Jaybird Vista: Comfort and quality

Late last year I invested in a pair of Jaybird Bluetooth earbuds. They were okay – I did not love them, but they worked well, sounded good, and that was really all that I needed. When I started having issues with them in January I looked online and tried to apply the latest firmware. When that failed, I called the company for support.

Justin answered the call and was extremely helpful. After troubleshooting the steps (and trying a few things I had not tried before) he concluded that there was indeed an issue, and that they would replace the earbuds with a new pair. He told me that they had discontinued the line that I had, and would I mind if they sent me a pair of the newer model, the Jaybird Vista. No problem!

Jaybird_CaseI use my earbuds a lot – mostly when I am walking my dog, but they easily get 2-3 hours of usage per day; before I decided to call Jaybird’s support, I had invested in a new pair of buds from another company. I liked them better than my original Jaybirds and it was only as an afterthought that I decided to try to get the Jaybirds working. Maybe I would resell them.

JaybirdA few days after speaking with Justin – who was, I should mention, extremely helpful and communicative – I received the new set. From the outset I had a very different experience from the original pair. The case was sleeker, the buds were more comfortable, the sound quality was better. I connected them to my phone and was immediately able to listen to my book on tape as Princess Sophie and I went for our afternoon walk.

I charged the buds overnight. I wanted to see how long they would last from a full charge until I needed to charge them again. They certainly lasted all day, and the next day. By the time Princess Sophie and I went for our evening walk the next day I had worn them at length – including for a few hours on the golf course (a rarity, but for reasons I won’t go into a necessity on that day) – and when I turned them on they reported that the battery was still at 60%. According to the marketing material, the batteries should be good for six hours of listening time, plus an extra ten hours available from the battery charge case. I have no reason to dispute these numbers.

I spend a lot of time on the phone, and the hands-free talking quality was much better with the Vista than it ever had been with my previous model. Additionally, the connection quality was much better – the original reason for my dissatisfaction with the previous pair stemmed from occasional disconnection issues when my phone was in my back pocket.

Jaybird_EarI had my new Jaybirds a week before I decided once and for all to return the other pair I had bought to Amazon. I liked them just fine, but they were no better than the Vista buds I was using now… I returned them for a refund, and so far I have not looked back.

According to the website, the Vistas are Earth-proof… by which they mean fully waterproof, crush-proof, drop-proof, and sweat-proof. I am pretty careful with my gear so I don’t plan to crush them anytime soon, but knowing that they can take anything I might throw at them is good peace of mind. Also, it is likely I will lose them before I will break them… and with the Jaybird app on my phone, the Find My Buds feature will help me find them when I lose them. I hope I do not have to try that out anytime soon!

The same app that helps with the Find my Buds experience also lets me adjust the EQ control for my buds, so whether you are a fan of treble or bass or whatever, set them as you like.

The noise cancellation feature is good, but it would be nice if there was a transparency mode. When walking Princess Sophie, I need to remove at least one ear to have a conversation with a passing neighbour or fellow dog walker. Other than that, I cannot think of anything that is missing from them.

The write-up on Amazon claims the Vista earbuds are among the smallest and lightest premium earbuds on the market; I do not agree with that, knowing that Apple, JBL, and a few other companies do have smaller models that are just as good… but they are small and light, and they lock nicely into my ear comfortably.

At $149.99 (down $30 from the original price) the price tag is higher than I would have budgeted for ear buds, but they are certainly a good product. They are now slightly less expensive than Apple’s AirPods, and even more so than the comparable Bose Sport Earbuds.

The Jaybird Vista were previously available in three colours – Black, Nimbus Grey, and Planetary Green – but the green is no longer available. I like the black ones, and besides… I need to hear them, not see them.

Fellow Amazon shoppers have rated these 4.5 out of 5 stars, which means the vast majority are pleased with them. I will definitely give it my thumbs-up as well, even if they are a bit pricey.

Outlook Is Backwards?

imageI installed Office 365 on my new laptop this week and did not give it another thought… until I went to start booking travel for my upcoming trip. I went to click on Monday and realized it was not where it was supposed to be… everything was backwards. It was a little confusing, and I spent a few minutes trying to figure out why Monday was not where it was supposed to be!

It was not only the sidebar calendar either… the main window was the wrong way as well.

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Initially, I thought it might have been because I installed a Hebrew keyboard, but I had not installed the Hebrew calendar in Outlook, so that probably wasn’t it. I scratched my head. I have no idea what I did to make this happen.

No matter, I don’t really need to know how it happened. I had two choices… I could either get used to my week being backwards, or I could figure out how to fix it. Here is the solution:

1. Open the File Menu and select Options.

2. In the navigation pane, click Advanced.

3. In the main window, scroll down to the section called Right to Left.

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4. Switch the option to Left to Right.

That’s it! I don’t have to get used to things being backwards, and I can continue booking my travel comfortably.

I hope this helps!

In-Person Training During a Worldwide Pandemic

I have been a trainer for twenty years. When I am in front of a class teaching, I am truly in my element. Like many of my colleagues, I make the stage my own. As I have taught so many others over the years, I use the whole stage. I make eye contact, I try to make every student in the room feel like I am speaking directly to them. It is just one of the tools in my belt that make me a good instructor.Tech Trainer

There was a time when I spent most of my time teaching, but over the last few years I have spent most of my time consulting. While that does not allow me to teach as much, it gives me extra credibility when I do teach.

Since losing my job because of Covid-19, I have been doing a lot of training. Unfortunately, also due to Covid-19, my classes have all been online. It just is not the same… speaking to a camera does not give me the same ability to connect with my audience.I have not seen a single one of my students; I have hardly heard any of their voices. It is not the same… I still enjoy it, but I feel disconnected. I am sure my students feel the same way I do.

I hope my students are still learning, but unlike in-person training, I know that many of them are not giving me their full and undivided attention. If they are in their office, then coworkers ask them questions, pull them into meetings, and are even tasked with customer support during the class. Those at home are doing the same, as well as dealing with children, spouses, pets, and whatnot. All this to say that there is no real way that they can maintain their focus. In most cases I know they are learning enough to pass their exams because I get a lot of emails thanking me… but is that the full experience? Is the exam the only goal? If so, then they are satisfied. I like to deliver more.

Next week, for the first time in a very long time, not only will I be teaching a live audience, I will be flying out to do so. I am reticent about the airplane… but I am excited to be able to be live in front of my audience again. Knowing that I will be able to connect with them, to make the stage my own again, to walk among my students and to connect with them… that for an extrovert trainer is like catnip. I have already started planning out my wardrobe, and the fact that I have a brand new laptop means I have spent time making sure I have all of my cables and accessories that I will need in order and ready to go. My Logitech remote for PowerPoint, my Juiced Systems BossDock USB-C docking station (for extra USB ports and HDMI video ports), and my travel mouse are all going to be in my carry-on bag, ready to set up in the training room.

On the first day of class, I will be wearing a suit and tie. On subsequent days I will likely wear slacks and a button-down shirt. I will be teaching military personnel, and while I doubt they will be in uniform, I will be among my own again… I want to look and feel my best.

I do not expect it will be happening often for the time being, and at the end of the week I will be flying home to resume my work-from-home remote routine. While I do not have my next engagement signed yet, I am sure there will be something, and I will be back to working in polo shirts and slacks, staring at my Logi 930C 1080P web camera. Maybe, if I am ambitious, I will finally set my office up to be able to stand and teach. Just knowing that I will have one in-person engagement to break up the remote Teams-Zoom-Adobe monotony will broken up for one week is a great relief.

Of course, knowing that my in-person engagement will take me to Tampa for the week, home of Sunday’s Super Bowl game, my favourite steakhouse in North America, and some of the best cigar lounges in the country, does not hurt one bit!

I will come back to California and self-quarantine… but next week is going to be a great time!

Surface Laptop 3: A new chapter

It was almost eight years ago to the day that I walked into the Microsoft Store in Toronto to purchase the very first Microsoft Surface Pro sold in the world. There was a huge midnight event planned so that on the day of the release – February 9, 2013 – anyone lined up at the Microsoft Store in New York City could buy it at one minute after midnight. A blizzard closed New York City, and while Toronto was also hit by a terrible snowstorm, it was not enough to close the city down. The unboxing videos on my blog (here) are cute to see – I am sitting in the theatre at the store wearing a Microsoft Canada shirt.

Over the next few years I would trade in and trade up that Surface Pro several times – I have had a Surface Pro 2, Surface Pro 3, and I still have my Surface Pro 4 which I purchased on December 9, 2015… making it the longest I have kept a computer in use in many years. I retired it today, February 2, 2021… a little over five years since I unboxed it.

IMG_4379

One of the reasons I kept upgrading the Surface was that I had friends who worked at the Microsoft Store who were willing, when something went wrong with the device, to replace it for me with the newer device. Yes, I had to pay any cost differences, and yes, I had to purchase a new Complete Care warranty for each new device, but it worked, and I was happy to spend the money.

When my friends at the Microsoft Store were no longer able to help me with that (which likely coincided with my no longer being a contractor with Microsoft Canada) I decided to stick with what I had. I did not need to spend the money for new laptops every year.

There is a known defect common with the Surface Pro 4 in that the battery starts to expand (which is likely not safe anyways), warping and then pushing the screen out from the device. While it still works (and very well!) as a docked device, it could no longer be considered a portable computer. It was time, especially with my travels about to start up again.

I gave a lot of thought to what to replace it with. I am no longer affiliated with Microsoft, and I am a little miffed that Microsoft would not do anything about the warped battery issue (which is a very well known issue with the Surface Pro 4). On the other hand, I have all of the accessories for the Surface, including extra power cables, docking stations, and more. I considered buying a competing product, but I kept coming back to the positives – my Surface Pro had a lot of miles on it, both literally and figuratively. In truth, it owed me nothing.

IMG_4378Of course, a lot has changed in eight years. When Microsoft released the Surface Pro, you had the choice of memory and hard drive size. A few years later they released the Surface Book, and I thought long and hard before opting to stick with the Surface Pro. Since then, Microsoft released the Surface Laptop line, and it was a difficult choice. I ultimately chose the Laptop because I almost never used the Surface Pro as a tablet, and the (slightly) larger screen of the laptop was appealing.

  • February 9, 2013: Surface Pro
  • February 13, 2014: Surface Pro 2
  • July 3, 2014: Surface Pro 3
  • December 9, 2015: Surface Pro 4
  • February 2, 2021: Surface Laptop 3

Friday evening I placed the order on Microsoftstore.com. Had I placed the order a couple of hours earlier, I likely would have gotten the computer yesterday. As it was, the UPS delivery came at 4:15pm, and I was excited. I opened the box on camera (as I have done now with each of my Surface devices), and have now been working on it for the last couple of hours. Here are my initial impressions:

  1. This is a gorgeous laptop. I opted for the Cobalt Blue package with 8gb of RAM and a 256gb hard drive. It is a sleek design for sure – I remember envying Mac users for the design that went into their laptops but no more. The is an impressive device to look at, and having a choice of five colours (Black, Sandstone, Cobalt Blue (Alcantara©), Platinum, and Platinum (Alcantara©)) is a nice touch.
  2. There is a Business Bundle that is more expensive that would come with the Windows 10 Professional build of the operating system, but as I own licenses for the more expensive OS I opted to save the money. What did surprise me somewhat was that the version of Windows is 1909. I would have expected at least 2004, if not 20H2. It would take an hour to perform that upgrade, but I was able to work on the device in the background, so I was not really concerned.
  3. I love the keyboard. While I liked the Surface Pro keyboard, I always felt it was a bit flimsy. Not needing to be able to pull off the keyboard as we could on the Surface Pro means they could make this more solid indeed. At the same time, the wrist rest has a material feel to it which I like.
  4. The 13.5” screen may not sound like much, but the extra 1.2” over the Surface Pro makes a real difference. The device also comes in a 15” model, but I opted to stay smaller, lighter (by .6lbs), and yes… cheaper. I opted to save the $200 and spend it on a nice box of cigars.

One advancement of the newer models over my Surface Pro 4 is the USB-C port. The newer Surface Pros have them too, so that was not a factor in my decision.

For reasons I cannot figure out, WordPress is not allowing me to embed my unboxing video, so I uploaded it to YouTube and you can watch it here.

I have had my new laptop for only a few hours so I should be happy with it. As I have told so many people of late, even the lowest end laptop on the market today will be sufficient for most users, so the Intel i5 CPU with 8gb of RAM will likely be enough for my day to day needs. If I need more power then I still have my HP EliteBook with an Intel i7 and 32gb of RAM. I suspect this machine will be sufficient for most everything I do. Next week I will be traveling to deliver a course in Florida, and I will only take this machine. I suspect that traveling lighter will suit me just fine… if I do need more power, I will have Azure VMs to fall back on.

I spent more on this laptop than I needed to, but I earn my living on my laptop so I need the power and reliability. The four year Complete Care warranty cost a little extra, but the peace of mind is priceless… If my laptop dies (or falls off a cliff) in the next few years I will not be out of pocket.

I will report back as I go… Based on the reviews and feedback I heard before making my decision, I do not expect to have anything bad to say anytime soon!

Rearming Microsoft Office

I am a huge believer in software licensing. If you are going to use a software, pay for the software. With that said, I am also a practical man who teaches a lot of courses, and am also a consultant who believes that companies should thoroughly test software before using it.

Office_logosMicrosoft Office 365 is a suite of applications that are ubiquitous, and to say that companies should test it before purchasing may be a stretch. However, in certain cases, there may be a reason for an application to be on a machine legitimately, but not be activated. In the case of the Office suite, when the activation fails, the applications go into a hobbled mode until they are properly activated. You can read documents, but not create and edit them.

This becomes a bit troublesome for the students of a Microsoft 365 course where creating and protecting documents is part of the curriculum, in which the lab environments were pre-created months ago.

Microsoft understands that there are cases where you should be able to completely and legitimately use their software for a period of time, before having to provide proper activation. In the Windows suite the tool to rearm the trial period is called slmgr.exe.  In Microsoft Office, it is called opsprearm.exe. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Close all Microsoft Office applications.
  2. Open an elevated Command Prompt.
  3. Navigate to c:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Office\Office16\
  4. Execute the command ospprearm.exe

That’s it. Once you do that, you will have extended the trial period. You cannot do this indefinitely, but it extends your grace period. Now go forth and sin no more!

Editor Breaking My Stride

imageThere is a new feature in Microsoft Word called Editor. It reviews the document you are working on for spelling, grammar, clarity, conciseness, punctuation, and more. For people who need the help, it is a godsend. Who am I kidding? I use it rather a lot. It helps me from time to time, although more often than not when it scolds me for formality or conciseness, I am being eloquent and do not wish to be concise or formal.

imageThere was a time when Microsoft would release a new version of their software every three years, and we in the community would learn the new features and get excited about them or forget about them. With the new Software as a Service model that is no longer the case; I have no idea when it was added. In my defense, I get weekly emails saying ‘what’s new in Microsoft 365’ and more often than not I ignore them. Sometime over the last few weeks I probably pressed an icon accidentally and it appeared as a sidebar.

As you can see from the screenshot, Editor tells you how many suggestions it has to make, and then breaks them down into Corrections and Refinements. Within each, they are then further broken down by language.

Under Corrections the Editor will take you to every spelling and grammatical error in your document. While the spelling component is pretty accurate (and why not? there is a built-in dictionary!) the grammar tool does make a lot of mistakes. Grammar is a lot less definitive than spelling. For example, in a recent journal entry I quoted Shakespeare and was told that there were a few errors… repeated words (Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow… ) and it was not a fan of ‘creeps in this petty pace.’ It may not be perfect, but it is still better than nothing… for some of us.

In this day and age, there are myriad distractions that prevent us from getting our work done. While it is easy to see that the Editor is a great tool to help us write better documents (and believe me, many of us can use all the help we can get) there is something distracting about seeing all of our corrections and suggestions in black and white (or, as it happens, in red or blue).

Typos generated intentionally!

As you see in this screenshot, the suggestions and corrections are underlined in real time. Additionally, the online version of Editor even gives you an Editor Score (which might be in the desktop version as well, but I have not looked for it). With all of this happening on the screen in real time, it is difficult to maintain a rhythm to my writing; I find myself distracted by these notes, and going back to make corrections on the fly.. rather than finishing my thought, and then going back, proof reading what I wrote, and making the appropriate corrections then.

imageThere are tremendous benefits to the Editor, to be sure. For those concerned with political correctness, you can configure the settings to highlight age, cultural, racial, and sexual orientation bias, as well as other issues that might cause offense (gender-neutral pronouns, for instance). To configure these (and other grammar settings) within Word, click on File –> Options, and within the Word Options window, select the Proofing tab. Under When correcting spelling and grammar in Word section, next to Writing Style: click Settings. You can set the grammar options here, and the options are divided into eight headings: Grammar, Clarity, Conciseness, Formality, Inclusiveness, Punctuation Conventions, Resume, and Vocabulary. There is no question that these features will help students and professionals by pointing out issues and making suggestions that might prevent unintentional offense. With that said, I have found Word has pointed out several phrases and styles that I use in my everyday speech and in my writing that are part of who I am. None of them are wrong, just recommendations that might make my writing more concise. Oh, and there is the double-space after a period that it has tried to beat out of me. Thanks, Word… thirty years I have put two spaces between sentences… I am not sure how not to press the space bar twice after a period!

As a writer, I have always let the words flow from my consciousness to the screen, through my hands and the keyboard. It has always served me well. So many of my readers have commented over the years that my articles actually read like I am speaking to them. I feel that this editor, when shown on the screen, is breaking my stride, and while it might help my punctuation by adding commas where it sees fit, I feel the benefits outweigh the cost to my style. As such, I have decided that, for now, the Editor will work in the background, but my foreground will remain the clean page. When I am done, it can give me my score… but constantly doing so while I work is simply maddening, and is not for me.

AzureAD: Joining is easy!

There was a time, years ago, when I maintained my own Active Directory infrastructure.  I was living with my family in Canada, I had server racks in the basement, and my company required my having AD that I could use and often demo.  Those days are long gone.  I now live in an apartment in California, and aside from not having the infrastructure I would need, I also do not feel it as important as I once did.  I do, however, like to have some of the centralized management capabilities that I once did.  The solution?  For me, it is Azure Active Directory (AAD).

Joining my computer to AAD is as simple as joining an Active Directory infrastructure.  The following steps are all it takes:

  1. Click on the Start Menu and type the word Azure.  The option to Access work or school will appear in the list.  Click it.
  2. In the Access work or school window, click + Connect.
  3. In the Set up a work or school account window that pops up, look at the bottom… click the option Join this device to Azure Active Directory.
  4. In the window Let’s get you signed in, you should enter the e-mail address of the account you use to access Azure and Microsoft 365 services, then click Next.
  5. On the next screen, you will be prompted to enter your password.  Go ahead, and then click Sign in.
  6. If your organization account is configured for Multi-Factor Authentication, you will be asked to authenticate… usually on your smart phone.
  7. The next screen will ask you to confirm your organization.  Verify that you are joining the right one (although the chances of this being the wrong organization are slim), and then click Join.
  8. That’s it!  After a few seconds of configuring things in the background, the next screen will say You’re all set!

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You will see that you are now free to switch your account, or simply log off and log on using your Microsoft 365 (AzureAD) credentials.  When you log on with that account, you will have the permissions your organization has given you.  As you see in mine, I am an Administrator… but you might be a Standard User, depending on your role.

Good luck and have a great week!

Event Viewer Tasks: Get rid of them!

A little while ago I was demonstrating some of the functionalities of the Windows Event Viewer.  It has been around for so many years, and yet there are people who have not used it.  One of the functions that I demonstrated was attaching a task to an event… so when a particular event happens, a script is run.

Adding the task is easy… you click on the event in question, and then in the Actions pane you click Attack Task To This Event… just like this:

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The options for the task will come up… you can either start a program, send an e-mail, or display a message (although the last two options are deprecated).  In other words, you are running a program… or a script.

Attaching a task is easy… but if you want to remove that task… well, that’s another story.  There is simply no option to do it.

Event Viewer is a good ‘free’ tool.  If you are using it for your environment, then you are likely either an individual or a very small organization.  Even a respectable-sized small business would have more advanced tools for their server monitoring and management.  As such, I am not sure if they have made any real modifications to it since Windows Vista/Server 2008.  All this to say that there is no ‘detach’ or ‘remove task’ option anywhere in the window.

There is, however, a way to remove them.  Here’s how:

  1. On the server (or desktop) in question, navigate to “C:\Windows\System32\Tasks\Event Viewer Tasks.
  2. Find the task in question.
  3. Delete the task.

These files, which have no file extension, are nonetheless XML files.  You can open them up and modify them if you want without doing any real damage… but most of the time it would be just as easy to delete it and start from scratch.

Deleting the file shouldn’t have any negative consequences for your system, but if you are concerned, you can back it up by simply copying the file to an alternate file location.

I hope this helped!

Prescience: We saw the future

In February 2012 I had lunch with a friend, Sharon Bennett.  Following that lunch, we each wrote an article about ending snow days.  These followed a lunch we had where we discussed how easy it would have been, with the technology available to us then (8.5 years ago), to teach remotely… not all the time, but on days when the schools could not open because of bad weather.  While we each call out specific technologies in our articles, the conversation we had then mapped out exactly how it could be done, from remote classroom lectures to homework and exam portals.

Fast-forward to the Coronapocalypse of 2020.

We are seeing all of the technologies that Sharon and I discussed implemented – Zoom and Teams lectures, Sharepoint and other technologies for homework and exam portals, two-way webcams enabled with students sitting and watching the teacher deliver the classroom lecture.  Sharon and I wrote about it eight years ago, and it was not until a few days ago when someone made a glib comment about soon needing snow tires back in Canada that I remembered it.

It is nice to revisit my blog articles from years gone by.  With over 1,300 articles on the site, it is rare that I do that… especially since so many of them have been made obsolete by newer versions of software, operating systems, and more.  I am pleased that at least this one is still relevant.

Ending Snow Days? Sorry kids, but it SHOULD happen soon. By Mitch Garvis

Why DO We Still Have Snow Days? By Sharon Bennett

American Politics… and my silence

My first business trip to the United States of America was in 2006 or 2007.  I remember how excited I was when I was issued my first TN visa allowing me to work in the US, and the pride I felt standing before my audiences as a trainer representing a great brand.  Over the course of the first few years of my work authorization I visited numerous American cities and states, and I remember even then the obvious divide between those on the left and those on the right.

I remember delivering a course in that first year in which, during one of the breaks, we (my students and I) had a political discussion.  Despite our being on opposite sides of the debate, it was friendly and respectful.  I enjoyed it, and I enjoyed hearing the positions from others who I may not have agreed with, but were still respectful and calm.

And then there was TechEd.

I do not remember what year it was that I first went to Microsoft TechEd, but I seem to recall that it was in Orlando.  There was a group of Microsoft Certified Trainers sitting in the hot tub at the hotel after all the festivities were over one night, and I got into a very heated and animated and loud discussion with a group of people who were, shall we say, set in their ways and were not interested in hearing any position other than their own.  At the end of the evening, a friend of mine took me aside and warned me that I was not making friends, and that I should tone it down.  He was right.

It was not long thereafter that I made the decision to stop.  I came up with the line that ‘I am a guest in this country, and while I am, I will keep my political opinions to myself.’  It took me a while to get used to it and completely stop discussing American politics while here… but I think I finally got there.

If you think that in the current climate that is easy, you are sorely mistaken.

I moved to the United States in December, 2018.  I have lived here for nearly two years, and in that time I have done my best to keep my positions on many matters to myself.  That is not limited to Republican versus Democrat, Trump vs. Biden, and so on and so on.  There are so many political hot-button issues that people are absolutely fanatical about.  Every week I am asked to sign a petition or make a donation or support this or denounce that.  Mitch, please join this group on Facebook to show your support for this-or-that politician.  Make sure you buy a t-shirt or get a bumper sticker or tattoo that shows you believe in this.  Stand with us!  It has not been a particularly easy couple of years in that respect.

Many of the positions I refuse to take are for or against something that I have strong feelings about, and it is hard to keep saying no… but I do.  There are some that it is extremely in vogue to support or denounce, but I hold my tongue.  Why? I am a guest in this country.

For the record, when people ask my opinion about Canada or Israel, two countries where I am a citizen and a voter, I am happy to share and discuss and debate… I have earned that right, and nobody can ever take it away from me.

In November, in forty-six days (according to the countdown timer on a friend’s blog that I follow) there will be an election in the US.  We call it the Presidential Election, but really it is president, senators, congressmen, judges, and so much more.  That means that for the next 46 days this country will be even more political and politically divided than usual… and with the current issues, including but not limited to the pandemic, the vitriol will be as bad as ever, and likely much worse.  I am not looking forward to that.

I live in Westlake Village, Ventura County, California.  This town, and from what I understand the county, is strongly right-wing.  I do not know how true that is, but the friends that hang out with are.  We sit in  the park and smoke our cigars, and when they talk about their politics (more often than you would think) I sit back and listen.  The fact that I do not voice my opinions does not mean that I am not informed, and that I do not want to hear other peoples’.  Most of them think that because I refuse to engage (often on topics they discuss trying to goad me into it) I must have a strong opinion the other way.  That is sometimes the case, but not as often as they think.

VoteThe truth is that over the years and with age I have become something of an anomaly.  I am a political moderate, and do not identify with either left or right wing… at least, not across the spectrum.  There are some opinions I hold that are somewhat leftist… and others that are somewhat rightist.  Some of those opinions come out in how I speak, especially when someone asks me about Canada or Israel.  My position on health care, for example, is clear.  I will discuss the benefits of the Canadian system, but I will not say what they should do in the USA to change it.

Being a political moderate has its challenges.  At any given point I am going to anger people on one extreme or the other, so it makes sense to not speak my mind anyways.  And yes, when we look at the United States, more and more we are talking about two extremes.  There does not seem to be a moderate movement here.  You are either far this or far that, and if someone is against your position they must be either a communist or a fascist, and if they do not support your organization they must be a racist or a homophobe or a whatever.  I am none of those things.  I am just me, a moderate centrist in a sea of extremists, trying to stay in my lane and not piss too many people off.

I know there are people who love elections.  Whether it is because of the juice, or the conflict, or the energy, or the potential for change or to stay the same, whatever it is there are those who love it.  I don’t mind it so much in Canada, where I have voted in every election since I was old enough.  Here, while this craziness is going on, while everyone is putting bumper stickers on their cars, lawn signs in their front yard, flying flags and wearing hats and getting VOTE FOR MY GUY tattooed on their foreheads, I am just going to try to weather the storm.  In 53 days (it definitely does not stop the day after the election, so let’s call it a week) things will start to calm down again… and we non-political moderates will be able to come out from our hiding places.

G-d Bless EVERYONE!

A Product Reviewer’s Integrity

I do not remember when or what was the first product I was asked to review for this blog, but it certainly goes back more than a decade.  From the very beginning, I decided that I needed to balance my integrity with a life of positivity.  As such, I have told every company, large and small, that if they are sending me a product to review, I will do the following:

  1. I will try their product, and see that it performs as it is supposed to perform.
  2. I will write the product up, however:
  3. If I do not like the product, I will not publish it.  I will send the negative review to them, and let them either fix the product, or give them the option of not posting the review.  In the years I have been doing this, I have never posted a negative review on my blog.  I have, on one occasion that I can remember, removed a positive review of a product after a subsequent negative experience (which the company would not make good on).  However, I did not go back and badmouth the product.  I want to keep my blog as positive as possible.
  4. If I like the product, of course, I will publish the review.

There have been a number of occasions when I have liked most of a product, but was not comfortable with one or two aspects of it.  If I like the vast majority of a product, I have written reviews like this: “I really like this product, I just wish this aspect of the product was different or better.”  Huge positive, slight negative.  No company has ever complained.

There is a big difference between reviews on my personal blogs (both The World According to Mitch and Passion For Cigars, and a review on Amazon.  On Amazon, I am not being given a product to review, I am buying a product at full price, and writing it.  At the same time, it is extremely common for the product vendors to send me e-mails asking me to review their products.  Unlike on my blog, I have paid for this product, so really I do not owe the company anything.  I will not lie, but if I do not like a product, I will be clear about it.

I mention this for a reason.

ear budsA few weeks ago, I purchased a pair of wireless earbuds from Amazon.  No, I did not buy the Apple Ear Pods, nor did I buy the Boss whatever.  When I typed ‘Bluetooth Earbuds’ into Amazon, I got a whole list, including what I can only assume is a Chinese company, which shall remain nameless.  I got them, I tried them… I hated them.  They were big, bulky, clunky, and did not hold a connection to my phone.  I returned them within a day, and bought a different pair (which I also eventually returned, before settling on the pair I liked).

A few days later, the company sent me an e-mail asking for a product review.  Note to companies: If I have already returned your product, there is a very good chance you will not like what I have to say.  Seeing as this review was for Amazon and not for my blog, I did not feel the need to follow the same practice.  I wrote an honest review.  That was two weeks ago.

This morning when I woke up there was an email in my box from the company, which I have only cleaned up a little bit for grammar, clarity, and to remove different coloured text:

Dear Mitch,

Thank you for buying from our store. We understand that you are not happy with the wireless earbuds you bought from us recently. What you received might be a defective item, we do apologize for this issue.

We will make things right immediately and would really appreciate it if you could give us a chance.

We have the following options for your reference to choose:

If you agree, how about sending a new pair set (higher version) totally for free? And the previous item does not need to be returned.

Or if necessary, how about providing you a gift card in order to satisfy you again.

Would it be possible for you to remove your previous rating/re-view please? So that I can use it as a strong justification to management team to apply the offer for you.

Thank you so much! We sincerely hope we could make you happy again. And your review certainly reflects the quality of our service.

Your satisfaction is always our goal!

Looking forward to your kind reply, thank you.

Well wasn’t that nice of them?  They are willing to send me a free product (and a better one than the one I had originally purchased and returned) in exchange for deleting my negative review.

I had to give this some thought.  Would deleting my review ruin my integrity?  If so, I did not want to do it.  However, there is a big difference between changing a negative review to a positive for money/free stuff, versus deleting a negative review for money/free stuff, isn’t there?  Also, this review is not on my blog.  People come to The World According to Mitch because they trust me, and they want my honest opinions.  Amazon works differently.

I have written very negative reviews on Amazon a handful of times.  The first that I can think of was because I ordered liquid soap, and the poor packaging caused a huge mess when I opened it up.  I ended the review with ‘If this is what I’m going to get, next time I will just buy from CVS.’  Although I wrote the review, I was notified that because I named a brick and mortar store in it, the review was not published.  Kinda petty if you ask me, but they didn’t ask me.  The second time I opened a package that was terribly packaged as well… a cheap cardboard box was not put into a standard Amazon box, rather into an oversized envelope.  Somewhere along the way it got wet… when I opened it up, the structure of the box had disintegrated, the contents were mouldy, and I had to throw it out.  When I tried to resolve the issue with the vendor, they told me to just call Amazon because it was not his problem to deal with, but theirs.  That got a scathing review as well.  He just didn’t care, and I ate the cost of the product.  If he were to call me tomorrow and try to make things right, I would still not alter my review.

This case is different.  After I returned the product after I received a refund, the company reached out to me to make it right.  I never said to them ‘Hey, if you give me something for free I’ll delete my review.’  I would never do that.

I hate when I am in a restaurant and I hear someone behind me say ‘I’m a Yelp reviewer, so if you don’t give me something extra I’m trashing your establishment on-line.’ Every time I hear something like that (and it has happened more often than one might think!) I want to tell them to sit down, shut up, and either be honest or go somewhere else.  I don’t, of course… it is not my place.  I am a Yelp reviewer too… and either I like a place and give them a good review, or I do not, and I am honest… but unless it is warranted, I am never scathing.

So let’s look at a restaurant equivalence: I give a bad review.  I’m not going back.  The restaurant owner then calls me up and says ‘Mitch, you came in for a burger and you didn’t like it.  I understand.  We are refunding your credit card right now.  Please come in and have a steak, on the house.  Oh, and if you wouldn’t mind deleting the negative review, we would appreciate it.’  Completely unnecessary, completely unexpected, completely appreciated.  You know what?  Yeah, I’m going to delete the review, and go back to try their steak.  If I do not like the meal again, I will still give extra consideration before posting a negative review… they tried!  In fact, they went above and beyond what they needed to.  Even if I don’t love their meal in the end, I still love the effort and customer service they are putting into this.  Really, unless they screw up so badly – cockroaches, mean or even abusive service, that sort of thing – I am going to give them a pass… I won’t write them up well, but I will not give them a negative review, because they really did their best… excellent customer service goes a long way to my satisfaction with a product and with a company.

So I sent the following response:

Thank you for reaching out to me.  I appreciate that you are going to great lengths to make this situation right; I appreciate that, and am willing to remove the negative review when I have received the upgraded version.  Please let me know if you need my shipping address.

I know you want to keep only positive reviews, and will be happy to remove this one once I have received the new product.

It is now noon Monday, about two hours after I wrote my response to them. and I have not heard back from them yet… nor would I have expected to, as if they are in China, it is the middle of the night.  In all likelihood, I will receive a response tomorrow morning, or the following day.  I am not in a rush, because I have nothing to lose.  What you will note in my response though is that I will remove the negative review once I have received the new product.  If this is a quid pro quo, then I want my quid before I give them my pro!

customer-service

Internet Explorer: Still slowly going away

For the last who-knows-how-long, Microsoft Windows users have been opting for a third-party web browser in lieu of the dreaded Internet Explorer. They went through so many versions over the years, it was almost comical. Each time they released a new version, Microsoft would tout their modern browser. Each time, the masses would snicker, claiming that now they were only five years behind other browsers.

When Microsoft Edge was released, they were hoping to put the stigma of Internet Explorer behind them. No such luck, they were still behind the pack. It was like the largest software company in the world just couldn’t make a browser right. They were always playing catch-up.

I am not an expert in web browsers, I just use whatever is available most of the time. I am also not a developer. So I cannot speak to the new Edge browser built on the Chromium open-source engine. I use it, as I use other browsers alongside it. They all seem to do the job I need.

With that said, there are still companies using Internet Explorer. I do not know if there are companies forcing their staff to use older versions of IE, but there are certainly a lot of them on IE 11.

Microsoft announced this week a road map for their legacy browsers (See article). So:

  • November 30, 2020: Microsoft Teams will no longer support IE11
  • March 9, 2021: Microsoft Edge (Legacy) will stop receiving updates.
  • August 17, 2021: Microsost 365 will no longer support IE11.

They (Microsoft) want to assure you that just because they are no longer supporting the seven-year-old browser, you can continue to use it if you have custom web apps that still need it. IE11 is a component of the operating system, and as such follows the life cycle policy for the OS. As of this writing, the latest release of Windows 10 (Version 2004) still includes IE, so you would have at least two years of support left.

If your organization does not use custom web apps that require the legacy browser, there is no good reason to keep forcing it on your users. It would be like forcing children to take shots for a medication that is just as effective (if not much more so) in a very tasty candy option.

Microsoft claims that its new Edge web browser is the fastest and most secure on the market.

What does it mean that Microsoft 365 will no longer support IE11? It means that if you are using the web apps – web mail, or any of the other browser-based applications included in Microsoft 365, you will no longer be able to access them from the old browser. Additionally, if you have not upgraded to the new (Chromium-based) Microsoft Edge, you will not be able to access them from the old version either.

Why not? It goes beyond the security and performance implications. The product development team at Microsoft changed course, and rather than forcing that team to continue to support the old version for the foreseeable future, they have freed them (or at least will have on March 9) to focus exclusively on the new version.

Is the new Edge better than the old Edge? Are those better than Internet Explorer 11? Yes, and yes. Is the new Edge better than (or at least on par with) competitive browsers, such as the industry leading Google Chrome (see supporting data)? I am not the right man to comment on that. I will say that both this IT professional and many of my friends much prefer it over the older versions. That is not to say that we are not installing Chrome and Firefox when we install a new operating system, but for the first time in the twenty-five years since its first browser was released, Microsoft seems to have a browser that is competitive and worthy of the challenge.

One Pound Lost is Three Pounds of Progress

Author’s Note: While this blog is first and foremost about IT, since the very beginning it has always been about how I see the world… whether that be music, martial arts, travel, whatever.  Although I have struggled with my weight since the very beginning (and for many years before that), I have done my best to leave those struggles off the blog.  Why?  I thought it would be a good way to avoid or at least reduce unsolicited advice for one, but there are other reasons too.  In over 1,100 articles published on this site, there are probably fewer than a dozen that refer to or even mention weight loss.  I felt that this piece, originally written in my journal, should be an exception, and hopefully an inspiration. –MDG

Weighing InA pound is a pound, right?  By any definition of weights and measures, one pound equals sixteen ounces.  It is very simple.

In a recent conversation with a friend who is on the same weight loss program as I am, she told me that she had been disappointed that she was only losing one pound per week… but she was finally at peace with that, knowing that she was sticking to the program religiously.  She would have to settle for what she was doing.

I disagreed with her, much to her surprise.  I told her that she had not lost a single pound, she had actually lost three.  She – along with the others who were involved in the conversation – looked at me confused.

Let’s look at the math:  Take the number 150.  If you weigh 150lbs and you lose one pound, you now weigh 149lbs, right?  150-1=149.  That is one pound actually lost.

Weight loss is extremely difficult.  It would have been just as easy for her to have not lost that pound.  She would not be 149lbs, but still 150lbs.  149+1=150.  That is one pound potentially not lost.

My friend stayed the course of the weight loss program… but what if she had cheated just a little during the week?  Say, rather than having two poached eggs and a salad for breakfast on Saturday, she had instead had the bacon cheese omelet with a side of buttered toast?  All of a sudden, instead of losing a pound she would actually have been up a pound.  150+1=151.  That is one pound possibly gained.

Every pound lost – nay, every ounce lost, is not only one ounce closer to your goal, it is one ounce you might not have lost, and in fact you might have instead gained.  So in fact, every pound lost is not one pound, rather it is those three pounds – the one actually lost, the one potentially not lost, and the one possibly gained.

In 1990 Paula Abdul had a hit song called Opposites Attract… ‘I take two steps forward; you take two steps back.  We come together ‘cos opposites attract.’  While we may support each other, but dieting is an individual event.  There are no opposites; the forward steps are successes; the backward steps are setbacks.  Staying in place is the eternal glass-half-full question… did I fail for not losing, or did I succeed for not gaining?  It all depends on the individual perspective, but the optimist looks at it as a success and the pessimist sees it as a failure.

Who is right?  Neither are… and both are.  We all have different personality types.  Some people will see the stagnation as a reason to redouble their efforts.  “I stayed where I was, but I am optimistic that if I keep at it, I will get past this plateau.”  Some will see it as a reason to quit.  “I worked so hard on my diet and stayed the same… I might as well quit.”  It is important for the pessimist’s support system to remind them how far he or she has come, and how a plateau is a temporary body adjustment.  The optimist, on the other hand, might need to be reminded that too many plateaus might mean they need to make a change – in my case, they might suggest I stop adding milk and sugar to my coffee.  The point is that both the optimist and the pessimist are right… and at the same time, both might need encouragement and adjustment.

Progress is what you make of it, whether it is forward progress or the occasional backward progress.  The difference between seeing the one-pound weight loss as ‘I only lost one pound’ and ‘Wow! I lost a pound!’ Can be the difference in the future between long-term success and the alternative.  Keeping a positive attitude is so important and can propel a stagnating dieter to ultimate success.

Arrogance… or Excellence?

PinsI had some papers to sign regarding a new job last week, so rather than dressing for the beautiful sunny southern California heat, I put on a dress shirt and tie; in recognition of the Casual Fridays concept, I wore a sport jacket instead of a suit.  I drove to Culver City to sign the papers, and then continued with my day.  It was later in the afternoon, while waiting in line for a coffee, that someone asked about the lapel pins I was sporting (pictured here).

The Canadian flag pin should be self-explanatory.  I am a proud Canadian, and while I do not wear it every time I wear a jacket, I wear it often enough.

The Black Belt pin I wear from time to time not to show people that I am a Black Belt, but rather because I want to embody what it means to be a Black Belt.

So what does a Black Belt mean?  Some people would say that it has something to do with fighting.  While a Black Belt does necessarily mean that you are a trained fighter, it really has very little to do with that.  Being a Black Belt means that you strive for excellence… not only in your martial art, but in everything you do.

I earned my Black Belt ten years ago, and it was not an easy accomplishment.  I remember that some students worked harder than others, but none of us were lazy, and none of us expected to get anything for free.  As someone who maintains my curriculum vitae current at all times, I would imagine that within a day or two of my test, I had put it onto my CV.  I know that my CV from December, 2012 lists it under the section Personal… and it is in the current CV that I used to secure my latest job.

A good CV will not list tasks; it will list accomplishments.  Anyone can have a line on a CV that says ‘Part of my duties as a barista at Starbucks was to pour coffee for our customers.’  The exceptional candidate would write ‘As a barista at Starbucks, I worked with my team to create a new beverage called the Mitchoccino that was recognized by the organization with the Beverage of the Year award and is now offered in 30,000 locations worldwide.’  That is the difference between everyone else and the exceptional candidate.  Of course, not all positions require the exceptional… but it has been many years since I have applied for one of those.

As with my professional accomplishments, the Black Belt is an accomplishment that might stand out to an employer.  It lets them know that I am not one of the ninety percent of people who start a martial art and then quit.  And if you do not think that it stands out, I can tell you that in my last series of interviews (for a job that I did get), the executive vice president who interviewed me last brought it up.  I do not know if it is the first job interview I’ve had in which martial arts was mentioned, but it certainly was a factor in my getting the role.

I am not a braggart.  For those of you who have known me a long time, I should qualify that as ‘I am no longer a braggart.’  I do not wear the Black Belt pin to say ‘Look what I’ve done! I can break bricks with my hand!’  I wear it for several reasons.  I am extremely proud of my accomplishment, to be sure.  It is also, to me, a very nice accessory.  I also have a scotch whisky lapel pin with matching cuff links, and while I might wear that to a cigar event, I do not think it would have been appropriate for the job interview.  With all of that said, I wear my Black Belt pin because the Black Belt espouses the concepts of excellence, success, and perseverance.  Those are three important traits sought out by every employer I know.

Being a Black Belt means that I know how to learn.  That is an important job skill, especially in the ever-evolving IT field.  Being a senior Black Belt also means that I know how to teach.  In a senior role like mine, that is also an important job skill.  I suppose with the Microsoft Certified Trainer credential that might already be obvious, but it never hurts to have another tool in your belt.  Being a senior Black Belt also means that you can be both assertive and humble, depending on the situation.  It means you are willing to put in long hours, make sacrifices, and do whatever is needed in order to achieve your goal… and not give up.

Mitch_Double-Knife block (2)So do I wear my Black Belt pin out of arrogance?  No.  Anyone who knows me will attest that I have the ability to be arrogant when needed, but that is not what I want to portray.  I wear the Black Belt pin to symbolize the man I want to be, the excellence I want to achieve, and the concept of kaizen… constantly making incremental improvements.  After several months of Covid lockdowns I was reminded of many of these concepts today… I posted a picture of myself on Facebook in a Taekwondo stance.  My Master called me from Canada to congratulate me on my weight loss… and then after telling me I had to work on my stances, he spent half an hour teaching me, as I adjusted my feet inches and sometimes millimeters at a time in front of the mirror, taking pictures to send to him, and repeating.  I received hundreds of comments on Facebook telling me how good I looked… but my Master knows I strive for perfection, and so we worked on it… a lot.  Thank you everyone for telling me how great I look… and thank you Master Beis for helping me to look even better!

A Black Belt should not signify fighting ability or arrogance.  It should symbolize the positive traits that every serious martial artist aspires to.  Inner peace, a healthy mind in a healthy body, patience, calm… and excellence.  If you understand that, then you understand the theory of what it means to me to be a Black Belt… and why I wear it proudly, not only around my waist, but on my lapel as well.

Calling It What It is

We are currently experiencing an outage that affects (all of our websites). This outage also affects our call centers, and we are currently unable to receive any calls, emails, or online chats. We are working to resolve the issue as quickly as possible and apologize for this inconvenience.

I use a number of tools and online portals to track my fitness and weight loss.  I will not mention any company names in this article, but the fitness watch I wear is from a company with a name strikingly similar to my own.  I am not naming them because it looks to me like they are having enough trouble without my piling on.

Wednesday afternoon I came in from my jog on Thursday and tried to sync my fitness watch, only to receive a message on the app that read something like ‘Sorry, we are down for maintenance.  Please try again later’  Okay, I did.  Later I received a message that read something like ‘We are performing scheduled maintenance on our servers, and they will be off-line for several hours on June 24 (Friday).’  All good, I can wait… especially since the fitness watch is still keeping track of my exercise, even though I cannot check my stats or history online.

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

Now that we know that the company’s website and portal is down, let’s look at this critically.  I am going to ask you to reread the initial quote: “This outage also affects our call centers, and we are currently unable to receive any calls, emails, or online chats.”

I have been an IT professional for over twenty years, and I have worked with companies of all shapes and sizes, in almost every industry and sector, from governments to dating sites, to multinational conglomerates, banks, pharmaceutical companies… to small businesses baking biscotti… you get the drift, there’s a lot of variety in there.  What do they all have in common?  When planning downtime, they do their best to minimize the downtime, and they never take down everything at the same time.  The only planned reason the company would have downtime that affected their call centers would be a national holiday or some other downtime that had their people off.  That is entirely plausible.  Downtime where they are unable to receive any emails?  There is zero reason for that… none whatsoever…

…except, of course, one reason.  This company was hit by a massive attack that took down their entire operation.

According to several online articles, the outage at the company (a sport and fitness tech giant, not to mention  a pioneer in consumer GPS devices in the pre-smartphone days where you bought a standalone GPS device for your car) was caused by a ransomware attack.  While none of the articles are quoting sources directly, they are all saying that there are several company sources (who are not allowed to talk to the media) with direct knowledge of the incident who have confirmed that the outage is caused by a ransomware called WastedLocker, created by a nefarious organization called Evil Corp.

So far (as of noon, Pacific Time, Sunday July 26, 2020), the company has not made any official statements.  Why?  I can speculate… but my first thought is that they do not have a public relations department that knows what they are doing.

Despite having spent nearly a year as the Senior Windows Engineer for a major motion picture studio that was hit by a major and very public breach a few years ago, I have (fortunately) never lived through this sort of situation.  The attack at that studio happened before my tenure there, and so while I heard many of the horror stories, I was not directly involved.  When I was working for Rakuten, one individual’s laptop was infected with ransomware, but all of his data was backed up, and we simply reformatted the machine.  There was no exposure beyond the individual machine (which was never connected to the network once it was infected).  No harm, no foul.

With all that being said, I would think that the public relations side of things is hugely important.  Make a statement, do not keep it quiet.  Why?  Absent that, the media – as well as the clients – will let their imaginations run free.  Was this company hit by ransomware?  I don’t know, but from my experience as an industry leader, the outage which is affecting most of their corporate website, their back-end portal, their call centre, their email servers, and their ability to serve their clients certainly points strongly toward a major breach, ransomware or otherwise.  This attack (I think it is safe to call it that) has taken them out at the knees, and we are in the fifth day (I may have noticed it Thursday, but it started Wednesday).  The company has not made a statement in five days.  Watch this:

Our company, which exists to serve its customers, has unfortunately been added to the growing list of companies and organizations that have suffered cyber-attacks.  We want to assure our customers, as well as the public, that we have some of the best experts in the industry working around the clock to recover our servers, and to make sure that all of our customer data is intact.  At this time, we are confident that while the data is unavailable, it has not been compromised, and no personally-identifiable information (PII) has been stolen or lost.

We have the greatest appreciation for our customers, and know that you lean on our portal, as well as on our devices, to help you with your fitness routines.  We assure you that our entire team is working around the clock to restore our services.  In the meantime, rest assured that your devices are still collecting your workout data, and when our servers are restored, your workouts during our outage will be added to your profile.

Thank you for your continued trust and support.

It would be as simple as that.  Instead, the current line is simply this:

image

You guys can do better.  I hope you get your servers back online soon, and I hope you do so without having to pay Russian hackers (which, according to several reports, is currently illegal as the US Treasury has imposed sanctions on Evil Corp., which would make it difficult for an American company to pay them.

Communications is key.  Letting your customers know that you are recovering from an attack will probably have them sympathizing, rather than just wondering when the heck you’ll get back up.  Make a statement guys… as a customer for the last year, as well as in my capacity as a high level systems engineer, I know I would respect you more for releasing a statement about what is really happening.