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Smoking the competition with meat!

When I was living abroad I had two great friends – Mark Segal and David Goodman – and the three of us were inseparable.  The two New Yorkers and I had a lot in common, but one thing that we never agreed on was food… for some reason the two of them never understood the supremacy of Montreal smoked meat over New York pastrami.  (We also fought about bagels, but who doesn’t?)

A few years later we had all moved back to North America, and Goody (David) came to visit me in Montreal.  I picked him up at the airport and after dropping his gear at my tiny basement apartment I took him to Schwartz’s Hebrew Delicatessen on St. Laurent.  I ordered for both of us – a medium old-fashioned hot with mustard, fries, and a dry karnatzel for each.  We sat near the front of the crowded restaurant sharing a table with whoever else they sat with us, reminiscing about this and that.

When the food came he was still skeptical, but after a couple of bites he was sold.  You seldom hear a New Yorker admit that he was wrong about anything to do with food, but Goody admitted to me that day that I was right.  I doubt he would admit it today, but he did then!

Someone sent me the following link comparing the two meats.  I thought of Goody and Mark (who to my knowledge is still uninitiated) and the times we had together… then I got hungry for a good medium old-fashioned!

http://www.thrillist.com/eat/montreal/montreal-smoked-meat-seven-reasons-why-montreals-smoked-meat-is-pastramis-cooler-older-brother

Transitions & Changes

I received an e-mail this week from the Montreal IT Professionals Community (MITPro) inviting me to the 2014 Annual General Meeting.

I remembered a day nine years ago in January, 2005.  Later in the day I would be heading to the first meeting of the group who had been brought together to build a user group for Montreal IT Professionals.  As I sat in a client’s office applying patches I quickly jotted down a list of topics I felt that we should discuss, which turned into the agenda for that first meeting.

Around the table were Daniel Nerenberg, Maxime Viel, Thomas Kroll, Randy Knobloch, and a couple of other people I am sure I am forgetting. 

Two months later we held our first official meeting, attended by some thirty people from all walks of the IT Pro spectrum.  It was amazing that we had brought it together… but how long would it last?

The first real test of that was not when I stepped down as president, but when the leadership team clashed with my successor.  The heated battle took its toll, some people left, others joined, and in the end the organization continued.

It had been written into the organization’s charter that I would always have a vote as the Founding President, and for the first few years I used it.  However as I became more distanced from the organization (both in time and geography, having established myself in Southwest Ontario) I used it less and less, having decided that might no longer always know what is best for the organization that I was once the public face of.  In September of 2012 when I joined the DPE team at Microsoft Canada I officially resigned my position with MITPro (along with ITPro Toronto, the group I went on to start and lead after leaving Montreal).

It is funny, looking at the Board of Directors from MITPro as it stands today I know… some of them.  None of them were at that first meeting, and only two of them (out of eight) sat on the Board when I led it.  Far from complaining, I am thrilled that the group is not only surviving but thriving… Dan and Majida and I are all gone, and yet the group is going strong.  That tells me that it is one of the true Canadian IT Pro community success stories… because a few of us raised our hands and wanted to get involved a little under a decade ago.

So my question to you is this… are you a member of your local IT Pro user group?  If so, do you participate?  Do you attend events?  Would you be willing to speak at one?  It takes people like you raising your hands and volunteering to make these groups work.  If you are not a member, why not?  Look up your local group and get involved… attend, learn, and when you feel comfortable enough see what else you can do.  Believe me, there are a lot of people out there who will benefit from your participation… starting with you!

Welcome to Cote St. Luc, Montreal

I came to Montreal to visit my father this week.  I arrived Tuesday evening and picked my father up at his apartment in the Cote Saint Luc section of town.  After dinner we drove around looking for a place to park.  I found two spots that looked good, but my father found the signs (well hidden as they were) prohibiting parking there.  Oh well… we kept looking, until finally one opened up right in front of his building.  Perfect!

Of course, we had to look at the signs again… I was parked right in front of a sign that read (in French and English): No parking Wednesday mornings from 10am-2pm between April 1st and December 1st.  As we were February 11th we agreed we were fine.  Just to be safe, we looked up and down the street, and did not find anything else marked.  Good, we went upstairs.

As we were sitting and talking throughout the evening I told him that it was such a good parking spot that I was considering driving him to work in the morning in his own car rather than in mine… so that I wouldn’t have to relinquish the spot!  I decided against it though… I like my car, and he is a nervous passenger when someone else is driving his car.

This morning we walked up to my car, and sure enough there was a parking ticket on it.  As we sat in the car examining it I noticed that the agent writing the ticket must check one of three boxes:

  • Parked illegally
  • Parked in a spot marked as illegal
  • Visiting from Ontario so likely won’t appear to contest the fine.

CSL_overnightparkingsign2008_120pxOkay, the third box doesn’t exactly say that… it says ‘Parked on the street between 3:00am and 6:00am.  But really, there were hundreds of cars parked on the street, so who could have imagined there was anything wrong with it?

As we drove downtown we joked about it, and my father told me I should fight the ticket.  I couldn’t imagine taking two days off of my life to drive 550km each way to fight a $38 ticket?  In other words, pay $75 in gas… you get the picture.  It was a ridiculous idea.  However I was still a bit miffed about the ticket.

Later in the day my father called me and told me that if I called Cote St. Luc Public Security they could give me a temporary permit for the duration of my visit.  I called, they took my information, and thanked me for paying the ‘Visiting Residents of Ontario’ tax.  Okay that isn’t exactly what they called it, but let’s call it like it is… how is a visitor supposed to know that overnight parking requires a temporary permit when the resident himself doesn’t know?!

Once I had spoken with Security they suggested I speak with the City Secretary about last night’s tax ticket.  The secretary, every time I added something new, repeated the same phrase that signs are posted at every entrance to the city.  I am reasonably sure she was a robot or a repurposed robo-caller machine.

Okay, I will pay my tax… I am big enough to admit that they have me beat.  Apparently it was an initiative of the new mayor.  I almost asked what he was smoking but then I realized as a resident of the Greater Toronto Area (or the Rob Ford Bong Show) it would be like throwing stones.

Thanks Montreal… at least I was able to get myself a decent smoked meat sandwich while I was here!

What Does Being an MVP Mean to ME?

This month I will be speaking at the SMB Nation Fall Conference.  My main presentation will be on what IT will look like for small- and mid-sized businesses in what I call the ‘Post-SBS Era.’  I will be discussing Private Cloud, System Center, Virtualization, Office 365, Azure, and Windows Intune.

I have also been asked to lead a panel of Microsoft MVPs.  Topic: Open.  I can pick a topic, or I can simply open the floor to questions.  I briefly considered calling the panel ‘Whaddya mean you do it for FREE?!’ but thought better of it… however it would be fitting because MVPs do not get paid for what they do… at least not for what they do in order to be an MVP.

I have invited four other MVPs to join me on stage; until I get confirmation from all of them I will not reveal who they are.  However I tried to select people with different experiences as MVPs.  It should be an interesting time.

Over the past few days that I have been thinking about this panel I have given some thought to what it means to me.  Last week I was recognized for the seventh time (Microsoft MVPs are awarded for a period of one year, and my award date is October 1st).  I guess by now I can be considered a ‘veteran MVP,’ but I know that there are so many MVPs who have been around much longer than I have been.

In 2005 or 2006 there was an MVP Roadshow that came to Montreal; Jeff Middleton and the gang came up and after their day-long event, they agreed to do a user group event for us in the evening.  Somebody in the audience asked Jeff ‘What is expected of you as MVPs?’  I expected Jeff to start talking about speaking to user groups, answering questions in the forums and newsgroups, and whatever else.  He surprised me when he answered (not a direct quote) ‘Nothing.  The MVP Award is strictly for past contributions.  It is not a contract, and you are not actually expected to do anything further.’

It was an interesting answer, and on the surface an honest and accurate one.  It does not, however, account for the fact that if MVPs want to continue being MVPs then there are certain expectations of us.  Depending on several factors I think those expectations are not the same for all of us, but that is another topic altogether.

In November 2004 I had a conversation with a young Harp Girn who was at the time a vendor with Microsoft Canada.  He had, earlier in the evening, gotten me to volunteer to start a user group in Montreal for IT Professionals.  He made it clear to me that although he and his team would help, there wouldn’t be any direct, tangible benefits.  ‘I can’t make any promises, but a lot of user group leaders get recognized as Microsoft MVPs.’  I am not sure, but it may have been the first time I had ever heard the term.  He was right – 23 months later I did get the award.

It has been an incredible six years… My life, my career, my outlook have changed so much in that time, and who knew – a lot of that change can be traced back to the MVP Award.  Most of that indirectly of course, but a lot of the opportunities that I have been afforded over the past several years have been because I was an MVP.  Microsoft Canada has done a lot for me, and oftentimes it was because of a conversation started with the phrase ‘…do you know of any MVPs who could do this for us?’  Many of the certifications I hold (especially the Charter certs) are because Microsoft Learning sent out invites to write beta exams to… you guessed it – MVPs.

Shortly after I received the award for the first time a consulting firm asked me to do some work with them – it started as training roadshows but eventually evolved into courseware creation.  When they asked me what I knew about server virtualization I replied honestly that I knew nothing about it.  They had me learn, and that would eventually evolve into several career-changing moments, not the least of which was the opportunity to write Microsoft’s original courseware (e-learning) for Hyper-V.  That led to roadshows of course, and a company that heard about me because of the roadshow asked if I would be interested in learning VMware and then consulting and teaching it for them in Canada (and eventually internationally).  The original consulting firm that got the ball rolling on this told me point-blank that they would not have considered me had I not been a Microsoft MVP.

When the Partner team at Microsoft Canada decided to create a program called the Virtual Partner Technology Advisors, they looked for MVPs who were strong on virtualization.  That led to dozens of contracts over the course of several years, as well as the opportunity to present myself as one of the foremost VMware-compete guys in the country.

And of course, when the DPE Team at Microsoft Canada started discussing a new position called ‘Virtual Technical Evangelist’ they again looked for MVPs.

Someone asked me earlier today what I would do if I wasn’t doing what I do.  It’s a tough question and frankly I cannot fathom an answer.  I guess I need more time, but I’ll come up with something, I promise.  The question got me thinking (and not for the first time) where I would be today if I had not put my hand up to volunteer to create a local user group in Montreal, which in turn led to my eventual nomination as a Microsoft MVP.  The consequences of that single action are impossible to quantify, but let’s start with a quick list:

  • I would probably still be living in Montreal
  • I would likely have a couple of certifications… but nowhere near what I have today.
  • I would not have the vast majority of the friends I have made over the past eight years.
  • I would never have met my wife and her (now OUR) son, and we would not have had our baby.
  • It is unlikely that I would be a Black Belt
  • It is unfathomable that I would have several positions within Microsoft
  • It is highly doubtful I would have started a blog that today is read by ten thousand readers per month
  • I would never have had the opportunity to travel to 8 provinces (several times), 35 states (with many repeats), and twelve countries on behalf of companies like Microsoft and HP
  • I would never have been asked to consult on deployment projects for companies on the Fortune 15 list, nor for such organizations as the New York Police Department.

Wow… that is a simple list that took me all of five minutes to compile, but each point is easy to make the case for.  I honestly believe that had I not been awarded the Microsoft MVP way back then my life would have gone in a very different direction.  I cannot fathom what it would look like today… but it isn’t a stretch to guess that broader minds bring broader opportunities, and I would not be doing as well were I still living in Montreal servicing small business IT shops.

So while Microsoft uses the MVP Program as a thank-you for its community leaders, I expect a lot of us owe Microsoft a big thank-you back for the opportunities that have come about from our award.

Quebec Students Need to Learn…

The protesters were out in full force Tuesday evening as my friend Peter and I walked through the Plateau Mont Royal to the restaurant. When the radio announcer talked about the Pots and Pans brigade I thought he was being funny, but indeed the student protesters at the corner of Villeneuve and de l’Esplanade were banging pots and pans on all four corners. Peter, who has known me for years, warned me not to engage them. I was amused several minutes later when the skies opened up and their pots and pans got a thorough soaking.

The headlines yesterday read that they were waiting for a ‘clear response’ from the government. I thought this is inaccurate because they had already gotten a clear response to their demands… They just didn’t like what that response was.

Indeed they got that response again yesterday, and today’s article has one of the student leaders quoted saying ‘we are ready to go back to negotiations whenever the other side is ready.’

This is a lie.

Since the strikes began the government has moved a number of times. The students have not. Sure, they have on a number of occasions provided suggestions on who else could pay for their education, but that is all. That is not negotiations, that is sitting at the table insisting the other side give everything and offering nothing in return.

I sat with a university student Wednesday and asked her opinion. While she is not striking, she supported those who did. She was clear that she supported people’s right to protest, and that any attempt to stop them was tantamount to fascism. I was amazed but I shouldn’t be… Students should be idealists.

What I don’t understand is how people got the idea that education – especially higher education – is a right. Moreover not only is it.a right, it is my obligation as a taxpayer to provide it for her and every other student who wants it and is unwilling to pay for it.

This student objected to spending money on campus beautification, claiming that a recent investment of $600,000 in the gardens at McGill (where she studies) was an offensive waste of money. She rejected my claims that McGill is a cornerstone of Montreal, built into the mountain and should look nice. She also objected to the idea that they have to look good to attract foreign students who DO pay for their tuition.

I asked this girl how much her tuition cost, and she said for students raised in the province it was about $1500/year. I corrected her and said it was closer to $15,000, and that the taxpayer already paid most of it.

Her next objection was that she did not like that schools were run as businesses. This I felt sas her most naive position, insofar as any institution that is run otherwise will soon find itself in severe financial problems.

In the end I convinced this idealistic student of nothing, nor did e convince me I i was wrong. It is pointless trying to tell a young person that one day they will leave school and have to live in the real world with real realities… They are all smarter than we are, and know everything. Our experience in the real world doesn’t apply to them. I paid for her coffee and wished her well.

I do not k ow what will become of Quebec student protesters.. I guess time will sort that out. I do know that the realities of the real world can hit the idealistic quite hard, and I hope they do not turn into bitter or angry adults.  You can bang as many pots and pans as you like; the reality is that their DEMANDS (to which I don’t believe they have the right) are unreasonable, and at a certain point, after you have made your point, you are just acting like cry-babies.  The ‘But I want it!’ attitude doesn’t work in the real world… no matter how many tantrums you throw.

My friend Peter pointed out that a strike is supposed to be the denial of a service in protest.  As the students are not service providers but rather consumers, they are not actually striking, but simply skipping class and (again) making a lot of noise.  They have the right to protest, but to disrupt a city and damage property? No, it’s time to go back to school and get an education for which one day you will realize that the extra $1,500 (over a four year degree) that the government wants you to pay is the equivalent of less than one week’s pay – at least at a job you would get if you DID finish school which, at this rate, you won’t.

I wish most of the students well… but understand that before you can lead you must follow… and your organizers have lost sight of that; you may be following the wrong leaders down a very deep and unfriendly path.

Have a great week-end folks… and try to stay dry!

Sixteen Days Out – a summary

Yesterday was a dichoto-day.  If I made that word up, it is what it sounds like – a day that was a mix of good and bad.  I want to clarify at the outset that this had nothing to do with work, which was fine (I am teaching a class at TekSource Corporate Learning this week, and have a good group of students).  It is strictly with regard to diet and training.

I ate (during the day at work) like crap – too much of bad foods (I blame Audrey, but she didn’t actually force-feed me the muffin or the pizza, she just made them readily available (as well as the only things).  She also put out all sorts of cookies for the afternoon snack, and my willpower faltered – I had three lady fingers.  To compensate – although I did not set out with this goal – I skipped dinner.  I got off the train from Toronto and drove straight to Taekwondo, where everything got back on track.

I had been really disheartened Monday and Tuesday about my prospects for testing for actually being ready for my test on June 2nd, and I decided that yesterday (Wednesday) was the day that I would make my final decision.  While I know all of my patterns (poomsaes) I had not learned the knife-defense ‘one-step-sparring’ that I need as a requirement.  That is, nine separate (and numbered, in order) methods of repelling a knife-wielding attacker.  While that is something I am pretty good at, I would usually revert to Krav Maga, so learning the Taekwondo (actually Hapkido) methods were a challenge.

vector version of Black belt 2st dan.png

vector version of Black belt 2st dan.png (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Miss Kelly (one of the senior instructors, who is testing for her 5th Dan Black Belt the day that I test for my 2nd Dan) and I had arranged to spend time on Wednesday going over the methods, and she agreed to allow me to record our session so that I could study the moves while on the road next week.  She is an excellent teacher whom I have always liked and respected (she was Aaron’s favorite instructor when he was in TKD), and really knows her stuff.

One of the reasons I prefer working one-on-one with instructors, rather than working in a large class, is not simply the individual attention.  I find that in most modern martial arts classes the focus is on teaching moves rather than teaching why we do the moves and analyzing them.  As a Colour Belt suppose I had to cope, because as GrandMaster H.C. Kim once wrote ‘The study of martial arts really begins once you have achieved Black Belt Excellence.’  Until you have a strong knowledge of the basics it is impossible to start analyzing the advanced.  However as a Black Belt I appreciate that when I learn a move in a one-on-one setting I can analyze, discuss, and really understand what it is that I am doing, as well as how likely I might successfully execute a particular move in either sparring or real-life situations.  I find that by breaking down a move in this way it is easier for me to learn and absorb patterns and self-defense.

Working with Miss Kelly last night was such an opportunity, and while I came into the lesson with a slight knowledge of two or three of the moves, by the end of the evening I was much more confident that I knew what I was doing… even if I might not use most of those moves in real-life knife attacks.  While I was able to execute all of the moves by the end of the evening, I am glad that I recorded them so that I can review them today and every day until I will never forget them.  I will be watching them often, breaking them down in my head, and I  predict that on my flight to Victoria next week I will be doing them over and over again in my head.

With regard to the diet, I decided this morning that I would start a two-day cleanse… which essentially means I am fasting, save for vitamin supplements.  My weight has been fluctuating only slightly over the past few weeks, but it is still about 5lbs up from my low-point.  I have lost (since January) 43lbs, and I have really been stuck there since mid-April.  Every time I have done a two-day cleanse I have lost at least 5lbs, so it is entirely possible that I could test fifteen pounds lighter than I am today.  That is a good goal, but I will settle for 10lbs.  I say this knowing that Saturday evening I am taking the family to a Brazilian steakhouse – not a very good place to diet – but that is essentially the last hoorah before my final two-week push.  Despite my travels (which, between now and the test will take me to Buffalo, Victoria, Vancouver, and Montreal) I am going to succeed, and do my absolute best on June 2nd.

More later.

Does Quebec Have a Future in Canada? Whose Call is it?

Last week the National Post (one of two national newspapers in Canada that are actually quite focused on Ontario) published a survey asking Canadians to respond to the question of whether Quebec actually deserved to remain in Canada. “Does Quebec have a future in Canada?”

Of course, if you have lived in Canada or North America you likely know that since 1976, when Quebec elected its first separatist government (the Parti Quebecois, led by Réné Levesque) there have been multiple referendums within Quebec on the issue of whether Quebec should separate from Canada. Each time the separatists lost (despite having rigged the 1995 referendum), but the question continues.

The rest of Canada, for its part, has done so much to appease the Quebec population, as well as the numerous governments of the province. Many Canadians feel that these concessions – most of which are financial, but also include language laws that make it mandatory to label products in French in every province.

As a native-born Quebecer (I was born in Montreal, and lived there for thirty years) I have always looked at the issue from the standpoint of a scared Canadian within the province who might be forced to move should Quebec separate. I have always loved Canada, am proud to be Canadian, and would never renounce that. So when I moved to Ontario in 2007 I was surprised and even offended to hear talk radio hosts talk the way they did about my native province. I was sure that they were the minority, and of course trying to rile people up for ratings. I have since realized that I was the one who was wrong.

I have asked people across the country their thoughts on this over the last five years, and a lot of them feel the same way… they would be just as happy to be rid of Quebec. They of course do not have the divided loyalties that I do, caring so much for both and knowing that the situation could improve with time, especially as the generation of young radicals who kept the separatist movement alive for so many years grew up and began to understand the economic ramifications of independence.

Sadly, I was wrong. A new generation of radical Quebec separatists took their place, and so many of the older ones did not change their feelings when they learned the economics. Separatism in Quebec may well be as strong today as it was in 1980, and that scares me. However if you couple that with the other attitudes of Quebecers – note the Black Bloc, the Student Protests, and Stanley Cup (and other hockey) riots – who seem to have no respect for anyone and have grown up with the entitlement attitude born likely of the fact that Canadian governments dating back to P.E. Trudeau have paid a king’s ransom to appease them and their parents, then you have a problem that Canadians not born in Quebec may not want to put up with for much longer.

When I read the responses to the poll yesterday I was not so shocked by the animosity that so many Canadians feel toward my native province as I once would have been… and I realized that they have a real good point. Quebec has, since my childhood, been the spoiled child of Canada, constantly threatening to take their ball and leave the field if everyone doesn’t do what they want. As a native-born Montrealer I would hate to see Quebec leave Canada, but it is time for Quebecers to realize that they are not the only ones with a say in this matter, and if they don’t work hard to change their attitudes – and the attitudes of the extremely spoiled drivers of the separatist movement – then they will find themselves put out of Canada like Fred Flinstone by his pet sabre-tooth. If Canada were to evict Quebec it would be too late to bang on the door screaming for Wilma to let him back in, it would be a permanent schism that would destroy a country – and likely not simply in two.

If it is time to rewrite Canada, then I do not know if it will be as peaceful and easy a rewrite as some may think – Alberta and British Colombia both have made noises about leaving Confederation, and I’m not sure if it would make sense for the Maritimes and Ontario to be a single country separated by a land mass larger than most of Europe.

I cannot fathom the fallout, but I do know that I think the easiest solution would be for Quebec to come to terms with remaining in Canada, but as an equal… pulling its own weight and paying its own share.  Enough with national laws that force cans of tuna sold in Calgary to be written in French, enough of having to sing the national anthem in two languages at hockey games.  I hope that Quebec learns to play nice, because if they don’t… the sum of the shattered parts of this great land will not nearly add up to the whole.

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