107 Days: A Microsoft Security Nightmare

I have held off talking about something for quite some time.  I do not mess around when it comes to security, especially for my critical accounts. When the actual security of an account has been compromised, as was the case with my Microsoft Account, I do not advertise it. 

On December 7th I sat in the Second Cup cafe on Bank Street in Ottawa and wrote an article called A Big, HUGE Microsoft Security FAIL.  I wrote about how I had been unable to change my password and that their engine to do so was broken, but that it turned out it was not everyone, it was just me.

There’s a temporary problem with the service. Please try again. If you continue to get this message, try again later.

It took several days for anyone at Microsoft to take me seriously, but my issue was finally escalated to a 2nd Level Support Tech named Gary (who, I want to be clear, was a nice guy, and as helpful as he could be under the circumstances).  Gary and I got to know each other sometime in mid-December.  Remember, the issue started happening the last days of November, I reported it on December 5th, and the case was escalated (grudgingly) around December 9th.

Gary spent a couple of hours trying to help, and then in discussions with the Product Engineering Team trying to get it fixed.  By the end of the day he said something to the effect of: “Yeah, neither I not our engineers have ever seen a problem like this.  It might take some time, but if you are willing we will work with you to get it fixed.”

Some time… It might take some time… that was on or about December 9th.

I am happy to say that the problem has now been resolved… As I sit and write this, with the resolution less than an hour old, it is 1:15pm, Wednesday March 22.

107I spent nearly a decade touting the virtues of Microsoft’s security… and then from the day I informed them that my password had been compromised, and that a glitch in their system was preventing me from changing it, it took 107 days to resolve the issue.

So let’s take a quick rundown of some of the sites and services that are accessed with my Microsoft Account:

  • Skype (One of the ways I communicate with hundreds of people)
  • OneDrive (All of my files!)
  • Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) account (including my MCT renewal, courseware downloads)
  • Microsoft Certified Professional (including my MCP Transcripts)
  • MSDN Subscription (including all my software licenses and keys)
  • Windows Store (including credit card information)
  • Microsoft Volume License Center (VLC)
  • Microsoft Store (including credit card information)
  • Bing
  • Microsoft Partner Portal
  • MSN
  • Outlook/Hotmail
  • MY WINDOWS COMPUTERS

And so, you can see, this is not like having my Words With Friends account compromised… This is extremely serious and far-reaching.  This was… everything.

Once a week I would get an e-mail from Gary telling me that they had not yet resolved the issue… but they were still working on it, and he would continue to keep me informed.

Proof Of Hack 2On March 6th a hacker compromised my Skype account, and sent a link to dozens of my contacts with malicious content.  Naturally those contacts let me know, and I reached out to Gary and told him that now that hackers had indeed compromised my account, they needed to resolve the issue and pronto.  Gary replied with: “I have taken a look into your account, to look for any evidence of unauthorized access, and I did not see any. Was any account info changed? Can you still login?”

a few days later that he had not been able to open the embedded picture, and asked that I resend it as an attachment.  Thank Heavens for that, because had he taken the next step immediately I would not have been able to renew my Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) credential in time.

So when Gary did finally get the picture (as seen above) he wrote (on March 18th):

If you received that message, then it could be that someone attempted to access the account.

To prevent that, I have placed a suspension on the account that will prevent any login activity. While my engineering team investigates this issue, no one will be able to break into the account. I have also left a note on the account so that the attacker will not be able to attempt to remove it.

Wonderful.  You are suspending my account now, probably after the damage has been done, but all this is doing is punishing me.  FIX THE DAMNED PROBLEM!

On the same day as I received this e-mail I wrote the following one line response:

Gary this is no longer acceptable. I am calling a lawyer.

On Tuesday (March 21) I received Gary’s reply:

In light of this recent reply, I have escalated this issue to a second team within Microsoft, and am awaiting to hear their response.

I understand the frustration, but please know that I cannot do anything to speed up the engineers and Ops teams working on this issue.

Wouldn’t you know it… The following day (that’s today, Wednesday March 22, 2017 – 107 days after I first reported the issue) I received a call from Gary that started with:

Well Mitch, it seems that when you threaten to call a lawyer things get done faster.  I think we have solved your problem.

Indeed, before the phone call ended I had successfully changed my password.

One hundred and seven days after I first reported the problem.

One hundred and seven days since I told Microsoft there was a problem with their security.

One hundred and seven days since I told Microsoft that my account had been compromised, that someone had my password, and that I needed their help to secure my data and reputation.

One hundred and seven days.  Actually it was only 105 days since I wrote the original article (which will be published shortly after this one, untouched since the original writing).

So why didn’t I publish sooner?

There are a handful… maybe four or five people who know the story and who understand some of my frustrations with this case.  These are also people who know I have a great bully pulpit in the form of this blog.  They have all asked me ‘Why didn’t you publish sooner?’  Two of them asked why I did not go to the mainstream technology media to let them know about this.

Simple… I have an account that is easy enough to guess, to which I could not change the password.  If the wrong people knew about that they would have focused on getting that password and, once they had it, they knew I couldn’t change it.  They would have literally owned me. 

And so I sat quietly, seemingly patiently, waiting for Microsoft to fix the problem.  I waited those 107 days knowing that when it was finally resolved I would a) breathe a big, huge sigh of relief, and b) sit down and write this piece, venting my facts and frustrations.

MICROSOFT! HOW DARE YOU? How can you let ANY problem, let alone one as serious as this, fester for so long unresolved?  Do you think you owe me nothing?  At this point I am still considering a lawsuit, and if you don’t think damaging my reputation and peace of mind is worth damages in a court of law then you are seriously misreading the system.  You should be ashamed of yourselves, and you should be tracking down who is responsible for this travesty, this shame, and firing them.

I got that off my chest.  I have, over the past two weeks, asked friends and colleagues for recommendations on lawyers.  I might just reach out to one this afternoon.  We’ll see.

Outlook / Hotmail Issues Acknowledged

When I posted my last couple of posts Microsoft was reporting that ‘All is Well.’  Dashboards were green, nothing to see here.  That has now changed:

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So we know now that the issues are pretty serious… at least, serious enough that they are now acknowledging them.

As for me, I have been having an issue with my Microsoft account that has been ongoing since December 5th.  I have held off talking about it for security reasons, but with all that has been going on today, and the fact that yesterday my account might have been hacked, I am planning on writing about it tonight.  And boy are you guys going to be shocked.  All I will say for now is this: DO NOT TRUST MICROSOFT SECURITY. 

Yes, I said it.  For a decade I have been espousing the virtues and benefits of Microsoft’s security.  Unfortunately I have had to change my position on this, and in a very big way.  DO NOT TRUST THEM.  It has cost me terribly, and I will tell you about it tomorrow.

M

Outlook / Hotmail Down: Update

So the worst fear of hundreds of millions of computer users has been realized today.

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As I reported a little while ago, Outlook.com and Hotmail.com are down.  But it goes much deeper than that.  If login.live.com is down (see screen capture) that also means that OneDrive, Skype, and even XBox Live are out as well.  If you are a Microsoft Certified Trainer and you were planning to download courseware today, that’s not available either.  In fact, any service that requires authentication with a Microsoft Account is down right now.  We are still awaiting word from Microsoft as to when these services might be restored.  But for now, you (and I) will simply have to wait… in the figurative dark.

Outlook / Hotmail Down?

After receiving notification on my iPhone this morning that there was a problem with one of my Outlook.com accounts I went onto my computer to try it out.  It did not work there either, so I did some investigating.  It looks like this system is suffering a major outage today.  I am not sure if this is strictly the e-mail, or if other services relying on the extremely popular Microsoft Account (formerly Microsoft Passport, Live ID) are out as well.  One this is for sure… there are a lot of unhappy users on-line this morning who are not receiving their e-mail.  More to come!

Resize Live Virtual Hard Drives

 

I have used Hyper-V for as long as there has been Hyper-V.  Today I use it much less than I once did, but it is still handy for running VMs on my laptop.  I run a particular VM called ‘Sandbox’ in which I do all sorts of things that I would not want to do on my live system… things that I can simply try and then wipe.

When I built the Sandbox VM I was spending a lot of time at home, and portability was not a huge issue.  I ran it on one of my external drives, and it worked fine.  I allocated 100GB and was good to go.

When I realized I was going to be on the road again I could just as easily take my external hard drive with me, but the shortage of USB ports on my Surface Pro meant making a decision… I was going to shrink the VHDX file and put it on my internal hard drive.

76GB free space.  That’s going to be a problem.

Step 1: Shrink your partitions

My 100GB virtual hard drive (.vhdx file) meant that somewhere within the VM I had a 100GB partition (or at least a few partitions that added up to that).  I had to shrink as much as I could.

  1. If you have a Pagefile.sys, Swapfile.sys, and Hiberfil.sys you should eliminate them now.  Remember that even if you turn off Memory Paging the files don’t disappear until you reboot.
  2. Defragment the disk.  We may not talk much about it anymore, but the old faithful defrag.exe C: still works. 
  3. Use the Disk Manager console to shrink your C: as much as you can… but not too much.  When I tried it I had the option to shrink it down to 11.5 GB… I’m pretty sure that would render my VM pretty useless.  Pick a number that works for you.  I chose 60GB.
  4. Using the diskpart tool delete any partitions at the end of your drive.  I had a 450MB Recovery partition on mine.

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Because it was a Recovery (read: SYSTEM) partition I needed to do the following:

Select Partition 5

Delete Partition OVERRIDE

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Good… Now we can shrink the VHDX file.

In the older versions of Hyper-V this would have meant shutting down the VM.  You don’t have to do that anymore… but you do have to run PowerShell as an Admin.  Once you do:

Step 2: Shrink your VHDX file

The cmdlet is easy…

  1. Navigate to the directory where you keep your VHD file;
  2. Resize-VHD -Path .\Sandbox-PC.vhdx -SizeBytes 60GB

It will only take a minute and you will be done.  Simple as pie!

Free E-Books for your Technical Library

Every so often Microsoft releases a bunch of new books that they give away for free.  Most of the time they are for the latest and greatest software and systems, so they are worth checking out.  Currently they have books for:

Microsoft SQL Server 2016

Windows Server 2016

Microsoft Azure

Microsoft Power BI

Windows 10

Microsoft SharePoint Hybrid Capabilities

Mobile App Development

…and much more.  Check out the list here.

While it is nice to be able to download these as PDF files, I am really happy that I can also download all of these files as proper e-Books from www.kobobooks.com for my Kobo, and I assume from www.Amazon.ca for my Kindle (I don’t have a Kindle… but you know what I am saying).

Here is what I like to do to make sure I don’t miss a thing:

  1. I log on to my Kobo account.
  2. I enter the name of the product I am looking for in the Search bar (say, Windows 10).
  3. When the list comes up I change the Sort parameters to Sort By: Price: Low to High.  This ensures that the FREE books come up first.

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Let me be clear though, there are some excellent books on all of these subjects that are not free, and are probably worth buying.  That is not the point of the article though Smile

Thanks Microsoft Virtual Academy!

A Good Day…

My day started with an urgent matter at the office… It was a small thing to fix but it prevented someone from working, so it was my priority.  Unfortunately for some reason I couldn’t connect to my corporate VPN, so I went into the office and fixed it.

Because I am not working full time right now I normally would not have gone in today… in fact, knowing how I was feeling after not getting a lot of sleep last night I might just have stayed home and taken a lazy day until my appointments which start late in the afternoon.  No, I was in the office at 9:30am instead.

I was not upset about this… far from it.  I have been getting things done that I needed to do today, some of which I have been putting off for a while.  I went to the Microsoft Store to pick something up (and exchange another), and I am not going to head downtown to pick up a gift certificate I won on the radio.

There are going to be bad days, no question.  But there are also days that can be looked at from different perspectives, and the difference between a good day and a bad day may just be how you decide to view it.  I decided to make today a good day… I hope yours is too!

Dickens Had It Right…

Ok, not about everything…

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… This is certainly one of the most familiar opening lines of any book written since Genesis (which, it should be noted, was not a book at all).  The opening sentence from A Tale of Two Cities can certainly describe the last couple of years of my life.

To look at Facebook, 2016 was the worst year ever.  from the deaths of celebrities from David Bowie and Allan Rickman and Glenn Frey and myriad others, to the nastiest U.S. Election Campaign in history (culminating in the election of who can best be described as ‘The Lesser of Two Evils’) , 2016 was simply a terrible year.

I rang in 2016 at a beach resort in Cuba, with the woman I expected to spend the rest of my life with, having just finished implementing the largest IT project I had ever architected.  My family was healthy, and things were looking good.

January and February of 2016 were certainly good months for me.

Professionally, as well as financially, 2016 were not terrible years for me.  I re-joined and subsequently re-left Microsoft as a contractor… I taught a few classes.  I earned a decent if not spectacular living… but I was able to pay my bills and still put a couple of shekels aside for a rainy day. 

I remembered that while my responsibilities are important, it is also important to live.  So I went on more vacations in 2016 than in any previous year, bar none.  That is to say, trips where I got onto an airplane to a destination where NO work had to be done:

  • I went to Cuba over New Year with my (then) girlfriend… Ten days in Paradise, in the Las Tunas province, far from everything but the beach and the bar.
  • I went to Las Vegas in May with the same girlfriend (shortly after we got back together following our first breakup) and a couple of friends.  We had some good food, we saw two amazing bucket-list concerts.
  • I went twice more to Cuba with a friend (this time to Varadero), with numerous side trips into Havana).

Unfortunately not all was sunshine and cigars… Things with the girlfriend were going so well… until she ended things… twice.  When we got back together she made it clear that we were forever.  Unfortunately Forever didn’t last… in fact it didn’t quite make it to Thanksgiving.  And so I am single again.  I will spare you a retelling of the drama.

My best friend in the whole world… my four-legged friend who always meant everything to me passed away in March.  I do not know if it was the saddest day of the year… yes, I do.  It was heartbreaking to watch him suffer, and to hold him as he closed his eyes for the last time.  I cannot think of anything that made me cry like I did that night.  I also cannot think of anything that made me drink like I did that night. 

While the attachment was not at all like with Jacob, my now ex-girlfriend’s dog passed away a few months later.  Sir Gunter Red-Mane was another wonderful friend, and that was another very sad day.

As a father, it is amazing to watch my children grow, to mature.  It is also very painful to watch their growing pains.  My older son has grown into an amazing 18-year-old who is at a stage where he wants to be a man, but like any kid of that age he does not have all of the tools he needs to be one.  However he has gone off to university, and one day he will conquer the world.

My younger son is a happy little boy who has some issues, and we are dealing with them.  I thank G-d every day for his mother who does an amazing job with him.  I know that I am the ‘weekend Dad’ who gets to have fun with him and watch movies and go out, but she is the one who deals with the times when he is not all smiles and giggles.  She and I may not have been good as a married couple, but I am so grateful to have her as a co-parent.

My health is okay, my weight today (despite all my best efforts) is about 5lbs less than it was a year ago… better than 5lbs up, but still not enough.  That is my continuing struggle.  I have spent a good amount of time working out at the gym over the past year… not as consistent as I need to be, but much better than I could be.

And now, looking forward at 2017, I do not know what will be… I will strive to make it the best year that I can, and hope I can deal with any problems that arise as well as possible.

I know I am 18 days late folks… but Happy 2017 to all of you!

Remotely Enable RDP

Like most IT Managers I manage myriad servers, most of which are both remote and virtual.  So when I configure them initially I make sure that I can manage them remotely… including in most cases the ability to connect via RDP (Remote Desktop).

But what happens if you have a server that you need to connect to, but does not have RDP enabled?  Using PowerShell it is rather simple to enable the RDP feature remotely:

Enter-PSSession -ComputerName computername.domain.com –Credential domain\username
Set-ItemProperty -Path ‘HKLM:\System\CurrentControlSet\Control\Terminal Server’-name “fDenyTSConnections” -Value 0
Enable-NetFirewallRule -DisplayGroup “Remote Desktop”
Set-ItemProperty -Path ‘HKLM:\System\CurrentControlSet\Control\Terminal Server\WinStations\RDP-Tcp’ -name “UserAuthentication” -Value 1

That should get you going.  Good luck!

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.

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.

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! 🙂

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!