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!

Covid-19 and Security Theatre

I was walking through the casino at Binion’s on Fremont Street, Las Vegas last weekend, and I couldn’t help think about an old friend.

Dana Epp, one of the smartest people I know, and an IT security expert, introduced me to the term Security Theatre. I don’t remember how many years ago that was, but every time I see it, I think of him.

We are trying to prevent the continuing spread of the virus that has been more devastating to the global economy than anything I can point to in the past century. The fact that Las Vegas opened when it did is pretty amazing… it probably jumped the gun, and as we are seeing a tremendous spike in cases in states that have opened, Las Vegas will likely contribute to that… not in Nevada itself, as the vast majority of people walking around Las Vegas are from somewhere else.

There are plenty of measures in place around Vegas that are meant to control the spread of the virus… or at least give us the appearance of controlling the spread. All of the casino games are limited – three at a blackjack table instead of six, for example. All of the buffers are closed, which frankly was beneficial to me in more ways than the spread of the virus.

Sign in the casino at Binion’s

As a cigar smoker, I appreciate that they are giving me the opportunity to smoke my cigar at the tables and slot machines. As a logical person with a basic understanding of high school science, this absolutely baffles me. Have you ever walked through an area where people are smoking and smelled the smoke? Well if you can smell their smoke, you can catch their virus.

I remember joking back in March – before the pandemic, when the world was just becoming aware – that cigar smoking kills the virus. It was said as a joke, and I did not then (nor do I now) believe there is any scientific truth to the statement. I said it to a few people, and always laughed when I did. It was not until I was with someone in Havana that I realized that people will believe anything… as long as it fits their narrative.

Sitting at the hotel Nacional with some friends, one asked me for a cigar. ‘But you don’t smoke cigars??’ His reply astounded me. ‘No, but there are a lot of people here, and I don’t want to catch the virus.’ I nearly fell off my chair.

There are many basic principles to not catching (or transmitting) the virus. They are the same principles for not submitting the flu or the common cold. Wash your hands (with soap and warm water). Don’t shake hands. Do not breathe on people or breathe in their breath. The best ways? Stay home… and when you cannot stay home, wear a mask. If you want to learn more; listen to scientists, not politicians, IT professionals, or cigar sommeliers.

…And do you remember that point to wear a mask when you cannot stay home? Look up, it was near the end of the last paragraph. Yeah, right there. Wearing a mask does not mean part-time. When you are in public, wear your mask ALWAYS. You may need to drink… I get it, necessities of life and all that rot, especially in the desert where it is 117 degrees outside. However, smoking is NOT a necessity of life. Do not pull your mask down to smoke, no matter how good your cigar is. If you are outside it is one thing (although truly still not recommended). In a casino where there isn’t a window anywhere to be found, you are sharing every breath with everyone else in there… and the fact that some of the hotels and casinos take your temperatures when you walk in means nothing… asymptotic carriers will not have a fever.

Las Vegas is open, but the measures in place to prevent the spread of the virus are a joke. What do they care? All of the locals know to wear their masks religiously, and all of the gamblers are going home after the weekend to spread the virus in their own state.

I smoked cigars in Vegas; I smoked with my buddy Kelly on his patio, and I smoked walking outside. As for the casinos… I played, but I kept my mask on, thank you very much.

I may have lost some money, but I am still virus-free.

No Power? What to do…?

As many people do, I have two separate smartphones… one for myself, and one for corporate use. I am contracted to a large bank, and we take IT security seriously. There is no cross-pollination between the two worlds… my personal device has whatever I want on it, but my other device is all business.

I am a Cloud and Systems Architect with the bank, which means that during the day I have some pretty solid responsibilities, but my nights are my own. As such, when I leave the office at 5pm (or thereabouts) my work phone is mostly silent. Now that we are all working from home, that means the work device gets plugged in to charge in my home office, to be ignored until the following morning.

My morning routine consists of several constants. I walk the dog, I make a cup of coffee and check my personal cell phone while enjoying my java, either at the dining room table, or on beautiful mornings like this one, on my patio. However, before that, I grab my work phone… I want to be sure that there are no fires to put out, no last-minute early meetings, and so on. If you work in the field (or early any field for that matter where you don’t punch a clock) you know exactly what I mean. My corporate device battery will be fully charged, so if anything pops up during my ‘me-time’ I can get right on it.

This morning I grabbed the phone from the office and noticed it had not charged. In fact, the battery was at 1%… which usually means ‘press three buttons and watch me die!’

Crud.

I could, had I been willing, change my patio plans to the dining room… but why waste the opportunity to enjoy G-D’s beautiful creations? I wanted to enjoy my java overlooking the city. Unfortunately, I might not be able to enjoy it for long, considering I would have to Chargé my phone indoors.

ChargeTech to the rescue!

I have had my ChargeTech Portable Power Bank for nearly four years (I first wrote of it here), and have used it for so many reasons and in so many places (from the beaches of Cuba for my iPad to outdoor patios the world over for my laptop). It really comes in handy, being able to charge all of my USB or other battery-powered devices wherever I am.  Just last week I was in Havana, and the power in my neighbourhood went out (as is apt to happen in Havana from time to time).  Rather than concern myself, I brought my ChargeTech PPO with me to the café down the street, and I was able to charge both my phone and my iPad while enjoying a lovely coffee (prepared over fire). 

It was a beautiful day to sit on my patio and enjoy my coffee with a view, and I was not going to let a dead battery get in the way of that. In the time it took me to write this article (about 16 minutes) my iPhone’s battery charged to 58%… more than enough to make it through the entire day, let alone a cup of coffee.

For more information about ChargeTech devices, visit www.chargetech.com and tell them I sent you! They are currently having a sale on their 27,000 and 54,000 mAh power packs, which should help ease the pain a bit during our quarantines and lock-downs.

Not All Docks Are Created Equal…

Last week I was onboarded at a new company.  I will be working from home for the first time since I moved to California, so it was necessary to equip my home office.  I should clarify, I am an employee of the company that contracts me to them, so when it comes to equipment, some things can get muddled.  For example, the company I work for provides me with external monitors, as well as a keyboard and mouse.  The company I am contracted to provided me with a laptop, as well as a dock (both of which are Dell).

I was happy to receive two monitors to connect to my laptop; I saw the boxes and realized they were Dell, so there should be no issues, right?

Wrong.

Okay, I should clarify that the only problem is that someone at the company included video cables with the monitors… more specifically, DisplayPort cables.  The Dell docking station that was provided (Dell WD15) has two video inputs… neither of which are DisplayPort.  I figured I was going to have to go out to Staples and pick up a couple of cables… until I remembered that I brought with me from Canada a bunch of technology to set up a home office.

The Boss Dock from Juiced Systems, which I wrote about in Spring of 2018, was sitting in a box, complete with everything that I needed…

BossDock-Back.png

As you can see, there is not one but two DisplayPort inputs for me to work with.  Not only do I not have to look any further, I also do not have to worry about getting one HDMI cable and one Mini-DV cable, which the provided Dell dock would have required.

I was able to get to work without having to go out hunting for cables, and all was once again well in the world.

Thanks JuicedSystems!

The People Have Said Nothing

An article came across my feed this morning about last week’s elections in Israel.  It read: The people have spoken. They want to live in Netanyahu’s Israel.  I find that a deceptive headline.

Many of us who are familiar with the country have joked for years about how difficult it is to come to a consensus in Israel, especially when it comes to politics.  If you ever want to ensure something never gets decided decisively, give it to the Knesset.  How do you get 120 clones to completely disagree with each other and turn on each other completely? Elect them all to the Knesset.

Netanyahu Gantz

Israel is a nation of wonders and miracles.  It helped the Jewish people rise from the ashes of the Holocaust and became a mighty nation.  It is a country that is a world leader in medicine and other sciences, with more patents and start-ups per capita than any other nation on the planet.  And yet, in nearly seventy-one years since its independence has never elected a majority government; it is not strange for an Israeli government to comprise five or more parties in a coalition. 

In the West we may discuss the Likud Party and the Blue and White Party today (as it was once Likud and Labour), the truth is that Benjamin Netanyahu’s ‘Likud’ government, elected in 2015, consisted of members from Likud, Kulanu, Shas, United Torah Judaism, The Jewish Home, and New Right parties.

To the uninformed, and frankly to a lot of people who are pretty informed, it is easy to classify the Israeli political parties in the following camps:

  • Right Wing
  • Left Wing
  • Centrist
  • Ultra-Orthodox
  • Arabs

And yet here we are… Here are the parties that (in the most recent elections) won seats:

  • Likud (Right Wing)
  • Blue and White (Centre-Right Wing)
  • United Torah Judaism (Ultra-Orthodox)
  • Shas (Untra-Orthodox, but Sephardic rather than Ashkenazi)
  • Hadash Ta’al (Socialist, Jewish-Arab)
  • Labour (Left Wing)
  • Union of Right-Wing Parties (Right Wing)
  • Yisrael Beiteinu (far-Right Wing)
  • Meretz (Left Wing)
  • Kulanu (Moderate Right Wing)
  • United Arab List-Balad (Islamist / Arab Nationalist)

Note that this is a list of parties that actually won seats in the Knesset… a number of parties on the ballot did not actually win any seats, including New Right-Wing, Zehut (Identity), and Gesher (Bridge).

So to say that “The People Have Spoken” is almost silly… Likud won the election and has the first right to build a coalition; they did this by winning thirty percent (30%) of the votes.  The next party (Blue and White) lost by less than one percent… with slightly over twenty-nine percent (29.2%) of the votes.  The two parties with the greatest number of votes – bitter rivals who disagree on nearly everything, from territorial concessions for peace to the economy – still have just under sixty percent (60%) of the votes.  That means that forty percent (40.2%) of the people want something else… whether it be Left Wing peaceniks or Arab nationalists or Ultra-Orthodox Jews who believe that the state should be run by the laws of the Torah or whoever else.

While it is, in the writer’s opinion, unfortunate that the Likud Party, led by Benjamin Netanyahu (who is facing corruption and bribery charges and may land in prison before he has the opportunity to run for office again), came out ahead.  It is not simply a question of the party – in my time as a voter I have voted both for and against the Likud party – but frankly we have seen both in Israel and abroad that when one party is in party for too long it becomes complacent (at best) or corrupt (at worse). 

Netanyahu and his Likud party were behind in the polls until a few big events and announcements happened in the weeks leading up to the election, and were it not for blatant outside interference (President Donald Trump announcing that the USA would, for the first time, recognize Israeli dominion over the Golan Heights), and wild promises from Netanyahu (such as vowing that he would annex Israeli settlements in the Yehudah and Shomron occupied territories, known in the west as the West Bank) then it is very likely that the elections would have come out differently…

…But these things did happen and the elections did not come out differently… and yet again, Israel will continue to be run by a man many believe to be a corrupt, right-wing automaton.  This does not mean that “The People of Israel Have Spoken.”  If anything, it says that the electoral system in Israel is broken.  Israel is a country that for decades has suffered from electile disfunction.  Maybe it is time we stop blaming the people, and look for a way to fix the system.

Azure Exams: Different?

Since I started working on Microsoft Azure certifications, I have noticed a lot of things that are quite different from what I am used to.  for instance, the single, non-technical AZ-900 exam does give you a certification (Microsoft Certified: Azure Fundamentals).

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Okay, I passed that exam… but when I went to start looking for courseware for the technical exams – namely, AZ-100: Microsoft Azure Infrastructure and Deployment, things looked different from what I was used to… and I am not sure if I like it or not.

For a minute, it looked like Microsoft Learning had gone back to the heady days of requiring multiple courses to pass a single exam.  Well, in fact, that is what they did… but in a much more rational fashion.

Courses Required For AZ-100:

  • AZ-100T01: Managing Azure Subscriptions and Resources
  • AZ-100T02: Implement and Manage Storage
  • AZ-100T03: Deploying and Managing Virtual Machines
  • AZ-100T04: Configure and Manage Virtual Networks
  • AZ-100T05: Manage Identities

Five courses… but that is not entirely accurate.  They are each about a day long; yes, they are separate courses, but the sum total of these (5 courses = 5 days) is the same amount of learning you would have done for a legacy course… say, 10215: Implementing and Managing Microsoft Server Virtualization.  Five days of learning for one exam.

I will be honest, I am not sure that I like this methodology… for myself.  For people looking to get certified, whose companies want to send them for that full week of training, this can get tricky: imagine a training centre that offers some of these courses, but not all of them; they might offer one of some of these courses, but not in order, not on consecutive days or consecutive weeks.  It might be cumbersome.

With that said, I understand that certifications are not the sole purpose of learning.  Someone who is going to be responsible for managing virtual machines but will never touch virtual networks or identities, having to sit through the five day course in order to learn what they will need for their job is also cumbersome and inefficient.

The good news is that there are courses, both in-person and on-line, that will cover what you need… whether it is the one or the other.

As someone who wants to go out and get certified, I know that I will be downloading the material for all of the courses… and yes, I am going to offer my company to teach some of internally.  There is no way that they would say ‘Yeah, let’s take all of our consultants off their contracts for an entire week to learn everything they will need to get an Azure certification, but might not need to do their jobs.

So… is this way better than the old way? I don’t know… but I am willing to try it out and see.  How much of the material that I need to pass the exam is in the five courses? How much overlap is there between the five courses?  Is it enough?  We’ll see.  I look forward to sharing the results with you as I discover them.

Am I Being Watched? Possible, unlikely…

Bitcoin Phishing

I received this e-mail – apparently from myself – earlier this week.  I have actually gotten many of these e-mails over the past few months.  On the surface, my e-mail has obviously been hacked – after all, how else could the sender send an e-mail from my own account?

Here’s the problem… it was not sent from my account.  To wit, let’s look at my Sent Items folder from that time slot:

E-Mail Trace

I sent an e-mail at 3:55pm, and another at 10:42pm… nothing at 4:44pm.

I have been getting questions about phony e-mail for years; is there anything you can do about it?  I am not a messaging expert, so I cannot speak authoritatively on the matter.  What I can tell you is that sending an e-mail in someone else’s name is as easy as addressing a physical envelope with someone else’s return address.  In other words… not very tough.

The villain in this story is trying to embarrass me into paying hush-money to keep some compromising videos and photos private.  Sorry villain, I don’t think you have those compromising shots of me… and if you did, nobody would want to see them.

This is a variation on a very old scheme, and it relies heavily on people being gullible enough to pay up.  I’m sure someone must pay, because there are a lot of people out there who are less technically savvy than my readers.

Why is this an effective scheme? Simple… it is likely that a very high percentage of e-mail users look at porn on the Internet; you do not have to be technically savvy to do that.  Additionally, a high percentage of computers that they use have cameras.  Add these facts together, and someone who knows less about computers than I do is going to think that some untraceable hacker has compromised every component of their system, has nude and sexual pictures of them, and for the reasonable sum of (fill in the number… I have received them from $650 to 1,500) will agree to not share them with everybody they know.

Is there any defense against getting these e-mails? No. In all likelihood, they will usually end up in your Junk Mail folder… but you are still going to get them.  Is there any way to protect me from being compromised by malware that may actually do what these e-mails are saying they did?  Sure… take the usual precautions, including firewalls, anti-malware, and don’t do stupid things like opening suspicious links or files that you receive by e-mail.  Is there anything I should do when I get one of these e-mails? Sure… delete it.  Go back to work, or whatever it is you were doing when you got it.

…And what should I do if it turns out that it was real, and the hackers send that e-mail to everyone I know?  Ask how you look, and if they think you need to lose weight.

Ch–Ch–Ch–Changes!

I know, I went dark.  It has been more than a month since I posted a blog article… and that was just a sample to show my friend Jeff how to do it.  To put it mildly, the last two months have been a whirlwind.

I will try to start from the beginning.

A little under a year ago I met someone.  Liza and I were introduced by mutual friends we both know from Cuba who thought we would get along.  The original discussion (to which I was not a party) took place a year ago.  A month later we were talking on the phone, and a month after that she came for what would be the first of several in-person visits, which would include Niagara Falls, Los Angeles (three times), Havana/Varadero, Ottawa/Montreal, and New York City.  We liked each other, and possibly more.

Long distance relationships are fine, how well can you really get to know someone from phone conversations and vacations?  We got along great in those circumstances, but that doesn’t mean as much as living in the same city.  At some point we would have to do that to see if we were truly meant to be together.  Without doing anything else, I changed my geographic region on my LinkedIn profile from Ottawa, Canada to Los Angeles, California.  I do not remember exactly when that was, but it was probably around June or July.

I started getting poked very quickly; I had a lot of initial conversations with recruiters, but it was obvious that however good a candidate I might be, the prospect of ‘importing’ me was off-putting to a lot of companies, including one for whom I was absolutely the ideal candidate, even by their own admission.

Around the beginning of October someone reached out to me from a company called Taos Mountain; they (much like Cistel) provide IT services to mostly non-IT clients, and there was an interesting opportunity with a client in the entertainment industry in Culver City, California.  The interview process was long and grueling – four interviews with Taos and three with the client – before I was ultimately offered the position around mid-November.  the only thing left was to apply for my TN Status, essentially my permit to work in the US.  If I didn’t get that, all would have been for naught.

I left my client early on Tuesday, November 20th and drove to the Thousand Islands Border Crossing with all of my paperwork.  I had my offer letter, I had my credentials, I had all of my forms, and I had the application fee in $US funds.  When I drove away from that appointment I immediately called my boss at Cistel (who had not been in the dark, and had known for some time that this was coming) and officially tendered my resignation, effective the following Friday.

I spent two days the week after that (December 3-4) at the Taos offices in Boise, Idaho for onboarding and training, and went back to Ottawa to close up as much as I could; that Friday I flew to California and spent the weekend acclimatizing (to the best of my ability).

Monday morning, December 10th, I began my position as Senior Windows Engineer at a major motion picture company in Culver City.  It was an exciting week (to say the least)… that Thursday was the company’s holiday party (held on the studio lot) was amazing.  The people I have met, that I will be working with, are great.  Unfortunately (for my readers) I will not be blogging about my work very much… it is a very high-security environment where privacy is absolute.

So what about things with Liza?  So far, so good.  We are very happy together, and while we are not living together, we certainly spend a lot of our free time together.  As she works in retail the month of December was, for her, extremely busy.  The holiday season is when most retail companies make their bones, and she warned me in advance that she would be swamped.  We still managed to spend a lot of time together, and all is well in our world.  We are still figuring a lot of things out, but that is what relationships are about.  We are happy, and I see great things in our future.

Living in the USA for the first time in my life is not as much of a change as I had expected, although there are a lot of differences, many of which I will discuss in future articles.  In the meantime: I have a Social Security Number, I have a bank account (with a debit card that has Mickey Mouse on it), and I have an appointment at the DMV (which is not until the end of March).  The weather is much better here than in Canada in December, and I am enjoying making my friends back home jealous when I smoke my cigars outside in short-sleeves.

The words ‘That happened fast’ are accurate commentary on everything… I would have liked to have an extra week or two to close up things in Ottawa, the result of which is that I will need to make a couple of quick trips back to do that over the next couple of months.  My car is still sitting in the driveway outside the apartment that I still have to pay for; I still have a storage locker filled with boxes and furniture that have to be sorted, and that will be a job.  By the end of February I hope to have the Ottawa chapter of my life closed out… with the exception of my friends, who are amazing and welcome to visit me in California anytime they like.

So whatever else happened in 2018… it started with the passing of my mother, gaining back so much of the weight that I worked so hard to lose, a job in a city that I had trouble feeling at home in, all of that is past, and I will start 2019 with a fresh slate… new job, new challenges, and a lot of new places and people and experiences.

I hope your 2018 was wonderful, and wish you only amazing things for a wonderful 2019!

Facebook Down?

FacebookIf you have tried to log on to Facebook over the past couple of hours and have not had any luck, do not try adjusting your set.  The company is experiencing very widespread outages across the Americas.

According to www.downdetector.com, the outage is greatest on the east coast of North America, but Brazil and Peru seem pretty hard hit as well.

FacebookDown

I have seen this with other sites before, and I have also seen companies scrambling to find and fix issues with their internal systems, network, firewall, and so on… without checking to see if the actual site was down.  Your best bet is to go to a site line DownDetector and see if it isn’t just you… or you can simply do what I did this afternoon, I went to http://www.google.ca and typed in Is Facebook Down.  Behold, my answer! (as well as proof that my Internet connection was working)

Now, with the major Facebook outage, who wants to bet that overall productivity in the affected areas will increase?

The Safety of Ottawa…

Red_Maple_Leaf.svgYesterday MacLean’s Magazine posted their index of the most dangerous (crime-related) cities in Canada.  Ottawa, where I currently live, placed a comfortable 145th on the list.  I’m good with that – I do not expect to be jumped by a group of marauding bandits when I walk down the street.

What I found interesting about the list is that no city in the Top 10 is east of Manitoba.  In fact, of the top 20, only three are east of Manitoba – Pembroke, ON (11), Stratford, ON (12), and Cobourg, ON (18).  The highest ranking Maritime city is Amherst, NS (26), and the most dangerous city in Quebec (and the only Quebec city below #99) is Thetford Mines (45).

Of the other Canadian municipalities where I have lived:

  • Halton Region (Oakville, Burlington) ranks 96th
  • Mississauga (and Brampton) ranks 124th
  • Montreal ranks 211th

I don’t walk down the street anywhere in Canada worrying that I am going to get jumped… but I wonder what it is about Western Canada that makes it so much more dangerous than Eastern Canada.

Oh well… maybe it’s the maple syrup that is keeping Quebec calm?

 

 

Electile Disfunction

Tomorrow our friends to the south (I’m in Canada… for the more geographically challenged, I am referring to the United States of America.  Yes, I know about Alaska being part of the USA and being to the north… can we just get on with it?  Thank you.) are going to the polls.  The mid-term elections will see 35 and 435 members of Congress elected.  Additionally, 36 state governors will be elected.  There is little doubt in my mind that the next ninety-six hours will see wall to wall election coverage and spin.  For the political fiends out there it will be glorious.  For the rest it will be overkill.

I have been watching the US political landscape over the past thirty or so years, and I have seen some unfortunate trends; the worst of them, bar none, is the schism that has grown between the opposite ends of the political spectrum.  Thirty years ago it would have been acceptable for people on the left to be friends with people on the right.  Today, it seems harder even for people on the far-right to be polite with the people on the median-right, let alone the people on the far-left.  There is so much hatred, so much disrespect, so much vitriol that it is hard to remember that these people are all citizens of the same country.

19-094514-dating_a_democrat_vs_dating_a_republican

I hope that someone will find a way to start mending these fences.  I hope that the two sides of the spectrum begin to realize that they are all Americans, and that they all, for the most part, seem to think their country is pretty great… and it is.  Can it be better?  Sure, every place can be.  America is a project that started 242 years ago and has been evolving ever since.  Parts have gotten better – the amber waves of grain across America’s breadbasket are truly a sight to behold.  Have parts gotten worse?  Sure – the poverty, crime, and violence of the inner cities is sad and needs to be solved.  There is no more slavery, but there is still a racial divide.  All of these are unfortunate aspects of a great country that can be fixed.

We in Canada love our American neighbours, even if we don’t always show it… there has been a lot of disrespect over the years, and I am sorry for it.  I hate seeing it, but understand where some of it comes from… because we are not perfect either.

When we wake up Wednesday morning there will be changes to the political landscape… candidates elected or re-elected, lame ducks looking for work.  I do not know which political party will have a majority in the Senate and Congress.  I do know that I wish that all Americans, whoever wins, will find a way to mend the wounds that are clearly tearing the country apart.  I hope that at some point the country can begin to heal… and one day truly be the great nation that your founding fathers yearned for.

 

Remember

It is that time of year again.

The debate over when to put up Christmas decorations has begun.  The minute Halloween is over, people rush to put them up.  Within a few short days, we go from Orange and Black with spooky melodies to Green and Red with cheerful melodies.  I hate it.

I have in the past been accused of being anti-Christmas.  I am not.  While it is not my holiday, I respect everyone’s right to celebrate their holidays however they see fit.  After all, I would not expect anyone to criticize how I celebrate my holidays.  I will buy my children Christmas presents, although I will also buy them Hanukkah presents.

What does bother me is this: On November 11th we honour Remembrance Day.  It is the one day of the year put aside for civilians to do what veterans do every day of our lives: remember the fallen.  It is to remember our brothers who did not make it.  It is a day for us to share our stories with them… these stories that to them sound like the unlikely plots of a movie, but which for us was once the reality.

Is it really so much to ask that, when retelling our memories to our children and others, we not have Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and other holiday jingles detract from the solemnity of our stories?

All gave some.  Some gave all.  We are not asking you to give anything except to wait twelve more days before putting up your tinsel, holly, and mistletoe.  We ask only that you maintain the solemnity of one single day and yes… that means waiting until November 12th to put up your decorations.

No Bah Humbug, just a passionate plea from someone who remembers every day of his life.

Surface Pro Battery Woe

PINCFriday afternoon I had a Skype meeting, and as I was settling into the board room at my office for quiet, I realized the battery on my Surface Pro 4 was at 0%.  I plugged it in, and got the feedback: “Plugged in, Not charging.”  Okay, I would be careful to not yank the power cord for the duration of the meeting.

I spent the weekend with friends in Montreal.  Rick lamented, as he often does, that he hates the preponderance of devices with no serviceable parts; for example: he uses an old smartphone because he wants to be able to replace the battery.  I poo-pooed his unwillingness to accept progress.  He isn’t wrong, of course.  Planned obsolescence is a terrible thing, and the fact that the Apple Corporation expects me to replace my phone every two years is infuriating.  What’s worse, is that I do.

DB1Karma came calling Saturday evening, when I plugged my Surface in to charge overnight.  It is now about three and a half years old, beyond the warranty.  I have not looked into replacing the battery, but I would not expect it is a easy process.  It is not something I had ever given a lot of thought to… until Sunday morning, when the device (which had been plugged in overnight) still had a dead battery.  I packed it up and decided I would look at it when I got home… I was not looking forward to thinking about it.

As I sat comfortably in front of the TV later that evening, I decided that before anything else, I would try to plug the device in to a different charger.  A defective charger would have been the best outcome, if the problem was to be defective hardware.  I have three chargers, and even if I only had the one, it would be a lot less expensive to replace one of those than the device itself.  Unfortunately, I got the same “Not charging” message as I had with my main charger.

DB2I went online and looked to Microsoft for support.  The first recommendation is to apply the latest patches, drivers, and firmware.  Okay.  An hour later, and I am facing the same results.  Crap.

There is a Microsoft Surface Diagnostic Toolkit that they recommend trying next.  I downloaded it and installed it, and it went through a number of tests before asking me to reboot.  I rebooted, and once I authenticated the Toolkit continued to run automatically.  After a few minutes it asked me to reboot again.  I did, and when the system came back up, it no longer gave me the same notice.  It told me that my battery was at 0%, and it was 3h02m from a full charge.  I wasn’t sure if this was true or not, but I was happy to see progress.  I left the device to charge and went to sleep.

This morning I packed up the device and brought it to the office, where it is currently sitting at 91% charged.  Seeing as it has only been turned on for about half an hour, and I have not been working on it, I am not hopeful that the battery life will now be what it once was… but at least it is not dead.  I am going to drain the battery and recharge it overnight a couple of times, and hopefully that will get it back to sorts.

Unfortunately I understand that battery life diminishes (often greatly) over time.  It is not unusual, and it is one of the reasons I agree with Rick… I wish I could go out and simply buy a new battery for my device, and replace it at will.  Or, better yet, have two batteries that I could interchange, doubling the device life.  I used to do that with my smartphones.  Those days are gone… at least, when it comes to higher end tablet and hybrid devices, where every microgram is conserved, and where the term user-serviceable is laughable.

I am wracking my brain trying to think when the last time I had a primary device that lasted this long.  Certainly not in the last decade, and possibly not since the days when my primary device was a desktop tower.  My Surface Pro 4 has certainly given me everything I could have expected; that does not mean that I am ready to trash it just yet.  It is a good device that still does absolutely everything I need… not to mention that to replace it with a nearly identical configuration (modernized for today, so a Surface Pro 6 with an i7 CPU, 16GB RAM, and 512GB storage) would cost CDN$2,400 plus tax to replace… if (and that’s a big if) I was to replace it with another Microsoft Surface device.

My current crisis was averted.  With the battery working again, I am no longer faced with the immediate threat of having to replace my device (or even pay to have it fixed).  While I am thrilled by that, I am reminded that it is something that I will eventually have to think about.  I suppose it is the computer industry’s equivalent of an aging parent having a health scare; it was only a scare, but it reminds you that you will, at some point (and likely sooner than you would like) have to deal with the unpleasant reality.

Now excuse me, while I call my aging father.

The Dangling Control Panel

Once upon a time, the Windows Control Panel was an easy to navigate set of icons that consolidated in one place all of the administrative tasks we would need, both as an end user and as a desktop administrator.

CP1

Things change, systems evolve.  The Control Panel that we knew in Windows XP evolved, through Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8/8.1.

CP2

There was a lot more to do, which meant a lot more icons; and so, Microsoft introduced us to the Categories View.

When Windows 10 was released, people lamented that the Control Panel was no longer so easy to find.  It was, actually… all you had to do was open the Context Menu of the Windows button; a simple right-click (or Windows Key + X) opened it, and your Control Panel was listed right there…

CP3…Until it wasn’t.  I think it was Windows 10 1703 that no longer had Control Panel there.  Fortunately, and this is true to this day, you could still click on the Windows button and type Control Panel and it would appear… just like always.

The default view of the Control Panel has not changed extensively over the past few years.  The Category View has eight (8) categories, and clicking each one opens up a world of possibilities.  For example, opening the System and Security context reveals a series of sub-menus that include Security and Maintenance, Windows Firewall, System, Power Options, File History, Backup and Restore (Windows 7), BitLocker Drive Encryption, Storage Spaces, Work Folders, Administrative Tools, Flash Player, and Configuration Manager… the final two only appearing when those tools are installed on the box.  Each of these, in turn, provides another sub-menu similar to this one.  All in all, we see why it is that Microsoft opted to display the Category View by default.

With that said, some people do not want the Category View… they long for the good old days of having your icons appear by default.  No problem, this is easy enough to fix; in the upper-right corner of the window, change the drop-down option from Category to either Large Icons or Small Icons.  You will get the following display:

CP5To be sure, these forty-four icons do not offer the entire functionality of all of the sub-categories of the Category View… but you will almost certainly have what you are looking for.  Many of the common icons that are missing will be located under Administrative Tools.  (I notice ODBC Data Sources are missing off the top of my head).

CP6With the later versions of Windows 10, Microsoft is trying to get people to do everything the new way; legacy is out (this the Control Panel has been replaced by the Settings window),

It would be hard to count the number of people who have told me how much they hate this interface, and have asked me how they can revert to the old ways.

The bad news is this: while the old Control Panel has been deprecated, it is still in the latest release… even if a lot of the icons lead to the newthink way of doing things.  If you want to do things the old way, then follow me… quietly, because especially in this day and age, Big Brother is watching!

  1. Right-click on your desktop and click New – Folder.
  2. Name the folder Admin.{ED7BA470-8E54-465E-825C-99712043E01C}

This will create a shortcut on your desktop that has no name, but looks like this:

Admin

Within that shortcut, you will find direct links to every Control Panel icon that you would have had over the past eighteen years of Windows… while they are sorted into categories (and much easier to understand than the Category View in Control Panel today), they are all their… all two hundred and twenty-four options, divided into thirty-seven categories.

CP7Best of all?  most of them take you to the oldthink way of doing things… not to the touch-friendly Windows 10 ways which are usually dumbed down.  So the Add or remove programs icon takes you to the familiar screen that you see below, rather than the Apps & Features context of the Windows 10 Settings menu.

While this menu that we have all known forever is accessible somewhere within Windows 10, through the Admin shortcut (which was until Windows 8.1 actually called the Admin shortcut) it is simple.  So is networking, and whatever else you want to configure.

Windows is changing.  I have always smirked when people would ask ‘Why can’t they just leave it the way it was?’ The simple answer is that Microsoft is changing things, and that is their right.  Most of the time, it is for the better… including the Settings vs. Control Panel… but that doesn’t mean that those of us who got used to the old way always have to change right away.  We can do it gradually, and I hope we do…

…Because one day we are going to deploy the new Windows 10, and the oldspeak way will be gone.  We love Big Brother.