Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Ambilogic and the Raiders of the Lost Arp

All I can say is that things are getting there. Today we learned about subnetting, which is a topic I thought we had fully covered in the Microsoft series. Little did I realize that Microsoft is more than a trifle vague in thier descriptions, and will accept a wide range of creative answers.

Cisco is all about subnets, and they want the right answers.

It's the difference between wading in with your floaties versus doing laps with the high-school swim team.

The difference is physical, too. Whereas I felt refreshed each morning and could get up without a problem during the Microsoft courses, this week it is harder and harder to get out of bed. I am enjoying the class, but I'm much more drained.

Which is all OK. We're on the final leg of this mission - just another 2 days and then I'm back home. I figure it will be one enormous pile-on once I get in the door.

I can hardly wait.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Dazed and Confused at Ambilogic

OK, so let's just say that this Cisco stuff is not coming as easily as the Windows stuff was. Part of it, I'm sure just has to do with experience, plain and simple. I work with PC's and servers *a lot*. I work with network devices... well, how about NEVER.

Plus, I suffer from dyscalcula (dyslexia, except with numbers), so all the math is really starting to get me down.

(for the record, I have never been diagnosed with any such thing as dyscalcula. But is sounds a whole lot better than "I suck at math", which is probably the more clinical description for my particular condition).

It's only day 2, so I figure i have a couple more days before real solid panic needs to set in.

However, I got another annoying piece of news today. Remember when I described the 70-297 test (listed as "widowmaker" on some of the internet lists for MCSE-hopefuls)? That's the one where you have 4 scenarios and 20 minutes each to answer a bunch of design questions that would challange the psychic abilities of Karnak and John Edwards combined.

News flash, sports fans. You can take the easy test instead. That's right, instead of 70-297, you can cuddle up with 70-220. That's the Windows2000 version where you have 4 scenarios and *1 HOUR* per scenario. I would have paid good money for that extra 40 minutes. Once again, Bill Gates has found a way to make my life an absolute misery. I can only take comfort in knowing that his wife probably laughs at his pimply butt when he gets in the shower.

Then again, his shower probably costs more than every house I've ever owned, combined.

There's just no justice in the world.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Amblogic Live, at the Hollywood Bowl

(appologies to the fine men at Monty Python for today's title)

And now for something completely different...

Microsoft and Cisco are worlds apart, when it comes to their training and testing outlook. Oh, sure you have the same vague questions. As one student put it, instead of asking "From which direction does the sun rise?", Cisco will say "You are in Oakland facing the Golden Gate bridge. You feel something warm on your back. What is it?"

But overall you are using less technology (just hubs, routers and switches, and really just routers and switches) to do a very focused set of tasks (get data from here to there).

That doesn't mean it's easy, and it certainly doesn't mean it's within my range of experience. All the different, competing and completely valid standards for cable, transmission, connection, encapsulation. Stop the network, I think I'm going to be sick.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Ambilogic Reloaded

(credit goes to Eric Taylor for today's title)
Actually, it's more like Renewed, Recharged, Revitalized. 2 completely stress-free "down" days to get ready for the next set of tests - CCNA. What am I doing to prepare? Laundry. Surfing the internet. Kibbitzing with Eric on everything from pediatric emergency technique to the latest VH1 stars. And calling Debbie every chance I get. April 3 can't get here soon enough.

Friday, March 26, 2004

Master and Ambilogic

Whoopee. Look at me. I am an MCSE. tee hee.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Ambilogic Impossible

brave, reckless, confident, unprepared, hopeful naieve, prepared...

(again. you aren't missing something. It's just deja vu all over again)

Our mission: exam 70-297 Windows 2003 case studies
The low-down: 4 case studies, 10 questions each, somewhere around 20 minutes to complete each one and you don't get to carry your time over to the next study.

No, I did not pass. Yes I am pissed.

First, one of the case studies was 15 minutes. That's one-five. Can I just ask what is proven by my ability to read and click in 15 minutes? Are we checking to see if I'm a candidate for Evelyn Woods' course? All I could think was "there's an ADA lawsuit in here somewhere". What if I was blind and needed to be read to? What if, what if.

If wishes were fishes.

Second, 20 minutes isn't noticably better.

It's do-able, because my 2 other compatriots (the 3 crazies in the group) tried and succeeded. But only barely. This is another one of those tests were the top score is 800 and passing is 700. Not a lot of room for mistakes.

I joked about Xtreme Geeking, but I guess this is the exam for it.

"Hello, I'm an MCSE. I don't spend a lot of time designing your environment, but you should watch me click boxes on a simulator screen!"

Somehow it's not the image I thought Microsoft wanted to project. Is the test hard? Yeah doggy! Is it even vaguely realistic? Not unless you also watch "Stargate-SG1" for it's biting social commentary and insightful scientific accuracy.

Trying again tomorrow. Hoping for better. What else is there to do?

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Fear and Loathing at Ambilogic

brave, reckless, confident, unprepared, hopeful naieve, prepared...

4 of us decided to take test #6 tonight - 70-294 "Planning, Implementing, and Maintaining a Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Active Directory Infrastructure" (is that a long enough title for you).

35 questions, 1 hour 35 minutes. Absolute top score is an 800. Passing is 700. You do the math.

Did we mention our teacher's "what the f**k" messages? Consider this an advanced notice. Somewhere out on the internet, Rich is swearing up a storm.

I shouldn't paint it so bad. 2 of us passed. But the 2 who didn't were, undoubtedly, the smartest of our bunch. The difference between the two groups? 70 points. Yep, top score was 730, bottom was 660. Even for the two who passed, when we (yes, I was one of them) came out of the testing center everyone said "you look like you've just been beaten up." And that's exactly how we felt.

There are also 2 (not one, but two) tests that contain completely unexpected, completely incongruous material. The "easy" test had 5 simulators. The "hard" ones had more than 11.

I'm beginning to seriously wonder about the fairness of these tests. What can be done? I'm not sure. Maybe I'm just lashing out as part of "survivor guilt" (no, not guilt about watching the TV show).

5 more people are slated to take the test tomorrow. You can only wonder what the dawn will bring.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Johny MneAmbilogic

My brain is 100% fried. Put your ear up to mine and you can hear it sizzle. I'm actually typing this with my eyes closed, head lolling back over the top of the chair, trying to block out the sound of my fellow students talking and the typing of my own fingers.

2 more tests to go. Just 2 more tests to go. So close and yet...

Today's ordeal, exam 70-293 (Managing and Maintaining a Windows 2003 infrastructure) came with a lot of stress on all our parts. We were still reeling from the completely irrelevant information of 70-227 (ISA Server). Even though many of us worked with this part of Windows every day (Active Directory, Group Policy, DNS, etc), it was still hard to feel like this was familiar ground on which we walked.

By 1:30, about half of us had that old familiar feeling (no, not *that* one). Either we knew it, or we weren't going to know it any better if we waited.

When the dust settled, all but one of us had passed. Some of us had passed with scores that were, strictly speaking, mathematically impossible: 1049 out of 1000.

The second group confirmed that, yes indeed Virginia, there is a SantaGates.

As of this writing, 2 of us have to retake, 3 of us were on the Magical Mystery 1049 Exam and the rest had more modest (and yet perfectly respectable) scores in the 700 to 900 range.

Now it is back to the salt mines. 70-294 appears to be more of the same, but the exam is undoubtedly going to be harder: 35 questions. Rumor has it, if you miss more than 4 questions (give or take), it's all over.

The anticipation is killing me.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Ambilogic for all seasons

We had a round table tonight, where we all shared what we did, the companies we were from and the companies we had contacts into.

Along with that, Mark shared a gem of a poem, composed during the time he could not stare a computer information a minute longer.

'Twas the Night Before 290
by Mark O'Loughlin

'Twas the night before 290, when all through the class
Every student was cramming, and showing their ass.
The candidates were busy, giving their best,
In hopes that PrepEngine would help us pass the test.

The thought of job security was to me
The reason I pursued the illusive MCSE
Arriving alive, I was quite a tired fellow
Driving from Boston in a taxi that was yellow.

I sold everything to get here, even my shirt,
In hopes that Bill Gates would bestow me a cert.
First day in New Hampshire I found it quite queer
That our instructor was nestled well into Bass beer.

A middle-aged instructor, so lively and quick
His name was Richard, no not Dick.
More rapid that Tukcerman's his reviews they came,
His students he rallied and called them by name.

EMT Eric, who's quite a nice fellow,
And Chris who will never go back to Marcello's.
Jean who is gracious and sweet as can be,
Since we crammed 8 people into her grey SUV

Leon from Cleveland who can carry a tune,
Bryan whose wife has had four car wrecks since last June.
Don't forget Mike and Dan, they had their own loft,
All pre paid of course, courtesy of Microsoft.

Lloyd from the islands who fancied the store,
And David the brain who attained a perfect XP score
Sue in the kitchen kept up the pace
While Otis the dog kept stuffing his face.

Thanks to the materials, more precious than gold,
In my hands six completed tests now do I hold.
Did I pass my 290? Alas, no such luck
Thanks to a condition Rich called "What the F**k?!?"

So I jumped in my taxi, for a long 3 hour drive,
Wondering if I'd make it to the airport alive.
Then I heard Rich exclaim, as he lifted his beer,

The Big Ambilogic Chill


That's how the day started. The Inn gave us all the cold shoulder, as the heating oil ran out sometime last night. Thank God for the propane fireplaces in each of the rooms. Everyone is waiting for a shower, but aside from smelling a little more festive than normal, nobody is worse for the wear.

Well, except for the guys from Texas. They seem emotionally unprepared for weather. Thin blood.

This morning 2 of our group are taking their 227 test, and then we dive right back into Xtreme Geeking with Windows2003 stuff again. For the moment, the rest of the group are studying the book and prepengine material, and just recharging our neurons for the long road ahead.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Ambilogic III: ISA of the Tiger

I feel like the famed Mr. Balboa hinted in today's title, as he inevitably appears at the end of each of the movies - battered, bloody, exhausted, but ultimately victorious. MCS-Aaay-dreee-aaaaaan!! MCS-Aay-dreee-aaaaaan!!

The ISA server test is 62 questions, and you are given 2 hours and 45 minutes to complete it.

Mark, one of the other students, finally hit on the problem we had this afternoon, "ISA server is a $6,000 program that does the same thing you could get in a $400 router from BestBuy. Only everything is more confusing and convoluted. It's not that we don't get what ISA server is, it's that we DO get it, it's a stupid program that nobody would want to use."

While the same two guys who were crazy enough to go first on test 291 went again this morning (everyone else planned to go around 6:00pm) , we didn't get as much information from them. "If you know the material in the Ambilogic book, you will be fine".

Ultimately, they were right. But it didn't feel fine.

A friend of mine, who fluently speaks English, French, Spanish and German went to visit Hungary once. As he walked down the street he passed building after building that looked exactly alike. Signs hung over the doorways, but he had no frame of reference to read them since the alphabet was completely different. The language was so far from those he knew that he couldn't even figure out what was in the building by listening to what people said as they left. Each doorway could have led to a grocery or a garage, a post office or a pool hall.

I felt just like that during the test. Each question opened up and there were words there, but I felt like a stranger in a strange land, having to latch onto the tiniest clues just to make heads and tales of the context of the question, let alone the details.

For all of that, it couldn't have been that bad. Everyone who took the test passed, with scores over 800. So either the test was very forgiving or I'm a very good guesser.

If this doesn't work out, maybe I'll become a tour guide in Hungary.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Ambilogic Strikes Back

Forewarned is forearmed, and we had two forearms each, at least. That, plus the fingers at the end of our hands and the little brains in our heads, and more than a little luck, helped us to pass this latest trial with only 1 man down (but not out).

Last night, in the week dark hours, 2 of the group felt lucky/cocky/confident/crazy enough to try the test. They passed (with scores that APPEARED to be barely squeeking by, but when you only have 35 questions total the difference between full marks and a failing grade can be 4 questions or less.) and then passed along their confidence to us.

That's not to say the rest of us weren't nervous. I know I was studying until 1:30am, and then was back at the books at 7:00am this morning. But by 9:30 we all felt that either we knew it pretty well or that we weren't going to know it any better an hour later.

Suffice to say that I felt like that little ball inside cans of spraypaint: I got the job done, but I was completely pummelled in the process.

However, the preparation, the materials and the boundless confidence of Rich (our trainer) in us all combined to give us amazing results. On the first pass, just 2 failed the test (and only by 1 or 2 questions). One person turned right around and went back in, and passed without a problem. THe other is taking a more cautious approach, and is going to retest tomorrow.

At this point, our group has taken the following tests:
70-270 (Windows XP) - 10 passed
70-290 (Win2003 #1) - 7 passed, 3 need to retake later
70-291 (Win2003 #2) - 9 passed, 1 will retake tomorrow

We immediately (OK, after lunch) began working on 70-273 (Windows ISA server), which it turns out is a piece of cake. One of us (Lloyed, from Bermuda) is going to test tonight because his flight leaves tomorrow. The rest of us are here until at least next week so we will test tomorrow, take the rest of the day off for mental recovery, and then dive into the last 3 tests.

Am I excited that I've managed to sqeak by so far? Sure. Does that give me any additional confidence as each new test comes up? Not at all. It merely increases my sense of dread and doom. I don't feel comforted that we are nearing the halfway point.

This is one of those times when I just have to put my head down and keep pushing forward. I miss my family, I miss my friends, I miss my real life. But I'm going back to that one way or the other on March 31. I'd rather do it with everything here finished, rather than with a retake or two to have to contend with.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Ambilogic, Interrupted

"What the f**k?!?"

On a special forum for certification teachers, that is the subject heading that is used when a test suddenly changes.

We had our own "WTF" heading from yesterday, but apparently there were others. It looks like this is the week to change the MCSE core exams. Just like our group encountered the rough seas of exam 70-290, so did other groups find equally difficult and unexpected questions in 70-291.

So no-y testy for-y us-y today-y.

We'll just spend the day studying, reviewing, and listening for the other instructors to tell us what they saw, and adapting accordingly. The test will come tomorrow.

The impact on one of us is very bad. Lloyd is from Bermuda, and is only here until Saturday night. It's pretty much a sure thing now that he will have to take one or more tests when he gets back home. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it means he can't get off the plane and say he is certifiable. Well, at least not by Microsoft.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Ambilogic of the Damned

5 up, 5 down. That was the results of our test. I squeaked by, with a 745 out of 1000. It turns out that was the second highest score in the group.

What we figure is that half of us got a completely new test, with questions that had never been seen before and a few that are usually on a different exam entirely. Everyone who failed, missed by 1 or 2 questions.

So now the cursed half are reviewing and will retest soon. The other half, those who got questions we were expecting, are being supportive (hey, it could have been us.).

The bad news for everyone is that we MUST start on 291 today, and that mean class will reconvene around 4:00. It's going to be a late night.

And from bad to worse. Of the 5 who failed, 4 retested and 2 failed again. Microsoft is certainly doing what they can to lose the "paper MCSE" label of years past. It is, to say the least, a more somber group that studies until the wee hours tonight.

Everyone is working hard to focus on the task ahead - a test tomorrow and another the day after - but we all understand the difficulty of what we are trying to achieve, and the fact that new tests are uncertain tests.

We prepare, we study, we sleep, we dream.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

The Day After Ambilogic

Everyone is both relieved and also stressed for the next test. We are now working on 290, Windows 2003 server. It's more limited in the range of things you discuss, but deeper in detail. And it also is hitting points that many folks have never played with or had to address in their environment.

The test is tomorrow.

Then the next test (291) is the day after that.

Back again into the fray we go. There is the sense once again of impending doom, of know that there are things you don't know.

The interesting thing is seeing people apply themselves. Class starts at 8:30 and ends at 5:00. People are in the lab by 7:30 and stay until midnight. There is nothing else on people's minds. The sense of purpose and focus is supremely singlular.

If only businesses could figure out how to foster this feeling, and then use it when needed (but only when needed). The mind boggles at the mere idea.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

The day Ambilogic stood still

So we didn't take the test this morning. Or after lunch. Or at 3:00. Which were all plans that were suggested by the trainer. Each time we'd sit down and review. And review again. And review again. But by 3:30pm the room was set up and everyone felt that either they were ready, or they were as ready as they ever were going to be.

In the past, I've always taken the test in a room by my self, or maybe with someone else finishing up as I started off. Let me tell you, 10 people in a room, all starting and stopping at (roughly) the same time adds a new level to the phrase "you could cut the tension in the room with a knife". I know it's a cliche, but it was really really true.

And this is one of the easy tests.

When all was said and done, I passed with a score of 892 out of 1000, although one of the guys got a perfect score and it was only 932. It's Microsoft. Go figure.

I have to say that Ambilogic's system is great. The combination of the in-class lectures, the manual and their custom "preptest" program is amazing. By the time I had answered question 3 on the real exam, I realized I was totally prepared.

At this point in the day, we're not starting a new subject (actually, people are still testing as I type this). Once everyone is finished, the owners are taking us all out to dinner in town (some rib place, I believe), and we'll get back to work on teh 290 test (Windows 2003 server) tomorrow.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Night of the Living Ambilogic

Our first day down, and nobody has rung the bell yet (reference to GI Jane). A couple of guys got in at 1:00am though, so we ended early (3:30pm). We're on track, and plan to take our first test (Windows XP) tomorrow before lunch.

Most of the material was pretty understandable. We clearly started getting into server questions (sub- an super-netting, setting up RAS servers, etc).

The teacher took pity on the souls of the happless travelers who got in at 1:00am last night, and let us break early. After a quick rest, a few of us are going to study together, get some dinner, study some more, and collapse.

Tomorrow the plan is to review in the morning, test before lunch, and dive into the next exam subject in the afternoon. No rest for the wicked.

Dawn of Ambilogic

Well, the day started off well. Used to getting up at 6:00am (or earlier) to the sensation of Joram's foot being jammed up my nose, 6:45 arrived luxuriously late.

Breakfast came late (8:00 instead of 7:30) so I'm jamming it down now. And it looks like wireless doesn't reach into the classroom (waaaaaah!). But we'l make do somehow.

10 people in the class. Yark. One talker so far. And it's not me. I think I hate him already.

My coffee mug runneth over, my stomach holds the fullness of breakfast. Snow lightly coveres the gardens outside.

Time for some Xtreme Geeking!!

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Ambilogic: Prologue

I arrived at the VERY pink premisis of Ambilogic after a completely un-harrowing flight. Getting from the airport to the hotel turned out to be a 2 hour car ride, however, which my bladder was less than thrilled to hear about it. We got here before sepsis set in, but only barely.

After a quick unpacking, we (that would be me, Eric (another student), Rich (the VP and trainer) and his wife Diane, along with their 5 week old baby (name withheld due to my ignorance) went up the street for dinner. Very pub-ish food. Good, cheap, eaten elbow to elbow and those high round tables.

Ambilogic ( is in a quant, very tourist-oriented part of New Hampshire. It's near Lake Meredith and Mt. Washington, I think. Rich and Diane own a bed-and-breakfast Inn, so you sleep, eat and work in the same building. The testing center is here too. The only thing you need to go out for is dinner and (we are told) the cook is so good here and the food so bountiful that some people skip dinner. We'll see about that.

Tomorrow class starts at 8:30am, which is a total luxury from a schedule standpoint. I'm sure it's the last time I'll have a moment's peace, but it's welcome none the less.

Tomorrow we study for the WindowsXP exam, and the actual test is set for Tuesday. That's the easy one. There are 4 other core (read "difficult") exams and another elective after that.

Now for some sleep.