The Information Technology landscape I work in has changed rapidly, and continues to evolve at pace. The common challenge I find now is that many in the IT field are finding it difficult to keep up with the learning needed to remain relevant in the job marketplace. Before I dive into new posts on the technology areas I’m most enthusiastic about I think it’s important to explain fundamental learning principles, how to remember content and how to remain motivated to learn.
[Credit for content: “Developing a Learning Mindset” by Gary Bolles, find it at Lynda.com]
How we Learn.
There are 3 essential elements to learning, they are:
- Knowledge – cold hard facts that you know e.g. knowing how Active Directory works
- Transferable Skills – skills you learn that can apply to multiple disciplines e.g. learning Python
- Traits – your personality in essence e.g. completing tasks, time keeping
When you learn something, anything, it involves one or more of the above. For future learning (e.g. a textbook you want to read, a course you want to take) try to break down the learning goals into the above 3 elements.
- What new knowledge will you gain?
- What transferable skill will you learn?
- What traits will you continue to develop?
So instead of just cramming information into your head you can focus on the development of all 3 elements as part of one overall task.
Your brain is amazing, capable of things you don’t know it can do. First you need to understand how the brain works, apologies if this sounds like a biology lesson but it is important.
The building block of our brains and spinal cord are neurons, these are special cells that are excited by electricity and use electricity and chemicals to communicate between them. We all have different types of neurons that:
- Respond to Stimuli – see, hear, smell, touch or taste. Neurons of the 5 senses
- Trigger Movements – muscle action, and can remember activity through muscle memory
- Store Memories – short-term and long-term stored through groupings of neurons
How many neurons in your brain? About 86 Billion!
Neurons communicate through synapses – connections between neurons, ‘neural pathways’, and these tend to band together into neural networks – a grouping of neurons that have a connected purpose. One of the most important of these connected purpose is to serve as storage bins for our memories! In order to enhance learning & memory just keep in mind the way neurons respond to stimuli too.
We basically have 2 kinds:
Short-term – built easily, e.g. what did you have for lunch yesterday?
Long-term – takes more to build long term memories
We also lose memories in a multitude of ways, our brains are constantly pairing new neural pathways which in some cases leads to loss of memories. This may be our brains way to preserve newer memories, by clearing out some older unused memories ‘use it or lose it’
When you learn you are transforming how your brain works – effective learning means not only comprehending but also retaining it and being able to use it.
Building Long-term Memories
The way our brain creates and how you can create long-term memories is by the following:
- Occur with strong experiences – emotional highs or lows
- Have repeated experiences – repeat, rinse, repeat
- Use multiple parts of the brain – get creative!
The first key here is repeated experience, if we repeat an experience or piece of information we tend to remember it better. Research has found that spacing out that repeating of information helps us to create those long-term memories. Those of you who know me and have had conversations about this know I recommend the following 4 step process:
- Day 1 – Learn a key piece of information (small or big)
- Day 3 – Learn the same key piece of information again
- Day 7 – Revisit the key information
- Day 14 – Revisit the key information
You might have to tailor your personal learning schedule as it may be different to mine, the way I remind myself is using my smartphone alarm setting for each Day 3/7/14. Follow this process and the information is usually retained long term.
The second key is using multiple parts of your brain. You need to get creative and start stimulating other parts of your brain to associate imagery, sounds or even smells to a word or fact you are trying to remember. As Tony Buzan would put it, the more exaggerated and silly the creative expression the more likely you are to remember it. It’s a fact that adding a sexual angle to something you want to commit to memory is one of the strongest ways to do this – specifically in retaining and recalling long term memory items.
Create a learning mindset.
Create your own learning experiences, forget what came before at school or university and think about learning as a life long pursuit. Formal schooling has conditioned you into a certain type of learning, ‘factory learning’, a model which is meant to work across all ages regardless of ability or unique traits. Many are successful in this rigidly defined system, but many are not.
Forget that model. In Richard Bolles book “The Three Boxes of Life and How to Get Out of Them” (1981), your life consists of 3 sequential phases:
- Education (learning!)
Throw the above into the bin. Instead focus on ALL 3 as continuous lifelong activities. With the variety of learning methods available to us in recent times you wil be able to hone and develop your learning mindset. You learning didn’t stop at 16/18/21 years of age – it continues indefinitly.
The 3 requirements.
These 3 are really important & not immediately obvious but to maximise learning and memory they are critical:
Sleep – too little and brain function hits a new low
Nutrition – poor diet affects chemical balance in the body, remember those neurons?
Exercise – maintaining health contributes to brain function
In my next blog post I’ll start with some clear examples using Cloud Computing principles, which can equally be applied to any subject of your choice. I will also cover motivation & advanced memory techniques in a later post too.
I think there’s a gap in the market which recruitment agents could potentially exploit. It’s been many years since I stopped contracting. Now back on the market little has changed in my communication with them.
Lots of roles, lots of JDs, lots on interest. The gap exists between what the JD says and what your CV/experience says. I really think Recruitment Agencies should start an element of providing Skills Training. No not for new up & coming agents to teach them sales techniques, pipeline management etc. No, I think they should offer courses in real world IT skills, if anyone knows where the real skills shortage is it’s recruitment agencies.
I don’t think they should offer courses to regurgitate facts so you can simply ace the certification exam. What is really needed is a course that blends learning the facts with gaining the experience – the ‘doing’ (doing it right, wrong, troubleshooting to turn the wrong into right). Short courses for contractor in-between contracts, longer for those in them.
With IaaS, SaaS and DaaS offerings from AWS, Azure and prices going down there’s no longer a need to provide a big cash drop for datacenter setup for this. Recoup the billing costs (which won’t be massive) by having agreement to be preferred agency used by contractor or similar.
In fact you could get the initial design, deployment and configuration for future re-use of such a ‘lab’ environment completed by the first set of people you train. Those doing can produce the training based on their experience in building the thing.
As I predicted a few months back, the new exam has been released while the current one with outdated content will only be available until 12th AUGUST 2018 – after that it will be retired. Right now you have a choice of sitting either the new or old exam. I strongly advise you to sit the new one. Please.
Anyone planning on taking the new AWS Solution Architect Associate exam now has an updated blueprint to follow and a requirement to use the latest AWS configuration information.
The blueprint is here
I like the word ‘Performant’ – sounds almost made up!
I recieved an email from AWS today inviting me to sit a new Beta exam for the AWS Solution Architect Associate certification.
Due to the rapidly evolving nature of cloud based services the current exam tests knowledge that was valid and correct a number of years ago, and is not necessarily correct in AWS today. A great example is ‘How long does it take to retrieve data from Glacier storage?’ – the answer expected in the current exam is 3-5 hours.
The answer in 2017 would be: Is your glacier retrieval request standard (3-5 hours), bulk (5-12 hours) or expedited (1-5 minutes, yes minutes!!!)
So an update is due to the exam soon, which is a good thing. The email states “new exam featuring questions that reflect new and updated AWS features, services, and best practices”.
However I suspect the new exam is due early 2018 – as the email states that any exam results for those who sit this new beta would be available in 3 months!!!
Good luck for those studying. You can access my old Associate level notes in my AWS bucket here – which I did update in January 2017 as I was preparing for my Professional Exam.
Billed as an event where the future direction of Microsoft (and its partner network) would head in the next 3-5 years I thought it worth heading to London for the ‘Technical’ Day. It was a 2 day event but day 1 on Tue 1st November 2016 was billed as ‘Business Day’, so of course I booked in for the geek chic on the 2nd Nov.
It was a well organised event at the Excel centre, smooth check-in & badge print out and well staffed. A little crowded outside the single escalator everyone was trying to use straight after lunch to get up to Levels 1 through to 3, which is where the breakout session were held in various meeting/seminar rooms. You are suposed to use the ‘Future Encoded’ app to set a schedule and browse the timetable/sessions – the app was pretty rubbish, it kept showing me day 1 (no way to change it) and didn’t work properly until day 2 actually arrived. Without the app you are stuck – no printed copies just dashboard screens outside each meeting/seminar room with the schedule for the remainder of that day for that room only.
You had the chance to explore the Expo area on Level 0 prior to the main AM keynote session. As well as the Bloodhound SSC they had a DeLorean, a RR engine and a HoloLens ‘VR’ area. It was lablled VR, silly really when MS themselves do not consider it Virtual but Mixed Reality – MR.
The main stage was occupied by Andrew Spooner from MS as the host, the hall was 2 thirds full (in contrast at closing keynote it was less than half). We had Joseph Sirosh (MS VP, via Amazon in 2013) talk about data, AI/Machine Learning – not all that great. Next Katja Hoffman talked about Project Malmo, an AI project and the progress her team has made. For me Chris Messina was the standout, his stuff on bots was interesting and has inspired me to look further especially into the social aspects of combining a chat interface (Messenger, WhatsApp) with service/retail opportunities.
Abe Davis (PhD researcher) claimed the work his group were doing – extracting sound/music via just silent video (using the movement of plants/objects in reaction to sound) – was for nice, rosy beneficial purposes. For me it was purely surveillance, surveillance, surveillance. To be able to (eventually) video someone from 100m away, then use the slow-motion capture video of vibrations to their coffee cup to extract local speech was very impressive, but i see no real commercial application except spying!
I will say if the onscreen subtitles are in fact real time and using MS tech then that was impressive, some forgivable errors but generally very responsive and in tandem with speakers!
Lunch – I had prepared and had some with me. The queues were too long, we only had 45 minutes. Plenty of eating places however and much quieter later on.
I decided to hedge my bets as I could only choose 1 of 20-25 sessions in each time slot. First I went to the ‘IDENTITY DRIVEN SECURITY & CYBER CRIME PROTECTION” (Dan Noakes, Zane Freame) expectig something useful. Instead I was hit by a (rather poor) sales pitch for MS’s Enterprise Mobility & Security (EMS) offering now based in the Cloud (the Azure one!). The big demo was where an end user with a ubqiquitious device (e.g. iPad) was accessing Office365 email to read a sensitive corporate message, the take away was supposed to be ‘protection’ of said email by Ctrl+V, then Ctrl+P into say Twitter, or Facebook. So they tried to paste a sentence from the email into twitter and it would not allow a paste. Awesome! NOT. I immediately thought of 3 ways my own non-IT literate wife would use to bypass that, which in order of difficulty are
- Re-type the entire sentence
- Screenshot the email and send as JPG
- Use your smartphone to snap your ‘iPad’ screen & simply share wherever you wish
Of course there are many more ways (print to PDF anyone?). I had now hopes pinned on my next session “FULL CLOUD MIGRATION & ACTIVE/ACTIVE HYBRID CLOUD” (Carl Holt). It was hosted by Kemp Technology who then proceeded to spend the next 45 minutes telling my why I should buy their ‘load balancing’ solution over anyone elses (e.g. Brocade, F5). These are called Application Delivery Controllers (ADCs). I didn’t learn anything about Cloud Migration that was technical or really meaningful, it was a pure sales pitch and how we are faster, better and more efficient.
Then came the session hosted by one of the 3 highest tier sponsor partners ‘Risual’, titled ‘DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION, THE RISUAL WAY‘ (Brian Cain, John Pittaway). Now hoping to get some insight to see how they actually did transform someone from slow/robust IT to fast Digital IT I should have known I would be disappointed. No technical information provided, this session was perfect for Day 1 ‘ the Business day’ and talked more about business processes leading to digital rather than any deep technical information.
The closing keynote was 2 things – Hololens and 3D printing.
Roger Walkden talked about Hololens from the MS world view, real life applications on how processes, services, efficiencies could be realised. All commercial dev, asking the crowd to go and create content for Hololens.
Avi Reichental (external speaker) then had the bulk of the keynote and talked a lot about 3D printing, especially on improvement both in terms of complexity and scale. Also cost reduction too. There were some nice videos of very promising use cases (cheap fabricated housing, medical enhancements) but as usual the reality is that commercial drivers would be more important for driving innovation in 3D printing than social ones. I see this picked up more by the Defence/Aerospace industry than anyone else.
Overall closing keynotes were OK but longer than needed with a cry out for both for those still in attendance to ‘go out, innovate, do stuff and help us sells lots of this Hololens stuff’.
I didn’t stay for drinks/networking, there was really no point. I walked through the Expo and only spoke to people for those orgs that interested me in terms of my current role & future direction. The Lenovo iBook was a neat concept, but don’t see mass market appeal, MS only had 2 Hololens headsets so the queue times were silly, and there wasn’t much else. Overall, I won’t be attending a free event like this one again, I suppose my expectation was more TechEd than Sales 101, so for me best avoided in future and maybe consider a paid event in the future in the vein of VMworld.
It does however make me think what Fujitsu Forum (held in Munich and Tokyo) is like in comparison.
So, I predicted at the beginning of this month that Saudi will announce Eid al-Fitr as Wednesday 6th July and therefore completing 30 fasts for Ramadan (for those who started on a Monday).
For once, it completely aligns with astronomical data regarding the visibility of the new moon (hilaal). Today, Monday 4th July, it will not be possible to sight the new moon from any of the Islamic countries in the Middle East, north Africa or Asian sub-continent. So you will be completing 30 fasts and Eid al-Fitr will be on Wed 6th July for you
Please see tomorrows (evening of Tuesday 5th July) chart below, it shows clear new moon visibility in much of the Middle East, northern Africa, parts India, south east Asia and the whole Americas. If you started on a Tuesday in any of these regions, you will complete 29 fasts only and do Eid al-Fitr on Wed 6th July.
Now let’s talk about the UK, strictly speaking the chart above shows no local sighting is possible in much of Europe including the UK. No sighting at all. Therefore depending on how your local mosque or community make the decision the following might apply.
1. If based on sighting from NEAREST Muslim country (any North African country), your Eid al-Fitr is Wed 6th July. Whether you started on Monday (30 fasts) or Tuesday (29 fasts)
2. If based on GLOBAL sighting, the same principle and date as 1 above applies
3. If based upon a LOCAL sighting then strictly speaking the new moon is NOT visible on Tuesday 5th July (but will be on Wed 6th July, see chart at end). This is where it gets interesting…IF you started on Monday then you will have completed 30 fasts on Tuesday 5th July and therefore MUST do Eid al-Fitr the next day. You simply cannot keep 31 fasts. Only for those who started Tuesday would Eid al-Fitr on Thursday 7th July be valid – to me this validates the position of local sighting and my previous blog post on the start of Ramadan 2016.
To summarise, both Wednesday 6th July and Thursday 7th July 2016 are valid dates for Eid al-Fitr in the UK, strictly speaking neither is wholly right or wholly wrong. What does matter is how you came to the decision and that you stick to this principle all the time.
The sticking matter of the unification of start of Ramadan and dates for Eid in the UK are primarily based upon the differing (yet valid in most cases) decision making mechanism that is used. Don’t expect all mosques & communities to agree and for there to be a unified date going forward – this is unlikely to happen. One of the issues is the Umm al-Qura calendar.
Good luck, God bless and Eid Mubarak where you are.
In a future post I will attempt to demystify the lunar cycle and hopefully increase people’s understanding of this issue.
As usual confusion as to when Ramadan begins this year is abound. IT really does surprise me as to how a LOT of people cannot get their heads around basic astronomy and continue to ignore facts – oft blaming those using facts of being ignorant themselves.
Islam uses a Lunar calendar. From one new moon until the next is called a Lunar month and is usually 29.5 (29 and a half) days. So please understand clearly that a Lunar month doesn’t fit nicely into the category of exactly 29 or exactly 30 days, it is squarely in between.
Getting to the point. Sighting of the new moon (‘hilal’) for the beginning of any Lunar/Islamic month is NOT a religious matter. It is a scientific one. Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic calendar, the month preceding is called Shabaan.
So when does Shabaan end and Ramadan start?
Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said: “Observe fast on sighting it (the new moon) and break (fast) on sighting it (the new moon), but if the sky is cloudy for you, then complete the number (of 30).” Sahih Muslim; Hadith No 2379a
So the Islamic tradition is to attempt to observe the new moon yourself on the 29th of Shabaan, failing that because 1) it is not there to observe or 2) your view is obscured (cloudy evening/night) you are to complete 30 days of Shabaan and begin the 1st of Ramadan straight after. Hence why I stated that the observation of the moon is a purely scientific matter.
Was the new moon even visible?
Let’s get some visibility FACTS for the UK. For the evening of Sunday 5th June 2016 – was the new moon actually there to be seen?
The chart above clearly shows that it was NOT visible from the UK. In fact, it wasn’t visible from ANY of the traditional Islamic countries in the Middle East, Asian Subcontinent and eastern Asia. So it would be impossible to report a sighting from anywhere in Saudi Arabia, therefore you should be completing 30 days of Shabaan and starting 1st of Ramadan on Tuesday 6th June 2016. However interesting to note is that it WAS visible from the continent of South America, and possibly visible from the far West of Africa using an optical aid (i.e. not with just your eyes).
Now lets look at the chart of Monday 6th June 2016:
Now the new moon is clearly visible from the entire world, for the first time for this new moon it includes the whole of Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. So tonight it should be easy to spot the new moon BUT it is also the 30th day of Shabaan – so you would start Ramadan on Tuesday 7th June 2016 anyway!!! You don’t need to go out and find the new moon.
Just to validate this further with scientific fact:
So why are there so many announcements for 1st of Ramadan for today, Monday 6th of June when very clearly scientifically is WRONG. There are 2 possible reasons
1. Someone somewhere follows the principal of Global Sighting and accepts a sighting from South America (Sao Paulo in Brazil?) as valid for them in Europe, Africa, Asia or the Middle East. This position is actually valid but not many people follow it.
2. Someone saw something and mistook it for the new moon e.g. Venus, Saturn, a satellite or other object in space. Yes, this has actually happened before. But it is 2016. An age of science, of HD and 4K cameras, of advanced astronomy and astrophysics, advanced photographic capability. Yet not ONE single institution or government that declared Ramadan for today Monday 6th June 2016 has provided an iota of photographic or direct evidence. Not one. Says something doesn’t it?
Well onto reason 3. I did say 2 possible reasons, I know! But reason 3 is my conspiracy theory (sort of). A while ago Saudi Arabia adopted a standard calculated (yes calculated, NOT observed) Lunar calendar. This calendar goes by the name of the Umm al-Qura calendar, it contains key Lunar dates for the next 10+ years. Here it is in all its glory:
My personal belief is that there is a single-minded decision to stick to these dates as much as possible, regardless of observation/visibility of the new moon. Why? Simply because of the headache of having to update many dependent systems both Financial and IT related which interact with global systems using the solar calendar. The headache is immense in having to do this every few months, but no excuse really.
Chaos in the UK
OK, so the Saudis make a decision to fit in with their calendar requirements. So why the big argument in the UK about the start of Ramadan repeated each year? Well the primary reason is the number of Saudi funded mosques in this country, adherents who never question the decision made, never seemingly ask for any proof and refuse to debate claiming it is a religious matter for higher authorities when clearly is purely a scientific matter. Is it that hard to ask for photographic proof from the religious ministers?
In fact the Director (no less) of the Astronomical Observatory at Majmaah University, Abdullah Al-Khudairi, actually claimed the day before (Saturday 4th June 2016) that the new moon will appear the next day for “20 minutes after sunset”. How on earth did he know this, and then if this was fact why not announce 1st of Ramadan as Monday 5th June 2016? Did they capture any photographic evidence on the Sunday to share with the world? See where this gets totally confusing. Here is the article as proof:
Anyway a cool new site (WebSurf 2) for technical data can be found here:
Interestingly, it contains a section on Islamic Prayer Times as well as the Crescent Moon Visibility which is the important factor in selecting the 1st of Ramadan for the Islamic Year. I salute the organisation providing this information.
Some more reading: http://www.moonsighting.com/soomu-hadith.html
A positive attempt by Wifaq ul Ulama to unite on moon sighting issues in UK: https://docs.google.com/viewerng/viewer?url=http://www.wifaqululama.co.uk/images/pdf/Unified.pdf
And a very interesting and highly relevant approach to calculating Fajr time in Birmingham, UK: OpenFajr which has been accepted by Birmingham Central Mosque.
More about Umm ul-Qura: http://www.staff.science.uu.nl/~gent0113/islam/ummalqura.htm
Good Luck, God Bless and Ramadan Mubarak – whenever you decide to do it!
To be very clear: Whether you start on Monday or Tuesday – both dates are acceptable and neither is wrong!
Official Microsoft support for DirSync (x64, single forest) and Azure AD sync (multiple forests) ends within a year on April 13th 2017.
The information was only sent by email last week and not everyone will be aware and the only official Microsoft statement I can find is linked below:
Of course end of support does not mean your sync tool of choice will stop functioning – it will happily continue to function, but an upgrade will be needed to ensure it remains in support from next year onward.
So get your upgrade boots on and get Azure AD Connect working which is the replacement for any of the previous sync tools and was released in 2015, the link above has further links for an in-place or swing upgrade – whatever floats your boat (in reality choose the method that suits your organisation, also test it first in non-Production!!!)
Azure AD Connect essentially replaces any of the following you might still be running:
- Azure AD Sync
- Azure AD Connector
- FIM 2012 R2
So seriously consider upgrading this side of Christmas, and not next Easter. You have been informed!