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ChargeTech Deals

As you know, I have worked closely with the team at ChargeTech recently to tell you about some of their products.  Well it may be a little late, but they sent me a Black Friday / Cyber Monday coupon for you to use to get incredible deals off their Portable Power Outlet!  From now until the end of the week you can save 60% off the retail price – only US$99, but only if you buy it from here: “The Best Deals we Can Find“, and only if you use the coupon code: 583PPO758!

I look forward to hearing your thoughts about the PPO, and Happy Holidays!

BYOD: A Fairy Tale

Recently I wrote an article called Free Will… about people using their computers as they want.  I mentioned I had written a piece that was to be my introduction to a presentation I was going to do on BYOD, and I promised I would look for it.  I found it, and here it is.  I look forward to reading your comments! –MDG

I want to tell you a story, and to some of you it will sound like a fairy tale.

Once upon a time there was a company without any computers. Then one day the King decreed: ‘We can be more productive with computers!’ And so the company bought computers… but they didn’t know what to do with the computers.

There was a humble serf in the company who had more than a passing interest in the new technology. The King noticed this, and asked him about the new machines. He sounded like he knew what he was talking about, and when he sat down at the computer he was able to speak with it in a sort of code, and after a few minutes of talking the machine did his bidding… it produced magic, performing seemingly impossible mathematical calculations… but more importantly to the king, he was able to make the company name fill the screen. The King was awed by this magic, and knighted the serf ‘Sir In Charge of Computers.’

The years passed by, and the knight was able to help the company increase its revenues and proved that the original decree that the company could be more productive with computers was in fact true, and way beyond the wildest dreams of the king. Over time the knight spent all of his free time learning more about these machines, increasing his magic, and earning industry certifications which grew his standing among his fellow magicians. He brought more of these magical machines into the company, and increased his domain with larger computers that nobody touched but him called servers, and these servers allowed the users to share information, collaborate on projects, and increase even further the productivity.

Of course the King was not simply impressed, he realized that he had grown richer beyond what he thought possible because of the knight, and one day he brought him into the palace, had him kneel before the King, and with his mighty sword tapped both of his shoulders and claimed ‘You, good Sir Knight, are now Prince Director of IT.

The new prince knew that in order to continue to prove his worth he would need to enlist help, and so he hired several brave knights – Sir Systems Administrator, Sir Desktop Expert, and the mysterious, great, and powerful Lord Infrastructure Architect. Together these magicians made the company prosper for the ages.

The serfs were taught to use their computers but only exactly how the Prince and his band decreed; unauthorized magic was punished harshly. To drive home the importance of the prince’s Acceptable Use Policies, those who veered from the path were struck with plagues – viruses and malware infected them, diminishing their productivity, and causing epidemics that reduced the collective productivity of the kingdom; the King empowered Prince Director of IT to work with Prince Director of Human Resources to severely punish and even banish serfs who veered from the path. These princes were viewed with awe, for those who dared to offend them might be fed to the dragon.

The wheels of time continued to turn, and as the medieval ages of the 80s and 90s made way for the new millennium; many efforts were made to bring magic to the masses, because while some great wizards had predicted that the world would never need more than 640 magicians, the desire to impart the knowledge of magic to the world was great. As magic was simplified, its mystique was slowly diminished.

Times were changing not only for this kingdom, but around the world. The serfs had become accustomed to their magical boxes, and were comfortable performing their daily tasks on them… but they were still wary of the great magic contained within. However the children of the serfs, whose schools began teaching computers very early on, did not see magic, and were not in awe of Prince Director of IT and his Merry Men. As the awe diminished, the serfs became haughty and uppity. ‘We do not wish to follow the Acceptable Use Policies of the prince! We want to use our magic boxes the way we want to use them! We wish to perform our own magic on these boxes!’

The King, understanding that the dangers were great that revolution would destroy the kingdom, told the Prince that he must allow the serfs to use their magic boxes to do their own magic… but because the boxes still belonged to the company, it was still the responsibility of the Prince and his band of men to ensure that these boxes remained safe, and to cure them of any potential illnesses before they could spread and infect others.

The serfs, realizing they could do more with these magical boxes than just work, bought them for their homes. They played, and they connected to the Internet, which opened their eyes to the true power of the magic. Their ire continued to grow within… quietly.

And then, in the second decade of the millennium, the revolution came. ‘We are no longer willing to use the devices that you decree. We want to use our own devices! While you wish to enslave us in a world of magical Windows, we want to explore other worlds, ones replete with fruits of the Apple tree, and robotic Androids, and Berry bushes which may be Black. We will continue to serve the king, but we will only do so on our own terms!

The Prince and his men were appalled; surely the serfs could never properly serve the King with these strange and alien devices. He and his men fought back against the revolution, reassured that they had the full support of the King…

…And then the unthinkable happened. King CEO called the prince into his chambers and decreed ‘You must allow the serfs to use the devices that they choose. You shall not prevent them from doing their own magic on these devices, but at the same time you must ensure the safety and security of our kingdom, and make sure that no epidemics are brought in, and that none of our secrets are compromised. Because you are such a great and powerful magician, so much so that I made you a Prince when you yourself were once a serf, I trust that you will be able to do this. Now go.’

Welcome to the age of Bring Your Own Device.

Free Will…

I am in Montreal this week, working on a friend’s computer.  After twelve incredible years of service, the laptop is being replaced. But before that happens I must transfer the data to his new computer… a task made infinitely more difficult by the utter and complete infestation of his computer with malware.

Aside from being a very good friend, Rick is also a fan of my blog, and will be among the first to read this article; that is not why I will not be bad-mouthing him per-se, but it does show that I often write articles about the people who read my blog, and occasionally I call them out by name.  Rick and his wife have done nothing intentionally wrong to the Dell Inspiron E1405 that likely rolled off the line shortly after George W. Bush was elected to his second term; however the temptation of free this and that comes so often with the moral lesson that nothing is truly free in this life.

As I drove to Montreal yesterday I was joking with a colleague that I was going to have to go through this, and he asked me: If you know it is going to happen, and you can prevent it, why don’t you simply lock his computer down and protect him from himself? It is not the first time I have fielded this question – far from it.

If you have ever had a conversation with a religious leader and asked him how could they believe in G-d being all-powerful and yet there is so much evil in the world, the answer will usually be something like this: G-d created the world and everything in it, but then gave us free will, and it is mankind’s free will from whence the evil comes.  It may be a frustrating answer, but it is fairly hard to refute.

The same is true with computers; in a corporate environment it is easy enough for a competent IT Administrator to lock down their environment and prevent end users from ‘horking’ their computers.  However when a consumer buys their own computer there will be no such restrictions – they have the free will to do what they like.  The creators of the operating environment – in the case of Windows the product team at Microsoft – have put in myriad safeguards to protect us, but in the end in order for our computers to be useable, they have to give us the free will to install programs we like… some of which yes will be harmful.  We have all of the tools we need to be successful… but outside of the protected environment of the Garden (a freshly installed and patched operating system) they have to let us loose to survive and thrive… and succeed or fail.

Twenty-five years ago the majority of people were afraid of their computers (and of computers in general).  They turned it on and after the operating system (MS-DOS) booted they were greeted by a black screen and a DOS prompt (C:\>_).  They did not know where to look for the hidden tricks that were available to wreck their systems.  With the introduction of the Windows Operating Environment (Windows 95 and later) it became so much easier to find these tools… while innocently trying to tweak their environment.  If they wanted to write a letter they knew how to access their word processor, and if they needed to use a spreadsheet they knew how to do that too.  However the Disk Management utility was hidden away… often on a floppy disk that would have to be put into the system and run by experts.  Today they know to right-click on anything they see and click around… and of course with every computer connected to the Internet the malicious malware creators make it oh-so-tempting to install tools and games that pretend to be one thing but really infect their computers with crap.

A couple of years ago I wrote a piece that was meant to be my introduction to a lecture on BYOD computing.  I am going to dig it up and tweak it for publishing here.  It outlines how the job of the IT Professional has gotten infinitely harder and less powerful as the fear and awe with which people looked at their computers turned to familiarity and a false sense of knowledge and security.

With regard to people installing ‘crapware’ I think we, those of us who support our friends and family computers, have to accept some responsibility.  Because so many of us were so dismissive about the threats out there in favour of a ‘don’t call me unless it’s broken’ attitude, our friends and families realized that they could install or click here when prompted to.  So often when I sit in front of a friend’s system I ask them ‘why did you do this?’ The answer is usually something to the effect of ‘I didn’t want to bother you over nothing.’

Is there any way for us to prevent this?  Sure… we can take their Administrator rights away, but then they would be calling us every time they wanted to install the smallest program (like I do at the office).  However that would be a huge inconvenience to us – and to them.  We can install anti-malware and remote-monitoring tools such as Windows Intune, but there is a cost to that… and unless they maintain their patch levels and malware definitions they fall out of scope so quickly.

And so every so often a friend or family member calls me and I help them out; I clean out their malware and perform whatever other maintenance is required.  I do not do this preventatively because there are too many people and computers involved and it would take too much time.  However I don’t mind getting the occasional call of ‘Hey Mitch, I screwed up my computer… let me buy you a bottle of scotch in exchange for a couple of hours of your time.’  If nothing else, it gives me a good excuse to get together with them and chat while I mindlessly do what needs to be done.

…and yes, I occasionally get a good bottle of scotch out of it!🙂

Canadian Politics…

A month ago I sat down with my Member of Parliament, the Honourable Karina Gould.  Ms. Gould is a member of the Liberal Party, and is a very nice young lady who despite knowing I did not vote for her was happy to meet with me and listen to my issues.

I should mention that I have been a Canadian citizen since the day I was born, have been eligible to vote (and have voted) in Federal, Provincial, and Municipal elections for some 26 years now.  Okay, I have missed a couple of Municipal elections, but excepting the election of Jean Chretien in 1993 (when I was living overseas) I have not missed a single Federal election.

Throughout my childhood because of my mother’s political activism I met many politicians (and future politicians).  As an adult when I was in the army and then following my army service when I was in Security I met many more.  Additionally I had not only signed petitions but I wrote letters to Members of the National Assembly (in Quebec), Members of Parliament, Prime Ministers, Presidents of the United States, and even two to successive Premieres of the Soviet Union.

It was not until the second month of my forty-fifth year that I made an appointment to sit down with my Member of Parliament to discuss issues.  To be fair, I think I started the ball rolling in the tenth month of my forty-fourth year, as Ms. Gould is a busy lady… but that is understandable.

So one bright and sunny Friday morning last month I walked in to her Riding Office to speak with her.

Mitch & Karina GouldI had met her before.  Ms. Gould had made a number of appearances at events that I was at, and we had a couple of very nice conversations.  She is really nice and easy to talk to… I suppose those are among the qualities that helped get her elected.  I told her straight out that I did not vote for her in the last election, but that I would give her and her party leader a chance to earn my vote in the next one.  I also told her that at some point I might make an appointment to speak with her… and finally I did.

We had a great conversation.  We probably spent 25 minutes speaking while her aide took notes, and while I was certainly calling her and Prime Minister Trudeau out on something that offended me, it was still a cordial and friendly meeting with respect on both sides.  If truth be told, I suspect she strongly agrees with my position, but has to toe the party line and so reserved any enthusiastic agreement she might have otherwise expressed.

I promised her I would blog about our encounter, and so I sat down to do so.  Several times in fact.  I have sat down on numerous occasions to write, and on at least three of these tries I wrote over five hundred words… and then erased them.

If you are a regular reader of my blog you will likely have noticed that it has been rather bare of late.  The professional side of me – that is, the IT Professional – has been experiencing a drastic case of Writer’s Block.  I have decided I would rather leave the page stagnant than publish the crap I have been able to write over the past few months.  A product review here, a silly commentary on the US Elections there, but not much more.  I did not even blog about the four magnificent concerts I have seen this year.

I have had no trouble writing about my meeting with The Honourable Karina Gould, Member for Burlington.

More than a decade ago I sought career advice from a man whom I still know and respect named John.  He gave me plenty of advice, some of which I followed and benefitted from, some of which I did not and have suffered for.  He is one of the people responsible for my blogging.  He told me that I should be blogging, and not just for www.MITPro.ca.  Hence MitchGarvis.com and later The World According to Mitch was born.

The other bit of advice that stuck – and which I remember although I have not always followed – is to keep the politics out of it.  I think that overall I have done a decent if not a complete job of this.  My politics – especially on many of the world’s hot-button issues – are strong and fervent, and I will gladly discuss and debate them over a beer at the pub, or better yet over a cigar.  However my days of writing political opinion pieces – as I have over the years – are for the time being behind me.

And so we come to this productive and enjoyable meeting with The Honourable Member from Burlington.  The topic was indeed one of the hot-button issues I was warned by John to avoid.  How do I write about what we discussed without once again advertising my strong political opinions in a space that should be apolitical?  Several times I sat down to write, several times I wiped my screen clear and promised to try again later.

I left the Riding Office with a Canadian flag and a pin.  I left with the promise that Ms. Gould would speak with the Prime Minister and get the answers I seek.  I left with the intent of writing strongly and learnedly of this positive meeting.  The promise and the intent remain unfulfilled… although I am patient and assume that for a freshman MP to get time with the Prime Minister may take time, and so I hope that her promise will indeed be fulfilled.

The Writer’s Block remains, and over the next few weeks I hope to break it.  I make no promises, except that if you reach out to me I will try to reply.  Have a happy Friday, and a great long Labour Day weekend.

Applying Hockey Rules to Elections…

In hockey, before a face-off, if the two players can’t settle down and play nice the referee kicks them both out of the circle and the teams have to send two different players to start the play again.

Who thinks it would be a good idea for someone to tell Hillary and Donald to skate out so the two parties can replace them with new players to play nice? 

With the American Elections Coming…

For all Americans who say they will move to Canada if one or the other jackass wins the election: 

1) The War of 1812 we kicked your asses. 

2) You had better be prepared to know and understand our geography. 

3) Learn Metric. 

4) it is important for the gorgeous women to understand that in Canada middle-aged fat guys who are not wealthy are considered absolutely hot so if you want to fit in you had better come after us with both nipples blazing. 

5) It is important for the wealthy men to understand that in Canada we believe in helping others so you will be required to support the middle aged fat guys throughout their relationships with he hot young ladies. 

6) Colour is spelled with a U. So is Favour, Flavour, and Endeavour. Get used to it, we are right and you are wrong. 

7) Any positive references to Honey Booboo and anyone similar will be cause for immediate expulsion with no appeals process. 

8) Leave your guns behind… Unless you want to hunt, then bring a single shot gun; in Canada we don’t need seventy assault rifles and handguns to hunt an unarmed deer. 

9) Hockey is better than football, and by the way some of us call soccer football, and if you don’t like it then stay home. 

10) You are either allowed to complain about the heat in he summer or the cold in the winter; never both. 

11) All of the American hockey teams that have won Stanley Cups in the last 23 years have been replete with Canadians (replete means there were lots of them). So stop trying to brag that the US has won them. 

12) It is not only suggested, rather it is obligatory to have friends on both sides of the political spectrum, and it is a requirement to treat them all with respect … Even when you disagree with them.

13) Our comedians are funnier than yours, and we are accepting of most everyone… Except rude people, so don’t be rude!

14) We are just as patriotic as you are… We just don’t think it necessary to choke everyone on it. On that note, we are generally not in-your-face like you are… So stop that.

15) Our beer is better than yours. Always.

16) If you are a huge fan of a particular American micro-brew that you think might be better than Canadian beer, please refer to Rule 15.

17) Yes our taxes are higher. It is the cost we pay for people not dying because they can’t afford health care.

18) You will hear most Canadians complain about our healthcare and roads and politics and schools and and and… Before you chime in please remember: We didn’t elect anyone so objectionable that people are moving out of the country.  So shaddap!

19) We are pretty open minded here… Leave your pre-conceived notions and bible-thumping behind.

20) We like Cuba and Cubans… Maybe better than we like America and Americans. Live with it… They are nice people and you shouldn’t ostracize an entire country for 50 years because they prevented you from invading them.

There’s more to it, but this is a good start. Memorize this and follow the rules and you will get along just fine.

Single Sign-On Woes

I love the idea of Single Sign-On.  The fact that I can use a single set of credentials when I log on to my laptop, and then not have to keep entering passwords for subsequent actions, is in theory a great idea.

However there are four ‘great ideas’ that, when combined (as they so often are) lead to a big pain in my neck.  Those are:

  • Single Sign-On
  • Password PINs
  • Ticket-Checking Tickets (such as Kerberos, Active Directory, etc…)
  • Periodic password changing

I know why we have to change our passwords, and I am glad to do it… but when you do, and especially when you are working remote, it leads to all sorts of headaches.  Does anyone have a really good solution that will let me, in the middle of my session. change my password and continue working… without having to reset, refresh, log-off, re-enter?

I am open to ideas…

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