Leaving Montreal… I’ll miss it!

So it’s now official: I am moving to the Greater Toronto Area.


Over the past few years so many pieces of my life and identity have been intertwined with my living in Montreal, most notably my leadership and affiliation with the Montreal IT Professional Community.  I grew up here, and have for most of my life considered it to be home.  My on-line alias, at least for most IT-related newsgroups, is Montreal MCT (until July of last year it was Montreal MCSA).


As an independent consultant and IT professional I had a good client base here, and have said so often that I love the city, and would only leave for professional reasons.


The last year has seen tremendous changes to my professional life.  I am still an IT professional and do not anticipate that changing any time soon, but I have transitioned from full-time consultant to full-time trainer.  As such I have been presented with some tremendous opportunities to travel, and to work a lot more closely with a number of firms in both Canada and the United States.  I have become a traveling trainer, and as such spend a lot of time in airplanes and airports.


The downside to that, as far as living in Montreal goes, is that it is getting harder and harder to fly direct anywhere from here.  Depending on my destination I have to fly through either Chicago, Newark, or of course Toronto.  From time to time it is not something I would think twice about; when it is every single week (or let’s say thirty-five weeks per year) those connecting flights take a lot of time.  If we figure that each connector flight (through Toronto) adds two and a half hours to each leg of travel, that adds up to more than entire week – one hundred and seventy-five hours per year wasted on connecting flights.


Montreal is a great city, but even if it were my intention to just train in my home city at a Certified Partner for Learning Solutions (CPLS) it would hardly make sense for me to choose Montreal over Toronto.  There just seems to be a lot more IT certification training being done in Toronto (and within an hour’s drive) than there is in the entire province of Quebec… and the rates are better.  It is just a bigger market, and despite the fact that I could teach in English or French, there are just more people taking courses in the Greater Toronto Area.


I have always loved Montreal… the people, the culture, the food, the atmosphere.  I consider it one of North America’s great cities, and wonder how different things would be here without referenda and the constant threat over the past thirty years of separation.  However I want to be clear that my decision to leave Montreal (and Quebec) has nothing at all to do with politics.  I returned to Montreal after living overseas in 1996, shortly after the referendum that came so close to going the other way.  As a baby of the early seventies I remember the first referendum and have grown up speaking both English and French, and though I consider myself Canadian I am also a Quebecois, though an Anglophone one.


So since I started telling people I am moving the common statement is ‘but you’ll visit, right?’ Of course I will.  I have so many friends here and will definitely be back.  To the chagrin of the woman who cuts my hair I intend to find myself another stylist over there… when I do come back to Montreal I want to have as much time to see my friends as possible without worrying about getting my hair cut.


For the Montreal IT Professionals Community I am and will remain President Emeritus of that group, and have no intention of relinquishing that title or my membership in that group.  Just like my friends, I consider MITPro too important to leave behind.


And what does the future hold?  My crystal ball is in the shop so all I can tell you is that whatever it has in store for me I will as I always have look forward to it, face its challenges head-on, and do my best to succeed, even when at times that success seems elusive.


And for those of you who want to see me?  The 401 is shorter than it looks!

Start Spreading the News…

I spent the week in Iselin, New Jersey.  If you are like I once was and do not know where that is, it is just outside Newark, and a quick train ride into New York City.


Though the hotel was lousy (It was actually in Woodbridge and not Iselin) the rest of the trip was good.  The class I taught was a great group of IT Pros (my second great class in a row) and I really enjoyed my time with them.


So after the last day of class Thursday evening (as I had planned all along) I took the train into New York City to see a show.  I taught in Iselin, New Jersey through Thursday, and the deal (with myself) was that if I scored good evals for the week I would go into town and if not… well, not.


I wanted to see Les Miserables on Broadway.  I have seen it a few times in Montreal and Toronto, but seeing it on Broadway was exciting.  It was also a letdown.


Our seats were not great and the two male leads were lousy.  It could be that I am so intimately familiar with the roles, and that I have dreamed forever of playing either Valjean or Javert.  Either way I felt throughout the first act and most of the second that the parts were very poorly cast.  Early in the play Valjean’s voice actually cracked.  I was shocked.


At Intermission my friend and I – who were in complete agreement on the quality of the performance – tried to find someone to complain to without success.  One of the ushers actually agreed with me when I told him I thought it was lousy.


During the second act I realised that Valjean had been cast for one song – Bring Him Home, which he sand brilliantly.  Unfortunately that was at the expense of the rest of the play.  Valjean, who was not nearly as bad but was not good, did not have one brilliant song to redeem himself.  I held out hope for Stars, and was sorely disappointed.


I want to be clear that I still enjoyed the evening.  However I have seen plays that have truly been magical, and this was not one of them.  Maybe my expectations were too high, but next time I’ll try to see something where my expectations are not so high.


By the way the lovely Yocasta was right – Papaya Hotdogs is definitely worth the trip, though it was only by pure accident that we found it.  Two dogs and a mango juice for $3.50… how can you go wrong? :)


Have a good Memorial Day to all of my American friends, and to all of the men and women in uniform I send you all of my best wishes… wherever you may be.

Time Tips for Certification Exams

It is a common misconception that information such as the number of questions on a given cert exam is protected by the Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA), and it has been repeated so many times by so many people that some people are surprised when I answer the question.  That being said, this is not a History test, it is a test of your skills.  If you are concerned by time, I suggest the following:

 

- When you go into the testing room you will be told how much time you have to complete the test.  When you begin your test you will know the number of questions.  Pace yourself accordingly. 

 

- Make sure you are not parked at a parking meter with a time limit of 60 or 120 minutes because chances are you will need more time, and you will not be allowed out to feed the meter. 

 

- When you schedule your test reserve a morning or an afternoon for it.  As late as last year I would never schedule two exams in a half day, though now I generally book them (when doubling up) 90 minutes apart… that is me, and I am a very fast test taker, and have taken enough cert exams to know how long they will take me.  Forgetting other tests, don’t book a doctor’s appointment two hours after your exam.  If you take the exam at 8:30am, don’t schedule anything before noon, for example.

 

- Don’t go into the exam hungry, figuring you’ll be out quick.  You might be, but you might not be, and most exam centers will not alow you to bring food or drink in.

 

- Visit the restroom for all bodily functions before the exam.  No joke, I had an employee who failed an exam because her bladder was going to busrt so she just pressed ‘END’ and did not finish.  (To the best of my understanding she is no longer in the IT field)

 

- If you are sick and do not think that you will be able to sit still for three hours, reschedule.  True story: I once woke up with a 102 degree fever on the day I wanted to take an exam, and I figured it was an easy exam so it wouldn’t matter.  I called Pearson/Vue to schedule it for later that morning.  The next thing I remember is waking up on the floor of my home office several hours later, the battery of my cordless phone dead, a pool of drool under my mouth, and a headache from where I smashed my head.  Fortunately I was on hold and did not finish the registration process :)

 

- If you are dyslexic, or if English is not your first language, call the test provider and ask for extra time.  Some people just read slowly, and they understand that.  The truth is that with most Microsoft exams if you don’t know the answer now then you won’t know it any better in two hours unless you look it up.  Because of that although there are time limits, they can be flexible if arranged ahead of time.

 

That’s it… Good luck and let us know how your tests go!

A First Class Affair!

I guess I am glad for the opportunity, especially that it is for one of my longer flights and not just for a short hop to Toronto or New York, or even Charlotte or St. Louis.


As I sat at the gate waiting for my flight from Montreal to Southern California (via Las Vegas) the gate agent announced that they were oversold, and that any volunteers to be routed through Chicago would be bumped to Business Class, at least for the first segment.  Though Vegas was not my final destination, and because my schedule necessitates my being in SoCal this afternoon, I hesitated before asking the agent if she could route me from Chicago directly to my destination, rather than through Sin City.  After all, as much as I hate O’Hare, a three hour layover in Las Vegas where you cannot turn around without hitting a slot machine might just prove too tempting.


Before agreeing I made the agent check the weather in Chicago.  The last thing I needed was a delay or a cancelled flight.  She assured me that it was cloudy but no cause for delays.  I also pushed my luck and asked for Business Class through to California.  Sometimes it pays to push your luck, because the second leg (operated by US Air) actually has a First Class cabin, and wouldn’t you know it there was a seat available to me!


As a child I once flew First Class on a flight with my parents that had been so delayed that most of the passengers had been rerouted, and we had most of an airplane unto ourselves (there were twelve passengers or so with room for 300 or so).  That was in the days where First Class really was, and though I was far too young to enjoy the complimentary champagne, I remember enjoying the experience tremendously.


So now as I fly the friendly skies (Ok that was a different airline) somewhere over… well, between Montreal and Chicago, My opinion so far is that the seats are definitely more comfortable, the service slightly more attentive, and unlike the plebes in Coach I can comfortably open my larger-than-most laptop without adjusting myself or compromising visibility.  I can also do so while enjoying my coffee because the tray is much larger.


I always suspected that the reason the crew drew the curtain between Economy and Business Class was because once in-flight they donned skimpy cocktail outfits or who knows what and treated the rich… differently.  So far the flight attendants are still wearing the same outfits they wear in the back of the plane and they haven’t turned on any music or brought out massage tables, but I will hold onto that dream. Maybe they are reserving that for the flight from Chicago to SoCal… I’ll let you know. 


Each seat does have its own personal entertainment centre, but that is standard for all seats in Air Canada’s new Embraer 170 and 190 planes (this one is the 190).  I checked just in case they offered more movies… maybe the Playboy channel, but the movies are the same as they were last week.


The lovely Flight Attendant just brought me a warm towel in preparation for the meal, neither of which is available in Steerage. Of course you can buy meals back there, but this is so much nicer!


Okay the meal was very nice… roast beef and brie with fresh vegetables served with a nice Argentinean red wine… and all on real plates, with real silverware, and glass stemware.  It is a fresh change from the five dollar lunch served in a paper box with (if you’re lucky!) plastic cutlery.  My wine glass was refilled a number of times and though I am certainly not intoxicated by any means, the discomfort in my back is gone… or maybe that is from the better seats.


On another air-travel related matter, I have noticed of late that all of the book sellers in all of the airports I have been through of late all have adult magazines for sale.  I will say that for someone like me who has read both EnRoute and the United Airlines magazine cover to cover by the second week of the month it is necessary to bring your own reading material onto the plane, but I am curious to know who buys Hustler to take onto an airplane?  I have certainly never seen anyone reading it, though admittedly I like to stay in my seat and not pry in transit.  I asked the cashier at one of the stores recently and she confirmed that they were really big sellers.  Until today I figured that maybe they were for Business Class travel and up, but that is another myth debunked.


Although it really makes little difference in the grand scheme of things, I do not particularly enjoy waiting in the crowded aisle waiting to disembark.  Rule: the closer you are to the front of the airplane, the less time you wait.  Also in Business Class the aisles are a little wider, and there are fewer pushy people crowding you in.


Waiting between flights I find it makes a huge difference to be able to access the First Class Lounge.  Normally I would currently be walking up and down the concourse aimlessly because I hate sitting at the gate and working on my laptop.  I would probably have purchased a drink and maybe a snack which in any airport these days means more than a few dollars.  The lounge has a full service cash bar with free soft drinks and snacks.  As I was drinking on the flight in I passed on the cash bar, but an apple with a glass of juice was a welcome pick-me-up.  As well I have a nice desk with a phone and power connection to sit and write at… it also gave me the opportunity to make a couple of phone calls.  Of course I have all of these fancy cellular phones, but as it happens one of the calls I made was to the cell phone company, and to be able to configure the phone while on the phone I was happy for the handset!


Boarding first is nice… I always hear the call for ‘Our first class passengers my board now… all the rest of you heathen can wait!’  I think United goes a bit overboard by placing a red carpet that only the elite are allowed to board from.  Nevertheless it was nice to get settled in and place my carry-on luggage before the good spots were taken.


They may call it First Class but I am not sure that the forward cabin of United’s Airbus 320 is any more comfortable than Air Canada’s Embraer 190 was.  Maybe the fact that the A320s are a bit longer in the tooth has something to do with it, or perhaps it was sitting alone on the 190, but I found the seat more comfortable in Business Class.  The power jack to plug in my laptop was a big advantage.  Also United does not have the personal entertainment unit, and to watch the movie (no choice… Bridge to Tarabithia) I had to watch the tiny screen a couple of rows up.  I almost decided to watch that movie on the first leg of the journey… Maybe fate intervened?  I was also considering a movie called The Painted Veil, which a day earlier would have been my only choice.  Perhaps I’ll see it on the way home.


Michelle is the purser, and is in charge of the First Class cabin.  She is quite pleasant and extremely attentive… She was quite distressed that their stocks of The Glenlivet were depleted, and to make up for it has made sure that my gin and tonic was always fresh – I have refused all others after the second one… for now.


Dinner was pleasant.  The choice was between a chicken fajita wrap or a green salad with shrimp, which I opted for.  Except for spilling dressing on my shirt it was pleasant, with all the luxuries of lunch aboard Air Canada, save for the wine (which was available and I turned down).  A nice added touch was the white cloth that acted as a table cloth which added a touch of class.


All in all it is a much more pleasant way to fly than the Economy Class I generally frequent, but luxuries are just that, and I would get to my destination either way.  Do I enjoy it?  Absolutely.  Would I pay extra for it?  Well, if the difference were Fifty Dollars I probably would, but for double or triple the cost of the ticket I will continue to fly steerage, much in the same way I might admire a Bentley but am equally content with my Toyota.


The one luxury which I really did find made a difference was the First Class Lounge.  That is available to elite members once they have flown a certain number of miles or accumulated enough flight credits.  While I was waiting in that lounge my second call was to see how far I am from that status, and it is looking good… a few more weeks and I will be able to hobnob with the elite on layovers in seclusion from the unwashed masses… even if I do have to fly with them J


 

Recording demos made easy

Many of you know that earlier this year I wrote a series of e-learning courses for Microsoft Learning that eventually became the Collection 5974: Designing, Deploying, and Managing a Network Solution for a Small- and Medium-Sized Business. 
The project was a joint effort of several parties comrpising chiefly of SMB Nation (or Bainbridge, Washington) and Sify Corporation in Chennai, India.  As a mobile worker I found myself between Montreal, Redmond, Hallandale, Ottawa, and Seattle.


One of the great advantages of the communication technologies available today is that people from all corners of the globe across varying time zones can collaborate on a project together without getting
 onto an airplane.  I would submit my work at the end of the day in North America to be reviewed by my colleagues in India who were just starting their day.  They would send me their comments and requests which I would receive when my day was starting.  During my evenings/nights and their mornings we would use Live Messenger to communicate the more immediate issues.


To those who were not involved in the process I have made it sound like a well oiled and organized machine, while the rest of us know the real story. 


One part of the process that was new to me was recording demos.  I had never thought about how they were made, so when I was told that it was part of the job I did a little research.  The answer I heard from everyone I spoke to was a package called Camtasia Studios from TechSmith (www.techsmith.com).


Their site claims them to be ‘The leader in screen capture and recording technology’.  I am relieved to say that their product lived up to this claim.  Camtasia was easy to install and to use, and although the price is quite reasonable (USD$299 per copy) they did offer me a trial period of thirty days (full package) before buying.


Although I was once forced to dabble in graphics (thanks Poppy) but my experience with video had been limited to watching them.  Coupled with the rest of what I was dealing with at the time I was not looking forward to delving into this field, but Camtasia made it easy to record – whether it was full screen, parts of a screen, or specific windows. 


Once the video was recorded, editing was a snap.  I was able to splice out mistakes and lag time seemlessly to keep the videos within the time limits.


The last step was recording the voiceovers.  I was able to watch the video and talk over it in real-time to make sure the viewer would see and hear the right information at the right time. 


One of the most appealing features was that Camtasia supported every file type I could think of.  It is amazing what you have to consider in creating demos, and by supporting most of the common audio and video file formats as well as codecs really simplified things for us.


In short, a big thumbs up for Camtasia and TechSmith.  Thanks for making me look (and sound) so good!

An update on exam juju…

I have posted previously about the juju of certification exams.  Because the results of one of the exams I wrote in April were announced today I was looking at my transcripts, and I noticed one other interesting commonality that I had never noticed before.


With this exam I have now passed eleven unique cert exams.  I only noticed today that I passed them all – without exception – at Pearson Vue exam centres.


I have registered for five exams at Prometric sites.  I failed one, one I could not make the appointment, one was cancelled before I took it, and one was cancelled before I took it.  I did pass the fifth one, but it was the beta exam for the new version of an exam that I had already passed, so it does not really count (unless we were to push my Passed exams to twelve, which doesn’t work).


Now that is not to say that I have passed every exam I sat for at Pearson Vue… there are four fails on that transcript, with my one and only re-fail so three unique exams.  It is certainly not a perfect transcript; however eleven of fifteen is much better than zero of four, or I suppose zero of three if you want to give Prometric a walk on the exam that Microsoft cancelled.


Looking at the other side of the same coin, I have only failed one exam at Prometric, with four fails at Pearson Vue.  I guess statisticians can skew numbers to say what they want them to say, so maybe I won’t add this to the juju column, and stick with my Jolly Ranchers which, by the by, I did not have for 70-621, the exam that I found out I passed today.  Hmmm… Curious.  Maybe exam success depends more on what I know and how well prepared I am than any silly superstition?  Maybe I can wear what I want, bring what I want, and not worry about juju at all!


…on second thought maybe I’ll continue to prepare, and keep bringing the JRs… just in case!

Energize IT 2007

Today the Energize IT ’07 “early-bird” registration page went live.  I strongly encourage serious IT professionals and aspiring IT pros to consider heading down to Toronto for this event.


Energize IT 2006 was an incredible event last year.  Dan Nerenberg and I drove down to help out IT pros with the then recently-released beta 2 of Windows Vista.  There were some great speakers including the infamous Mark Russinovitch talking about the Windows kernel, as well as some great presentations and break-out sessions with the Microsoft Canada TechNet team and some third-party experts.


This year it is expected to be an even better time… Sessions on Longhorn Server, Forefront Client Security, System Center, PowerShell, BDD, and more will make it a great time.  Daniel and I will again be on staff; Dan will be presenting a session on PowerShell, and I will be proctoring the Hands-On Labs.


If you were not planning to be in the Toronto area then we strongly advise considering getting a bunch of friends that you wouldn’t mind spending some time with and driving down.  It is a great opportunity to learn great information about some new products, meet peers from Ontario, and to quote the TechNet Canada guys, Get Your Geek On!


Register today at http://www.microsoft.com/canada/technet/energizeit/ and make sure you let your fellow MITPro colleagues that you are heading down to Get Your Geek On too!