Wednesday, October 14, 2015

IP Multicast LiveLessons Published!

I am excited to say that a project that was long in the making has finally seen the light of day. I’m referring to the new CiscoPress LiveLessons title – “IP Multicast Fundamentals” that I recorded in July of 2015. The background for this project is one that has many starts and stops, delays, and format changes. For the TL;DR crowd click here.

This project started as a hallway conversation during the recording of the CiscoPress NX-OS LiveLesson videos we did in San Francisco. Our editor, Denise, asked us how we liked the recording experience and if we would do it again. Truly I had a good time recording and so was eager to do it again. We discussed ideas for other titles and multicast seemed like a great area to focus as it causes a lot of confusion. I went home and eventually assembled a proposal and we were in contact with a plan to deliver in early 2015. On a parallel track I changed jobs from Cisco to VMware and needed to focus on my new role. Denise and the CiscoPress team were amazingly understanding and were flexible with the delivery schedule. We also changed the format from an official studio recording to a new “workshop” format where the session is recorded in a classroom/seminar environment with an audience. This was a great option for me as it allowed me to compress the time to record from 3 days to 1 long day and since I usually present and speak to a room of people it was more comfortable.

I balanced content creation, where I used VIRL heavily as I no longer had access to racks and racks of gear like I did in the past, with a new role and new technology. VMware and my direct manager was great in understanding what I was doing and giving me some flexibility to get it done. I had a lot of fun working with VIRL to show IOS, IOS-XE and NX-OS multicast configurations. Always a geek at heart I like building networks and moving beyond the PowerPoint.  With the lab topologies and decks all finished I was headed to New York City to record!
Those who follow me on Twitter or know me personally know that my family like to travel and I didn’t want to pass up an opportunity for us to have a fun weekend in the Big Apple. We flew in Friday and enjoyed a weekend of sightseeing and walking around New York in beautiful weather. On Monday it was time to record so I went to the Pearson office where the CiscoPress team had filled the room with local technical people who were interested in learning more.

It was a lot of fun and we had some great Q&A during the day. The one issue that arose was the amount of time it took for me to execute the labs so we decided we’d record them later and not make the audience and filming crew suffer through my prep and setup for each lesson. It may look easy in the video, but each CLI clip was probably close to 30 minutes of prep and validation before recording! Here's a view from my perspective and then one from when I was speaking.

Once we were done my family and I enjoyed a great dinner with Gideon Tam (@mfmahler) at Mario Batali’s Eataly – such great food and such great company. Gideon is a super nice guy and I hope to return the favor of his hospitality if given the chance.

The only thing left was to record the CLI segments that I couldn’t do in the classroom setting. This ended up being a good learning experience for me in audio quality. I tried using multiple DSP enabled headsets which didn’t work as well at filtering out background noise as I had hoped. I ended up investing in a Blue Yeti, a microphone stand and a pop filter. This combination sounded fantastic (after some trial and error). I was impressed how much background noise the Yeti would pickup. We have 4 kids and 3 cats ion the house so getting *true* quiet is difficult. My wife and family being the fantastic support that they are, gave me multiple hours of quiet when they’d go to the zoo, go swimming, or something else. I recorded some clips at night as well when everyone was asleep. As it was summer and I live in the Midwest it gets hot. Turning off the air conditioning in the house when recording made for some warmer than expected sessions as well.
Now with the sessions done, the CLI segments recorded and everything backed up two or three times I was in a wait and see mode for a few weeks while the stellar A/V crew did their magic with the video. Each lesson has gone through multiple levels of review by pros for audio and video as well as reviewed by me. It’s quite a process and leads to a quality product.

It has been a long, fun journey and not without some competitive drama but in the end, we prevailed. Hopefully people will enjoy and learn a lot from these videos. I put together an agenda of the most common Multicast topics and tried to steer clear of some of the more esoteric multicast capabilities. I am sure some will wish we had gotten deeper but remember, this is a fundamentals course. Multicast EVPN and interdomain multicast are not fundamental in my book. ;)

I hope the videos are helpful and for those who are wondering what it next – stay tuned. I am already hip-deep in the next projects which should be equally fun! Please check it out here: CiscoPress

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Joys of a Mileage Run

I’m writing this post while 37,000 feet above Manitoba and Ontario provinces of Canada and thought I might try to help people understand what and why I’ve done what I’ve done. First, let’s define a mileage run. Simply put a mileage run is a trip booked with the main purpose to accumulate frequent flyer miles with an airline in pursuit of a higher tier status. The goal would be to do it at a very low cost since you are not using OPM (Other People’s Money – like your employer for example) and maximize your miles. Some go for a high pain threshold and have multiple segments and bounce all over. My preference was for as few connections as possible with as many miles as I could get.

The search began months ago when I realized my domestic travel was getting me miles, but not nearly as many as I needed to maintain 1K status with United Airlines. I needed 100,000 miles or 120 segments and $12,000 in spend in calendar year 2015 to keep 1K for 2016. I was over on spend and was around 80,000 miles and 85 segments. No way did I want to try for 120 segments – that’s the hard, painful way to get there in my opinion. I had a good start to the year with a trip to Italy in January for vacation and then west coast trips for work training and new employee stuff. As I settled into my new role, the number of flights were there, but the miles were much, much lower. The solution was a mileage run.

I started looking at one of my favorite forums on the Internet, Flyertalk, and reviewing the Mileage Run forum but none of the dates worked for me, or were to destinations I didn’t want to visit or needed a visa. I used Google flights and found a good price on a round trip to Hong Kong that met my requirements in cost, timing and most importantly, miles. I was able to get a round trip CMH-ORD-HKG-EWR-CMH that would net ~17,000 miles for ~$400. The cost was lowered to $400 as I was able to apply a voucher for a problem earlier in the year and it was part of their “apology” to me. I had to clear it with the CEO (my wife) and sell her one the value.

Why is 1K important to me? Having one of the higher status with the airline gives me a few benefits including 6 Global upgrades which on the right tickets will allow me to upgrade from Economy to Business Class. I also get earlier boarding (Group 1), a higher multiplier on miles I earn when I fly, free checked bag and priority access at the airport at the airport counter and in TSA lines. I also have access to a special phone number to call when things go sideways and I need help as well as access to an email service called 1K Voice that can help with some items. I also get Marriott Gold and Hertz Presidential Circle status as part of 1K. My family has flown with me on many trips for free due to the miles and we’ve experienced the benefits of free checked bags, priority handling and more over the years. The benefits are real and tangible to us so yeah, 1K is a good thing for our family.

Once booked, it was a matter of waiting for the weekend to come and it did. I left home Friday at 6AM to go to the airport. I had already checked in the day before so went through security and flew to Chicago. I had a long layover in ORD so went to the United Club and took one of my favorite seats where I can watch the planes taxi around and right next to a gate that usually has a 747 or 777 parked at it. I took some conference calls, sent many emails, talked on Twitter and worked on some documents before it was time to board. Remember those global upgrades I mentioned, mine had cleared so I knew I’d be flying for 15 hours in business class. This is a HUGE upgrade from Economy+. I’ve flown plenty of BIS (butt in seat) miles in E+ all over the world and know what a blessing it is to have business.
I settled into my seat 6D which was a rear facing seat but it’s one that will allow me to lay down. I had planned to get all kinds of work done on the way over. Since I was not staying long I didn’t want to adjust to the time there (12 hours ahead of home) so connected to the Internet, emailed with Julie, watch movies and got caught up on some neglected email aliases at work. The dinner service was fantastic and I enjoyed the salad, salmon and rice followed by a cheese course and some port before an ice cream sundae to finish it off. I could get used to this! After the feast I settled in for some sleep and got a few hours in before I woke up. Apparently I missed the mid-flight meal though no worry as I was still full from the earlier service. More work, more shows (Game of Thrones) and it wasn’t too long before it was breakfast service. 15 hours sounds like an eternity until you fly it in moderate comfort and it goes by quickly.

Once we landed in Hong Kong I cleared customs and went exchange some money into Hong Kong Dollars. My plan was to go to the hotel and check in, then take the MTR to Kowloon station and walk around, enjoy the harbor for a few hours, maybe take a Star Ferry over to Central before going back to the hotel to clean up and take off. I went to the desk for Marriott and they called a transfer for me and then walked me to car and drove me to the hotel. This was all free and for being a Marriott Gold (mid- tier status) they were treating me like I was a big deal. I love the Asian service mindset – makes US and Europe look bad. I was met at the hotel door by the Executive Lounge staff who walked me to the room and made sure everything was in order. They had upgraded me to a suite and it was nice!

I turned on the TV and noticed that there was a message that Typhoon Flag 3 had been hoisted. Crap. The rain outside wasn’t just normal rain, it was part of a typhoon. After looking at the weather map, it seemed like staying at the hotel was the plan. I got cleaned up and went to the Executive Lounge where I enjoyed some breakfast (for me!) coffee and chatted with Julie. She encouraged me to stay at the hotel and not wander around Kowloon in a typhoon. Bummer. I was looking forward to some sightseeing. Not to be this time of year it seems. Last time I was in Hong Kong was in mid-September in 2014 and they had a typhoon then. The one in 2014 was much stronger as the city shut down for a few days. This was just a Flag 3 (Read more about their system here:

So I hung out in the hotel room, took a nap, did some work, played Clash of Clans and in general killed time. I got cleaned up and headed to breakfast at the Executive Lounge which opened at 6AM and enjoyed some more coffee, dragonfruit and pineapple. I packed up and headed to the airport early since there wasn’t much else to do. I killed more time in the United Club and talked with Julie some more. I knew I would be sitting for 15 more hours so walked around the terminal quite a bit. Hong Kong airport is neat to watch planes as you have a huge mix from all over the world. Jumbos from far-away places to smaller planes from nearby destinations.

We were delayed due to weather initially for 95 minutes, but they revised the delay to 60 minutes as we got closer. I boarded and similar to the trip over, had used a Global to upgrade to Business class. I watched some Silicon Valley episodes and Office Space during lunch/dinner. It was another salad, steak, mashed potatoes and veggies followed by a cheese course. I skipped the port this time and went with a new offering, Buffalo Trace bourbon, as a nightcap. Very good bourbon and I had just been near their distillery earlier in the week. I got about 5 hours of sleep so that was nice. I wasn’t in the mood for work so watched The Wild with Reese Witherspoon. I’d like to hike the PCT but not for the same reasons. I think anyone who through hikes a big trail like that is awesome. Appalachian, PCT, John Muir, or any of the others would be a ton of fun. I would love to do a family hike of the Camindo Santiago de Compostela so we’ll see. Some day…..

So with just a few more hours to go and less than 1,000 miles to Newark what do I think of my first mileage run? In short, I enjoyed it but I like flying for flying’s sake. I still think it is fun to board a plane, take off and see different places, even if for only a short while. The renewed status will help for my day job when things get hairy I need help from the airline. I had originally wanted to bring either Julie or one of our kids. We couldn’t afford to have everyone go and for a long flight for a short stay it wouldn’t make sense to the younger two at all. I talked about it with Julie and she wanted to go but we knew the kids would want one of us around. Based on earlier conversations with the kids, I figured the two youngest wouldn’t want to go if Julie didn’t go and our oldest daughter didn’t want to go to Singapore earlier this year for a weekend getaway as she said it was too far. So the thought was to offer it up to all four but only one, our oldest son, might really want to go. Imagine my surprise when I offered it and they *all* wanted to go even if Julie wasn’t going! LOL. You never can tell with kids, they keep you guessing and on your toes. In the end I was the only one who went but it was a lonely trip. I didn’t have any work colleagues to meet up with and nobody to share the small experiences with. Maybe next time. ;)

I’ll leave it at this unless anything exciting happens in Newark or on the final segment.