Today is the last day of my 90 day extension of my TechNet subscription with Microsoft. It was a great service and offered a lot of value for anyone with their own lab setup at home. Now that it’s done we still have access to a whole load of excellent resources. Virtual instructor-led courses can be had at the Microsoft Virtual Academy. You can get your hands on downloads to install and configure and test through the TechNet Evaluation Center. Give a product a test drive by using TechNet Virtual Labs. All good resources. Not quite the same as the TechNet subs but then if you have the money and really need the resources you can always check out a MSDN subscription.
Just about everyone knows about “Patch Tuesday”. Whether you’re in IT or just a casual user of technology we’re all exposed monthly to the System Tray icons popping up to tell us there are important updates that need to be applied or have been applied to your system and now you need to reboot or postpone for an hour/four hours. But why bother?
Many of the updates that companies release these days are to plug some security hole. That’s important. Sure, maybe you don’t visit sketchy websites so you don’t think you’re system is ever going to be exposed to the “bad people” and that’s fair. But in reality, if you have a network connected computer, any network, you run the risk of coming into contact with a machine that could potentially be infected or exposed or hosting processes up to no good.
In part you want to keep your systems up-to-date to protect yourself from problems but you also want to keep this current to protect yourself from others with problems. And it’s not just operating system updates. Just about everyone releases updates from time to time to correct issues, plug holes, or improve performance. So why wouldn’t you update?
My own recent experience involved a small port extender device manufactured for a large vendor that was used at a client site. The drivers for the device were the default drivers used when the devices were first installed in 2011. After applying some operating system and application updates the device continued to work but now Outlook would crash each and every time it attempted to load. Since the laptop worked just fine unplugged from the device, and the crash could be replicated on another matching laptop, I decided to look and see if newer drivers were available. In fact there were and they were relatively recent, September 2014. There were numerous revisions since 2011. I updated the drivers and presto chango everything worked just fine again.
This is but a single example of many that should encourage everyone to maintain up-to-date systems whether for work or for home. We do ourselves a favour and we do our part to keep the neighbourhood clean as well.
Let’s see, where did I leave off? This is what happens when life rears its head and tells you things need to be done that don’t included blog entries.
Next up on the list of goodness is a package of tools created by our friends at Microsoft called the Configuration Manager 2012 R2 Toolkit. This toolkit includes just over a dozen tools, client and server based, to help in the day-to-day operation of your Configuration Manager environment and help with troubleshooting should problems arise. The DP Job Manager and Collection Evaluation Viewer are two highlights but really I think all of these tools are worth a second look if you’re not using them already.
The System Center Configuration Manager Support Center is a tool I have yet to use but look at the cool stuff this thing does. You’re basically going to run this tool and connect to the problem client machine. Once connected you can gather up all the logs and settings and look under the hood to see what’s happening and sort out where the problem might be. It let’s you look at the policies applied to the client so you can see if the actions you’re trying to push to the client are actually happening. When I first saw this demoed, at TechEd Europe, I immediately thought of some work done recently trying to troubleshoot a client machine where I know this would have helped.
Client Center for Configuration Manager is another one of those “how did I manage without this?” tools. This is the work of a MVP named Roger Zander. This is another one of those troubleshooting tools that helps you gather up all the details in one place to help you figure out what’s busted and point you in the direction to fixing it.
Here’s another tool, similar to the Client Center for Configuration Manager called the Remote Manage app presented by a company called Cireson and a man named Wally Mead. Tonnes of useful stuff can be gleaned from the client using this tool and this is the guy who would know best about what to get to help with troubleshooting.
Here’s where I’ll stop for today. Go check this stuff out, I’ll be doing the same.
On the 31st, we arrived at our final destination for this trip, namely Frankfurt. Mitch and I spent one day in the city centre to get to know Frankfurt better and also to finally do a bit of shopping. Since we’d been running around with our packs up until that day, we never bought much – it just would have meant more dragging around for us. It was fun to just meander in the streets at a much slower pace than we had up until that day. On the 2nd, we packed up our stuff, left our hotel and headed for the neighbouring train station to grab a suburban commuter train for the outskirts where my aunt and uncle live. Onkel Bernhard picked us up and off we drove to Kelkheim, a town in its own right but could also be considered sort of a satellite town of Frankfurt’s. We were warmly welcomed, chatted for a bit (got caught up), met up with another member of the family and his son and then later on drove to a cousin’s place for coffee and cake. The suggestion was made to head out for a little drive to a beautiful little town called Idstein and so off we went. What a gorgeous little town! You probably won’t find it in any tour guide but it’s a real gem. Lots of colourful timber frame houses, a little castle and a very welcoming town centre make it a very attractive place to visit. We also ate fantastic Italian food there which was very reasonably priced. We then all drove home to our respective houses for the night. Next day, a wonderful breakfast was served and my cousin Andrea came to visit with her little guy, Simon. We chatted and ate lunch together and patiently (sort of) awaited my son’s arrival from southern Germany. My aunt invited Mitch and I to go to a neighbouring spa town, Bad Soden, to check out the fabulous Hundertwassserhaus there. More amazing Friedrich Hundertwasser architecture. Mitch and I ended up unanimously voting that house as the nicest one we’ve seen to date from that particular architect/artist. We then drove back to Kelkheim and to our delight, Colin had already arrived. It was a wonderful reunion 🙂 We then all chatted into the night, packed for next day’s flight and went to bed. Monday: up early, showers and breakfast, last minute check if we had everything and off to Frankfurt airport, the second busiest airport in all of Europe (after Heathrow). We took the opportunity to snap up a couple of more souvenirs for the friends back home, ate a wonderful lunch with my aunt and uncle and then off through the gate and into the plane. It was a good flight but we were more than happy to touch down in Ottawa, greet Heidi and Fred (my parents) and then let ourselves be whisked home. There was agreement all around that it’s great to go on vacation but also amazing to come home again 🙂 Thanks Europe, as well as all to friends and family, for a fantastic trip!
Part of the benefit of the Eurorail pass is free passage on the K-D Shipping Line. The Koln-Dusseldorfer Line provides travel up and down the Rhine River. It’s slow and relaxing and passes some of the most beautiful views in Germany. Castles galore. We rolled into Mainz in the early evening and grabbed a hotel room close to the hauptbahnhof so we wouldn’t need to drag our heavy rucks across town looking for a place to sleep. The place was quite nice. After dumping our **** out and sorting the dirty from the clean, not much of the latter, we went around the corner to wash our duds and once that was done we strolled through the city to the river to find the boarding spot for the boat trip the next morning. On the way back we stopped for more food and a pint and relaxed while watching the dark clouds roll in. The next day we packed up and hopped in a cab to the river side to catch the boat. The weather looked kinda ****** but once onboard and moving the sky cleared up and it became sunny and pleasant. The route took us from Mainz to Koblenz. For a few hours relaxing on a boat we would see 24 castles and sites. We’d seen a few of the highlights during our train trips so we had a good idea of what to expect and the LP has a nice map with details of what we would see. The river is a pretty busy place too. Pleasure craft, tour boats, and lots of barge traffic going both ways. Trains run on both sides of the river as well as roads on both sides and bike paths as well. Busy busy. It’s also one of the chosen holiday locations for the camper crowd, there are lots of little caravans camped out on the slivers of land along the river. We hopped off at Koblenz to catch a train to Frankfurt as our railpass was done. We were headed to spend a couple of days with Elke’s aunt and uncle just outside of the city but not before we did a stopover in Frankfurt to buy some odds and ends to bring home.
Luxembourg: pretty, not too huge yet vast (hard to get to all the great places on foot – you need to take a little train or a tour bus to see all the interesting sites) and very multicultural (for European standards). Once again, we did a lot of fun meandering, snapped pics and eventually bumped into the mini-train tour and jumped onto that. Good move – very interesting audio-guided tour. It gave us an excellent breakdown of the history of Luxembourg, also called the “Gibraltar of the North” because it is considered to have been the most highly fortified place after the Rock. Luxembourg is pretty for a place that has been destroyed and taken over by numerous hostile countries during its existence. The resilience of the place, once you hear about its history, is nothing short of incredible. The train ride also allowed us to go down into the “valley” into beautiful old suburbs like Clausen. Gorgeous old houses, bridges and waterways are down there. You also get a great view of all the amazing structures which were built right into the looming rocks above. Both majestic and awesome. We also spent a good chunk of time making Schleck jokes. For the non-Tour de France people, Andy and Frank Schleck are two brothers who took part in the tour this year and both placed very well. Frank even held the yellow jersey for a good chunk of the Tour. The jokes were “lovingly” meant because I think I can safely say that we’ve both become fans of theirs. Me especially (they’re pretty cute! -this is Elke blogging, by the way ;)) – not as cute as Mitch, of course, but still cute and they’ve definitely done Luxembourg proud.
Since we were headed in the same direction, towards Luxembourg, we decided we would stop at take a look at the World War I battlefield sites at Verdun in France. One of the big draws for history buffs are the forts built by the French after the war in 1871 with the Prussians (i hope I got my history correct). The tourist office offers a bus tour of four sites and we decided that was the best way to see the sites and learn a bit before heading North. Verdun is not a large place but the people are super friendly, we got ourselves another really nice room for a great price. After dumping our gear we took a stroll around the town, bisected by the Meuse River, and had a tasty meal at one of the quai side restaurants. There are a handful of huge monuments to the war, photos were taken. The next day we headed first to the citadel, a stronghold of the French army in the town itself. Most of the battle actually took place about a dozen km from the town which had been evactuated prior to the fighting. The region had been fortified, due to its location, prior to WWI. In the citadel, which is essentially a deep tunnel system, has an audio visual presentation where you sit on a motorised cart which drives through the tunnels stopping for small film clips of re-enactments shown on full sized screens telling of life in the town and the citadel during the war. Very well done. After the citadel we met up with the rest of the tour to head out to Fort Douamont which sits North East of Verdun. As you drive along you see farmers fields, assorted buildings etc until the trees start and then you can see the small ridges and holes in amongst the trees. Trench and shell hole remains are everywhere despite 90 plus years of growth. The arrival at the fort gives you the idea that not much is there. You can see what looks like windows and doorways in the walls of what must be the fort. Iron grates, barbed wire, and huge chunks of concrete are layed out in front of the fort as well as the shell holes and damage from years ago. We go inside and begin the tour, the French guide is excellent, Elke is translating, as we move through damp tunnels with water dripping from over head. The fort was intended for 800 but sometimes held 3300. It was a transit stop to the front. The conditions were awful. Knowing something about how bad it was for the troops in the trenches its hard to decide which was worse. There were no proper toilets, the place was cold and wet and smelled horribly all of the time. They had no proper water system as that was constantly damaged by shelling. Electricity was brought in by the Germans after it was captured. Before that the ventilation was done by hand. The noise was deafening from fire from and against the fort. We were able to see were French soldiers were buried in one room that had been badly damaged due to an explosion and another room that had been walled up as it was used by the Germans to bury their dead during the time they held the fort. After that we moved outside and took a look at one of the retractable guns from the outside (after shoeing a group of American students lounging on it off). After the fort we moved on to a memorial called the Trench of the Bayonets. During shelling the 137th French regiment was entirely buried from the devastation and only found three years later when someone in the sector noticed rows of bayonets sticking up from the mud. The memorial stands but many of the bayonets have actually been stolen. After the trench we moved to the Ossuary. Imagine pulling up to a monument and seeing arrayed before it some 30 thousand crosses and markers for French troops killed at Verdun. Now, before that concept fully sinks in think now that the purpose of the Ossuary is to hold the unidentified remains of more than 130,000 more dead French troops. The carnage that happened at Verdun is beyond sobering. We watched a short film in a small theatre in the ossuary then peeked in the windows at the base of the building to see the bones of the dead stacked according to the sector they were found on the battlefield. After that we drove to the Verdun Memorial and looked at the displays and walked through some of the locations of villages completely removed from the earth as a result of the shelling. The guide told us that during the Second World War the Verdun sector was fairly quiet as a result of so many French and German soldiers buried there from the First World War. France is the only place I´ve ever been where I´ve seen houses, a grocery store, houses, a German war dead cemetary, and a farmers field all in a five minute stretch while travelling on the train. Tomorrow Luxembourg.
Wow Nancy, what a beautiful city. It’s small but absolutely gorgeous. We stayed in a decent hotel just a stone’s throw (am I infringing on copyrights here J + S?? 🙂 ) away from the main square with its gates of gold and beautiful public buildings. Nancy is known for its beauty, its delicious food and its bergamotte candies. For those wondering what bergamotte really is, it’s a citrus fruit which grows on, amongst other Mediterranean places, the island of Elba. Only one store is apparently allowed to make the famous Bergamotte (with two t’s – the second t distinguishes them from other wannabe’s) candy. A box of their goodies was featured in the film “Amelie” and since both Mitch and I loved the movie, a box was bought. They’re being brought home for anyone who’s interested to sample 🙂 We spent most of the 26th and 27th wandering the streets, admiring the scenery, snapping tons of pics and yes, eating excellent food. We both have to admit that although we’re now in excellent cardiovascular shape and have the strongest of legs, our general “silhouette” has changed a lot less than we would have liked!! Oh well, there are always the bikes when we get home (and lots of crunches). Famous stores in Nancy include not only the Bergamotte candy store (the name escapes me at the moment) but also Daum and Baccarat, the one known for its great glass pieces and the other, of course, for its extremely expensive crystal pieces. The cheapest piece was a, dare I say it, rather tacky looking little butterly piece selling for about 130 Euros (more than 200$ Canadian) and not much to show for it. Matter of taste I guess! Other things to mention: the fantastic art-nouveau architecture which dots the city, more dog poo around than we would have liked to see (had some dodging to do on a fairly regular basis – “Elke, watch out!!”) and a pub which served over 150 types of beer. I enjoyed yet another flavoured beer (cassis from Belgium) and Mitch had his trip favourite – a Leffe (also Beligian). After having paid, I asked whether they had any Canadian beers in their huge assortment and they said they had one, Maudite. Of course, it would be a heavy-duty Quebec beer (they had a lot of higher percentage brands in their vaults). Last highlight = an excellent light show in the evening in the main town square. Fantastic! With lots of different classical pieces to accompany the show, they managed to convey a nice chunk of French history in a visually extremely captivating way. Well worth the wait (began at around 10 pm and lasted about half an hour). Nancy was well worth the visit.
O.k., the experience with the Tour was fantastic but we were also lucky to move on to an absolutely amazing little place after that, namely Dijon. Definitely on our “most recommended” list. First of all the hotel: you enter into a beautiful stone and vine-covered courtyard, complete with courtyard restaurant. The room: beautiful old-world wallpaper and antique (in the nicest sense of the word) furniture. Friendly staff to boot. The town: smaller than Lyon but still cosmopolitan. Full of incredible architecture around every corner. Alsacian timber-frame beside art-nouveau beside incredibly old romanesque. Amazing. The Maille factory is also here – the makers of the famous Maille mustard. Another plus: this is the most tourist-friendly place we’ve come across, with free entrance to all major museums (and there are fantastic ones to choose from ranging from the Musee des Beaux Arts with Manets and Monets hanging on its walls to an amazing roman-gallic-celtic archaeological museum), as well as free shuttles to take you around the city. There are also bronze little owls which run along the streets to give you a free tour of all of Dijon’s major attractions, as well as bikes you can pay one euro for for an hour of zipping around the city. Perhaps our favourite son of Ottawa, Larry O., might want to pick up a couple of tips for our beautiful city!