New York City – End of Day 2

Actually it was our first full day in the city to be sure… but that’s just a technicality.  We drove in yesterday – after sitting in traffic waiting for IMG_0047 the Lincoln Tunnel for two full hours; boy are we glad that we drive a hybrid!  It took another 45 minutes to get to the hotel at 45th and 7th Avenue – we were able to park the car, and plan to leave it thusly until we leave!

Once we were here though… all of the stress of travel dissipated in the quaintness of our modern European-style hotel.  I have been in a lot of hotel rooms and can honestly say that this one (Room Mate Grace) is unique.  It has everything we need, and is extremely efficient in its design.  We cleaned up and hit the town!

Mamma Mia! Theresa and I love the theatre, although we understood that Broadway was dark on Sundays and Mondays.  We quickly discovered that we were wrong, and walked to the new TKTS in Times Square to see what we could get… forget about it!  The line was ridiculous, and we decided to just go to the box office.  The first show Theresa really wanted to see was Mamma Mia, and who am I to say no?  We made reservations at a little Chinese joint next to the Winter Garden Theatre, and lucked out with seats in the Orchestra :)  The show was good… I do not love the music, but everything else about it was excellent.

This morning wee decided to walk to Macy’s… a ten block walk would give us some exercise, and lord knows I need it!  Theresa needed a couple of things, and a friend recommended that we eat at the Cellar at Macy’s… and he has not yet led me wrong. 

For some reason everywhere we have gone – with the exception of TKTS – we have magically avoided any significant waiting.  We walked into the Cellar and were seated right away… 12:45pm, Monday between Christmas and New Years, in the largest department store in the world.  When we finished our very agreeable lunch there were no fewer than thirty people lined up waiting for our table!

From the cellar we rode the escalator up to the top – ten floors up – only to discover that what we were looking for was on the balcony over the first floor.  No matter, it was an adventure… not our first and likely not our last of the day!!

Theresa is there to keep me in line when I tell cashiers that the <fill in the blank> that we are buying was on a shelf marked 50% Off… Carnegie Deli Marquee and she did it again today, only to find out (much to hers and the cashier’s amazement) that this time I was telling the truth!  There really are bargains to be had after Christmas… even at Macy’s!

We walked back from 34th Street to the movie theatre on 42nd.  It was a beautiful warm day and we really enjoyed the walk.  We saw a movie to kill a couple of hours, and then came back to the hotel. 

We decided that lunch was such a success that we would try Jay’s second restaurant recommendation – the Carnegie Deli.  We took a bicycle-powered rickshaw along Avenue of the Americas driven by a young man from West Africa… what a hoot!  I had never done that before, and aside from being much easier to manoeuvre through traffic, it was also a lot of fun! 

Theresa in the RickshawCarnegie’s is certainly not Schwartz’s but it was good… and holy Hanna do they put a lot on your plate!  As Jay suggested we shared a sandwich and a knish, and were FULL!  The place itself was a great experience that everyone should try at least once… though I sympathize with your arteries if you go overboard.

Walking back we realized that not all theatres are dark on Mondays  anymore… we couldn’t get tickets for Jersey Boys for a reasonable amount, and Wicked was sold out.  The third theatre we came across was the Ambassador which had Chicago playing.  I walked up to the box office and the teller liked me… Again he had Orchestra seats (second row!) but only charged me the lowest Balcony rates.  Who says you can’t get anything for a smile and a kind word!?IMG_0035

Chicago was a great show.  I had seen the movie, but Theresa knew nothing but the name.  At intermission she admitted to me that she was enjoying it more than Mamma Mia… even though the seats were not as comfortable… though I promised Eagle One that I would not complain!

We walked back to the hotel and realized what a full day it had been.  We took some pictures as we walked along Broadway into Times Square, and got back to the room in time for us to realize how tired we were.  Tomorrow is another day, and Theresa and I cannot wait to see what it has in store for us… who knows?  We might even get to see Jersey Boys!

Outlook Rules – STOP!

I cannot remember exactly when I started using Microsoft Office Outlook over the free Outlook Express product, but I do remember preferring it over OE, at least when I got used to it… and when I really started using it.

I do remember that when I installed my original Small Business Server 2003 server at home – with Exchange Server 2003 included and integral to that experience – I was an independent consultant, and spent several hours (days?) collating the information I had in several sources – Outlook Express, PDA, and especially my DayTimer – into Outlook.  That meant that every appointment going forward, every contact, every e-mail, and every task would be in Outlook, and has been ever since (probably mid-2003).

So all of a sudden I had this single repository of information where everything went… and quickly understood the concept of drinking from a fire hose.  At first dozens and eventually hundreds of e-mails would come in every day.

When I discovered Outlook Rules I fell in love, and have been using them ever since.  Admittedly I do not use them to their fullest extent… mostly to just sort e-mail into folders (and I have nearly a hundred of those, if not more).

At some point I noticed that a lot of e-mails would fall under a number of rules… for example, I have a rule that any e-mail from someone whose address includes the text @microsoft.com is sorted into a file called Microsoft;  however I also have several rules for people or groups at Microsoft… so an e-mail from Richard Claus would be delivered to two locations.  Never mind that this would take extra storage space, it would also look like I have two (or often THREE) unread messages for a single message.

imageThere is a simple solution for that… there is a rule called ‘Stop Processing More Rules’.  On the Select Actions window you can select Move it to the specified folder, which will do just that.  However you can select multiple actions here, and the Stop Processing More Rules action will do just that, rather than letting the engine process the next rule… thus preventing other rules from being applied to it.

Of course you may ask why isn’t this the default action for all rules?  I did mention that I, like most of the people in the world who use Outlook, do not use it to its fullest extent.  However there are rules that apply only within Outlook, and cannot be ported over to Exchange Server, such as assign it to a category.  By applying this action to a rule it is automatically converted to a ‘Client Only’ rule, and will be removed from the Exchange Server.  If a user only checks his e-mail from the single Microsoft Office Outlook client where the rule is configured then there is no problem… but imagine a user who uses Outlook Web Access as well as Outlook Mobile Access… rules would not be processed on the fly, and the whole benefit to the organization would be lost.  Instead of doing that, we can create two rules… one that files the incoming e-mail into the proper folder (Server-side rule), and then one that assigns a category to the same e-mail (client-side rule).  The e-mail would be filed properly on the fly, and as soon as the user connected to his Outlook client it would then be categorized.

Bill Jowett of Exclaimer Inc. (http://www.exclaimer.com) has given me a sneak preview of a new product that they are currently beta-testing a new product that will extend the functionality of Outlook (beyond what their current Exclaimer Mail Utilities offering does, which only works with a back-end Exchange Server) with some great new features.  As their previous offering used a powerful rules engine as the core back-end tool, I look forward to seeing what the new Outlook product will offer… but for now the standard Outlook rules does what I need, and with a little ingenuity helps me to keep my mailbox clean!  He will be presenting his session ‘Outlook 2007: What’s NOT in the Box’ tomorrow evening (Tuesday, December 9th, 2008) at the IT Professionals Community of Greater Toronto where he will be demonstrating the new tool… come on out and get a sneak peak before it is actually launched!

What a long, strange trip it’s been!

I can hardly believe that it has been four years since a brash and outspoken yet passionate young man volunteered to help build a user group for IT Pros in Montreal.  After two years at the helm of the Montreal IT Professionals Community (affectionately known as MITPro) I left partly to make way for new blood, partly because I was embarking upon a new career path… one that would take me away from Montreal, initially for extended periods of time and within the year permanently.

Within months of settling in Mississauga I was asked again to volunteer, and nearly a year ago a group of passionate IT Pros sat down to form the IT Professionals Community of Greater Toronto.  Our ‘launch’ was at the Server/SQL 2008 launch event in March, where we told everyone about our first event that we held on March 18th… and while we had a temporary ‘placeholder site’ on the web, we were planning big things for our site, and the passionate group of volunteers planned for that site to be up in time for the April event.

April turned to May, spring into summer and eventually autumn until today, five days until the winter solstice.  The delays were plenty and I am responsible for all of them… from hardware to software and back, until we finally found the combination that worked for us.  It took nearly ten months to get this site up, and I am reminded of the old saying about the shoemaker’s children.

Over the coming weeks you will likely see a number of huge changes to the site because what you see is not the result of months of design efforts, rather of several days but based on an incredible platform – Telligent’s Community Server.  If you are looking for a portal engine I highly recommend it… I have been using their previous version for my personal site for over a year, and love the new one even more.

Speaking of blogging, if you are a member of our community and you’d like to start, drop us a line… we’d be glad to host your blog for you!

See you soon!

M

Community – Every Opportunity an Opportunity

You never know who you are going to meet at a user group meeting.

Last Tuesday evening the IT Professionals Community of Greater Toronto hosted its monthly event at the University of Toronto.  It was great to see so many new faces at the meeting, and I was happy to meet most of them.  I count as friends quite a few people I met at such events in Montreal, and now in Toronto.

On Wednesday or Thursday I received an e-mail from one of the new members inviting me for a cup of coffee.  We met this afternoon, and spent nearly two hours chatting about a myriad of topics, from community to business, to industry trends and family and much more.  He was surprised that I was willing to meet so readily, and to spend so much time.  The truth is you never know who you are going to meet, and frankly isn’t that what community is about?

I have become over the past few years a bit of a magnet; people seem to want to meet me, and it is usually my pleasure to meet them.  I never know if that person will become a friend, partner, client, or associate… but we live in the same space – we are both IT Professionals, and both live in the Greater Toronto Area.  There was a time when this was not my attitude – it was first important to know what someone could do for me before I would spend time with them.  I cannot begin to imagine what opportunities I missed out on because of this, and I am glad that I have evolved since then.

The point is you never know who you are meeting, and taking the time to find out can often pay dividends.  In the case of the gentleman I met with following last week’s meeting, I was able to offer him a few words of advice for his practice, and might even be able to send some business his way.  He told me he was interested in certification exams, so I was able to get him a couple of books from the prize closet that will help him on his way.  He in turn bought me a cup of coffee… and reminded me why I love being involved in the community – it’s not about me… it’s about us.

Of course, there is a time and a place to put community aside… we all have to make a living after all.  A fellow Microsoft Certified Trainer was complaining to me that a colleague had accepted a teaching gig for less than he had, and that undercutting each other would only devalue the program.  While that may to a certain extent be true, we have to remember – especially independent contractors – that we are in a business, and have to make a living… fifteen percent less is better than zero after all.  Unless we were to band together – ALL of us – and for a Parity Committee then we have to be competitive. 

It took a long time for me to reconcile that a user group – or more precisely community of IT Professionals – is a group of people who are by definition in direct competition with each other.  However just because we compete does not mean that we do not have something to offer one another.  I have had community members without a great deal of technical support call me in to help him with a deep technical issue… I have called on colleagues with different areas of expertise for help (I certainly don’t do dev work, or much in SQL for example).  Often it would just be an issue that a project or job was too large in scope for a single person, and a few of us would collaborate on the same project.

I do not know many IT Pros who are lone wolves; it is not that they do not exist – they exist in droves – but those lone wolves do not come out to the events, do not mingle with their peers.  I wish them all well, but who do they call when they need a hand?  I have heard of many consultants who never go on vacation because they cannot leave their clients unsupported; community members can ‘watch each others’ backs’ – so for example my clients would be supported without the threat of losing them.

I have learned over time that as good as I may be, WE is always better… although it is important to know who we are partnering with.  User groups are great places to meet a lot of people, and some of them are going to be good fits but some of them might not be.  We have to know who we are dealing with because in some cases those people will be representing us – you should take your time getting to know someone before trusting them with your clients – you have to trust not only that they will not steal them, but that they would represent you professionally.

I look forward to watching the GTA community grow and thrive not because of the Board of Directors, but because of you.  Tell us your stories about how community works for you!

Tech Support’s Revenge

This is an oldie but a goodie… thanks to my man in Dallas Larry Lentz for reminding me of it!

Tech Support: "Sir, something has burned within your power supply."

Customer: "I bet that there is some command that I can put into the AUTOEXEC.BAT that will take care of this."

Tech Support: "There is nothing that software can do to help you with this problem."

Customer: "I know that there is something that I can put in…some command…maybe it should go into the CONFIG.SYS."

Minutes later:

Tech Support: "Ok, I am not supposed to tell anyone this but there is a hidden command in some versions of DOS that you can use. I want you to edit your AUTOEXEC.BAT and add the last line as C:\DOS\NOSMOKE.EXE and reboot your computer."

Pause.

Customer: "It is still smoking."

Tech Support: "I guess you'll need to call Microsoft and ask them for a patch for the NOSMOKE.EXE."

Four hours later, he calls back.

Tech Support: "Hello sir, how is your computer?"

Customer: "I called Microsoft and they said that my power supply is incompatible with their NOSMOKE.EXE and that I need to get a new one. I was wondering when I can have that done?"