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.