how often your systems are patched, or to know that you do not know, and thus inquire?  While I have never spent a great deal of time studying philosophy (Athenian, French, or otherwise), I think when we are unsure, it is better to inquire.

In my follow-up meeting a few days later, the manager came equipped with a sheaf of printed reports that I had asked for… including the one that showed that patches were indeed applied on a monthly basis, and a list of pending patches, failed patches, and unprotected systems.  The client was doing exactly what they needed to do, and the consultant who had deployed their infrastructure had indeed implemented two separate and complementary patch-management systems, including System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) with Windows Server Update Services (WSUS), and System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM) for their virtual servers and hosts.  My client, whose systems integrity were never an issue, was happy that he had gone to make sure, and in fact extracted reports that he had never actually checked before.  His systems were fine… and so was his peace of mind… now.

Going back to the philosophical questions for a minute, we have all heard the question: “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”  This is attributed to Eighteenth Century philosopher George Berkeley (in his work “A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge” published in 1710.  In systems administration, the unheard tree can lead to eventual disaster, depending on the scope.  If a system is not properly patched, it can be vulnerable to myriad vulnerabilities.  If systems are not reporting properly, it might mean that the systems are not available… or something more sinister.  That is why we have to check these reports, to make sure that what we believe to be our solid environment is indeed solid, and will remain so.

My client (the company’s IT Manager) had a mostly stable environment, but three systems listed on the reports he brought had not been patched in several months, thereby missing a critical patch that we knew had led to an exploited vulnerability.  The lack of noise – very few admins get active alerts that a system failed to patch – was deafening, and left unchecked could have had disastrous results.  Fortunately, that did not happen; the three unsecured systems were immediately flagged and quarantined, and after a few minutes with the Desktop Support Team were again right as rain.  All is well…

While we may wax poetic, IT is not about philosophy.  Knowing is important; Certainty is crucial; Silence can be Critical.

…And yet, as IT Professionals, just as with long-dead philosophers, it is important for us to keep asking questions, to keep actively seeking the truth, and questioning the silence.  If you don’t?  Well, that tree may fall on your head, and your thinking will mean you are… out of a job.

Windows Live Essentials… died quietly.

I have been blogging on WordPress for years, and before that I used a different platform… but it has been over a decade that I have been using Windows Live Writer to write my blog articles.  On occasion, I would write on the WordPress app on my phone or iPad, and sometimes even from the web console (www.wordpress.com).  For the most part, it has been Live Writer.

WIndows Live

They stopped upgrading Live Writer (and the rest of the Windows Live Essentials suite) a few years ago – it never made it onto Windows 10.  As I wrote in 2015, it would still work, as long as you jumped through Microsoft’s hoops (See article).

Microsoft cut support completely on March 22, 2017.  According to the official page:

As of this morning, March 22, 2017,

Windows Essentials 2012 download offline installer (Microsoft site) is no longer available.

(March 21, 2017 was the last date the offline installer was available.)

——————-

As this download is no longer available, further daily reports here on availability will cease.

The era is well and truly over, and I had not noticed it… Windows Live died quietly.

Fortunately, for those of us who saved the offline installer file (wlsetup-all.exe), it can still be installed, using the same instructions I wrote in the article in 2015.

If you do not have that file… well, I am sure that knowing the file name, you will be able to find a copy of it somewhere on the web.  I just want to remind you that files you get from untrusted sources will be just that… untrusted.  It is pirater beware, and yes… by downloading from untrusted sources, you are essentially pirating software (even though it was always free from Microsoft).

Before you ask, the answer is no… I have not yet moved onto a different blogging platform; I have not even looked into it.  I am just happy I tucked that old file into my Downloads directory whenever I last installed my Surface Pro 4… frankly, I only discovered the end-of-support when I reinstalled it recently.  I suppose I should look to see what else is out there, how I could make my blogging experience better.

Any suggestions?

R.I.P. Windows Live

Gone, not forgotten, and certainly missed.

SCOM Prerequisites: A Web of Confusion

Microsoft’s System Center Operations Manager (SCOM) has several prerequisites that must be installed for each component, and frankly, some of those can be cumbersome to get around.  Of course, it is nice for the SCOM installation console to let us know that Report Viewer (a free download from Microsoft, link provided in the notifications window) is a prerequisite… but they do not tell you that System CLR Types for SQL Server 2014 are a prerequisite to Report Viewer, no link given (spoiler alert: it is a component of the SQL Server 2014 Feature Pack).

Of all the components, it is the SCOM Web Console that has the most prerequisites, and frankly some of them are easier to install than others.

WebConsole Prerequisites

We have our work cut out for us, it would seem… unless we use PowerShell!

Yes, we could much our way through the Add Roles & Features wizard in Server Manager… and if you are only installing it the once, then that is probably fine.  If you are a consultant and expect to be installing SCOM more than once in your client environments, I strongly suggest you grab these PowerShell scripts.

Of course, the Report Viewer Controls Check is still going to fail, but those prerequisites are really easy – the link for the Report Viewer is here, and I hope you took the opportunity to install the SQL Server 2014 Feature Pack before you do that.

Script:

Import-Module ServerManager

Add-WindowsFeature NET-Framework-Core,Web-Static-Content,Web-Default-Doc,Web-Dir-Browsing,Web-Http-Errors,Web-Http-Logging,Web-Request-Monitor,Web-Filtering,Web-Stat-Compression,Web-Metabase,Web-Asp-Net,Web-Asp-Net45,Web-Windows-Auth,NET-HTTP-Activation,NET-WCF-HTTP-Activation45 -restart

This should do it… you will need to reboot the server in order for a few things to register properly (ISAPI and CGI and all sorts of stuff), but when you restart the installer and check your prerequisites…

Prerequisites Passed

That’s what we want to see… so in a few minutes time (the web console really does not take a long time to install) you should be able to navigate to https://servername/OperationsManager and you will see…

WebConsole

Now go forth and script, my good man!

I am heading out of town for a week or R&R… See you next Friday!

It’s Good to be Back…

Okay, I never really left… but it was touch and go for a bit.  After having made the payment yesterday, I woke up Friday morning to an e-mail that I have now received eleven times.

Thanks for renewing your MCT membership!

While it is not quite the twelve year anniversary of my earning this distinction (I first achieved it July 21, 2006), it is the eleventh renewal.

A lot has changed in the past twelve years… in my life, to the Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) program.  The least of the changes is the cost per year – we all complained when the cost jumped to USD$800 per year, and a lot of my brethren decided the benefits was no longer worth the cost.  Fortunately for them, Microsoft Learning created the MCT Alumni program.

Personally, while I consider the cost to be excessive, I still feel it is worth paying.  I have worked with several my clients because I was able to start by training their staff.  When I have free cycles, because I am able to teach Microsoft Official Curriculum courses, I can reach out to training centres (and brokers) around the world to offer them my services.  As well, there is a cachet to having the title.  ‘Hey, that guys is an MCT… he must know something.’

Until a few years ago, I was extremely involved in the MCT Community.  I was an MCT Regional Lead from 2012-2013 (see article); I volunteered as a proctor and facilitator for hands-on labs at events like TechEd and Ignite; I wrote myriad articles helping people to understand their certification paths.  All in all, I did what I could to help make the program better.

I have stepped back from all of that, as I have stepped back from most if not all of my community involvement overall.  I will always be proud of what I did, but I felt it was time for others to step up and take over.

MCT_logoMy MCT is not like that; while there is an MCT Community, I consider my MCT a vital tool in my professional toolbox.  Being able to teach courses, having access to the Microsoft course ware library and on-line labs for my own professional development, all of these are worth the price of admission right there… even if my company was not willing to cover the cost (which I am grateful that they are).

When I was an independent contractor, being able to train was a key component of my business.  Between my time as a contractor with Microsoft Canada (I could not have been an Evangelist if I had not been a trainer) and HP (I spent several months contracting to them, teaching System Center), as well as teaching courses through both Microsoft and other Learning Partners, I made a pretty respectable living.

Now that I am working with Cistel, I will likely spend most of my time consulting, implementing, reviewing, and so on.  But that does not mean that I will not occasionally be called on to teach courses, both internally and for our clients.  In the year since I started contracting with them before joining them full-time, both scenarios have happened.

While I enjoy consulting, I also truly enjoy teaching.  It is great to build and upgrade and improve upon systems, but it is also great to teach others to know and understand concepts, technologies, that they had not previously known.  Being with a company like Cistel, I have the opportunity to do both… as long as I maintain my Microsoft Certified Trainer status.

If you have ever sat one of my sessions – whether a class, a seminar, a user group presentation, anything – I am always happy to hear your thoughts, and just to stay in touch.

Thank you all!

Mitch Garvis, MCT

MCT_Logo New

I Made The Papers!

It has been a long time since I got a notification that an article I wrote made the top of anything, so this morning when this came across my Twitter feed I was quite pleased:

@vanessabruwer: The latest System Center Weekly Roundup! https://t.co/oT361QLUE6 Thanks to @USportsSG @MGarvis @ComtradeSoftw #sccm #sysctr

Yes, this put a smile on my face.  I will never again be recognized by the Microsoft MVP Program and I am okay with that… but once in a while, getting recognized for my writing feels good.  Thanks Vanessa!

Juiced Again!

About 2.5 years ago, I wrote an article called I’m Juiced… Because my Surface Pro 3 Got Juiced!  It was a play on words because I had won an adapter for my Surface Pro from Juiced Systems that was a 4-in-1 adapter custom-fitted to the Surface Pro 3, with two USB 3.0 ports, an SD Card reader, and a Micro-SD Card reader. I loved it, and was disappointed that when I upgraded to my Surface Pro 4 it did not fit (see article).

Fast-forward a couple of years, I started working at Cistel Technologies in Ottawa with one of the hosts of the show on which I won the adapter (The Universal Windows Podcast, previously known as SurfaceSmiths).  Colin and I were taking one day, and I lamented that it was too bad that I could no longer use the 4-in-1.  He told me that the company had started making them for the Surface Pro 4… and more than that, there were now several versions of it.  I got on that right away, because I seem to go overboard on these things… especially when the devices are so useful!

Surface Pro 4 4 in 1 Adapter

According to the company website, this adapter is “…a beautifully constructed adapter designed specifically for your Surface Pro 4. The adapter will not block or impair any ports or charging inputs. Extend your Surface Pro 4 capabilities with a low profile, travel ready, USB 3.0 hub.”  It has two USB 3.0 ports, one Micro SD input, and one Micro USB input to provide power to the adapter.  It measures 63×32.5×9.8mm, making it small enough to travel in whatever sleeve you carry your Surface Pro in, and yes… it also works with the Surface Pro 3.

Juiced 4in1This device works for me in a pinch, when I just need an extra USB slot, or I need to read from (or write to) a Micro SD card.  The Micro USB input allows me to boost the power to the adapter, so I can quickly and confidently charge two smart phones simultaneously.  It actually provides enough power to run a USB 2.0 docking station… but that dock would make the adapter redundant.

As you can see, just like with the previous iteration, it is angled properly to meld perfectly to the device.  Definitely a worthwhile investment.

Surface Pro 4 Multifunction Adapter

Juiced MFAIf you work in wired environments where you need an RJ-45 connection, this is the perfect adapter for you.

The Juiced Systems Microsoft Surface Pro 4 Multifunction adapter gives you two USB 3.0 ports, as well as an Ethernet input so you can connect to a wired network.  I do not spend a lot of time on wired networks, but there are a few places where I need to connect, and WiFi is not an option.  This device stays in my sleeve for that very reason.

Universal USB 3.0 Media Adapter

Juiced MediaThe USB 3.0 Media adapter is not contoured to specifically fit to the Surface Pro, rather it will work with any device with a USB port.  Its body is aluminum, unlike most such adapters which are usually cheap plastic.  You can feel this device is stronger and more durable than most.  According to the product page: “The adapter is designed for on the go productivity for all of your laptops media needs.”  I don’t know about that, but with two USB 3.0 ports, an SD Memory Card reader, a Micro SD Memory Card reader, and a Micro USB input to add power, it certainly does extend the functionality of my Surface.  This one includes a Micro USB cable to plug in so you can boost the ports.  While this device is not designed specifically for the Surface Pro 4 like the other ones, I definitely look to this one as my go-to adapter.  If I have to choose between the three that I am reviewing, this is the one I go to.  No, it does not have the Ethernet port… but I usually don’t need it, and the multiple USB ports plus the full-size and Micro-SD card readers make my life as a photographer much simpler.

Juiced Media 2

All three of these adapters – along with dozens more – are available online from Juiced Systems, and are definitely worth the investment.  In this day and age where our devices – and especially our tablets – are offering fewer and fewer ports, and we have more and more devices, then having the ability to add the ports we need this easily can make our lives easier.

All three devices retail for $29.99, and ship pretty quickly.  I strongly recommend you try them out.  You will not be disappointed!

SCOM Management Packs: Removing Foreign Languages

When you go to add Management Packs (MPs) to System Center Operations Manager, there is that temptation to be lazy and just add everything.  This will clog your environment with a lot of things you do not need… including MPs in languages that you likely do not speak, read, or care about (within the context of your SCOM environment).

Once you realize this is a lousy idea, it is usually too late… you’ve already done it.  You will want to clear out a lot of things… starting with those foreign languages.

You can delete them one by one of course… right-click on the MP, click Remove (or Delete).  This will be reasonably time consuming… so when this happened to me some time ago, I went looking online for a better solution.

John Savill, an IT writer and Microsoft MVP whom I have known and respected for many years, created a great script that I found.  I found it again recently in an article he wrote for IT Pro Today.  Essentially, it removes every MP that has a geo-tag (.KOR for Korean, .ITA for Italian, and so forth).

From the Operations Manager Shell, enter (or cut and paste) the following:

Get-SCOMManagementPack | where{($_.Name.Substring($_.Name.Length -4,4) -eq “.CHS”) -or ($_.Name.Substring($_.Name.Length -4,4) -eq “.KOR”) -or ($_.Name.Substring($_.Name.Length -4,4) -eq “.CHT”) -or ($_.Name.Substring($_.Name.Length -4,4) -eq “.ITA”) -or ($_.Name.Substring($_.Name.Length -4,4) -eq “.JPN”) -or ($_.Name.Substring($_.Name.Length -4,4) -eq “.RUS”) -or ($_.Name.Substring($_.Name.Length -4,4) -eq “.FRA”) -or ($_.Name.Substring($_.Name.Length -4,4) -eq “.PTB”) -or ($_.Name.Substring($_.Name.Length -4,4) -eq “.DEU”) -or ($_.Name.Substring($_.Name.Length -4,4) -eq “.ESN”) -or ($_.Name.Substring($_.Name.Length -4,4) -eq “.HUN”) -or ($_.Name.Substring($_.Name.Length -4,4) -eq “.NLD”) -or ($_.Name.Substring($_.Name.Length -4,4) -eq “.PLK”) -or ($_.Name.Substring($_.Name.Length -4,4) -eq “.PTG”) -or ($_.Name.Substring($_.Name.Length -4,4) -eq “.SVE”) -or ($_.Name.Substring($_.Name.Length -4,4) -eq “.TRK”) -or ($_.Name.Substring($_.Name.Length -4,4) -eq “.CSY”)} | Remove-SCOMManagementPack

(Note: John’s original script excluded a number of languages; I have modified the script to include Hungarian, Dutch,  Polish, Portuguese, Swedish, Turkish, and Czech. I do not know if these are languages that were added to Management Packs recently, but I found several with these and wanted to remove them as well.)

Depending on how many foreign language MPs you have, it might take some time… After all, it is going through and removing them individually the same way that you would… but without having to right-click, click, confirm, repeat.  So be patient… it is working!

(Note: While it is working, you will not be able to access the Operations Console… at least, not from the same system you are running the script on.)

RemoveSCOMMPs

The article I found it in is here, and while it was originally written for SCOM 2012, it works just as well for SCOM 2016.

Thanks John!

Operations Manager: How to List What Management Packs Are Installed?

A client asked me recently how to determine what Management Packs he had installed in his System Center Operations Manager (SCOM) infrastructure.  I told him to open his Management Console and navigate to Administration – Installed Management PacksIt was a short conversation.

SCOM Installed MPs

Easy peasy, right?  Here’s a list, go with G-d.  Twenty minutes later, my phone rings again.

“Mitch, how can I export that list so that I can include it in our Infrastructure Documentation?”

Aha… That is a different kettle of fish.  For this, we will go into the Operations Manager Shell, essentially the PowerShell console for SCOM.  The command most people seem to recommend, to stick to pure PowerShell scripting, would be:

Get-SCOMManagementPack |ConvertTo-Csv | Out-File c:\MPs\InstalledMPs.csv

This will give you a .CSV (comma separated values) file with the following information:

  • Name
  • TimeCreated
  • LastModified
  • KeyToken
  • Version
  • ID
  • Identifier
  • VersionID
  • References
  • Sealed
  • ContentReadable
  • FriendlyName
  • DisplayName
  • Description
  • DefaultLanguageCode
  • ActiveLanguageCode
  • LockObject
  • Store
  • SchemaVersion
  • OriginalSchemaVersion
  • Registry
  • Extensions
  • LifetimeManagers
  • Features
  • ImageReferences
  • EntityTypes
  • ManagementPacks
  • Presentation
  • Monitoring
  • DerivedTypes

…in other words, way more information than we need.  I generally cheat and use the following (from my Batch File days):

Get-SCOMManagementPack >”c:\MPs\InstalledMPs.txt”

This creates a text file with exactly what would be displayed if I ran this cmdlet on the screen…

SCOM Installed MPsTXT

Ok, that is a lot more useful than the whole CSV list, but I might want to select only the columns I want, and not the ones that PowerShell thinks I want.  Let’s try this:

Get-SCOMManagementPack | Select-Object Name,FriendlyName,Description | ConvertTo-Csv | Out-File c:\MPs\InstalledMPs.csv

Now I have a usable file (.csv imported into Excel is a lot more useful than a text file that I can only manipulate in Notepad), that has exactly the information I want… in this case, I have the Name, the Friendly Name, and the Description.  My output might now be formatted to look like this:

SCOM Installed MPs-Formatted

Much better, don’t you think?  If we are doing this for the sake of documentation, we should be able to make it as legible as possible.

Of course, you can choose your objects (columns) as you choose… just replace the names in my Select-Object entry with the ones you want (from the list above, separated by commas).  Then you can import your list into Excel.  Do not try to open the file in Excel by double-clicking… that will not do anything with your CSV formatting, and it gets ugly.

Have fun!

Tapplock: Leave the Combinations & Keys At Home

Over the course of the last three years or so, I have gone through more padlocks than I care to admit.  Even when I am careful, I write down the combinations, I label the keys… they always seem to get lost.  Even when I do remember them, on two occasions I have had to throw locks out because the mechanics were not working right.  When finally got fed up, I looked online for ‘Fingerprint Padlocks‘.  There were a couple results, but the number one result that kept coming back was for Tapplock.

Now that I am not living in a building with locker facilities, I have two places where I use padlocks: The gym, and my travel humidor.  I ordered two of them, but I did that for a couple of reasons:

  1. I genuinely have a need for two of them; and
  2. With multiple locks connected to multiple phones, I wanted to make sure that the security was not as easily bypassed as I thought it might be.

They arrived, shipped abroad (even though the company is Canadian), so I had to pay Customs fees.  Okay, in for a penny, right?  The locks are not inexpensive, so the extra $20 for Revenue Canada was not the worst thing to happen to me.

They arrived, and the boxes they come in are impressive… as solid as some padlocks I have had! Tapplock Box

Even though I was chomping at the bit to get going using them, I knew that before I did, I had to charge them up.  If I have anything negative to say about the device, it is actually about the cable.  I understand that any ‘invasive’ cable would make use in inclement weather less than ideal, so I appreciate the proprietary magnetic-touch connection of both the cable and the lock.  The only thing I wish is that the magnet would be stronger… the cable stays connected just fine while sitting on a desk, but the magnet is not strong enough to use it in field conditions.  For example, if the padlock was securing my long-term storage facility, I would have to bring a charger, unlock the padlock, and place it on a flat surface to charge it.  Really, that is not the end of the world.

The lock is solid.  It weighs significantly more than any inexpensive padlock I have purchased.  There are higher-grade padlocks that are bigger and heavier, but the Tapplock One is definitely heavy.  That is by no means a drawback – it is solid, and it feels solid and rugged.  I am quite happy by the feel.

While the phones were charging up, I downloaded the app to my phones.  I wanted to make sure I could manage both locks from two phones.  Also, the phones are different platforms – one iPhone, one Android.  I was easily able to pair both locks to both devices, but there was one thing I noticed – they both had the same name.  Each was listed as TL104A.  Fortunately you can rename them, which I did (TL104A (black) and TL104A (gun metal)).  It makes it easier to identify.  I actually do not know any other way they could have made that simpler – someone who only buys black locks would have more of an issue.

(On the last note, they do come in three colours: Midnight Black, Sterling Silver, and Gun Metal.  I picked up two, so my third would have to be the Silver! 🙂 )

Tapplock

I am told that the locks can register up to 500 fingerprints each, but I only have ten fingers, and I only registered four of them.  It was pretty easy, although being daft as I am, I accidentally cross-registered fingers, and had to start over.  Remember kids, when registering your left thumb, it is important that you place your LEFT THUMB on the sensor, and not your RIGHT INDEX FINGER.  That was all on me.

It took me a while to sit down and write this article, but that was for a couple of reasons.  Firstly yes, I was busier than usual; secondly, I wanted to see if I felt the same way two months into using them as I did on Day 1.  I had been warned that they would not work in extreme cold; Ottawa is pretty cold, and this winter has been quite extreme.  Both of the locks spent much of January through March in the trunk of my car – that is where my gym bag and travel humidor live.  There were plenty of cold days this winter, but one particular extreme was -35º Celsius.  A bottle of wine that I had picked up at the store froze solid in my trunk that day.  I got to my friend’s house, pulled out the humidor, and it opened up no problem.  Granted, we were in the heated garage, where it was probably a balmy -15º Celsius.  Either way, the lock worked like a champ!

I have been told, speaking of weather, that the lock (out of the box) does not react well to rain.  This is to be expected of an electronic device.  Tapplock will provide a solution for that when asked.  As I do not have an outdoor shed, I don’t need it.

By the way, the Tapplock One is not just a bio metric (fingerprint) lock.  There are actually three ways to open them:

  1. Fingerprint
  2. Bluetooth (from phone)
  3. Morse Code (tap in the right combination of dots and dashes)

I have not tried the Morse Code… with my luck, I would accidentally pick a combination that spelled a naughty word.  A buddy tried it, and he said it was a bit cumbersome.  I think that is because he really was trying to spell something out, rather than picking a combination of six or eight dots and dashes.  The fingerprint works well every time, as does the Bluetooth.

There is one nitpicking thing I would mention… the Tapplock One opens on the opposite side of most padlocks I have had.  This is not a problem so much as a bit of a pet peeve.  I was used to popping the lock into my locker one way, and I have to remember to do it the other way.  No big deal.

A colleague and friend, who got one of these locks for Christmas, thought it would be interesting to see how easy it would be to ‘hack’ them.  He mentioned several methods, but to the best of my understanding, none of them worked.  Another friend who is a locksmith said he could pick it in seconds, the way he could pick any padlock.  I did not give him the opportunity to try, but I suspect that the mechanism is sufficiently different from the traditional padlock that he would not have as easy a go of it as he thinks.

In other words, in this blogger’s opinion, the Tapplock One provides great security to your stuff.  is it possible to get through it with bolt cutters?  Sure.  but for the average user who is worried that someone will be able to hack it and get at their stuff, I would not be concerned.

Yes, because the company is Canadian I feel a bit better giving it a good review, but I would not promote a mediocre Canadian product.  This is a top notch device, and I give it two thumbs up!

All in all, this is a spectacular padlock.  As I mentioned, it is a little pricey at USD$99 plus shipping… but if you subscribe to their feed, sales come along all the time.  As well, if you buy multiple locks, the price per unit drops.  It doesn’t become cheap, but you get what you pay for.  These locks are worth the price!

SCOM License – Upgrade?

The installation of System Center Operations Manager (SCOM) 2016 does not ask you anywhere to enter a license key.  Then when you run the Operations Console, you are shown a required task to Upgrade to full version.  When you click on the link, it opens a website that is less than helpful.

SCOM Upgrade to Full

In fact, when you open the Help – About, you get a nice screen that says the product is not licensed to anyone, and you are using an Eval copy.

SCOM Unlicensed

All this is saying is that we have not yet entered a product key for SCOM.  For reasons I have never quite understood, there is no way to enter the license key in the GUI; you have to enter it in the Operations Manager Shell (essentially the PowerShell for SCOM), and you have to do it directly from the Management Server.

The command is: Set-SCOMLicense -ProductID “XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX”.

SCOM ProductID

Once you do this, the Upgrade Required notice will disappear (when you restart the Management Console), and your product version in the About section will now appear as Retail.

SCOM Licensed

Note: If you have any problems getting this to work with the Shell, try running the Operations Manager Shell as Administrator.