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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!

The Technology Life… From anywhere!

When Emily from ChargeTech reached out to me recently and asked me to blog about the new ChargeTech Plug she sent me a video that their CEO had recorded.  It talks about the ability to work from on the go and to power any device from anywhere, eliminating the need to sit on the floor at the airport to be near the power outlet.  I watched the video, seeing people work from the beach and from other places I would love to work.  It shows a picture of Emily camping, and people sitting on the beach watching a large screen TV.

Copy of PLUG Park - IMG_3721_3 ScreensSo yes, the video does demonstrate that the new device (ChargeTech Plug will retail for $199 for the base model), with 48,000 mAh, is their most powerful PPO (Portable Power Outlet) yet.  I get it.  It shows that it has two 3-prong outlets (the ChargeTech Portable Power Outlet that I discussed here only had one outlet, and boasted a still-impressive 27,000 mAh).  It even shows someone (for reasons I cannot fathom) who brought their computer AND printer to the beach.  It’s the sand in the printer part that scares me… and I still wonder who needs a printer that bad.

However in my opinion, and what I wrote back to Emily, is that the video falls short of demonstrating the truly revolutionary feature of this project, the optional solar panels that will continuously recharge the Plug out in the bush, on the beach, and wherever you may be.  How incredible is that?

Plug10 TextSo with that in mind, I told Emily that I wanted to get one of these for my next Cuba trip, for a couple of reasons:

  1. How cool would it be to be able to spend a week without having to plug anything into the wall, and
  2. Did I mention that in some parts of Cuba the power can be a bit iffy? 

Here is what I have in mind:

  • Arrive in Cuba with a fully charged device, plus the two solar panels (you can get along with a single solar panel… but why would you? Smile)
  • When I arrive at the hotel I would set it up near the beds, and Eduardo and I would plug both of our CPAP machines in for the night.
  • In the morning I would set up the solar panels near the window so that the Plug could charge.
  • In the afternoon I would sit by the pool and blog, call my girlfriend and my kids, and do whatever else I might need (or want) to do on the computer and phone.  I would then go back to reading my eBook reader.
  • Before dinner I would plug all of those devices that need to charge in to the ChargeTech Plug.  I would also break down the solar panels because by now the sun would be setting… and the Plug should be fully charged anyways.
  • Because I will be taking a lot of pictures while there I will remember to charge my camera battery as well… there is little more frustrating than wanting to take pictures with a dead camera battery.
  • When it’s time for bed we would plug the CPAP machines back in… and start all over again.

Now let’s face it… What I just described is exactly what will happen when I get to Cuba because, frankly, it is exactly what happened the last time Eduardo and I were in Cuba.  But how cool is it that we can do all of this… without ever plugging a device in to a local power outlet?

Plug6 TextI’ve spent a lot of time reading about the ChargeTech Plug, and I am impressed.  With 250 Watts you can power just about any two devices short of your washing machine and dryer (remember that most airplane seat plugs will not charge a laptop if the charger is over 65W).  Its 48,000 mAh capacity is incredible, but even moreso that unlike the original PPO you can do Pass-Through Charging… in other words, power your device even when charging it. 

The Tesla battery cells are truly industry-leading, and with the ability to recharge either by plugging in or with solar panels you can truly plan to live off the grid indefinitely.  Don’t get me wrong, I have no plans to leave the grid for any extended periods of time, but if I ever wanted to I could Smile

The company is launching a crowd-funding campaign on Indiegogo, which means you can get in on the very ground floor.  That page is at https://www.indiegogo.com/project/preview/24f0c4e7#/.  If you want to help them to get the buzz going, click here and get the conversation started.  And if you want to join me for my week in Cuba, feel free to e-mail me for details Smile

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.

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