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Work from Anywhere: The gold standard PPO

There are days when I love being a blogger.  A few days after I published my recent article on the ChargeTech ThinCharge case for the iPhone 6, I got an e-mail from the company telling me that they wanted me to try another one of their products, the Portable Power Outlet.  They shipped it off to me to give it a spin.

For the past few years I have been relying on a portable USB charger to keep my phone alive.  The last one I picked up a year ago was a 20,000 milliamp device that had two USB ports in case I had two phones.  It was a fine enough device, but it was heavy for what it was… and of course not every device is going to charge through its USB port.

When the ChargeTech Portable Power Outlet arrived a few days later I was a bit reluctant… while it was not significantly heavier than the old portable charger I had been using (25oz), it was much larger (7.5” x 5.25” x 1”), or about the size of my Kobo eBook reader.  It came packaged with a travel pouch (a nice touch but unnecessary), an AC power adapter, and an international adapter.  Very nice, especially for those of us who travel a lot.  The fact that it cannot charge via USB is a bit of a letdown, but understandable considering its power capacity.

Otto von Bismarck is quoted as saying “The biggest lies are told before the marriage, after the hunt, and during the election.”  It is a good quote to live by, but seeing as he was a Prussian before the unification of Germany, the quote obviously could not take into account the lies told about the battery life of tablet PCs, and so it is that I know that my Microsoft Surface Pro 4, which promises up to 9 hours of battery life, will seldom last the morning, let alone a full day of working when it is not plugged in.

Mitch’s Use Case #1

It is all well and good to say that one is going to work from a park bench on a beautiful day, but how realistic is that when we don’t have enough power to get from nine to five?  With the meteorologist predicting an absolutely gorgeous Canada Day Friday (July 1st), I was excited by the prospect… especially since as a remote worker for an American company I did not have to sit in a particular office.  I may not have the day off (I have Monday, July 4th off for the U.S. Independence Day), but I could at least be out enjoying the weather… as long as I could depend on my battery not giving out.

ChargeTech 1

Because I am still in the onboarding phase with my new company, I plan to spend Friday watching training videos.  This means I do not have to be chained to a desk… as long as I have enough power to get through the day, and a stable Internet connection.

So here’s how I plan to do it.  It is not just a theory… this worked for me last week, so I know it will work.

  1. I will charge my Microsoft Surface Pro 4 battery completely Thursday evening, so that I can start with a full charge.
  2. I will bring my HP Pro Tablet 408 (which has a GSM chip and a data plan) which will serve as my Internet hub.  As with the larger device, I will make sure to charge it overnight so it also starts with a full charge,
  3. For the morning I will use both of these on their stored battery power; however when the power warnings come on (which I predict will be around 12:30pm for the Surface Pro and 3:30pm for the HP Pro Tablet) I will plug each of these devices into my ChargeTech Portable Power Outlet – but only long enough for their batteries to recharge completely.  That way I will be able to continue using both devices until (and beyond) 5pm, when I can call it a day.

Let me tell you something, there is nothing better than being able to work from the park – say, the boardwalk along the lakeshore in Burlington – on a nice summer day.  Knowing that the vast majority of my work will consist of watching videos, I will bring along a cigar or two, just because I can.  I will pack a picnic lunch, so I can prove how hard I am really working by not even taking time off for lunch.  I will be able to devote my full and undivided attention to my work.

ChargeTech 2

Ok, who am I kidding… my attention will be slightly divided by the view, my cigars, and the glorious weather… none of which will detract from my ability to learn what I need to learn Smile

Mitch’s Use Case #2

I have to drive to Montreal for a wedding on Monday.  No problem, as I said I have Monday off.  I can celebrate with my friend Ron and his bride, and dance into the night.

I do not have Tuesday off.  Drat.

Okay, have to drive back from Montreal, which any way you slice it will be a six hour drive.  I have a few of choices:

  1. Work the whole day Tuesday from Montreal, and then drive home after 5pm, getting me home closer to midnight than not;
  2. Work a half day from Montreal, then drive home from 1pm, taking whatever meetings I need to take from the car on my iPhone.  I would only be able to bill for a couple of hours rather than the day; or
  3. Find a way to work from the car, which includes listening to my onboarding videos and taking my conference calls as needed.

I want to be clear, if I had to watch the videos the third option would not be an option.  I like to be a safe driver, and that precludes watching anything but the road.  However since I only have to listen, it is the same as a book on tape (CD).  I can listen as I drive, and pull over as needed to take the quizzes.

Of course, this leaves me with the same predicament I had before; however by connecting my Surface Pro 4 and my HP Pro Tab 408 to the Portable Power Outlet, I will be able to listen for the entire 600km journey!

So… let’s look at how the Portable Power Outlet’s features absolutely rock:

  • Two USB ports allow you to charge multiple devices (say, tablet and phone) simultaneously.
  • 3-prong AC power outlet allows you to charge any device (up to 85W) at the same time.
  • While specially designed for computers, the PPO will actually power any device – like a heater or lamp or toaster – just like any power outlet.  It is like walking around with a wall outlet in your laptop bag!
  • The Portable Power Outlet is the lightest and slimmest 27,000mAh device on the market – no competitive product comes close!
  • Scratch-resistant, fingerprint-proof case.

While the device does come for a price that might make you think twice (USD$250 retail), it is currently available marked-down for only $185… a real incentive to pick it up while it is on sale from www.chargetech.com.

So yes, this is my second thumbs-up review for a ChargeTech product.  What can I say?  Good companies will consistently make good products!

I’m Back!

As many of you know I left Microsoft to pursue other adventures when I did my first gig with Rakuten in the fall of 2013.  The plan was, according to the managers I spoke with, for me to return to Microsoft when I got back from Japan.

That obviously did not happen.

I will not go into any detail about what or why or when… but the last three years have been interesting… while I retained my MCT credentials and continued working with Microsoft technologies, my affiliation with the organization became strained.  I was pretty sure that my days of working with them were behind me.

There is a quote from a novel from one of my favourite authors: The present is like the past and the past is the present, heya?  The last word might give away that the book was Noble House by the late, great James Clavell.  And so it is that after several months of discussions and background checks and much more, this morning I walked back into the offices of Microsoft Canada to pick up my new badge.  I am a vendor this time around, as opposed to a business guest which is what I was previously.  What does that mean?  I guess it doesn’t matter.  I’m back.

While my role will not be community focused as it once was, I will nevertheless be blogging about technologies that I use and work with.

Thanks to all of you who were concerned and interested… and no, I assure you I will not be drinking or serving any Kool-Aid this time around!

Keep it in Your Pocket…

Here’s a tip for travelers going through Airport Security: you are going  babe asked to empty your pockets … Everything, including wallet and car keys and passport. It all has to go in one of those plastic bins. Lots of coins? Put em in da bin. Matches? Bin em.

You also have to take off your jacket.

If you want to make your life a lot easier (not to mention faster for the people in line behind you): As you make your way to the front of the line, transfer everything from your pants pockets to the pockets of your jacket. That way when you get through you can quickly grab the jacket and go… And transfer everything back at your leisure.  It’s faster and easier for everyone involved.

Don’t have a jacket? Fine… Use a plastic (or paper) bag to achieve the same results.

Good luck and fly safe!

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.


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

…And now you know.

Smartphone Etiquette

I have often heard discussions on how rude it is to pull out your smartphone during meetings, during meals, and so on.  Personally I am against it, but I understand where there may be mitigating circumstances – sick parents or sick children for example.  With that said, there are a lot of people who will disagree with me, and that is fine… it is their right to be wrong Winking smile

Yes, I say that as a joke… some people will accept it more readily than I would, just like some people would sit in a restaurant wearing a hat.  According to the etiquette of polite society that is completely wrong, but welcome to 2016, right?

Because it has not been drilled into me (the way the hat thing was) I am never tempted to tell people sitting at other tables in restaurants to put their smartphones away.  It’s not my business what they do, and frankly I don’t care.  It doesn’t even bother me.  Yes, hats in restaurants do bother me, but again, I can’t save the world… I can only be responsible for myself.

So the question is, when does it become my business?

Several times over the past couple of years I have been sitting in a restaurant when someone at another table starts playing a game, watching a video, having a speakerphone conversation on their smartphone.  They make no effort to silence it – they don’t wear headphones, they don’t mute it, they don’t even turn the volume down.  That disturbs me.

Let me clarify… I am not talking about loud restaurants or fast-food joints like McDonald’s.  I am talking about sit-down restaurants with menus and cutlery and wait staff and all that.

What should I say?  So far I have not said a word… I have just sat there grinding my teeth at the disturbance.

I had the conversation about this with a friend recently, and he was on the fence about it.  After all, he said, except in the hoity-toitiest of restaurants patrons are not expected to remain silent… is their electronic device (smart phone, tablet, hand-held game machine) not simply an extension of them and if so, is the noise from said device not simply the same thing as them talking and having a conversation?

I thought about this for quite some time, and I do not agree with this position.

I am not an audiologist; I am not a sound engineer.  I am however a pretty observant person.  There is a difference between the noise generated by conversation and the noise generated by an electronic device – especially if one is watching a movie or playing a video game with diverse sounds effects such as beeps, explosions, music, and whatnot.  Sitting in a coffee shop with people having conversations all around is not at all the same thing as walking into the middle of a video game arcade or a movie theatre.

And then there was the family who decided to call grandma while they were having breakfast together.  Everyone else in the restaurant was having a nice, quiet meal, and then all of a sudden this family has grandma on the speakerphone… and I have no issue with grandma, but when speaking into a speakerphone and especially speaking to grandma… and especially speaking to grandma on a speakerphone where there is ambient noise trying to compete with you… you are going to raise your voice; it is natural and expected behaviour.  That is not to say that in the middle of a restaurant it should be acceptable behaviour.

I know society has changed… and G-d knows I do not think that I was raised well in a lot of respects; but when it comes to manners in public my parents made it very clear: behave according to polite society, or face the consequences.  The consequences with my mother were not idle threats – they hurt.  While I am completely against corporal punishment, I think it is a shame that when I see someone wearing a hat in a restaurant or playing video games or watching movies at full volume the answer is not to confront them, rather ‘Hey, it’s the new millennium… what can you do?’

Unfortunately I seem to be in a minority… and the words ‘publicly acceptable behaviour’ seem to have been changed from what I was taught to what is not specifically against the law.

Sigh.  Welcome to the new millennium.  Have a great week-end.

A Day In The Life? How about a cycle?

I recently performed an IT Infrastructure audit on behalf of a company in Canada.  The client was basically satisfied with what I gave them, but wanted me to elaborate on something.

“Mitch, what do you mean when you say we should fully document our processes?  What processes?  How do we even start?

Now, as a consultant looking for my next contract, the easy and profitable answer would have been ‘Hire me and I’ll do it for you.’  However that would have made true the old statement that a consultant is someone who looks at your watch to tell you what time it is.  I did not want to do that.

Documenting a process is easy, depending on how deep you want to go.  The easy way for Windows is to open the Problem Step Recorder (psr.exe) and record your keystrokes.  For more complicated environments, especially remote desktop on other remote environments, I use Camtasia Studio to record my screen, and then go back and watch what I did.

With all that, the best answer for my money is this: Tell your IT guys to keep OneNote open on their screen for a month.  Every time they do anything, log it… detailed steps and all.  By doing this over the course of a month you should capture all of the processes that you do in the course of your regular duties.

I was having a chat recently with my friend and colleague Colin Smith recently, and I told him about this methodology.  He said to me what I thought was obvious… ‘On any given day you likely won’t do everything… but over the course of a month, with the exception of reactions, you should capture just about everything.  It’s like doing A Day In The Life of An IT Guy… but more conclusive.’

Thanks Colin.

Yes, that is true.  While you may want to expand it to whatever period is a cycle (for some companies it might be quarterly), by forcing your IT folks to log and record everything they do in the course of their daily activities, after a while you should have a pretty inclusive set of procedures documented.

A day in the life won’t be enough… Do you monitor your logs every day?  Sure.  Do you perform every task every day? No.  Determine what your cycle looks like… then get to it!

2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 210,000 times in 2015. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 9 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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