Quick update

So then what’s been cooking?

Lots of stuff taking place over the past few weeks but then isn’t that the same for everyone?

The big news is that we finally got fibre optic broadband installed at the house – it’s an 80mb connection – so we only get 35mb meh – that’s some improvement over the previous 2mb ADSL link!

Eldest daughter has now lost her first two teeth, that’s great, just don’t call her gappy!

Hmm, what else?

Oh yeah, finally started up my own IT firm, it only took me twenty years!  More on that later!

The great porn access debate

I get journalism, I do try very hard to, at least I think I do.  I mean sure you know the frequency of face palming during news bulletins and stories seems to be increasing…..but is it?  Or are we simply taking more notice?

As previously noted I am a career geek – I love technology and all that it can do for us – but I do have a problem and it’s with the people who repeatedly don’t get it.

I mean if my car starts to make a strange noise there’s a couple of things I don’t do; I don’t claim to have an innate knowledge of all things internal combustion nor would I presume to tell a mechanic that his opinion of the problem was wrong and that actually I felt it’s a problem with the flow rate of the flux capacitor or some other part.

But I digress, so let’s drag it back to the point and unusually for me to be wading into very much a en vogue issue of the moment, but yeah, what the post title says…..and yes I know I’m drawing conclusions from some recent stories and sighing deeply due to my perception of the comments within them but when will people finally wake up and realise that no sooner can you discover some new horrible problem with the internet than you ought to figure out that it’s been going on for years?

The internet is no longer the domain (pun intended) of a single entity or country, or body, it’s a living breathing organism, made up of billions of nodes and housed in equally as many locations, it’s a global device, there’s just no simple controls any more.  And there’s been nothing like it before either.

And so when something as seemingly straightforward as content access rears its head lets apply the above reasoning. It’s already been happening for years and there are no simple controls.

Let that sink in for a moment and dissect.

Happening for years.

No simple controls.

First off I’ll insult a whole peer group – shame on you parents of the world for letting your kids have access to something that’s simply not censored in any way shape or form, and that has been the case since the beginning – it’s the case here that ignorance is no excuse, a pertinent point when it comes to the hardest job in the world, being a parent.

A very simple test that I’ve employed for as long as I’ve been working with the internet is to use the “girls name” test.  I recall back in the 90s when testing the content management system for a local school – a system that was supplied by a well-known company at a significant cost (I mean local education’s budgets right?) – a top-level system designed to prevent pupils from accessing anything bad.

So open up a browser, find a search engine (the much missed Euroferret if memory serves) and perform a simple search for a girls name.  Go on, purely for research purposes try it.  Works every time. I mean sure, there’s more stuff on the internet now then there used to be, so you have to go through a couple of pages as there’s more Jennys and Catherines and Kates out there but the point is that a search as benign as a name brings up content unbecoming.

That being the case just how easy is it going to be to properly censor the Internet for the good of the kids?

Exactly.

Back to my liberal beating on parents.  In my humble opinion it should be treated in the same way as watching movies.  I can purchase all sorts of gruesome stuff and if I’m not mindful that my kids have found my copy of “Murder Death Kill Gore 7” and popped it into the DVD player they’re going to learn some new playground moves.

So I self-censor in my own situation, it’s really easy for me in any case.  I use a PC to watch TV and movies, so the children (at the moment in any case) don’t know how to; turn on the PC, load a DVD, load the software to play the DVD.  It’s a bit on the lazy side, but I know that right now they simply can’t access anything. It’s the same deal with the internet, no devices in their bedrooms and when they do do stuff online we monitor it.  I know, very dickensian right?  But safe.

Now, back to the matter in hand – how to restrict the content that’s delivered to our precious children?  What’s the simplest way to do this?  Prove your age?  Oh yeah, enter in your credit card details?  How many things are wrong about that idea?  Hand over your credit card details not for purchasing but just proof of age.  Would YOU be happy about doing that?  Any of these so-called experts heard of Data Protection, or PCI Compliance???

Some of these purveyors of questionable material don’t exist as entities, some are just like a travelling circus, content passed along via various servers and across borders, it simply doesn’t work like traditional corporations, the appearance of some huge content providers can be made by an 18-year old sat in their bedroom.

You can’t enforce a set of rules in such an environment any more than you can successfully censor the entirety of the internet, countries (and search providers) have tried and the populous just runs off to proxy services and the like.

Is it really going to be worth conducting an in-depth investigation into this?  How much money and time will be spent coming up with some unworkable solution that will only be partly deployed in the end?  Should we not all be looking at common sense solutions?

All this talk of parents not knowing what their kids get up to in their bedrooms?  It’s kind of right in front of our noses really, common sense it used to be called back in the day, we just need to use those meat sacks we carry around in our skulls and figure a way to sort this out that brings the onus back to the parents.  I’ll throw something together – I’ll just add it to the list!

Next one will be more positive, promise!

What’s so good about Cornwall?

You know I write a lot of stuff in this blog that represents an; occasionally sideways but pretty much always negative view on the IT industry in Cornwall, and I think I’m qualified to write in that way – I have carved out my career thus far in the county and struggled on through lean times and adversity all the while fighting the good fight in the name of what?  Personal fulfilment, some vague hope that I’m, in some way, working for the betterment of all IT in Cornwall, perhaps just because that’s the way I’ve been taught it should be?

It’s tough to not give up entirely and become all bitter and twisted as the good intentions on that score have tried their utmost to erode away……..

Hang on…..delete delete delete!  I rambled on far too long there spouting heroic undertones that all IT Managers have to undertake, but no, this is intended to be a positive post, I promise!  Sure, we all face challenges in our jobs – mine might not be all that different to yours…..

But as a county Cornwall still waits to play catch up.  I was in (or rather out and about) when the big society change hit the first time – the two final remote bastions of the UK IT wasteland; Scotland and Cornwall were struggling to hold out, and then the northmen were defeated, finally modern thinking arrived and with it a deeper understanding of the IT function and its role in the commercial entity.

And so we sat and waited for the £300 a day contracts to roll in to the South, and commercial acceptance, to really move our industry forward, out from under the protective parenting of the Accounting departments and part-time management and muddled thinking that the IT Department was simply a place that ordered the ink cartridges.

Only it didn’t come.

I recall when the shift occurred in Scotland, and honestly it’s really not just a money thing, there were some seriously large innovation projects and progressive forward momentum, investment and perhaps more importantly understanding – the commercial sector started to get IT and get it right.  The remuneration bit was a natural evolution, I suppose initially set to attract in experts from elsewhere but slowly bleeding out to the general workforce.

It was a widely held thought in Cornwall (certainly amongst my peers in any case) that we’d be next but a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then and the whole landscape remains fractured and collectively little progress seems to have been made.

Why is that?  I mean it’s not like we’re a million miles behind, and looking at some of the stuff going on there are signs, there’s some good noises coming out of parts of the county and some innovative and progressive start-ups plying their trade, but boy are there some stinkers too!  And so we appear to remain to preserve of the garden shed industry – and herein lies, I think, one of the biggest parts of the problem.

The work ethic.

You can almost see the parallels to the old school miners – you know, those old Cornish guys who travelled the world over taking their skill to the mines of the world.  They had grit and determination, and you can still see it now commercially.

The only problem is that lost in the determination is the need to engage in joined up working – the concept that everyone pulling together as one is what’s required, yes, I’m actually suggesting that individual work ethic is part of the problem.

Quantify it?  Sure.  Consider twenty employees all working away in silos (remember them?) – three are stars and the rest, well we don’t work with the rest do we?  So the stars crack on, head down, pushing forward whilst the others lose ground. Now.  Would you rather have all twenty moving forward at a more measured pace, progress individually might be slower but collectively……

And this is what we have here in Cornwall.  We have conscience and we have persistence and we have the desire to do good – but it’s still raw and it needs nurturing and more importantly an investment of attention and time as well as a plan.  It needs organisation it needs investment it needs infrastructure (yes BT, I’m looking at you!)

And this……this is where the managers come in!

The heat is gone….

First off why is it that in this day and age we feel the need to have to constantly come up with interesting and witty blog post titles?  Not that I’m saying that’s what I do (or what this blog does) but I happen to be pretty proud of this recent one!  Of course it is only really relevant to people from the 80s or before…..Anyway, moving swiftly on this is, of course, about server room air conditioning, why wouldn’t it be?!

When I first arrived at ISSG all those years ago I was faced with a sys admins nightmare, yep you guessed it – the old “servers on a rickety table” scenario.  The obligatory school-style tables, you know the ones, square steel legs and a thin wood-like substance screwed on top, the kind you can tip over with one finger.

L00001175_300-9602[1]

That and atop them a pair of seriously heavy servers from back in the day when weight meant power and quality. It was instantly obvious that some serious upgrading would be required to fulfil the brief of a “proper” network.  (from the job description I took “proper” to mean secure and robust, IE: MS domain!)

The early plan was set, we’d install a decent level of resilient hardware, since we were talking active directory and exchange and of course heeding Microsoft’s instructions we would need two.  A couple of decent mid-range servers, redundant bits and bobs, a Domain Controller and an Exchange server one thing was immediately obvious…..

The table simply wasn’t going to take it!

After some of the anticipated corporate tooing and froing we have a server “room” or to put it correctly a couple of stud walls boxing in the comms kit that was situated in the corner.  But you know what, it’s plenty good enough, so with corner of the room enclosure holding the comms kit we were nearly prepared for our servers.

The final thing prior to our investment was to get some cooling in.  I’ve never really delved to deeply into the theory of cooling, but I assume that if electronics equipment is kept in a (more or less) constant environment it lasts longer.  Unfortunately this does not take into account an old building, more importantly an old buildings wiring.

The servers were definitely mid-range, but decent, in a SME I suppose you could classify the cost as high, but the combined cost (inclusive of the server room works) didn’t even equate to the amount that was being spent on Telephony, and small potatoes when compared to the department annual spend.  Even so the cost of the exercise proved to be too rich, and so the trade off was to _only_ afford a small, portable, AC unit.

This aforementioned unit (a “Dalek” according to the original supplier) was powered from a good old three pin plug, and did well to last as long as it did but sadly it expired (or should that be it was exterminated?!) over the New Year, but that’s ok, due to to the awful wiring we’ve cooked our servers a few times since installation – a scenario I hope to never have to repeat, arrive in the office on a Monday morning and the first sign of worry was the lack of noise, open the server room door and it’s like exiting a plane in Egypt (something I have experienced!) with a blast of hot air in the face, to then find your rather expensive servers are literally too hot to touch!

Well we finally sorted that out – step forward dry-it-out.com and with the assistance of some extremely dodgy builders we now have one of these installed – http://www.dry-it-out.com/MSR18

It’s great, but the cable poked out of the wrong side, so all of the nice holes drilled in the old building wall had to be abandoned in favour of hanging the indoor unit on the “new” stud wall of the server room.  I was worried about vibration and noise, I needn’t have been, it’s whisper quiet – it seems really efficient, 19 degrees with hardly any effort, and what’s more it’ll resume working _if_ we get any of those dodgy Penzance brownouts!

So all good right?  Well here’s the rub….the server room has an air gap or two, and this system is obviously so powerful that a 6 x 8 room isn’t enough for it, so it’s proceeded to suck all of the heat (and apparently quite a bit of moisture too) out of the main office too!  I’m not sure if it’s too cold just yet, but boy is it noticeable, iffy storage heaters in our main office too, so we’re relying on an oil filled heater for now.

The point is that this only reinforces my belief in the crucial point of getting a server environment just right – our servers have failed on several occasions, we’ve lost drives and PSUs for fun (one more recent critical event saw us lose two drives from a RAID5 over a weekend) and if this has in any way been helped along by the poor cooling situation……well…..it’s partly down to me isn’t it?

Next job….expanding foam and door draft excluder!

Backup/restore!

So I moved the blog to a different server, this is good practice apart from anything else….but it’s cool, I’m good and prepared this time – I backed my shit up!  Sat there with a tarball and a blank ‘press install errr, hang on a sec there’s no sodding restore button!  Not time to panic yet, lets break out the search engine before the world ends – what I love about the internet nowadays, everything is there for you…..but isn’t it great when you reach out for help and first time…..

A very simple call for help on my part and one basic web search later I stumble upon my new best friend! Take a bow Pascal! ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X4lhxMcjFVM ) and what’s so great about peer support – someone either has the problem, fixes it and decides to share with the world….just because – I like that!

So the blog moves, the backup plugin works, and I am now imbibed with the power to RESTORE!

Mind you…..did I say Pascal was my new best friend?  He’s ok, he got my posts back, but the only problem is that of the 3000 comments this blog has only about 3 of them are not spam….. :/

Next stop, finding a way to stop those damn bots!