A sad day in the toy industry…

Image: FAO Schwarz

Firstly let me be clear: I have absolutely nothing against Toys ‘R’ Us.  I have no hidden agenda, no miserable experience, and no repressed memories (at least none that I know of!).  I have very fond memories of the Toys ‘R’ Us in Times Square, where in the summer of 2005 and again with my then fiancé Theresa I rode the indoor Ferris Wheel then walked around wishing I were still a kid.

Having said that I was saddened by news today that the giant toy retailer acquired the New York City landmark FAO Schwarz.  It is the death of an era.

My first visit to FAO was during my first visit to New York City with my parents; I was ten years old – give or take – and I remember very little about the visit except three things: I loved the myriad electronics discount stores where I got to look at computers, I loved seeing Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and I absolutely loved FAO Schwartz, which for the first hour of our visit I was absolutely convinced was heaven.  They let you play with toys, and they had every toy in the world!

The retailer is featured in countless movies… BIG comes to mind, with Tom Hanks and Robert Loggia play Chopsticks on the floor-keyboard.  Of course there were many more, but what we see there cannot compare to the quarter-century old memories of a ten-year-old boy who felt like he had found Nirvana and never wanted to leave.  That is of course how it is always portrayed in movies… as the greatest place on earth for children.  That was what it was for me.

I remember sitting in Calories – a cafe in Montreal that served the greatest deserts, trying to describe it to my friends, years later.  Of course I couldn’t remember the name… so I picked up the payphone, dialed 212-555-1212 and, feeling a little stupid, tried to explain to the operator that I needed to remember the name of this incredible toy store in Manhattan.  She knew right away what I meant and gave me precisely the information I needed!

I hope that the change in ownership does not destroy this piece of my childhood – and that of countless others.  I hope they maintain the name, location, and atmosphere, although I cannot see how they could.  After all corporate run stores are seldom run the same as those run by people who love them and have a vested interest in them.

I hope they don’t remove the magic from this magical place.  If they do I will never be able to take my children – both born and unborn – there to experience the same magical feelings of pure innocence and happiness that I felt when I was ten.

The other day I told Aaron (my son) that he didn’t know how lucky he was to have his life.  Well, I might not have then, but I realize it now.  Thanks Arthur and Miriam (Mom and Dad!) for taking me there, and to countless other places when I was a child.

The Quiet Demise of Truly Incredible Technology

Of all of the innovative technologies I came face to face with at TechEd last month the most incredible of them all was a gentleman in a wheelchair.

The nation's first stair-climbing wheelchair, the iBot, was quietly rolled off the market this spring.It wasn’t just any wheelchair of course… it was (I would later learn) an iBOT… a wheelchair designed to free the disabled from the shackles that truly bind them.  It climbs stairs and does much more, including let users have an eye-level conversation with an average-sized adult male.  I believe it was developed by Dean Kamen (of Segway fame) and was sold by Johnson & Johnson for a staggering price tag of US$22,000… of which Medicare covered about US$6,000.

Of course for those who can afford it I am sure these incredible machines were well worth the money.  After all what price can you put on your freedom of mobility?  It was a great step forward in the equal rights that handicapped persons deserve in our world…

…and it is gone.

According to MSNBC they have been discontinued because it was simply not profitable, as they were only selling a few hundred of them per year.  (See article http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30929301/)

I am tempted to say that it is disgraceful that a corporation would put profits ahead of the rights of the handicapped, but I suppose that is the job of corporations – to answer first and last to their shareholders.

Still I cannot help but wonder if our governments (U.S. and Canada) who have been spending hundreds of billions of dollars bailing out industries such as the auto industry and financial institutions couldn’t have found some way to step in and subsidize the company.  Those industries are important… I get it; but isn’t this too?  If for no other reason than so that we could say that we did more than mandate that some buildings have access to the handicapped, we actually gave them access to all buildings!

Windows 7 Beta Beware :)

I hope by now most of you are running Windows 7.  I think it is important that IT Pros are up to speed before the actual product release!  However if you are running the beta 2 release – that is Build 7000 it is time for you to upgrade!  the Release Candidate (Build 7100) has been available since the end of April, and has a plethora of bug fixes included.

If that is not incentive enough then you should know that after June 1 your 7000 machines will be <revised> sending you warning messages, and on July 1 they will start shutting down every two hours… similar to unlicensed product.

I know, I know.  It’s a pain.  However with all that has been written about Deployment Technologies on Windows 7, especially the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit, isn’t it time you tried out some of those great tools and upgraded to 7100?

Aliens have taken over my body!

This is the first of many entries in this blog focused primarily on the fact the WE ARE PREGNANT!!!   It will also be a general blog about the Garvis household from my perspective.   To see Mitch’s perspective you just have to go see his blog and filter out the tech talk 🙂 after we “officially” announce in 12 weeks.   Those of you with the early announcement are the only ones who know about this link, but others can come back later and start from the beginning if they wish to see what it was like.

The baby is 5 weeks old and I’m in the 7th week of pregnancy.   According to the baby calendars, the baby had their first heartbeat on the 17th and the arm/leg buds are forming along with most of the vital organs.   I saw the doctor on Friday and confirmed that Clearblue Easy is indeed 99% accurate and that I am really pregnant.   They took about 9 vials of blood for all the prenatal blood tests and I will be calling to schedule the first ultrasound to verify the dates although we are pretty sure that the due date is Jan 10, 2010.

So far, the happiness of the event is counteracting the nausea, tiredness and overwhelming feeling that “aliens have taken over my body!”  I definitely need to drink water when my body says to drink water and eat when it says to eat, sleep when it says to sleep….    There is immediate consequences for me if I don’t do as my body tells me.      

It has been a fairly easy transition so far since I had been eating a healthy diet already and can now cut out alcohol, deli meats, seafood/fish, herbal teas, undercooked meats, etc… without much problem.    I only have 1 coffee a day with milk and usually can’t make it through the whole cup anyway.   I will miss my smoked salmon and cream cheese, but I can always enjoy that later.   I’m keeping up with my half hour of mall walking that I do at work which I think is helping me more than anything deal with the fatigue.

Aaron was just out on a bike ride and is now playing with the dogs.   Mitch is reading a magazine, but soon will be on his computer doing his work.  We will be starting another week of school and work after I finish the weekend getting laundry done, bills paids, and groceries purchased.    I’ll get lots of help doing all of these items from Mitch and Aaron.

Mitch is on cloud nine and is having difficulty containing himself and I feel like everyone can “just tell” by looking at me.   However, we will get through this first 12 weeks doing our best to keep a healthy baby and then move on to the next stage.

Preparing for the new laptops!

For more information about the Windows Springboard Series visit http://go.microsoft.com/?linkid=8418918.

A lot of people cannot understand how IT Professionals and enthusiasts can get excited about some things.  I ordered my new laptops last week; however the most exciting part of that has nothing to do with new toys (ok, maybe a little) but how I will be setting them up when I receive them.

At TechEd last week I spent most of my time at the Windows 7 Deployment booth.  Among the people I got to work with were old friends Mike Niehaus and Tim Mintner, the MDT/BDD gurus that I have admired for several years.  They gave me (and just about anyone who came by the booth, in case the folks with the rattan cane come back) a sneak peak of the next bits of the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit 2010 beta 2 release.  In my mind it is the biggest change to the product since BDD 2007 was released, and it is definitely a technology that you should be looking at if you are interested in deployment.

When I told Tim that I was getting my new laptops he asked me if I wanted to build a deployment kit USB key.  Of course Microsoft Deployment Toolkit has had the ability to create these for some time, but I couldn’t believe how easy it was.  We took a 16 Gig USB key and created a Media Deployment Point.  Creating a Media DP is something I have been doing for years… but not like this.  You boot your computer to the USB key and the first thing you are prompted for is what OS you want to install.  On this key our options are:

  • Windows 7, x64
  • Windows 7, x86
  • Windows Server 2008 R2, x64
  • Windows Server 2008 R2, x86

So once you select the operating system, you then have the option to select the applications you install.  I am keeping it simple by deploying only the Microsoft Office 2007 Ultimate Edition, but you can install any applications you like.

One tool that I use a lot is the SysInternals BGInfo program which allows me to see some information about the system on which I am working.  Like most SysInternals tools it does not need to be installed, only placed in a directory on the computer.  I did that, but also created a shortcut and placed it into the StartUp folder under the Start pearl <All Users>.  That way when I start my new system it will ask me to configure the application for first use, and then run every time I start up.

I mentioned before that IT Professionals and enthusiasts do things differently… and because of that reality I often find myself reformatting my systems… either because a new release of the pre-release OS is out, or because I want to demonstrate something on a different platform.  In truth that is one of the reasons I am buying a netbook, so that I can wipe and reinstall as the need suits me.  Its solid state hard drive isn’t really big enough to support multiple boot scenarios.  With the super-deployment key that Tim and I created I can do it with little or no effort… poof, what was Windows 7 x86 is now Server 2008 R2 x64.

I have written in several articles about how convenient it is for companies to install a deployment infrastructure… and have spoken to over 50 groups around the world on SMB deployment scenarios (Desktop Deployment for Small and Mid-Sized Businesses).  This simplified technology will take it one step further, offering deployment scenarios to companies without a server, or even homes with multiple PCs whose residents… shall we say tend to download more than their share of malicious code through dubious sites 🙂

In a follow-up article I will go through the steps to create one of these Super Deployment Keys… with screen shots and all.  However before you get to follow along you will have to sign up for the beta for the Solutions Accelerator tools and download the new beta release of Microsoft Deployment Toolkit 2010!  Let me know when you have done that… I’ll be ready 🙂

For more information about the Windows Springboard Series visit http://go.microsoft.com/?linkid=8418918.

Kai Axford is Coming to Town!

If you do not live in the Greater Toronto Area, or say between here and Niagara, this is probably not for you.  However if you can get to Oakville next Tuesday and are interested in IT then this session is for you!

**Special Event**

Seminar with World Renowned Security Expert Kai Axford
Sheridan College, Oakville, ON
Tuesday May 26th 2009
Welcome time 6:00PM Event 6:30PM-9:00PM
Click here for more details and to Register!.

Sheridan College – Trafalgar Road Campus
J Wing – Sheldon Levy Centre – RM J102
1430 Trafalgar Road (Ceremonial Drive, park in the left lot)
Oakville, ON, CA
L6H 2L1

* Don't Miss This Rare Opportunity to meet and hear Kai Axford, World Renowned Security Expert*

Part 1: Windows 7 Security Tidbits – Windows 7 is coming and the boss is asking you about all those new security features. Perhaps you've heard some buzz about AppLocker? What’s this about DirectAccess connecting securely to your corporate network without a VPN? What’s up with BitlLocker To Go? In this fun and interactive session, Kai Axford, a Microsoft Senior Security Strategist with Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computing team, will demonstrate some of the new security features in Microsoft's newest desktop operating system. Bring your questions and get the scoop on these upcoming Microsoft security technologies!

Part 2: Understanding and Preventing Insider Threat – Many analysts have stated that the Number One issue facing corporate customers today is the threat of targeted corporate espionage coming from within the organization. Join Kai Axford, a security strategist from the Microsoft Trustworthy Computing team for an entertaining and engaging session, as he shares real stories from the trenches about the risk this threat presents for both you and your customers. He’ll demo the means by which these attacks occur and discuss the mindset of the attackers. Don’t miss the chance to see how this is done!”

This isn't for you?  You're welcome to forward these details to a friend or anyone else you think might be interested.

XP Compatibility Mode in Windows 7

For more information about the Windows Springboard Series visit http://go.microsoft.com/?linkid=8418918.

of all of the legitimate reasons I have heard why people and organizations have not upgraded to Windows Vista application compatibility has been a big one.  I have been telling people for years that this is because of the improved security features, and that ISVs (Independent Software Vendors) were going to have to program around the hardened security.  As it happens they have been, but none of that is relevant if you have a piece of software sitting on your shelf that doesn’t work.  At http://talkingaboutwindows.com/archive/2009/04/17/mitch-garvis.aspx I said that end users don’t care why their applications don’t work or who or what is to blame… they just want it to work.

Enter Windows XP Mode in Windows 7.  This feature was released with the Release Candidate of Windows 7 a few weeks ago, and the buzz has been incredible.  In short, with Windows 7 you have a virtual PC running Windows XP; you can install your applications on that XP machine (No additional license is required) and then as if by magic you can run those applications on your Windows 7 machine. 

imageI have one set of applications that never ran on Windows Vista; the Readiness Review Suite that came with Microsoft Press Self-Paced Training Kit books for Windows 2003 never ran on Vista, and because of that I always had a Windows XP virtual machine on my laptop.  In order to run the application I would have to run Virtual PC 2007, spin up the Windows XP machine, log on and run my app.  There was no interconnectivity between that VM and my desktop.

imageAs you can see I have installed it on the Windows XP VM on Windows 7 (Microsoft Press Readiness Review Suite).  Let’s be clear… I can run it here if I want.  Or I can look in my Windows 7 Programs and see the following:

 All Programs – Windows Virtual PC – Virtual Windows XP Applications – Microsoft Press Readiness Review Suite.

I have not done any custom configuration here… the only thing I have to do is install my application within XP so that the icon is under the All Users profile, which is why Internet Explorer icons do require their own tweaking (by default they are installed per user).  Why would I need this, you ask?  You may have HTA applications that still need Internet Explorer 6.0, and rather than trying to install that onto Windows 7 you can simply leverage XP mode.

Another benefit of XP Mode is one you will be seeing in the next version of Virtual PC… it supports USB devices, both within the VPC and within XP Applications.

XP Mode does have a few requirements that you should be aware of.  For one thing your CPU must support hardware virtualization.  That means that you also have to enable hardware virtualization in the BIOS.  Brad et al, make sure your CPU supports either Intel-VT or AMD-V before trying 🙂

Secondly the XP machine requires 256 Megabytes of RAM which will be taken from the total… so if you have memory issues beware.  Also you should make sure you can comfortably allocate 16 gigabytes of hard disk space to the VPC, and more depending on what you are storing therein.


I find it convenient that physical drives and partitions on the host computer are immediately available in the guest OS.  They are viewed as network drives, so it is easy to port content between the two.

It is important to remember that even if you are only loading the Virtual PC to install the applications, and then running the applications from within Windows 7 you are still running a second PC, and security considerations such as patch management and virus protection must still be run on both the host and the guest PC.  Remember one of Mitch’s Rules of Virtualization: What must be done in the host must also be done in the guest.  If you are a consultant supporting clients who will be using this remember that their SLAs (Service Level Agreement) might have to be revised to increase the scope.

XP Mode is not built into the RC of Windows 7, but it is a free download.  Click on this link and follow the instructions: http://www.microsoft.com/windows/virtual-pc/download.aspx.

For more information about the Windows Springboard Series visit http://go.microsoft.com/?linkid=8418918.

Knock Knock… Who’s there? Office 2010!

One of the reasons I like attending conferences like TechEd is that very often attendees get news first… either by design or occasionally by accident.  An example of the latter, I learned last night, is that one presenter accidentally showed off SharePoint 2010 to a packed room without realizing that it was strictly embargoed.  Oops!

A better (or at least more positive) example is that it was announced today that attendees at TechEd 2009 will be the first invited to a Technical Preview Program for Office 2010, the long anticipated successor to the highly successful (not only in my opinion) Office 2007.  Unfortunately we are going to have to wait until July for it.

Office 2007 was a major release.  it introduced two huge changes over its predecessors: the ribbon toolbar (love it or hate it, it is here to stay!) and the new xml-based file formats.  I have read others who do not feel that Office 2010 will consist of any changes as major as those.  I disagree.  There are two bits that will be introduced with 2010 which I consider major changes:

  1. Office 2010 will be the first edition of the hugely successful application suite to offer a x64 (64-bit) edition in addition to the x86 (32-bit) version.  Historically the x86 application suite installed on 64-bit operating systems in the C:\Program Files (x86) directory.  With the direction of the computing world firmly heading toward 64-bit computing I am glad to see that the applications that most of us use most frequently are following the same trend.
  2. With Office 2010 Microsoft will also be releasing web-based editions of the suite (known as Office Web Applications).  I suspect that these will be offered both for companies to host their own application servers on IIS 7 rather than on a Terminal Services platform, in addition to hosted environments (cloud computing).  Along with I suspect millions of others I have been using Outlook Web Access through two generations now (If memory serves it was introduced with Exchange 2000; I came on board with 2003) I am excited to see what its fellow applications will look like on-line.

Some of the rumors I have heard about 2010 are that it is blindingly fast (one commentator said uncomfortably so) and that it is much prettier than its predecessor.  That I will wait to see, but in the meantime if you are like me and are not tired of having sore feet from living on the bleeding edge then look for Office 2010 beta to open to the public (i.e. those of you not at TechEd) sometime nearer the fall.  See you there!