Microsoft Next event in Tel Aviv

Work has been super busy lately, have had to deal with numerous server and database crashes, and have got worn out from extra hours, stress and personal troubles as well.

At the beginning of November I went to Tel Aviv to a Microsoft Next event in Tel Aviv.   I missed out going to this last time as I had the choice of this or an event at church.   I wanted to do both, but I ended up going to a worship event.

Anyway getting a bus to Tel Aviv, I actually got dropped off in a different bus station than the usual gigantic one which reminds me of David Bowie’s Labyrinth movie.   This one I think was intended for students at the nearby university.

Actually, don’t think I have ever seen IT products on Jerusalem bus shelters, but these Microsoft ads in Tel Aviv seemed well timed for this particular event it seemed.

Fearing I had left too late and wasted the morning, I was pleasantly surprised to be very early actually.    Too early in fact, so I got breakfast at a coffee shop for 36 Shekels, sat in ear shot of some American IT people chatting about plans for their own corporate network.

The emphasis of this event was on the new Windows 8 operating system as well as Windows RT and Surface which are touch driven tablet computers.

Tablet computers I find hard to excited about, even though they are buzzword at the moment.   I need to have a bit more play with the spare iPad at my work, but generally I find iPads and all tablets unappealing, the screen always tilts the wrong direction, and having it propped up with a special leather case always looks a tad ridiculous, as well as their higher cost than a low end Windows laptop with small amount of physical computing power and local storage.  The iPad has no SD slot or USB ports, so editing camera photos isn’t possible on the move, and is reliant on iTunes to communicate with a grown-up computer, not manageable in a large business environment.

The other thing they seem extremely unergonomic to work with.   The screen is highly reflective, and many people in Israel like to use their computers outside which is hard with bright sunlight without a way to pivot the display to the right angle, and seems like a way to easily get neck, back or wrist pain when using them in any kind of posture for a length of time.

Yes, I’m old fashioned for preferring a more established model of computing (desktop or laptop) and I need to stop being a dinosaur and get with the social media luvvie types who rave about tablet computers, and how a tablet interface should control everything even your toaster.    Tweet this piece of bread to Stephen Fry anyone?

After getting in this tent before you can go in the big boat house which is Tel Aviv’s coast, I realised to my horror you were supposed to be prebooked, the web site didn’t make it clear this event needed prior registration, which I never did and closed a week before the event started.

Drat.   Bummer.   Rats.

Windows 8.   I had a brief play with this, as well as I have Windows Server 2012 on my HP Microserver.   That Metro interface which Microsoft tries to keep the name more discreet thinking it got a bad reputation.

Trying to control your computer without start is highly confusing for both experienced IT professionals and people who only use computers domestically.   Even find shutdown is darn impossible without looking at documentation or a a Google search.    Other things like invoking a ‘Run’ command to do a DOS command, and many basic features, feel completely alien and unnatural.

Nevertheless, many people are claiming, “just embrace it and get used to it and you will like it!” to switching from icons and start button layout that’s been around between Windows 95 and 7.   I would like to see tiles of my browser favourites rather a text list at some point soon.

In my job I have to give users training of how to use the computers as tools to do their jobs, and can’t really see big companies taking this seriously.

Small, medium and large businesses want some degree of familiarity for users without too much retraining, and I just can’t see regular office workers wanting to work in this style.    I would be in favour of replacing the mouse with a larger touch pad, which Apple brought out for desktop Macs but doesn’t seem that popular so far.    Hey Belkin and Logitech, why haven’t you brought a product like this for both Windows and Mac?

Microsoft’s Windows Phone platforms still seems dwarfed by iPhone, Android and Blackberry, and with their lack of recent success it hard to see Windows 8 as a desktop environment and its  current Windows Phone counterpart appears to have never reached Israel, seeing as iPhone arrived much later but now is extremely successful even considering it may be as much as 200-300 shekels a month for 2-3 year commitment.

I need to roll out at least another 12 new PCs to replace flakey and old equipment at my work over the next 12 months, so I will be sticking with Windows 7 which is just fine thanks.

Karmiel IT visit visit in November

In case you have just found this blog, I am a volunteer IT system admin person looking after the computer systems for a Christian charity in Israel with three buildings to take care off.   This building is special as its 180kms from where I normally work and I also go and visit once in a while when something urgent needs sorting out or I have a number of regular jobs to do.   I like this trip as it does mean I can combine it with a weekend away somewhere, like seeing Netanya, Akko, Nahariya, Cana, Tel Aviv, Nazareth or Tiberias and often stay with colleagues or friends close by.

I needed to do some more work at our food bank at Karmiel, a few jobs to do, mostly because of recent thunderstorms made the power go off causing all the PCs to reboot suddenly there, including the main servers and telephone equipment, this is not good as the UPS battery back up system appears to be useless as the batteries had not been changed in a while, they normally only last 3 years.

I get the new batteries from an electronics shop run by a Russian man and his wife, he has an amazing knack to talk on the phone in Hebrew and write in Russian at the same time!    I got someone from work to order the batteries (he doesn’t speak English) and I had them a few days later.

I don’t have a decent mobile toolbox, heck I don’t even have a car to get up there, I borrowed a old ladies’ shopping trolley off someone in our headquarters, put the new batteries and my tools and software CDs in there and took the bus up to Karmiel, I left at lunch time as the only bus that goes in a straight forward linear direction from Jerusalem to Karmiel is at 2pm.

Karmiel is quite different from Jerusalem.   Quiet, clean and orderly.   I have been to Wales a couple of times in the last couple of years, and Karmiel is quite similar, the city is surrounded by hills.

I got into the warehouse about 30 mins early and got into the wiring cabinet and disconnected the UPS systems, opened them up and replaced the batteries and quickly tested them.  The other jobs to do, was to do some site survey for a bigger UPS system but this needs a heavy duty shelf to hold at least 25 kilos worth of equipment inside a cabinet.  The cabinet will also have a 48 port switch quite soon.

Also needed, was to install the new antivirus application, this is the third time I have had do this, seeing as our AVG licence ran out, and I previously installed Bit Defender antivirus was terrible and never worked right, Panda antivirus (free for non profits) was ok but too basic and wouldn’t protect us properly from online threats, this time I had three years subscription to Avast so I could get this installed and not have to worry about it for a long time!   Not only was this over 50% saving of the licences compared to Bit Defender, it saves a lot of time having to carefully test and plan installing this all over again now we have it for 3 years.   Normally you can install antivirus using remote software like VNC, but I wanted to do in person, in case in crashes the server it would not be easy to sort out from 180kms away.

Last thing to do, was set up a nice HP Officejet printer in an office, the desk on the user’s PC is very cramped so I put it in the corner of the room and switched it from USB to network connection, so it can be shared among multiple staff and I can see if it (and all the other PCs, servers and printers online and working using my Spiceworks remote software.

Once I got a whole days’ worth of work done, I took the friday off, saw my Messianic Jewish friends who moved from my town of Portsmouth to close by in Karmiel, Israel, which was really nice to see them, I got another early morning bus at about 8.30 over to Nazareth, my second visit to Jesus’s home town to go and stay in a legendary mansion converted to a youth hostel.

Check back soon!

VMware conference in Tel Aviv

I got up and left the house at 5.30 to go to a IT conference at the Hilton Hotel in Tel Aviv.

As I mentioned before, Tel Aviv’s unique multistory bus station is a strange affair, finding the way out is very confusing.   With stairs and lifts that go all over the place, but no signs explaining the way to the street, I feel a bit like someone from the Labyrinth movie with David Bowie. 🙂

Once I go to taxi rank I jumped in a car and asked if the man could take me to the hotel, he said the journey would be 80 Shekels (£14) I told him I wanted a ride with the meter on, as this was too much, fully aware of rip-off scams of taxi drivers explaining the meter is ‘broken’ and offering a ‘special deal’ to naive foreigners, this driver complained to me he has to pay 35% of the journey to the government.  I just got out and walked away as he wanted to offer me 70 instead.  I just thought if you don’t want to pay those fees, find a different career!   Another driver who was polite and legit with the meter on charged me about 37 NIS instead.

The food at the event was on par with a wedding or Bar Mitzvah, there is a huge buffet of different things on offer, traditional Israeli breakfast spread of bread, salad, yoghurt, etc, lot of cake after the first seminar and various types of coffee served by a waiter, and a really superb choice of things for lunch too.  There was also a free bar, well just two types of beers on tap, which was very welcoming when sitting outside given it has been about 35 degrees C recently.   Full marks for the catering, but then again with $850m earned last year I guess VMware didn’t want to look like cheapskates.   The Microsoft event I went to in 2008 which had the Windows 7 launch in London I only got a couple of sandwiches though.

The seminars were mostly spoken in Hebrew with the powerpoint slides and annotations in English.

Most of the products on offer were showing the new upcoming (v5) version of VMware ESX, and addons and third party software apps from other vendors, aimed at someone with a VMware system already in place.

I had some questions I asked the staff, such as differences between the freeware and paid for licences of ESX, they told me to go to the web site, but there isn’t much there.

So not a great deal of value for my job or for my plan to build a server at home, but I did get decently fed, a IBM 100 anniversary T-shirt and a HP flashlight, got to chat to chap from the Israeli company I used to work for and a few other people.

A day in Christian IT work in the Galilee

As I have mentioned before, my job as a volunteer IT support and system administrator for the charity Bridges for Peace means I am normally based in one of two offices in Jerusalem, and on odd occasions I work up in Karmiel, which is a city in the centre of the Galilee.

This means a 180km visit by car or bus when I have to do work up there.  The food bank I work does a huge amount of service in helping the poorest people in this area especially new immigrants to Israel mostly from Russia or some of the other ex-Soviet Union nations.  Every so many months I need to do a trip probably not that different from journeys Jesus did himself.

I have learned since being here this site requires careful planning as its an awful long way if something breaks unexpectedly.

This empty room in the middle of the warehouse seems like a good place to put the server.  This server will replaced later this year as its running Windows 2000 which is very old now and we need a new more reliable system that helps us with our day to day food bank operations up here.   This room is good as it means an easier job of adding some extra wiring here as its close to the network cabinet which is in the cupboard opposite the door.

This rack full of network kit needs a good sort out.   I manage to swap cables around to enable computer network use in some offices that moved around.   We only have 5 staff up here and there will be at least 3 more and there is not enough ports on the 16 port switch here so I have to put in another switch.   The glass door on the cabinet does not shut as the wires are in the way.   I think I can rotate the brackets on the switch at the top 180 degrees so this sits flush better and should make the glass door shut properly.

There is an other switch supplied by Bezeq (Israel’s no.1 telephone company) for several VOIP phones.   Not quite sure how this works as I think they maintain it.

The black things are UPS power back up units to keep equipment running in case of power failure or spikes in the electricity supply, these are a few years old, most of the equipment was set up when this building got running in 2007 and the chances are the batteries are no good as they have a 3 year or so life span.   I want to get a new UPS that has network connectivity so I can see the status of it using my Spiceworks network management software.   These small ‘shoebox’ type UPSes should be able to be refurbished with new batteries and they could be used on regular office PCs in another part of the building.

When I was staying at one of the staff’s place over night, looking out of the balcony, I get to see an Arab bedouin house across the road, and modern (Jewish) flats in the distance.   Here in this city, these two types of communities seem to be get on well it seems.   It does mean you get woken up up by roosters at 5.30am though!

I have to speak to the rest of the IT department to get some more telephones installed, test wiring for network ports and telephones, get 3 more PCs installed and test the spare server.   This trip was mostly about planning to give extra capacity for this site for future expansion as I know the Lord will provide more resources so we can help the most needy people in this area.  I will need to do another visit up here in July I think.

The main thing I was doing, is a careful back up of the main server and applying all the latest updates and patches.   This is always a delicate thing for IT administrators to do, it puts you a big security risk if you don’t bother, and if you do it without carefully planning it can crash the server.    One of the team had their monitor suddenly stop working, so a local computer store (thanks to KSP)  I got a new Samsung 18″ wide screen TFT monitor.

I really like this job as I always have plenty of interesting and varied challenges so work is never boring and I get to know everyone in the organisation.   It also means I can combine this with a weekend seeing some friends who moved from home city of Portsmouth UK to Karmiel Israel, and later visiting the city of Tiberias which is right on the Kinneret, or the Sea of Galilee, and a few significant places of the bible, I will show soon.

A day in my work in the GalileeThe Jesus boat in GinosarThe Kinneret LakeTiberias evening light showPreaching and miracles of Jesus in CapernaumTiberias city centre and Muriels and Maimonidies

From Karmiel to Mount Carmel

I stayed with a friend in Karmiel whilst on my journey around northern Israel, it is a little tricky to get there as bus times are a bit hit and miss, requiring a journey at Tel Aviv, Haifa, Akko or Tiberias.   The railway network doesn’t cover the greater Galilee area.

Before heading to Dave’s flat, I saw a fox outside.   He looked a bit different than a common British garden and dustbin explorer.   This one was grey rather than brown and red.   Sadly you can really only see his eyes glowing here.   Hes not scary though.

The beautiful, mostly ex-Russian community of Karmiel is very clean and tidy with well kept gardens and trees by every street junction.

Waking up in the morning I was greeted by bird song.

Whilst at the north of Israel, I got a chance to go with some people to a church close to Karmiel.

Only a few months ago there was a devastating fire that affected this place resulting in deaths of prison workers scrambling to get people out of the jails.

As this a short distance from Mount Carmel (two different places with similar sounding names) close the where the prophet Elijah went to.

This church is on the outskirts of an Arab village on top of this mountain overlooking Israel’s third largest city Haifa.

Where actually this one isn’t the closest to Karmiel where was staying, it is one hours drive away, it was worth it.

There is some beautiful views at the top of a steep hill which requires negotiating around some zigzag bends to get up there.  We would of been late, so thought we would do some photos on the way back down.

The church has the service in three languages, English, Hebrew and Russian, some of the Russian Israelis who don’t speak English or Hebrew had some of radio headsets I have seen at quite a few churches now.   There are also a few Arab believers here.

At the end I only got a quick chance to speak to people including the senior pastor David Davis, I was really impressed with this church and mentioned to him about some Jewish believer friends who had moved from the UK and Germany, he gave me a copy of his book the Road to Carmel to give to them, although I have read it myself, its really encouraging testimony, and on how he got to Israel, and worked with actors and people in the theatre industry and drug users in both the US and Israel.

I highly recommend checking out this congregation for both Israeli believers or visiting foreigners looking for a congregation whilst checking out northern Israel.   Its also an example of God working with reconciliation between Jews and Arabs.  I regret not being able to get a nice picture of the outside of this church which is how you imagine a congregation could of been back there with large archways all the way around the front, this church was built in the late 1990s.

Some amazing views, however not the amazing ones seen earlier driving up some zig zag roads as it was now foggy in the afternoon!

After another bus from Karmiel to Akko, to get a train to Jerusalem, which was a long journey, the bus station gets interesting views of the surrounding hills here.

On the train I got a glimpse out of the train a remainder of some famous names in IT that are here.   This time I get to spy on Google!  Ha ha ha!