Are you kidding me?

I have figured out why Godzilla was able to attack Tokyo without any advance warning. It’s because everyone was going about their business, distracted… Either by cell phones or manga books or just generally ignoring their surroundings. 

If you haven’t met me, let me paint a picture: I am 6’2″ tall (a head taller than the average adult male here) and I tip the scales at around 350lbs… Not to mention that 21 years after my enlistment I still walk like a cross between a soldier and a tank.  Let’s add the cherry on top… I wear a big cowboy hat.

And yet… People walk into me, step into my path (half a step from getting hurt), or else walk toward me expecting I will get out of their way… Even though there are ten lanes of pedestrians walking with them, and only two lanes of pedestrians in my lane (yes, there are pedestrian lanes here, and for the most part they are respected).

Folks, I am a big guy, and while I was once a lot nimbler than I am, that was a long time ago. If my stride is going to take me forward, by the time you unexpectedly decide to occupy treat space that I have a half a second to not move into suddenly… It’s too late.

Oh, and I should mention something else… If I outweigh you by 200lbs (that’s about 90kg before you try to make that excuse) and you and I collide… Well let’s put it this way: I will feel it… But it won’t hurt me. The physical recollection of our brief accidental encounter will be a memory for me forgotten within minutes, and quicker if I am thinking of something else.  You, on the other hand, will likely fee like you got hit by a truck. It will hurt… A lot… For a long time. Why? Because I stand like a brick wall and walk like a tank. I may be fat, but I am solid… VERY solid. ‘Let’s put Mitch in the CENTRE so nobody can get into our key’ solid. ‘If we need to walk through a crowd of rowdy people let’s put Mitch out front and we can walk through the clearing he causes’ solid.  Physics will work against you unless you are a sumo wrestler… And you’d better be super-heavyweight at that.

So Tokyo (and all of Japan), I want to leave you with this simple lesson. Look up. I’m not going to hurt you on purpose… But if you are lookin at your cellphone and not at me when we walk into each other then you are about to be having a very bad day.

I love you. Really. So please, don’t do it. Pay attention when you walk.

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A Modern Christmas Carol by Mitch

Twas the night before Christmas in faraway Japan

Christmas in Shibuya

Christmas in Shibuya (Photo credit: jpellgen)

One Jewish boy was still working with aplomb and elan.

He tried to clear his dashboard of servers of red,

While visions of sashimi swum round in his head.

He raised his head up from his screen on occasion,

To see some of his colleagues showing true dedication.

There were no reindeer atop Rakuten’s roof,

But our hero knew later he’d enjoy 80 proof.

An eighteen year old would bring great delight,

Which is odd, as alone he would spend this here night.

And then, the thought did enter into his mind

Of a place where likeminded company he’d find.

His carriage would not be pulled by eight reindeer,

But the Japan Rail train out of the station so near.

From Shinagawa Seaside he would go forth,

All the way to Shibuya, no pole but points north.

Where bars and restaurants filled with the cheer

Of dozens or scores of patrons with beer!

Izakaya is where he will make his own way,

To imbibe with his tribe after a helluva day.

A night of good food and good drink lay alee,

He thought to himself with more than slight glee.

Or maybe, he thought, as his head he did knock,

I should follow my diet, and go for a walk.

The streets of Tokyo, aglow with festive light

Held many a vision for his sheer delight.

Still and all, though enjoy himself this night he would,

His mind was focused on back home – where his family stood.

Theresa and Aaron, Gilad, Gingit, and Jake

Danced in his mind as a pause he did take.

Before going out for food and for drink,

He’d head to the hotel for a Skype he did think.

But alas, the time zone didn’t work in his favour,

And let the fam sleep as their rest they should savour.

But after his food, a drink or two and a walk

He’d head back to his room, with his family to talk.

And so we can end this Christmas tale, which rings true and not tall,

To you all a good night, and Merry Christmas to all!

Thanks for your support!

Image representing Microsoft as depicted in Cr...

Image via CrunchBase

Over the past few days I have received an incredible number of you asking what happened, if I am okay, and if I will be alright.  I can assure you I am.  Let me explain.

A great many of you have known me as a Microsoft contractor.  I have been for quite some time, first as a Virtual Partner Technology Advisor, then as a Virtual Technical Evangelist, and most recently as a member of the Server and Tools Business.  So when e-mails to my @microsoft.com account started to bounce (Tuesday this week) a lot of people expressed their concern.  I am quite touched by the outpouring of support!

I have always contracted to Microsoft through its Canadian subsidiary, Microsoft Canada.  In September of this year I accepted a contract with Rakuten, Inc – a Japanese company – that would see me spending most of my time in Tokyo.  Although we tried, there was no good way for Microsoft Canada to keep me on.  It was not done maliciously – in fact, my skip-level (my manager’s manager) did everything he could to a) keep me on, b) communicate the issues with me, and then c) accommodate my request for a timeline extension.

So let me answer some of the ‘Best Of’ questions… the ones that seem to be coing up most often.

1. Did your decision to leave Microsoft have to do with being turned down for a particular position?

No. Although over the past year I have indeed been turned down for a position, it has worked out very well for me in almost every way imaginable.  While taking that role would have been good for me, I have been able to grow in the direction I have wanted to grow.  Because of my independence I have been able to accept the consulting project I am currently working on, which is one of the mot exciting projects I have worked on in years.

2. Did you leave Microsoft because of a disagreement?

No… and yes.  I suppose in the end we disagreed on geography – my consulting role needed me to be in Japan, and Microsoft Canada would have needed me to be in Canada.  Other than that there was no disagreement whatsoever.

3. Did you leave because you did not like the direction in which the company was heading?

Not at all.  In the army I topped out at Staff Sergeant, and as such I learned quickly that some things were above my pay grade.  At Microsoft that was the case as well – I know that a lot of things are out of my control, but I also knew that whatever direction the company would take, my position (should I have elected to keep it) was safe.  Whatever decisions the company made, as a VMware Compete expert I was reasonably safe 🙂

4. Do you feel any disdain toward Microsoft, Microsoft Canada, or anyone you worked for or with?

ABSOLUTELY NOT.  I loved working there, and while I may have had the occasional issue with someone they were always resolved.

5. Did you leave Microsoft to work with competing technologies?

NO.  Although over the past couple of weeks I have made a habit to wear my non-Microsoft branded shirts more than usual, I have not ‘gone over’ to any other competing technology.  With that being said, I am carrying an iPhone now not because I left Microsoft… because Windows Phone 8 is not available in Japan, and this is what the company I am working for gave me.

6. Will you be going back to Microsoft?

That is a very good question. What I once thought of as my dream job no longer holds the same appeal to me.  With that being said, there are a lot of jobs at Microsoft, and should the right opportunity present itself I would be glad to go back, either for the right contract or for the right full time position.  However one thing is for certain: I no longer view Microsoft as the Holy Grail of companies.  I think they are a great company to work for, but there are a lot of other great companies out there.

7. What will you miss most about it?

I had to give this question a little thought.  My first knee-jerk reaction was the people, but then I realized that the people I got to know are still there, and are still available to me.  I am still a Microsoft MVP, a Microsoft Certified Trainer, and an influencer.  My friends are still my friends.  When it comes down to it, I suppose what I will miss most is having Lync… having the ability to call my family from Japan was a great tool!

8. Any regrets?

None at all… for the remainder of my time in Japan I will continue to work closely with Microsoft, but not with the Canadian team.  It is a really exciting project, and I would not trade it for anything.

I want to thank you all again for your concern and support, and hope to be able to continue working with you in the future!

Server Core Address Woes

From the files of “What the F@rk?!”

Here’s a little gotcha that I’ve been wrestling with all afternoon.  I hope this post can save some of you the frustration (exacerbated by jetlag) that I have been experiencing.

I am configuring a bunch of virtual machines as domain controllers for the company I am consulting for in Japan.  Things are going really smooth on the project, but we wanted to spin up half a dozen DCs for the new environment, so I figured I’d just spend a few minutes on it.  Then I had to configure the IP Addresses… something I have done thousands of times, both in Server Core and the GUI.  I have never encountered THIS before.

Server 1: Done.

Server 2: Done

Server 3: NO

Server 4: Done

…and so on.  I went back to Server 3 figuring there was a bit of a glitch, and sure enough, it had an APIPA (Automatically Provided IP Address) assigned.

I loaded up the sconfig menu, and set the IP Address by hand.  The weirdest thing happened… it replaced my IPv6 address with the Class A address I assigned, and left the APIPA address.

I went down to the command line… netsh interface ipv4 set address name=”Ethernet” static 10.x.y.z…  and it still gave me an APIPA address.

I was getting frustrated… something was simply not going right.  And then it occurred to me… someone else was playing on my network.  Sure enough, he had already assigned that address.  Instead of giving me a warning, it simply wouldn’t duplicate an address that already existed.

Now if I had already implemented my monitoring solution, this would never have happened!

The Urinating Boy, and the weirdest volunteers ever…

DSCN4456At the north end of Platform 2 of the Hamamatsucho Station on the Yamanote line there is a statue/fountain that may be the strangest I have seen since I got to Japan.  I actually have no business at this station and never would have seen it, except for that another gaijin that I met recently was telling me about it.  I still likely would not have sought it out, but on Saturday I was essentially wandering aimlessly, and when the conductor announced that we were approaching that station (please don’t ask me to type the name again) I decided to hop off and look for it before continuing on my way.DSCN4451

I am glad I was able to find it on my own, because it is quite small, and good as my communications via gesticulations may be I have trouble conceiving how I would have asked someone where this particular statue was.  If it was the Venus de Milo or the Statue of David I would be able to figure it out, but this one … I just have these terrible images of … never mind.

The statue/fountain is, as you can see, of a small boy.  Really it is no more that 75cm tall.  None of this makes this a weird statue.  The fact, however, that the boy is urinating into the pool (a practice I have always thought to be frowned upon) is only the first part of the weirdness of this statue… and if that was the beginning and the end of it I never would have gotten off the train.

DSCN4453Did you notice that the boy is dressed?  This is a weird state for a statue, whether or not the statue happens to be a fountain of a boy continuously urinating into the pool.

Now here’s where the weirdest part comes in.  There is, I am told, a group of volunteers whose task it is to dress this little boy.  Please take a minute to think about this: The statue firstly is quite sealed to the base; as well its weewee is… well, out and in use, I could imagine this causing several logistical issues.  According to my friend (and this is the weirdest part) the volunteers actually custom-sew the outfits, and then dress the little guy, without covering his weewee, and presumably without turning the fountain off.

I don’t know how often they change him, but my friend told me it is often enough.  More importantly, I would love to know how one applies to the position of Member of the Order of Dressing the Urinating Boy Statue… Are there auditions, tryouts, eliminations?  Who selects them?  Is there a compensation package?  Is it a full-time gig, are there term limits?  How long is a term?

So I saw the statue/fountain, and I went about my day.  I will be going back though… my friend told me that they change him every few days, and it is worth checking out the different outfits.  I won’t go out of my way, but if I am on that line passing that station, why not? 🙂

Have a great week…

Thank you readers and Happy Halloween!!

The calendar has turned in Tokyo.  Although there are a few hours left in North America, here it is now Friday, and more importantly it is November.  I got in late from a Halloween party in Shibuya… the whole city was a crazy place tonight, and I have the pictures to prove it (they come later in the post).

In the meantime, despite there being several hours left on the East Coast, October (2013) has been guaranteed the top month ever for The World According to Mitch.  I hope it is a combination of on-point technical articles, and my life experience (currently in Japan) that has drawn so many of you here, and so many of you keep coming back.  Thank you!image

As always I want to hear from you… tell me what you want to see more of, what you like and don’t like.  I read all of your comments, and try to adjust as I can.  In the meantime I promised some of you more wild Tokyo Halloween costumes, so here they are!

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I thought these were some of the wildest costumes I’d seen… as were most people they were only too happy to pose with me,  However the costumes get even more interesting when you look close… I am not a pervert, and would never take and post dirty pictures, but this next photo of one of the girls sitting down underscored the detail put into the costume… namely, their skivvies are also lighting up and flashing!  The people I was with couldn’t help but wonder how well insulated the costumes were, because moisture and electrical charges are a bad mix… Talk about fiery sex!  (Also when they turned their costumes off you could see that their undergarments had been coordinated as well as the rest of their costumes…)

DSCN4403 I thought this next costume was quite clever, and proves that I am not only taking pictures of sexy girls in scantily clad costumes.  I also got to take a picture of two gentlemen wearing naked women’s bodies 😉

DSCN4389

This gentleman was at the bar where I spent the evening, but by coincidence is also from Toronto!  He’s spending some time in Japan just like I am, but wasn’t careful because with all of the zombies out it looks like one of them tried to eat his brains!

DSCN4399

Wow….

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I am not sure what these girls are dressed as, but don’t they look so cute?  (Notice the McDonald’s Golden Arches in the background…)

DSCN4412

I told you they coordinate their costumes, right>

DSCN4423

I wonder if he can predict going home alone tonight?

DSCN4431

It is good to see religion and Disney come together at last…

DSCN4433

Anyone care for some of these guys grilled up with some balsamic vinegar?

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…and finally some truly Japanese costumes… worn by some NOT SO JAPANESE guys…

DSCN4438 All in all it was a crazy night.  You wouldn’t think that dressed as I was (golf shirt and my leather jacket) that I would win a costume contest, would you?  Alas, I did… until it was proven that I cheated.  When I entered I told them that my name was Mariko, and that i was a 22 year old short Japanese girl in full makeup.  When I was announced as the winner the girls in the Red Army/Stewardess costumes (see the photo in front of Cafe Miyama) Attacked me and stripped me naked trying to prove I wasn’t who I said I was.  The trophy was taken away from me, but I think I still came out ahead!

Happy Halloween, Happy November, and thanks again for reading!

Respect the Belt… Respect the Art.

Kyokushinkai

Kyokushinkai (Photo credit: kamorphus)

I mentioned in conversation a couple of days ago that I was going to be starting to learn Kyokushin Karate in Japan and that I was very excited.  One of the people involved in the discussion mentioned that the first few months of any martial art is going to be less interesting, but if I stuck with it I would probably start to enjoy it.  I told him that I was not new to martial arts, only to Karate, and that I was a Second Dan Black Belt in Taekwondo.  He then went off on a tangent telling me how Taekwondo is not a serious martial art, and it’s only about kicking, and how real martial artists (like the ones in the UFC) study Muay Thai, BJJ, and other serious arts.

Now here’s the thing… he was very clear that he is not a martial artist, but he is a big fan, and he continued insulting Taekwondo as being inferior and useless as compared to other martial arts.  He talked about the Monk Tournament, UFC, and seemed to know a lot of the plusses and minuses of many different martial arts.

The problem was he had never learned about respect, one of the key tenets of every martial art.  He did not realize and would not listen when told by me and by others that he was being offensive, insulting, and disrespectful.  He kept trying to prove that his book knowledge made him an authority.  I told him that I would gladly invite him to my dojang in Mississauga to learn Taekwondo, and see if he might learn a new respect for it.  One way or another, until he earned a Black Belt I was not willing to listen to him insult me, my Master, my GrandMaster, and my art.

Here’s the thing.  I know that different martial arts have their strengths and their weaknesses, and frankly I am quite cognizant of these.  However if someone is going to tell me how much they dislike my primary martial art, they had better have a Black Belt of their own, otherwise they cannot have any credibility.  The Black Belt can be in any art, from Karate to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to whatever, but to come at me with pure theory and telling me that my art isn’t very good is a very strong insult from someone with absolutely no idea what he is talking about.

The person continued talking about ‘pure martial artists’… people who strictly learn a single art.  In my experience, there is no one perfect martial art, and any practitioner who is serious will have a base in one art but a lot of knowledge of others – for example, my Taekwondo school (Oriental Martial Arts College) does teach Taekwondo, but we also integrate a lot of Hapkido into the curriculum from the very early belts.  The Hapkido complements Taekwondo and closes some of the potential shortcomings.  As my Master once told me, there is no pure martial art because all martial arts borrow from each other and evolve.  The fans of UFC may prefer watching certain forms, but even the UFC fighters use different styles… hence the name Mixed Martial Arts.

I  had visited the Kyokushin dojo once before to watch a class before returning to join.  I had not told the Sensei anything about my previous martial arts experience… I wanted to (out of respect for both him and for GrandMaster Kim), and had even arranged to bring a friend to translate for me.  It fell through, so I had to do my best… I told him I wanted to learn from him, he told me what the rates were, and that was essentially the end of the conversation.  clip12.288115402_stdWhen I returned Monday evening he told me to change at the back of the room.  As I pulled my workout kit out (I don’t have a gi yet, but it is on order) the Sensei saw my Black Belt pop out.  He immediately had his entire class turn and bow to me.  They may practice a different art from me, but a Black Belt is a Black Belt.

When my gi does come in, for the first time in several years, I will be wearing a White Belt.  I will not ask the Sensei for any special considerations for me based on my pre-existing Black Belt – I am a Black Belt already, and that does not change by donning a white one for a new art.  Even in Taekwondo one of our words of wisdom that we repeat after class is Cho Shim… Beginner’s Mind.  I am looking forward to starting from the beginning again though… it is really exciting!  More on that later.

Wish me luck… it’s the morning after, and my body is aching just like I hoped.  I kept up just fine, but am really looking forward to sparring… Sensei won’t let me spar until I have the protective equipment.  Look forward to a bunch of articles about my new martial art in the next few weeks!

A Real Trip… Happy Halloween from Japan!

Saturday night was Halloween.  Okay, no it wasn’t, but obviously all of the great parties for that occasion are on the week-end.  If you can imagine that in Tokyo people seem to dress up in costumes on a regular basis for no good reason, they you will believe that Halloween in Tokyo (and especially in Shibuya) is something you gotta see.

With that being said, I had no idea that it was going to be like that.  The company where I am working in Tokyo hosted a technology conference Saturday, and there are several people from different divisions around the world who came into town for it.  At lunch I met one such person, who is in town for three days from California.  She hadn’t had a decent Japanese meal yet, nor had she seen anything in the country aside from the taxi from the airport.  I asked her if she wanted to change that this evening, and she agreed.  Before the day was out we had collected a couple of other people who wanted to join us, and we headed to Shibuya.

Shibuya Crossing 1For the uninitiated, Shibuya Crossing is something you have to experience if you come to Tokyo.  It is possibly the busiest intersection anywhere in the world.  The picture you see here is everybody crossing in every direction, as seen from the Starbucks second floor window.  This was not taken at a particularly busy time.  However I am told that there was a documentary that set up a camera to check, and at no point in a 48 hour period was nobody crossing the street when the lights permitted.  It is across from Shibuya Station, and if you have ever seen a picture of Tokyo where it is BUSY AND HOPPING, this is likely where that picture was taken (although the entire city is pretty busy and hopping).

After a wonderful dinner (we just picked any old sushi restaurant and had an amazing meal – the best that either Joseline or Damien had ever had, although it was only just as good as every other sushi dinner I have had here) we SwedenJapanSingaporewalked around Shibuya watching people for a while, and then decided to drop into a standing bar that I was introduced to last week.  It’s a nice place with a mix of locals and foreigners, and usually has sports on the large screen TV (tonight it was Manchester United over Stoke, although we didn’t stay to see the end of the match).

We met a bunch of interesting people… at first we were chatting with an eclectic group in costume – the guys were from Sweden and Japan, the woman from Singapore.  I thought it was strange to run into three people together from three different countries… until i realized I was a Canadian hanging out with an American and a Frenchman.  How appropriate indeed 🙂  Later we were joined by a priest and his friend (she refused to don her costume, although I have it on good authority that she had a cape in her bag).  The priest was actually an architecture student from Austria, and his friend (the smallest full-grown woman I have ever had a conversation with) was from Spain.  Again, really nice people.  In fact now that I think of it, everyone that I met there was pretty nice 🙂

DSCN4136 I discovered that here a LOT of people… not just the occasional one or two, seem to like pose for pictures.  This group of girls (and the guy with the hood over his face) saw that I had a camera and they all struck a pose.  I hadn’t (and didn’t speak to any of them, but they wanted me to take their picture, and I was happy to oblige them.  As well there were SCORES of groups and individuals on the street were just posing everywhere to let others – complete strangers! – pose with them for pictures.  I took a picture of Mario and Luigi (yes, THE Mario and Luigi of video game fame… ) because I I thought is was a clever and unique costume… until I realized that there were several dozen Luigis and even more Marios!  What can you do, at least these two were the ORIGINALS 🙂

Shibuya Mario & LuigiThere were a lot of themes to the costumes.  Firstly I should mention that it seems that the order of the day is SKIMPY for women of all ages here.  Zombies, Brides (and especially zombie brides) were all around – as you can see from the picture.  There were super heroes everywhere, a few ninjas and samurai, lots of Power Rangers, naughty nurses, and of course sexy maids.  Speaking of sexy, there was no shortage of women and men in all manner of what could only be described as Bondage Wear, and frankly I saw some of the shortest skirts I have ever seen, as well as one woman who decided to leave the skirt at home and was simply walking around in a pair of panties that were milimetres from being a pure thong.  I confess that the three of us were so surprised by that outfit that by the time we started discussing it we all realized that none of us had seen what the top of her costume was.

I was surprised by how many groups (gropes?) obviously coordinated their costumes, as the group of slain zombie brides who posed for this picture.  They were far from the exception, there were hundreds such groups.  I was truly amazed.

Shibuya Halloween Brides1

Now here’s the weird part about it, and what makes Tokyo one of the wildest cities that I’ve ever been to… I was in Shibuya a week ago, and while there weren’t quite as many or as varied costumes as there were tonight, there were still lots of people dressed up – I saw someone wearing a full Star Wars Storm Trouper outfit (complete helmet, not just a mask) last week dancing on one of the corners.  I couldn’t get past Princess Leia’s line: ‘You’re a little short to be a Storm Trouper, aren’t you?’  He was about 5’5, but he was dancing and moving and having a grand old time… as was everyone!

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Have a great week folks, and remember… as this IS the week of Halloween you will be seeing some strange things out there… but I’ll be seeing a lot of them here too, and I’ll try to photograph and blog about as many of them as I can.  Stay tuned, and thanks for reading! -M

Altitude Dashboard

Okay I admit it… it seems I have not been paying attention, because I just found a personalized dashboard on Air Canada’s Aeroplan page that seems really helpful.  I wish I would have known about it sooner, because it really does appear quite useful! In fact, I have used it today to prove that fact!

https://altitude.aircanada.com/mystatus/dashboard

imageI woke up in the middle of the night tonight because the drugs I am taking to fight my cold/chest infection are screwing with my wake/sleep schedule.  After doing everything else I had to do, I started chatting with my friend Jessica who is points-obsessed.  That is to say, she and her husband have found every way imaginable to get Aeroplan points from contests, challenges, and even flying.  I started wondering what status I would have for next year, seeing as I do travel quite a bit.

I went to the Aeroplan page (which I am quite familiar with) and saw where I was… and then started doing math in my head… I was trying to figure out how many more miles I would be flying this year… and although I know that I am a shoe-in for Altitude 75K, I started to wonder if I had a chance of hitting the elusive Altitude 100K…

…and then I saw a button that said ‘check your dashboard.’  I don’t remember having seen it before,so I clicked on it.  Behold, the page that opened has some really helpful information on it – not just on what you have, but on what you need in order to achieve the next level, including threshold gifts.

image I started doing the math… I am flying home from Tokyo next month – my dashboard clearly showed (I had to scroll down) that my flight from Toronto to Tokyo (via Vancouver) was 6,742 miles… but because I flew Executive First Class I got a 50% bonus of Status Miles… rounding it off to 10,115.  Logically my flight back in November will give me the same number of miles, seeing as I am taking the same flights in reverse.  That is another 10,115 miles.

Of course, the following week I am turning around and flying right back to Japan.  Assuming the same flight path, and a return flight at the end of December, that is another 20,230 miles.  Assuming my math is right, that brings me to 79,559 Altitude Qualifying Miles (AQM) for the year.  Right there, I am at Altitude 75K… the next level up.

But wait… I have one more trip in December… flying from Tokyo to Sydney, Australia for ten days.  Flying direct is 4,757 miles… which means 9,514 miles, plus another 4,757 bonus for flying First Class.  However if I fly either through Wellington, NZ or through Singapore then it bumps to 7,100 miles (plus or minus) each way, which means 10,650 miles each way, which would give me a little over 100,800 miles for the year, and the Altitude 100K (formerly Super Elite) status that I am hoping for.

(I have to admit it, one of the main reasons I would rather fly through Singapore is that I would get to fly on the Airbus A380, which I have not been on yet!)

(For those of you wondering what the benefits are, check out the site.)

Don’t get me wrong.  I have told many people before that they should not be jealous of the status of frequent fliers because it means that we have to be away from home as often as we are.  I stand by that.  However if you are going to be away from home that often, it is nice to get the benefits that go alone with it… and yes, among frequent fliers there are certain bragging rights that go with it.

One of my favorite benefits, by the way, is being able to bypass the long lines for checking in, security, and boarding.  A friend of mine on Facebook (whose name I will not mention, but if he is reading this is welcome to chime in) once told me that this is elitist, and I should not be so proud that I skip the lines.  It is not a question of elitist (although I think I replied at the time that his thinking was not a little socialist), but the truth is those lines may be an hour long.  For an occasional traveler that is an annoyance, even an inconvenience.  If I had to wait in each of those lines for an hour every time I flied this year it would not be an inconvenience, it would be well in excess of a work week.  So call me elitist if you will, I do appreciate bypassing the lines.

I did notice by the by that one of the benefits of Altitude 100K is that you can award Altitude 50K (the status I currently hold) for a friend.  That might be huge, and if you are interested I am absolutely willing to consider bribes 🙂

I know the slogan came from another brand, but membership has its privileges.  I have held Elite Status with Aeroplan (Air Canada) since 2007, and it has made my life as a road warrior an easier and more comfortable one.  The Dashboard is probably available to anyone, but it will come in much handier for people who fly a lot.

…and sorry Jessica, most of those benefits rely on AQM, not simply miles accumulated 🙂

Sick…

Caduceus Symbol - Medical Symbol MD

Caduceus Symbol – Medical Symbol MD (Photo credit: wcm1111)

Being sick sucks.  I discovered earlier this week though that it can suck a lot less… if only there were ways of doing things more efficiently.

I had been coughing and sneezing for a week, but Monday afternoon, realizing that I was short of breath after a single flight of stairs, I decided I needed to see a doctor.  It was entirely possible that I had pneumonia, and you try to not mess around with things like that.

Being in a foreign land I asked my boss what the procedure was for seeing a doctor.  He asked Ito-san (one of his fellow managers who is native to Japan), and she looked up walk-in clinics in the area.  It turns out there are are two in the complex that houses both one of our company’s towers and my hotel.  Both asked if they could accompany me, but in a moment of sheer optimism I told them I would be okay.

I found the first clinic pretty easily (Ito-san had printed out maps and circled them).  I walked in, asked the receptionist if I was in the right place to see a doctor, and once that was established she asked me about a Health Insurance Card.  It seems they don’t get many gaijin in the clinic, and as Japan has socialized medicine (take lessons USA) it is usually just assumed that they need not take credit cards.  I confirmed that I had sufficient cash to pay for the visit (under $50) and had a seat.

I filled out their paperwork… fortunately the receptionist was able to translate where my name, address, and phone number went.  I told her I am allergic to penicillin, and she asked me to wait.  Having long experience with long wait times in walk-in clinics and Emergency Rooms, I pulled out my Surface Pro to start reading.  By the time I started on page 4 I was called in to see the doctor.

Remember I mentioned earlier that i was optimistic? The doctor spoke English – if not fluently, then at least well enough to ask the right questions and to treat me.  He told me I would need to have a chest x-ray taken, and I figured that would mean a trip to another clinic, another wait, another….

No! The clinic has their own x-ray machine, and I was not able to sit down before the nurse/technician called me in.  I took my shirt and chain off, and she did her thing.  I put my shirt back on, and went into the outer office to sit and wait.  I didn’t finish another page before the doctor called me in because he had the results of my x-rays up on his screen.

Wow… I was in and out (including x-rays) in under 20 minutes.  The doctor explained the prescription meds I needed, what they were for, and where I could get them.  The visit (including the x-rays) cost 5,900 Yen (about $63).

The meds (five days worth of three different meds) cost another $45.  This was actually where I had the only complication – the first pharmacy I went to (in the same complex) only accepted the Health Insurance Card… or cash.  Because I needed to pay by credit card I had to go to the other pharmacy (also in the same complex).

From the time I dropped my laptop bag in my room, went to see the doctor, had x-rays, went to two separate pharmacies and bought dinner until the time I walked back into my room was under an hour.  If it was that efficient back in Canada I would probably not be so hesitant to see doctors.

Oh, one more thing… I picked up a pack of face masks… in Japan when you are sick it is courteous to wear them so as to prevent spreading your germs to others.  I wore one for breakfast, to my meetings, and when I went out for lunch and then for dinner.  My boss commented that I didn’t look out of place here, and in fact people would appreciate that I was being courteous.  If I wore this mask in public in Canada people would think I was going to rob them at knifepoint.

I may not be happy about being sick, but I am thrilled by the efficiency with which the Japanese system deals with illness.  As per the doctor’s orders I am spending a couple of days in bed (yes, I went to the meeting AMA… it was a very important meeting) but I will be much better when I go back to the office on Thursday… and nobody on my team will worry about catching anything from me!

Big in Japan: The Week That Was…

For those of you who follow not only my blog but my Twitter as well (@MGarvis) you will likely know that I have been walking a lot since I got to Japan, and my FitBit (www.fitbit.com) has all the proof you need.  You may also have noticed that Tuesday and Wednesday this week my daily steps dropped from an average of 15,000 steps per day to about 2000 steps for those two days.  That is because I caught a bad chest cold and spent two days in bed – which is to say I was working from my hotel room, but once my actual work was done I did not have much energy for blogging.  Sorry fans… but I’m back!

I have now been in Japan just over three weeks, and have on several occasions mentioned how clean I have been finding it.  Listening in on a conversation yesterday between two people with more experience here than I do I think some of the reasons became clear.  One of them described Tokyo as ‘shared space’ – a country that is two small and too populated to allow for much privacy, and so when you are out and about the honourable thing to do is to show everybody the respect of their shared space by keeping it clean.  That is why almost nobody litters, spits, or any other impolite behaviour that we might consider commonplace in the west (and most other parts of Asia)… out of respect for each other.

In ancient Japan – really not that long ago – most walls were made of rice paper.  As such there was no real privacy – it was easy enough for your neighbour to know your business.  I have heard it told that because of that it is commonplace in Japanese culture to always maintain a completely polite exterior, even when your feelings are very impolite.  Maybe that is one of the reasons that there are few PDAs (Public Displays of Affection) in Japan.  It is also likely one of the reasons why everybody at my office seems to like me – whether they do or they do not, it is customary to show outwardly that you do.

DSCN4019 Last Monday I was walking around an area called Osaki when I noticed these tiles in the ground.  It was interesting to see just how far I am from home – if we are 10,350 kilometers from Ottawa, we are not that much closer to Oakville – say, 9,950km to be conservative.  There is no question that I miss it (especially the people), but at the same time I am really enjoying life here.  It would be nice if I was not stuck living in a shoebox hotel (please don’t misunderstand, it is a really nice and clean hotel, but the rooms are extremely small) but other than that, life here is good.  I am seeing a lot of cultural differences both at work and out and about, but that is not a bad thing.  I have never been one to poo-poo cultural diversity.

DSCN4049 My friend and Master Dimitrios Beis spends a lot of time at different industry shows and fairs in and around Toronto – wedding shows, food and drink shows, and the like.  It is part of his business, and he has on several occasions invited Theresa and I to join him there.  When I stumbled upon a similar type of fair in Osaki on Monday I thought of him as I walked around, sampled some of the foods (I had aDSCN4065 wonderful fried chicken dish for lunch, followed by a couple of sesame balls for dessert… scrumptious!) and took some pictures of the people and booths.

There were several ‘cartoon characters’ in costume walking around, and the kids were flocking to meet them.  There was also a booth sponsored by the Tokyo Fire Department, where kids were invited to try on their gear (sized down of course) complete with the helmets.  The kids were having a ball, and the parents were taking pictures of them with their ear-to-ear smiles.

DSCN4044 Just as they would in Canada, some people brought their dogs along.  This was, after all, and outdoor fair, and as long as the dogs are well behaved they are a welcome addition to any setting as far as I am concerned.  This gorgeous girl was very happily sitting in a pram, and seemed content to smile at people who wanted to pay any attention to her, as I certainly did.  Her owner was working one of the booths, but she obviously knew that puppy was well behaved enough to not try to escape.

DSCN4056 When I say there were all sorts of booths, I am serious – there were crafts (both pre-made, and ones for the kids to participate in) ranging from Japanese pottery to drawing to flower arrangements). There were dancers, there were plants – this tree pictured is actually less than a foot tall, and an amazing sight to see.  It struck me as very… Japanese.  I could imagine Mr. Miyagi having trees like this if he had fruit trees.

All in all everyone seemed to be having a good time, which I suppose is the entire point both of a fair and of a holiday Monday.  The kids were laughing, smiling, dancing, playing, and eating.  The parents did not need to chase after them – the perception I have is that they are much safer in general in Japan than they might be in Canada, with no threat of kidnapping.  The vendors were sharing their wares – as soon as they realized I spoke no Japanese the majority of them knew there was no sale to be made, and yet they convinced me to try different teas, finger foods, and breads.  I did buy my lunch of fried chicken and sesame balls (the two dishes, from two separate vendors, cost a staggering 600 yen, or about $6).

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This was only one bit of my walking for the last week, but it was a very memorable part.  I have seen so many wonderful places and people that it would be impossible to tell you about all of them… but trust me, if you have never been to Japan you should definitely get down here!

My Japanese Diet

With two notable and disappointing exceptions, I have eaten only Japanese food since I arrived in Tokyo.  I have tried the Chinese restaurant one more time – it may taste good, but the food has not agreed with me so I will not be trying it again.  Other than that, really I have stuck to local cuisine.

I started trying to lose weight – that is to say, truly changing my eating habits – about a month before I left Canada.  One of the things I had been doing is logging everything that I ate.  I used a tool called My Fitness Tracker (www.myfitnesstracker.com).  It helped me to not only track but also be aware of what I was eating, including fat, sugar, protein, and carbohydrates.  It allowed me to enter everything into my Smart Phone, and even had a barcode scanner so that I could just scan the code of what I was eating and be done with it.  If you spent any time with me at all in September you probably saw me use it.

DSCN3962It is a lot easier to keep track of what you eat in North America for several reasons.  In Japan I can’t figure out the food labels, and anyways I am hardly eating any pre-packaged foods.  However my typical breakfast looks a lot like this picture, and for good reason… that is a picture I took of my breakfast this morning.

My hotel includes a buffet breakfast which in the past would have meant my gorging myself, but I am trying to change my habits so that is out.  Yes, those are corn flakes in the top left corner, but add to that a bowl of miso soup, a couple of pieces of grilled fish (I am not quite sure what it was today… maybe mackerel), some Japanese omelet (tamago), and some grapefruit slices.  You may have noticed the glass of water in place of either tea or coffee… I have not had a cup of coffee in nearly six weeks, and I am really trying to minimize my tea/caffeine intake.  I am, however, trying to maximize my water intake, and this is a great opportunity to do so!

Incidentally there is a decent salad available with breakfast; some days I partake, others I do not.  Today I was running late so I skipped the salad course.

Lunch is served every day in the cafeteria at Rakuten.  There are several choices, and I usually opt for something rather healthy… although truth be told I am not always certain of what I am eating.  I am not eating a lot of beef, although Tuesday I opted for the beef dish because the others did not seem as appetizing.  It was good, and as with every meal at Rakuten it was accompanied by a bowl of soup, two side dishes (salads of some sort), and a dessert – yesterday it was a black bean and sesame pudding that was outstanding.

DSCN3875There is a restaurant down the way – maybe five hundred metres from the hotel – that I found out recently is called Sakura.  I have eaten most of my dinners there.  It is quite good and reasonably priced.  For the fist few nights my fare was the same: an order of sashimi, a plate of edamame, and a bowl of miso soup (see a pattern forming with the soup?  I thought so…) but I have started to change that up a little now that I am a little more comfortable.  While I had given up white rice entirely in Canada I have come to realize that it is a futile battle in Japan, and so I have caved.  Some evenings I will opt for the sushi (nigiri) instead of the sashimi.  As well I have tried the fried chicken (it is wonderful, and does not seem as greasy as in North America, the seafood pizza, and a few other dishes.  I had dinner with a colleague last week and he ordered for us… including deep fried chicken cartilage, and a plate of squid jerky (I am not making that up).  Oh, and the deep-fried octopus was also wonderful.

If it seems odd or boring that I am going to the same restaurant every evening let me assure you that a) I am not bored, b) I am not on vacation, and c) it really is wonderful food.  The most expensive meal I have eaten there was under $20 per person (remember I am not drinking alcohol).  It is very convenient though, as it is just a quick walk from the hotel.  It is also a few doors down to the gym where I have started training – more on that later.

On the weekends I am venturing further out.  Last weekend I had lunch at a restaurant in Asakusa which served a soup dish which wasn’t bad but wasn’t my favorite.  This week-end I will probably end up downtown for at least one evening, and will experiment somewhere new.  As for weekdays, I am more concerned with getting my work done, working out on the nights that I do, and walking on the nights that I do not.  I am also trying to get to bed at a reasonable hour which means getting onto a train and exploring Tokyo may not be a great idea.  On the weekends though… Oh, I will explore!

An interesting note about lunch at the cafeteria: it is free, but they are very observant about what you take – there are signs at every station telling you how much of which you are allowed, down to the number of cherry tomatoes you can take for your salad.  I suppose it makes sense – the company is paying for lunch for over ten thousand employees, and letting people go free could cause cost overruns… and when they saw me coming they must have freaked 🙂

Incidentally, if you are wondering how well it is working, I am probably down 5lbs since I got here.  I didn’t mention all of the fruit I am eating, but that is part of the diet too (and counted.. when I figure out how to input the rest of my food).  Tonight I’m heading to the gym again, followed by Sakura (which by the way means Cherry Blossom).  See you tomorrow!

A Twist…

Coco-park-security-guard

Coco-park-security-guard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you are a frequent reader of The World According to Mitch then you know that I very often take experiences that I have had (or observations that I have made) and apply them to the world of IT.  For a change, I thought I would take this opportunity to go the other way.

This morning I was caught in a security trap in my corporate desktop.  I downloaded a number of (rather large) files on the desktop, and was going to then transfer them to the laptop on which I need them, but which I was in the process of configuring and was rebooting several times.

Once the downloads were complete I plugged my handy USB hard drive into the Super Speed port of the desktop, selected my files, and clicked Copy.

“I’m sorry Mitch, I can’t let you do that.”

What do you mean?  It read like a permissions issue, but after about fifteen seconds I realized that there must be a GPO (Group Policy Object) preventing users from copying files to external drives.  I have in the past suggested this as an option… I had even heard that it was a policy here, I just wasn’t thinking.  It is a decent (if not infallible) policy for preventing sensitive data being removed from the company.

I was speaking with a North American colleague at lunch and he asked if I wanted to try a few ways of bypassing the policy (rather than waiting the several hours for the files to download again).  I said thank you, no… I am in a country where people follow the rules, and I am not going to go against that.

It is true… Japan is a country where people seem to do everything ’by the book.’  Some people jaywalk, but the vast majority of people do not… and most of the people who do are foreigners (gai-jin), or have at least spent time abroad.  They do not spit on the street, and there is hardly ever any litter.  Again, I have seen discarded cigarettes and pop cans and such, but it is invariably in an area where a lot of foreigners congregate.

In Canada you had better look both ways before you step into the road when the light turns green… too often cars are going to speed up and follow the three-second-rule of red lights, and you may be putting your life on the line.  Not here… I’m not saying that it doesn’t happen, I just haven’t seen it happen yet.

The Japanese culture is an ancient one.  While they have come a long way from the days when ‘peasants’ could have their heads lobbed off for not bowing to a samurai, there is no question that they are a people who follow the rules and do things by the book.  Is that a bad thing?  I don’t think so at all.  Funny, because there was a time in my life when I completely ignored the rules… I lived by my own rules, and even broke those when it was convenient.

I like a society where things are orderly and predictable, and not because of any militarily imposed regulations (fascism and communism both produced a number of cultures where people followed the rules not because they wanted to, but because they were afraid not to).  I like that here people greet you (although I am still trying to figure out a lot of the greetings, and can only assume they are not making fun of me).  People bow, people it is the polite way to greet people (and because they do not seem to like shaking hands, unless you are a foreigner at which point they seem quite insistent on it.

Having worked in security firms before I am amazed by the security guards here… each one’s uniform is pressed and their shoes are polished; they are always standing and always look you in the eye.  They greet you as well, and help if needed.  I had to ask someone to confirm that they were not all in the military, because many of them seem to stand with a pride that North American security guards just don’t have.

There seems to be an order to everything here, from the way people behave in the elevator (there is always one person closest to the panel who immediately presses and holds the Open button until everyone getting off has done so and then people getting on have too).  Walking in the stairwell at the office (which we have to do because the elevators only stop on certain floors) people going up are on one side, people going down on the other.  The only exceptions to this again are the foreigners… and mostly only the recently arrived ones, because the way things are done is conducive to people wanting to learn.

I am not saying that there are not people who are not as accepting of foreigners… I have seen a couple of sneers from people on the subway as they mutter quietly to their friends.  However overall I have had nothing but positive experiences, and patience from the people who know that I obviously do not speak the language.

Back to Japan!

I got a nasty email today from a friend who is angry that I have been writing about PowerShell.  Actually to be completely accurate he doesn’t care that I blog about PowerShell, he is just upset that it has been several days (a week?) since I last wrote about my travels in Japan.  I am sorry about that, and I will try to keep the balance for both audiences 🙂

It has been an interesting week; firstly I was thrilled that on Thursday afternoon I was finally able to charge my FitBit, meaning I was able to start tracking my steps, et cetera. That may not seem relevant to you, but on a weekend when I can either go walk around and be a tourist, or I can stay in my hotel and watch movies, when there is incentive to get that 20,000 step day can be the difference (and it was on Saturday).

I am staying in an area of Tokyo called Shinagawa Seaside.  It is a very nice area – not downtown, but there are still a lot of businesses around here – the office towers of Rakuten where I am working are both within a block of the hotel, and Microsoft Japan is a ten minute taxi ride away.  I am getting to know the area very well, because even when I am not out and about exploring Tokyo, I am walking around Shinagawa every day or evening.

DSCN3910I found out the other day that Shinagawa is built on reclaimed land, which means that by all rights there should be plankton here and not offices.  Nevertheless here we are.  However there are several signs within a few blocks that point out our elevation – I have seen them ranging from 1.8m above sea level (right outside my hotel) to 2.8m above sea level (about three km by foot from the hotel).  In a land recently hit by typhoons, tsunamis, monsoons, and earthquakes this is a bit unsettling to be sure, but I assume that if nobody else is particularly frightened by it then I can live with it too.  The 2.1m picture to the right of this paragraph is just outside the office tower where I am working.

DSCN3916 I think I mentioned in a recent post that the Rakuten Eagles, the baseball team owned by the company where I am working, won their first pennant ever last week.  The lobby of Rakuten Tower 1 has been completely filled with flowers since, and one day last week there was a celebratory meal in the cafeteria – complete with a very nicely decorated cake.  I am glad that I was able to take a picture before everyone dug in, because I ended up getting the last piece of the last cake that the had.  I should have asked how many cakes they actually baked so that all 12,000 employees could have a piece.  I will tell you this… victory tastes good!

DSCN3917 Saturday I opened my tourist book and decided to take the train to Akasuka, an area that is not only bustling with commercial activity (spoiler alert: the entire city is like that) but also has some amazing sights to see.  The Sensoji Temple is said to have been built in 628.  It was a rainy day, but it didn’t matter… I had an umbrella, and I walked the five minutes from Akasuka Station to the holy site.

It’s funny, but when you are in a strange land where you can’t understand a word that anyone is saying it is even easier to pick up familiar tones.  Just outside of the train station I did a double-take when I heard an older couple (Reuven and Eilat) speaking Hebrew.  I introduced myself and they invited me to join them.  We walked through the throngs of people carrying umbrellas toward the temple.

DSCN3926  While it was great to be able to speak to people in a familiar language for a while, their idea of interesting and mine did not seem to connect.  They wanted to see the temple, but as soon as they saw it they wanted to leave and head to the next subway station to see something else.  I understand, because they are in country for a few days and want to see as much as they can.  I, on the other hand, will be spending a lot of time here over the next few months, and I wanted to look around the grounds, which it turns out are amazing.  There is a Five Story Pagoda, and the gardens are magnificent.  I am glad that I came back and strolled around after splitting with the Israelis… there was just too much to see to only spend five minutes in the temple and then turn around and go home.  Below is a picture of the ancient bridge, with signs asking people not to feed the carp (which are huge).

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I finally stopped for lunch, but that mission was a failure.  As I was alone I was told to sit at the counter with my back to the room… not my favorite position my wife will attest.  Before I could even order I was actually hit (hard!) on my back… although not with any malicious intent.  An older gentleman did not realize there was a step, and he swung his arm trying to break his fall.  Look, I know he didn’t mean anything by it, but that doesn’t change the fact that it hurt!  I decided that it was a bad omen and removed myself from that restaurant.  I ended up eating a bowl of fish and chicken soup with noodles with a side order of gyozo (dumplings).  The soup wasn’t great… the dumplings were good.  What was spectacular though was the dessert that I had at a market stand a few blocks away… If you have ever had the sesame balls in a Chinese restaurant, imagine those, but not fried, and wonderfully prepared… for about the equivalent of $.80 it was like a taste of heaven… and I am glad that I had the willpower to stop at one!

There is so much more to tell, but I will save it for another day – tomorrow, don’t worry!  Thanks for reading!

MCT Regional Lead

It was a great honour to be selected as the MCT Regional Lead for Canada for the inaugural year of that program (See article).  I like to say that the MCT Regional Lead program spent the first year figuring out what it was going to be.  I was thrilled to be a part of that.

MCT(rgb)The year was a tumultuous one for MCTs… the retirement of the TechNet Subscription program (article), the retirement of the Microsoft Certified Masters (MCM) program, and all along people learning the ropes of the new certifications (article 1, article 2).  It was a thrilling ride, and I am glad that I was able to answer so many questions.

As the term came to a close, I was asked to stay on for the next year but I declined.  I did not decline to shirk the community, but rather because I have accepted a long term contract overseas, and am now spending most of my time in Tokyo, Japan.

As such I am happy to announce that Microsoft Learning Experiences (MS LEX) has opted this year to have five MCT Regional Leads for Canada.  Myungjin Jeong, Steve Jones, Benjamin Niaulin, Marcos Nogueira, and Paul Twigg will be the RLs this year.  For Benjamin and Paul it will be their second year; for Marcos as well, although only in Canada – he was the RL for Portugal last year.  I want to welcome Myungjin and Steve to the team – know the five of you will all do a great job.

I want to thank you all for your support over the past year, and look forward to working with you again sometime soon.

I also want to thank Veronica Sopher and Melissa Bathum for the year, and wish Karen Juhl all the best in the new hot seat 🙂

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