Fifteen Tabs: Shut em all down!

helpThose of us who try to keep  the banging of our heads against a wall to a minimum will have long since learned that we don’t know everything, and more often than not there is someone out there who knows more than we do.

“But Mitch, how can you say that?  I read your blog religiously, and when I don’t know something about computers I can usually find the answer on your blog!”  I know, but even I have to go looking for the answers sometimes… in fact, more often than not.

The problem is, very often the answer is not so easy to find…

This week I found myself trying to solve a problem that concerned a High Availability SQL Cluster.  It was maddening… I spent three days trying to find the answer, and from very early on I knew that I was going to have to look to others for help. 

As a blogger, the first place I start looking is… other blogs of course!

FrustrationNow here’s the problem with that… when the answer is not as simple as a yes/no to track down, you may have to look through myriad blogs and articles and documents and forums before you actually find the answer… and often enough one blog or article or document or forum may not give you the solution, but it will point you in the right direction – either down a rabbit hole or sometimes into a snake pit.  Either way, I keep each page open in a new tab in my web browser, because often enough I will want to document how I got from zero to hero – or hero to bum, as the case may be.

So three days into trying to solve this problem, which took me to a dozen different articles, forums, and conversations on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn (which indeed led me to three other articles), I found in four of those articles the pieces to the puzzle that eventually helped me to solve my issue.  It was done, I solved it… not alone mind you, but I solved it.

I looked at my desktop and sighed… I hadn’t rebooted in three days for fear of losing track of my path toward the solution… which of course I had to document for my client.  I could now close them all down.  Each browser tab (and yes, there were actually fifteen of them, excluding Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter) was now beckoning to me to shut them down.  One by one I clicked on the X in the top right-hand corner… and I was quite satisfied as they all disappeared into the ether.

As frustrating as technical problems may be – and I always tell people that knowing more will only lead to more technical and even more frustrating problems – when you solve them the feeling is truly euphoric.  That stress-relieving satisfaction that you fought AND WON.

Now how is that for a way to end a day? Happy Friday everyone, and have a great weekend!

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Will you pay?

CPUsAn article showed up in my Inbox today: Intel Core i9: It’s not whether you need 12 cores, but whether you’ll pay for them.  It is an interesting read, and a very good question.

I have always liked ZDNet.  Their people do a good job of keeping a pulse on the industry.  Their question is a valid one… will people be willing to pay for 12 CPU cores (presumably on the desktop… people will definitely pay for them in servers).

I used to be very good friends with a man named Willem.  Willem is brilliant, and was (almost) always a positive influence on me.  He is an IT Professional who moved to Virginia some time ago, but until then he owned and operated a company in Montreal called Saturnus True Data Services.  They were not the first computer company I ever worked for… but they were certainly one of them.

One day in late 2005 I was talking to Willem about the new laptop I was buying, an Acer Ferrari 4000.  It was sleek, it was gorgeous.  It was the first computer I ever owned that had a 64-bit CPU.  When I told Willem about it he asked why I would ever need or even want a 64-bit CPU?  I admit I did not really have a good answer for him then.  Later on I would… starting with the 3.2GB limitation on 32-bit CPUs.  However, when he asked me in November of 2005 I couldn’t tell him why I would even need more than 3GB of RAM, because back then nobody really did.

Fast-forward nearly twelve years, and 64-bit CPUs are ubiquitous.  I haven’t tried in a while, but I doubt you could even buy a laptop today with a 32-bit CPU.

The hybrid laptop I am writing this article on – my Surface Pro 4 with an i7 CPU – cost quite a bit more than my Ferrari laptop did, and it has a 4-core CPU with 16GB of RAM.  Had Willem asked me 12 years ago why I would ever want 4 CPU cores on a hybrid laptop I would have answered honestly with a question: What’s a CPU core?  And yet, here I am and it is my go-to machine.

The way our world works is simple: Something is invented and it is expensive… at first.  As time goes on prices go down… usually as newer versions are invented.  Eventually they become obsolete, and if you are lucky they become collector’s items… usually they become junk.  The Ferrari that I paid over $1500 for in 2005 is now selling (used) on eBay for $200… and that is probably because of the Ferrari logo because equivalent laptops from other manufacturers are selling for much less than that.  One day my Surface Pro 4 will be nearly worthless too.

CPUSo Intel invented a desktop CPU (the Intel i9) with 12 cores.  Today nobody needs it.  In 20 years nobody will understand how we got by with such primitive technology.  The founder of that company, Gordon Moore, predicted in 1965 that “…the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles about every two years.”  So 12 cores is simply what was next.  Our computers get faster and as they get faster they get more expensive.  Then something even faster comes out, and that other one becomes less expensive… until they become obsolete.

So who will pay for the 12-core CPU on a desktop?  Probably very few people… now.  But give them time; prices will come down, and we will see them out there.  Slowly at first, but eventually 12-core CPUs will probably become the standard desktop processors.

…Now who among us feels really old, and nostalgic about our 4.77MHz CPUs?

With Friends Like These…

There is no little doubt in my mind that nothing brings out the worst in people better than a contentious election campaign.  In Canada this usually means six to ten weeks of slight animosity.  In the United States – a country where the presidency holds much wider global implications – it is often a two year battle royal that literally has people un-friending each other after terrible flame wars.

The 2016 Presidential Election was no doubt the worst I have ever experienced.  Whether this was because the system is broken, or because the two parties chose two very flawed candidates, or whatever the reason… I cannot think of a single civilized debate among friends or families who disagreed; it was all shouting and hateful rhetoric.

Boy, am I glad it is over.

I do not vote in the United States.  I am a proud citizen of two countries, neither of which is the USA.  That does not mean that I do not have my own opinions – I do.  However much I might have hidden it this time around (as I generally try to) it was obvious which candidate I preferred.  That candidate did not win.  As I said to my friend Eduardo prior to election day, if Secretary Clinton were to win I would celebrate… by smoking a cigar.  If Mr. Trump were to win I would mourn… by smoking a cigar.  Life will go on and despite what many will tell you, it is not the end of the world.

For the record, the cigar I smoked was a Montecristo No. 2 that was rolled at the Coronas factory in Havana, Cuba.  It was delicious.

For several weeks prior to the election I mused that I was looking forward to life getting back to normal, where not every conversation both on- and off-line was a fight about the election.  That sentiment was, I’m afraid, far too optimistic.  The election is now a week in our rear-view mirror, and the fights continue.  To the embarrassment of many there are even now protests and riots in the streets… yes, even in Canada.  The #NotMyPresident campaign is going strong, and while many Americans are looking for a way to move to Canada ahead of Inauguration Day, I am looking for a tropical island with no televisions and no Internet.

A few days ago I posted something on Facebook that sparked yet another heated flame-war between my friends.  I generally will let them go at it.  However a disturbing trend has come up.  Several different people have questioned how I could possibly be friends with anyone who would ‘support the other guy?’  They have not left it at that.  One person whom I went to high school with equated being friends with a Trump supporter with being friends with a supporter of Maurice Duplessis.  ‘Would you have been friends with someone whose minister wanted to deport all Jews?’  Another (actually, possibly the same person) asked if I could have been friends with someone who voted for Stalin?  Yet another, of course, brought up Hitler.

Now let’s make a few things clear: Firstly nobody had to vote for Stalin… and if you did want to vote against him there was a nice Gulag waiting for you, assuming you were not one of the millions of Russians he simply killed.  But leaving that aside, the United States is not and will not become Nazi Germany.  While I do not think the Trump presidency will be good for a lot of groups, I also do not think that anyone will be interned (although have you looked at the prison statistics?), and while he may halt immigration I don’t think anyone who is legally in the United States will be deported based on their race. 

But the point is this: We live in a world where people have different views.  Some of those views of people we like and love will differ tremendously from our own, and to disavow them is to give in to the hate.  NO I will not do that.  Frankly, if every Trump supporter were an outright racist, none of them would be friends with me (did I mention I’m Jewish?)

I also don’t think most of them (those that I am friends with) are actually racist.  I think they are just fed up with a political system that they see as having let them down for too many years.  If that were not the case then I don’t think that Trump would have even gotten the nomination.

Don’t get me wrong… I have equated Trump to Hitler on many occasions, but not for his racism (and yes, I truly feel that he has proven himself to be a racist).  I think he campaigned in much the same way Hitler did – show people how bad things are very loudly, blame a particular group or groups, and bang the table without offering any solutions but insulting his opponent.  Sound familiar?  All he was missing was the Beer Hall.

I did un-friend one person from Facebook during the campaign, and yes she was a Trump supporter.  However when she posted slanderous accusations against the candidate’s spouse, posting speculation of criminal activity as fact, and when I confronted her about it in private she started insulting me and the fact that I had the nerve to try to kiss her on a date two years ago.  Frankly in this she proved that I probably should not have been on that date in the first place, but that is another story.

So yes, I am going to remain friends with people whom I have jokingly called fascists, and who I felt during the course of the campaign made a complete ass of themselves.  I am certainly going to remain friends with my family (my cousins may be right-wing nut jobs, but they are my family and I love them).  Most of all, I am not going to un-friend anyone based on someone else telling me that I should.  That was reserved for high school, and truth be told I never had enough friends in high school to give them up because someone told me I should.

The best meme I have seen since the election said something like: ‘If you are unhappy with the result of the elections do not move to Canada… move to a Red state, become a school teacher, and educate people.’  I am going to remain friends with my friends because the only way they will ever see the light is by people like me gradually showing them that moderate is better than extreme, and love is better than hate.

And with that, I am going to watch a TV show that has absolutely nothing to do with politics.  Have a great day.

Remembrance Day vs. Christmas Decorations: The battle begins.

I was listening to talk radio as I drove home from wherever recently and there was a discussion about Christmas decorations, and the discussion was whether or not it is inappropriate (In Canada) to put up Christmas decorations prior to Remembrance Day (November 11th).

One of the commentators said that Christmas decorations before Remembrance Day is disrespectful to veterans, and of course as these shows are set up (primarily on slow news days) the other host disagreed.

remembrance-poppy-247x300The commentators hedged their bets, in case that topic had no interest, on whether it is appropriate for people who do not recognize the sacrifice of veterans to wear the poppy.  For those Americans who do not know, Canadians (and the entire British Empire as far as I know) wear poppies sold by the Legion (Our version of the VFW) to commemorate the veterans as well as the fallen.  The symbol dates back to a poem by Lt. Col. Robert McCrae called In Flanders Field.

Now I served my country and while that country was not Canada I still feel sentimental about our Canadian soldiers.  While I do not think that it is necessary for all Canadians to support the government, I feel it is incumbent upon all of us to support our soldiers – past AND present – and that wearing a poppy from November 1st through November 11th is a simple way to do so.  The argument of the host was that if the wearer does not feel it, they should not wear it as a fashion statement just to fit in and be recognized as ‘one of us.’

For anyone who has ever worn a poppy from the Legion you will know that you would be hard-pressed to find a flimsier accoutrement, and as such it is common to see people who are not wearing it, simply because it has fallen off.  I usually go through 5-6 of them in any given year.  As such I do not think anyone would look at anyone and say ‘Oh, he or she is not wearing a poppy, he or she must hate Canada and our soldiers!’  The corollary to that is I doubt anyone has ever said ‘Oh look! That person is wearing a poppy, we can happily include them in all our reindeer games!’  It’s just silly.  With that being said, every time you buy a new poppy – whether you support our troops or not – the money you put into the tin does go to help our veterans… and whatever your politics or beliefs, your money is just as needed.

As for the first topic – the Christmas decorations – I strongly believe they should not go up before November 11th, but that has nothing to do with veterans or respect, rather the fact that, assuming the decorations do not come down until the second week of January, do we really need Christmas decorations in our face for 1/6th of the year – all of November and December? 

My ex-wife used to think I was anti-Christmas because I am Jewish, and that I did not want to have a Christmas tree in the house because I was some sort of Christmas Grinch.  That is not the case… at least, not entirely.  I think the vast majority of Christmas decorations that we see in this day and age are just gaudy and tasteless.  I also don’t believe they need to be (or should be) out for two months of the year.  I lived in Israel for four years and cannot remember seeing a Chanukah decoration even a week before the holiday started – nor three days after it ended.  Assuming twelve days of Christmas, would it be so unreasonable to put decorations up December 15 (10 full days before the holiday starts) and take them down by January 15 (about a week after it ends)?  That gives the people who love that ‘most wonderful time of the year’ an entire month – 1/12th of the year – to enjoy it, without either over-diluting the (ridiculously commercialized) message or making the rest of us overdose on it?

As a veteran I have tried to figure out the connection between the two and I still cannot.  I assure you that I am not offended by Christmas decorations on Remembrance Day… and if you want to wear a poppy because everyone else is then as long as you put your loonie into the tin then please by all means… but rather than looking at it from a ‘someone has to be offended’ standpoint, why not look at it as ‘MAYBE it’s just too much, and smaller doses can be a good thing!’ ??

And with that, shortly before midnight on November 3rd, I just heard my first Christmas Carol on the radio, and am going to go throw up.

Thanks for reading!

Since When…?

Those of us who have been in the IT industry for a while remember the heady days of never having to reboot a server… otherwise known as ‘The days before Windows Server.’  Those days are long gone, and even non-Windows servers need to be patched and restarted.

But how do you know when it last happened?  If you have a proper management and monitoring infrastructure then you can simply pull up a report… but many smaller companies do not have that, and even in larger environments you may want to figure out up-time without having to go through the entire rigmarole of pulling up your reports. So here it is:

  1. Open a Command Prompt
  2. Type in net statistics server

There will be a line that says Statistics since m/dd/yyyy… That is when your server last rebooted.

If you want to shorten it, you can also just type Net Stats SRV.  It provides the same results.

Uptime

Incidentally, while the command specifically states Server, it works for workstations too.

…And now you know.

Another Milestone for TWAM

A few weeks ago – somewhere around the second week of November or so – this blog hit a bit of a milestone.  It welcomed its 183,060th visitor of 2015.  That may seem like a bit of a weird number to celebrate… but it is significant in that it is the same number of visitors we welcomed in 2014 – the entire year.

That same week we welcomed our 181,122nd visitor… the same number as we had welcomes in 2013.

If I remember correctly, for a few days in December of 2014 I was worried if we would have the same number of visitors as the preceding year – the year I first went to Japan and Australia, the year I spent traveling across Canada as a Microsoft Evangelist (with all of the exposure that entailed).  We did of course, but statistically it was no more than that – Actually, just over a 1% increase.

I wasn’t sure if I had plateaued – if this was as good as it was going to get.  I expected that Now that I am no longer a Microsoft Evangelist, no longer a Microsoft MVP, my readership would actually start going down.  And it might yet… but it certainly hasn’t.

And so last month we matched the total for the previous year… and every view after that was shooting for a new record.  But before we would know what that record will eventually be – and we will not know until January 1 – we have been shooting for another milestone.

If the trend continues, that milestone should be reached around the same time as this article goes live, at 8:30am Thursday morning.

Around that time, we will welcome our 200,000th visitor of the year.  Wow!

Additionally, once we hit that target, we will then be 5,344 hits away from welcoming visitor number 700,000 (since migrating onto the WordPress platform in November, 2010).  Another Wow!

I want to thank all of you for your confidence and your readership.  Even though my father does not know how to visit my blog (and if you know him, please feel free to tease him about that) I still consider you part of my family.  No, that does not mean you should expect a Christmas present or that you can borrow money.  What it does mean is that I feel a responsibility to all of you, and will continue to work hard to not let you down.

Thank you all!

OEM Servers: Myths vs. Realities

In a recent conversation I realized that there are still a lot of misconceptions about OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) operating system rights with regard to Windows Server. While I am not here to say who is right and who is wrong (whether one should or should not buy OEM operating systems), I still think it is important to understand the facts.

Myth #1: OEM licensing is limited, and cannot be upgraded.

An OEM license is indeed tied to the physical hardware for which it was purchased. This is a distinct disadvantage to purchasing Volume Licenses (VLs). However when you buy an OEM operating system you have thirty (30) days to add Software Assurance to it. Any license with Software Assurance attached to it can be upgraded as new versions are released. However there is one important bit to understand… when decommissioning that server, the SA can be detached from the license and attached to another… but the OS itself cannot.

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Myth #2: Virtualization rights are unclear on OEM licenses.

I hear this from people all the time, and although I have tried to explain it to many of them, sometimes I simply have to shrug my shoulders and walk away from it. There is nothing murky or unclear about virtualization licensing. Whether your host (hypervisor) is an OEM license, VL license, or FPP (Full Package Product) license, your virtualization rights are the same, and they depend not on how you bought the license, but what tier you bought (Standard vs. Datacenter).

The OEM license is applied to the host, and must be tied to that host. However the guest VMs (2 on Standard, unlimited on Datacenter) do not have any restrictions. Like any guest VM on any other license, they can be migrated to any other host, as long as the destination host has allowance – so if the destination host is Windows Server Standard Edition, it cannot host a third guest VM, but if the destination host is Windows Server Datacenter Edition, the only limitation is based on the available resources (CPUs, RAM, storage).

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Myth #3: There are things you can with OEM Editions that you cannot do with VL Editions.

While this is a less common complaint, it is still there. I am told (and I have not really looked into this) that with Windows Server OEM versions (let’s take the HP ROK as an example) you can modify the image to show your logo during the boot-up process. While this is true, I have two points to it:

1) If you know what you are doing you can customize the boot process of any Windows Server installation, regardless of the edition or version.

2) Folks, it’s a server… how often are you rebooting it? Most of my servers (especially virtualization hosts) don’t reboot for months at a time. When they do get rebooted, it either happens at night (when I have scheduled patches) or remotely, when I am not sitting and watching the POST process. I can’t imagine there are too many customers who sit and watch their servers either…

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Myth #4: When a reseller consultant sells OEM licenses there is more room for profit.

I am usually very saddened to hear this, but that is mostly because I am not the sort of consultant who makes a lot of money off products; I would rather make my money off my time, and that is what I do. I don’t like hearing that there are resellers who buy a cheaper (and less versatile) option but resells it for the same price as the full version. Aside from the previous point also applying, I am always certain that my customer will find out and call me on it, and I will lose their trust. It is just not worth it to me. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a legitimate issue for some.

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Conclusion

There is nothing wrong with OEM licenses, and they are certainly less expensive than other ways of purchasing the operating system. They are just as versatile as non-OEM licenses, but not especially more versatile. If you replace (not upgrade or add more) servers often then they are likely not a good option for you, especially since they don’t add value to the physical server if you resell it. However if you keep your servers for more than a couple of year (as most companies will) then the cost savings might make it worthwhile, and if you do the cost benefit comparison, you might just come out ahead… and that’s CONFIRMED!

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Distinguished Names for Complex Items

Distinguished Names are pretty simple, right? Well… it depends on several factors.  To figure out the DN for swmi.ca it is… dc=swmi,dc=ca.  An Organizational Unit is not much harder… Let’s take an OU called Toronto in the swmi.com domain… ou=Toronto,dc=swmi,dc=ca.  Simple.

But what happens when we add a little complexity to our environment?  Say… OUs within OUs, and domains within domains?  Here’s an example:

Domain: Canada.swmi.ca
OU: OntarioToronto

Okay, this is a little more complex… but it’s actually pretty easy, once you know what you are doing.

OU=Toronto,OU=Ontario,DC=Canada,DC=swmi,DC=ca

See? That’s not that much harder than the simple Distinguished name…it’s just longer.

Spaces… what happens when you add spaces into the names of your OUs?  Of course, the space is not a valid character in a domain name, but there is nothing stopping you from putting them into your OU names.  You know… aside from common sense ;’)

We know that in PowerShell (and most scripting- and command-line interfaces) you have to put quotes around names that have spaces.  But when I run a PowerShell script that includes the DN of an object, it will already have quotes around it… do I have to double-quote?

No.  Distinguished Names do not change because you are scripting.  So let’s look at an example:

Domain: Canada.swmi.ca
OU: OntarioToronto – File Servers

Take a deep breath… relax, and let’s do what we did before…

OU=File Servers,OU=Toronto,OU=Ontario,DC=Canada,DC=swmi,DC=ca

We can go on and on with this game… one particular client that I am working with right now has a domain with OUs embedded six levels deep.  It is crucial that I get the DN right when I am scripting… refer to my article on Failover Cluster OUs and you will see why.  My clusters must be placed in the right place.  So I spent the time to make sure I had it right… and it worked!

…So what if you are hesitant, unsure, unconfident?  Before you run your script, run a simple command to test it:

dsquery ou “OU=File Servers,OU=Toronto,OU=Ontario,DC=Canada,DC=swmi,DC=ca

A simple dsquery should return the following response:

“OU=File Servers,OU=Toronto,OU=Ontario,DC=Canada,DC=swmi,DC=ca”

Now this isn’t very exciting… it is just parroting back to me what I said, right?  Well know that the alternative is an error message (dsquery failed: A referral was returned from the server, or dsquery failed: Directory object not found) and not getting that is golden.

Distinguished Names can be intimidating… but with a little bit of knowledge, you should be on easy street!

An Open Letter to Application Developers

Dear Developers,

I want to thank you for continuing to build applications and programs and other software that makes my life better.  As an Infrastructure Specialist I feel my kind and your kind have developed a nice symbiosis over the years – I build the environments on which your solutions run, and you make my infrastructure more than just a pretty face.  This has allowed us (in collaboration with our good friends, the DBA types) to deliver solutions to our users that make their lives easier.

We have come a long way from the time when WordPerfect consisted of a single file, and that all of what we did ran off individual floppy disks.  As the solutions get bigger, it is understandable that, at least under the hood, they are going to become more complex. So I get why I have had to step up my game in a lot of aspects.  My environment will be as complex as you need it to be, while remaining as simple as it can be.

There are times though when I think you are taking a simple path, and that path of yours can complicate my life.  I will give you an example:

I have been testing a particular monitoring solution for one of my customers.  It is a solution that I suspect will make my life easier, so I decided to install it.  Okay so far.

And then I needed to uninstall it.  It wasn’t that I didn’t like the product, it was that I hadn’t checked on some of the requirements, and rather than trying to adjust them later on (or live with them).  I opened the Uninstall or change a program window, and poof… there were suddenly 25 ‘programs’ that I needed to uninstall… one by one.

Before you say it I know… some applications have an Uninstall program which will clean your system of every last remnant of its installation.  Most don’t.  So when I uninstall one component, I have to uninstall all of them, lest the installation program see that the remnants are still there, and not re-install properly later on.

I understand you think I am asking a lot of you.  After all, what is 20 minutes of my pressing ‘Uninstall’ over and over again in the grand scheme of things?  Well here’s the thing… when I have to do it five or ten times (whether I am testing it or writing about it or whatever) it can really add up.  With that said, how difficult would it really be for you to create an installation log that an Uninstall application can follow?

What about Snapshots and Checkpoints Mitch?

Ah, that is a good point… Virtual Machine Snapshots (and Checkpoints) do give me the ability to go forward and then back out to that point… but I have to know in advance that I am going to go through the uninstall-reinstall dance… and when your application links to an external database on a different machine they are often rendered useless.

So if you feel I am being unreasonable, please understand that is not my intention.  I just feel that a little extra effort from you could go a long way to making my life a little easier.

But we don’t want you uninstalling our applications!  Use them!

That is another great point… but I assure you that if I create a server specifically for your application (as I did in this case), if I decide to NOT use your application then uninstalling it will not be an issue, I will simply blow the server away.  I want to use your applications, that is what makes my environment shine.  This will just help me a little bit more.

Thank you!

2015: My New Year’s Resolutions

2015-Calendar-7-723x1024I can honestly say that I don’t think I have ever made New Year’s Resolutions… at least, I have never written them down.  At the end of 2014, my annus horribilus, I am looking forward to a spectacular 2015.

Yesterday afternoon – December 30th – I was looking at my dashboard on www.asana.com – a tool that my boss recently introduced into our organization that  helps us to keep track of our tasks – and realized how much I have been able to accomplish in the month or so since he introduced it.  Don’t get me wrong, I was probably almost equally productive in the previous months… you know, when I wasn’t distracted by illness, my separation, my parents’ separation, kids’ illnesses and whatnot.  It’s just that this tool not only helps me to track what I need to do, it helps me to stay focused on those tasks.  It is a tool that, going forward, I will be using more and more.

What my focus on Asana reminded me of on that particular afternoon reminded me of the old truism – if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.  I have thought to myself several things I want to do in 2015, and so maybe putting them down on paper (yes, I still refer to my blog as ‘on paper’), and try to remember them so that I do not lose focus.  I am planning out several goals for 2015, and I plan to succeed.

Professional Life

There are some changes coming in the next few weeks that I am not prepared to share yet.  However the abstract of it is that I plan to continue to grow professionally, grow my knowledge, my network, and my reputation.  I have a couple of certifications that I have been putting off completing and I was challenged by my friend Sharon last night to complete them.  Additionally I have to renew a couple of certifications, and I should do that. 

I plan to re-focus the main theme of The World According to Mitch back to IT.  Does that mean I am going to stop talking about topics such as Weight Management, Martial Arts, and my personal observations?  No… some of those will stay on that blog, but the Weight Management component is being moved to a new blog that I have created.  Going forward I am going to invite my readers to subscribe to my second blog if they want to follow that side, and this one if they are interested chiefly in IT.

I plan to deliver to my readers the high quality and relevance you have come to expect from my blog over the past decade.  Wow… I can’t believe it’s been nearly a decade since I started blogging.

I have been asked by some if I plan to try to get re-awarded by the Microsoft MVP program.  The answer is that I have no such plans.  I will continue to participate in technical communities, and contribute by way of blogging, articles, and speaking engagements.  However I never really stopped doing any of that.  If Microsoft does not feel that my contributions warrant an award, then I will do it for the same reason I have always done it – to help the communities.

baby-new-yearPersonal Life

I think I need to be a better father than I have been to my children.  That is not easy for me, and I am not sure how I will do it.  Spending time with my younger son is easy, but my older son has school, works, has homework, friends, is probably dating, and so on.  I am going to continue to try to figure that out.

I need to be a better provider.  The last year my finances have been a disaster, and as such when I moved out of the house into my condo I was not able to pay all of my bills and meet all of my financial obligations to Theresa and the kids.  Fortunately I think I know how I will be able to do that starting in 2015, and that is my goal… in addition to paying down all of my debts and credit cards and bills.

Most of you are by now aware that my wife and I separated this past year.  In 2015 I hope to continue the healing process.  It is not easy, but I will continue to grow.

I started to lose weight in 2014… and not because I stopped eating from stress and depression (were that only the way my mind and body worked I assure you that by now I would be a lithe 215lbs).  Since I started the journey I have lost about 40lbs, and I plan to continue on this path (although December has been a total clusterf*¢k in that regard).  I am hoping to lose another 70-90lbs in 2015.

I decided in June of this year that it was time for me to start training for my 3rd Dan Black Belt… but I was wrong.  Before I was able to do that, I realized I needed to get myself back up to the level befitting a 2nd Dan Black Belt.  I needed to refresh my memory of all of the patterns that I needed to earn my 1st and 2nd Dan Black Belts.  While I am not entirely there, I feel that I am now at a place where I can begin to spend the next five months in training and preparation, and to test for my next belt in June.  Whether I am ready in June or not, I plan to earn it in 2015.

I plan to continue to teach, and to improve as a Taekwondo instructor.  Under the tutelage of my Masters I will continue to try.

There are a lot of other things I would like to do, but I don’t think I am going to over-commit.  I hope that I am able to do what I have outlined here, and hopefully more.  As John Lennon said ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.’  I think what I have outlined here is reasonable, achievable, and with a little luck a year from now I will be able to look back at this list and smile, and say ‘Mission Accomplished!’

Happy New Year to all of you!

Surface Pro 3: Two weeks later

Are there problems with it?  Yes.

Do I absolutely love it? I love my kids and my dogs… but I suppose I do like it as much as I have ever liked a laptop or tablet… and I have had quite a few of them over the years!

What are the problems? There is really only one that you should be aware of if you are thinking of going out to buy one.  It’s the patches and the battery.

How, you may ask, do patches and batteries wind their way into a single problem?  Simple… as you probably know, everything in computers is managed by software drivers… and that includes the battery to some extent.  When you buy the device (or any device) you are prompted to apply patches, and at this point a couple of them for the Surface Pro 3 are firmware updates.  You apply the first one, and then you have a problem…

…Windows tells you there is no battery detected.  Worse, if you unplug the device it shuts off immediately.  The firmware update actually tells the computer that there is no battery installed.

BUT THERE IS! Wait a minute!  I was using it unplugged just a few minutes ago!  Where did it go?  Oh… I get it!  The pesky firmware is what screwed me up.  Let’s check to see if there is ANOTHER firmware update.  Plug it in, connect to the Internet, run Windows Update… By Jove, there it is!  Install it, and presto changeo, there’s my battery!

…and what a battery it is!  My original Surface Pro probably gave me 3 hours of battery (with Hyper-V and a bunch of other things draining it).  The Surface Pro 2 was probably closer to 5.  The Pro 3? I haven’t had it run dry on me yet… for the first time in my laptop-owning life I am not afraid to leave the house in the morning without the charger.

THE SCREEN BOSS, THE SCREEN!
(Imagine the voice of Hervé Villechaize if you would…)

Yes, there are a lot of improvements over the Surface Pro 2, but wow I never would have imaginged that the 1.4″ difference in screen size (12″ over 10.6″) would make that much of a difference.  As I told you recently I have an external 16″ screen that I keep in the trunk of my car so that I can have the dual screen experience on the go.  I don’t know that I have pulled it out once since I got the Pro 3… the combination of the slightly bigger screen and the much improved screen resolution make the extra screen redundant… at least when I am on the go.

Don’t get me wrong… the day the Pro 3 docking station is available I am buying it – I have pre-ordered it from the Microsoft Store, and I have the voucher for it (from something else I returned).  All I need is the e-mail saying it is in… and I expect that to be around the same time the remaining Surface Pro 3 models (with the Intel i3 and i7 CPUs) are released, sometime in August.  When I am at home (or an office) I will still want the multi-screen experience.  On the go?  Not necessary anymore.

A lot of people are saying I should have waited for the Intel i7 version, but the reality is I have not found myself lacking.  The Surface Pro 3 runs everything I need it to with 8GB of RAM and the Intel Core i5 CPU, and frankly I don’t want to spend the extra money (the i7 version will come in two models – 256GB storage for $1,599, and the 512GB model for $1,999.  Too rich for my blood, but thanks!

Conclusion

I am asked pretty often (including 3 minutes ago, as I sit at the Microsoft Store in Square One Mall blogging) whether the Surface Pro 3 is really a laptop replacement.  The answer, as with everything, is that it depends.  I would think that for the vast majority of people the answer is yes.  If you are a true hard-core gamer? Maybe not; there are some gamers who need more than 8gb of RAM.  If you are a coder? I have a friend who is a programmer who needs to run virtual machines running more than 8gb of RAM at all times.  (Did I mention that I LOVE the fact that it runs Hyper-V?  Well I do…). Aside from them?  I don’t know too many users – even power users – who need more than 8gb of RAM ever, not even occasionally.  For them (like myself) I would say that this is the device for you.

If you are in the Greater Toronto Area come down to the Microsoft Store at Square One or Yorkdale Malls to check it out! 🙂

Home Entertainment in 2014

As some of you know I recently moved into a new condo.  Unlike my previous living arrangements, I will be living here alone… although my children will visit, they (and the dogs) will be living with their mother.

You all know me as a Windows guy, and that has not changed; however there are so many aspects to Microsoft Windows that there are few (if any) who know and use all of it.  Until the motherboard fried I did for a time use a Windows Media Center PC as my main TV controller, however after it died my wife (whom I married before the PC fried) suggested we just get a PVR from out Cable TV provider… and although the motherboard was replaced under warranty, I never did rebuild it as a Media Center.

Over the past couple of years I have heard a lot of talk about people ‘cutting the cable’… simply watching all of their TV over the Internet.  While I know that works fine for a lot of people, I am simply not there.  I like to sit on the couch with the remote control in my hand and channel-surf.  Call me old fashioned.  I also know that with my younger son (he is four and a half) it behoves me to have a TV with Disney Junior and whatever other channels he watches, lest his visits be very short and sweet.  So when I confirmed where I would be moving to, I called Bell Canada.  I know, they suck… just like all of the other providers.  Well my youngest loves the Fibe experience, so that is what I plan to get, along with a decent Internet package.

Here’s the problem… Bell Fibe TV is not available in all areas.  I am assured by a friend of mine on the inside that more often than not this is no longer a technical issue, they just roll out the marketing machine before they begin to offer the service.  So while I was able to get a decent Internet package (not spectacular, but I won’t be running servers anymore) for a good price, I was told that Fibe would not be available for a few more weeks… and in the meantime would I be interested in subscribing to their satellite service?  <No, what kind of idiot would make that deal knowing that the better service was coming in a few weeks?>

So the condo is taking shape; on Saturday my older son and I raided Ikea, and my living room is completely arranged.  On Sunday a buddy helped me move (read: disassemble, move, and then reassemble) my desk, and now my workstation is just about the way I like it.  And of course the technician from Bell Canada came Sunday morning, and after a little bit of confusion he got my Internet and Wi-Fi signal up.  But here’s the issue… while I have a TV, couch, and everything I need to watch TV in the living room… I have nothing to watch.  Doh!

Wait a minute… I remember when I bought the TV a friend of mine advised me to get one that supported DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance).  I even remember paying extra for a USB Wi-Fi adapter for the TV.  Maybe now was a good time to see if I could get that voodoo to work.  Remember… I’ve set up thousands of Windows 7 and Windows 8 machines before… but I have never set up a home group!

It took a little bit of figuring out – of course my computer was already connected to the network, but I had to configure my TV on the wireless as well, and that took some figuring out.  However once it was done, all I had to do was tell my Windows homegroup to recognize the device, and to share my movies, music, and pictures with it.  Voila, this evening I watched movies in the living room on a TV that wasn’t actually connected to anything!

What about Netflix & Xbox?

Yes, I do have a Netflix account, but so far I haven’t figured out how to watch it on the TV – of course, I can just take my table and plug the HDMI cable into the TV directly, but that is cheating.  In a month or two I will by an Xbox One and that will be my main Media Center (including Netflix, DVDs, and BlueRay), but for the time being I am okay being able to watch the movies I have stored on the computer.  However I do think I am going to have to figure out a good way to sort the movies… but that’s next week’s problem 🙂

Sad Times for an Industry

I used to say to my audiences that while the number of jobs in IT will go down, the best will always be in demand.  I then spent several months essentially unemployed.

The IT field has changed dramatically over the course of the last few years.  I suppose it is natural for an industry as young as ours to evolve drastically and violently… but I didn’t expect it would happen to me.  When I did find a job I was relieved to say the least.

During the time when I was looking I noticed that a lot of people turned their backs on me.  I thought for a while it was personal, but I have realized that people in our field are becoming a lot less secure than they were even a year or two ago… yes, some of the people who disappointed me did it out of malice or jealousy, but I have realized that there are also a lot of people who have realized that if they are not protective of what they have, someone else might get it.

I am not naming names… but one of the people who didn’t turn his back on me – someone who commiserated, and did everything that he could to help me – pinged me this morning telling me that he had been let go.  I know that a few months ago I had counselled him on a position at Microsoft, but realized before I even replied (because of time zones it was the first message I saw this morning) I realized that while I remembered him telling me that he found something, I had no idea where it was.  I suppose now it doesn’t matter… he’s not there anymore, and through no fault of his own.

There are a lot of reasons for someone to leave their company… often they will leave because of a better job offer elsewhere (I e-mailed a friend at VMware Canada last week and the message bounced… he turned up at Microsoft Canada this Monday).  Sometimes we are just fed up, and we leave of our own accord.  Of course there is also the termination for cause, and we all hope to avoid that.

All of those are reasons we could have done something about… but when the company simply cannot afford to pay us anymore – they don’t need five IT guys and are downsizing to three, or the project we were hired for was cancelled – it can come as a shock… we did nothing wrong, and there was nothing we could have done to prevent it.  We’re just… gone.  This is a lousy situation.

A few years ago when I went to the US border to apply for my TN visa so that I could work in that country.  Please remember that US border agents are quite loyal, and very protective of their country.  I was trying to explain to the agent what I did as an IT Pro helping companies to virtualize did.  After a few minutes he said to me ‘Let me get this straight: you want me to let you come into my country to teach companies how they can become more efficient and need fewer American workers.’  I could feel his eyes boring into me like lasers.  But the truth is I always felt that the students who learned from me would always be safe, because I was helping to prepare them for the inevitable shift in the industry.  And yet there I was, looking for work… for a long time.

The friend who pinged me this morning was one of those students… I taught him virtualization and System Center, and those are two very important skills to know.  But how do you prepare yourself for the company canceling the project?  It’s not easy.

I have said for years that one of the worst advancements in IT with regard to the IT Pro field was the advent of Microsoft Windows.  In the days of DOS, Novell, and AccPac computers were a mystery to most people, and it was only the real IT Pros who could make sense of everything for the masses.  With Windows `Press Here, Dummy!’ interface myriad people figured it out, and started calling themselves IT Pros.  Some of those people would eventually learn what was really under the hood, get certified, and thrive… but a lot of them did a lot of our customers a disservice and made those people and companies distrust the entire profession.  I see that coming back to haunt us even worse, in a time when automation and virtualization are making thing easier for the fewer IT Pros needed, we are living through the worst of times for the profession.

What is the solution?  I don’t know… but I do know that we can’t put the genie back into the bottle, and it is going to get worse before it gets better.  I hope we are all able to weather the storm.

Honesty in Advertising

EatHereThis week-end I lambasted a friend who hosts/produces a radio show about travel for posting that a particular hotel chain wanted to appear on his show to discuss his product, but refused to provide a free stay in exchange for the privilege.  I also told him that I know the entire industry works that way, and that I was not holding it against him.  My comment:

it is unfortunate that every single travel (and most sales-type) shows think it a given that they have to be pay for play… because of that we the general public cannot trust any ‘review’ on these shows because they are all just paid ads (at best) and whoring at worst. No restaurant review, travel review, or product review will ever be honest if the product is given to the hosts as a prerequisite and barter for air time. This is NOT limited to ‘<our show>, believe me… I know it is all of them.

We had a bit of a back and forth about it, and he ended by saying that in a perfect world he would rather companies pay for advertising, and he pay for their product (or stay home).  I respect that.

Here’s the issue though… If it is true that every travel show works like this (and It seems they do) then how can you ever trust that a place is worth visiting?  In the same vein, in the IT industry, how can you trust a site that only gives positive reviews to products that are given to them?

Take, for example, my blog… www.garvis.ca. If you are not familiar with it you will be interested to know that (unless I have been quoted or plagiarized) you are currently on it.  I write product reviews from time to time, but I have a policy: Verum quod integrity primoris (Truth and integrity first).  However I also do not believe in bad-mouthing products for no reason.  I may not like it for personal reasons, but it takes a lot for me to actually badmouth a product.

With that being said, when I am asked to write a review I make them the following deal:

  1. They have to provide me with the product.   If it is hardware then they cannot be loaning it to me, and if it is software they must provide me a complete, non-time-bombed license.
  2. I will work with it within 30 days of them providing it to me.  If I am going to write a review it will go up within 45 days, or on an agreed upon date.
  3. If I do not like the product, I will not write the review.  What I will do, however, is provide feedback to the company as to why I don’t like it.  This will be done in the same promised time frame as I would have written the review

If you ever wonder why you never see negative reviews on my blog, that’s it.  I do not consider my site to be a place for ads, a profit centre, or anything of the sort.  However I know there are a lot of sites and shows that don’t work that way… and I respect that, but I wish they would let their listeners and readers know that up front.  ‘Hey, this site is a pay for play site, and any product that we promote has paid us to do so, either in cash or product.’  At least that would let them know the truth… and more pointedly, when they badmouth a product (either on their show or site, or on any social media) they should be very clear that they are not doing so because the product is bad, but because they refuse to play ball.

I am not holding my breath… but in the meantime I will promise you my readers that any product or service that I endorse, I do so freely and am not compensated to do so.

Mitch Garvis

Do you believe…

This Easter week-end I made an unlikely call to a radio talk show on Ottawa’s CFRA.

Don’t get me wrong… I have called radio stations before, and am no stranger to being on the air.  However the circumstances of my call this particular Sunday morning were probably… out of character, or at least unexpected.

The topic of the show was: Can you be a good Christian if you do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.  While this might be a reasonably common topic of conversation between Christians, as a Jew it is not usually one that I would weigh in on… but as I listened to three callers in a row I felt that I had to say something.

The host (I do not know his name, but he was obviously religious and well-versed in Christian doctrine) was being bombarded and he was shocked that it seemed to be unanimous… caller after caller said if you did not believe, you could not be a good Christian.

The first caller I heard (I tuned in late) said that there is only one path to Heaven, and if you did not believe that Jesus died on the cross for you, and then rose from the dead three days later, you would be denied entry into Heaven.

The next claimed that if Jesus did not rise then there is no hope for any of us (I assume she meant Christians) to be saved, and there is no reason to believe anything else in the Gospel.

They continued on like this.  Now I should remind you that I am Jewish, and while I have been married to a Christian woman (and father to a Christian son) for many years, I still strongly believe in my own faith… I have never believed in the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth, which is why I never call him Christ (which translates to Messiah).  However that does not mean that I do not respect the rights of others to believe.

I called and told the screener my position, and she put me on right away.

The message of Jesus, both alive and since, has essentially been that you should be a good and kind and charitable person.  If you are a good person then you will be rewarded in the afterlife.  Of course there is a lot more to it than that, but if you read his words essentially the rest is just commentary.  Of course, Jesus was not the first person to say this, and he was not the last.  However as far as Christian tradition goes he is the most important of those.  Okay.  Does that message stop being right if he did not rise from the dead?

There are many aspects of Christian doctrine that I do not understand.  If Jesus did not die on the cross for our (their?) sins then what is the point?  If Jesus did not rise from the dead then there is no hope!  As a Jew I don’t get it…

…But here’s the thing: In this day of science and proofs and thousands of years removed from any ‘confirmed contact’ with G-d, do any of us really believe? I am not an overly religious person (I can hear orthodox Jews laughing at that understatement as I type it), but I believe in the Torah.  I think many of the stories are exaggerated… but if we start from the Forefathers I believe most of it happened.  However I also believe that a lot of the miracles that happened can be explained scientifically.  I won’t go into those details for fear of starting a holy war with my own people.  Does my belief that the ‘miracles’ could be proven scientifically make me less of a Jew?  Not unless I say ‘Well, there really is no G-d so I can live as I want.’  I certainly do not say that.

So getting back to Christians and the story of Easter, even if Jesus did not rise from the dead his message is just as true… being a good person will bring rewards. 

If you do believe in Heaven and Hell (and not just the Joe Jackson album) then I cannot fathom any deity, who in his time on earth spoke of kindness and forgiveness and turning the other cheek, being so petty and unforgiving as to not letting a person who spent his or her entire life being good and charitable into Heaven just because they did not believe in one part of the doctrine that was written after he was gone from this earth.

What if you do not believe in Heaven and Hell?  I believe the message is just as valid.  I consider myself to be a good person.  I am kind, considerate, caring, charitable, and so on.  I do unto others and so on.  However that was not always the case; there were years when I was angry with the world, and was not so nice.  At a certain point I made the conscious decision to become a better person, and over time, as it happened, my life got better.  I became happier, I had more friends, all of the things that happens to good people.  Even if I do not believe in the Afterlife (another Joe Jackson album!) my life on earth became better, more enjoyable… less of a Hell.  See?  Even as a Jew, following the messages that Jesus taught I am enjoying the positive results here on earth, in this life.

I am not going to go into what I believe as far as doctrine versus science… that is a conversation for another time (and hopefully over a scotch or three).  However it seems to me that anybody – Christian or otherwise – who judges others on their beliefs rather than on their actions cannot himself (/herself) be a good Christian… or for that matter a good Jew or a good Muslim.  If we are supposed to turn the other cheek.  I suppose it would not be a proper religious article if I did not quote scriptures at least once… “Judge not, lest ye be judged!”-Matthew 7:1. 

With that being said, if you are going to judge someone, is it right to do it based on their beliefs rather than their actions?  Who among us has not seen someone else’s spouse and had inappropriate thoughts?  That may be a bad idea, but there’s nothing illegal about it.  If we were to act on those thoughts, that would be wrong.  I expect there are many of us who are relieved that we cannot be judged (and tried and sentenced) based on our thoughts and beliefs alone… but to go to Hell for them?  I think even Jesus would scoff at that.

Happy Easter to all of my Christian friends and followers, and Happy Passover to my Jewish friends and followers.