Monthly Archives

July 2009

SysAdmin Day

Today is the 10th annual system administrator day, where you give thanks for the service and assistance provided by your IT Engineer’s, head geeks and tech guru’s.  Celebrated every year on the last Friday in July, it is a day where we accept gifts, praise, cards and food in return for a years hard work.

From the official sysadminday.com website, here is a description of what a sysadmin does…

What is a system administrator? Well, look at the title. Administrator of systems. A system administrator takes care of systems.

Now, most people read "system" to mean an individual computer, and think that all a sysadmin does is clean viruses off your computer and replace your monitor. That’s not wrong — but it is only one page of the whole story.

A real computing system is larger. Very few computers work just on their own anymore; when you use the web, play a game online, share files with a friend, or send email, you’re using a complex and intricate collection of computers, networks and software that come together to do the job you’re asking.

A sysadmin manages these systems — they figure out how to bring storage from one server, processing from another, backups from a third and networking from a fourth computer all together, working seamlessly. For you.

It’s not an easy task. Your sysadmins need to understand in depth computing protocols. They often have to know something about programming, something about hardware, a lot about software — and even more about the people using their system.

A sysadmin is a professional, with complex skills, ethical challenges, and a daunting job. Many, if not most, people find computers difficult to use, and sometimes they’re unreliable. Being a sysadmin doesn’t absolve someone of dealing with unreliable computers. Oh, one can dream of such a day, but the opposite is true; no one sees more dead computers in a day than a sysadmin. No one sees them doing truly baffling things, and no one has more stories of computers failing, acting possessed, or even catching on fire.

The challenge of a sysadmin is making a computing system — a whole network of resources and servers and software — work together, work right, work even when parts of it fail — and work for you.

That’s the most important job of the sysadmin: to work for you. To take the staggering array of technologies, acronyms, protocols, networks, vendors, budgets, limited time, competing products, and threats to the computing network, assemble them all together in a working system. Their job is not only to be the geek in the corner who types all day. What they’re doing is bringing these diverse pieces of technology into order, and fitting them together to fill your needs at work and home; to translate the world of computing into human terms.

This is a daunting task and we’re still at the cutting edge; we’re not perfect, and the field is still figuring itself out. Being a sysadmin takes a certain boldness, to be one of the first people to take on the challenge of turning difficult computers into easy to use systems. But hundreds of thousands of people are working in that field now, from the entry level help desk tech to the corporate CIOs and everyone in between.

So when you think of a sysadmin, think of the people who run the servers that help you clean it off, the people who run your backups to make sure your data is safe, the people who bring you the network, the people who monitor it for security — and yes, the person who cleans the virus off your computer and replaces your monitor.

And here is a list of ways to utilise your sys admin (in this instance called Ted) to obtain the best value…

  • Make sure to save all your MP3 files on your network drive. No sense in wasting valuable space on your local drive! Plus, Ted loves browsing through 100+ GB of music files while he backs up the servers.
  • Play with all the wires you can find. If you can’t find enough, open something up to expose them. After you have finished, and nothing works anymore, put it all back together and call Ted. Deny that you touched anything and that it was working perfectly only five minutes ago. Ted just loves a good mystery. For added effect you can keep looking over his shoulder and ask what each wire is for.
  • Never write down error messages. Just click OK, or restart your computer. Ted likes to guess what the error message was.
  • When talking about your computer, use terms like "Thingy" and "Big Connector."
  • If you get an EXE file in an email attachment, open it immediately. Ted likes to make sure the anti-virus software is working properly.
  • When Ted says he coming right over, log out and go for coffee. It’s no problem for him to remember your password.
  • When you call Ted to have your computer moved, be sure to leave it buried under a year-old pile of postcards, baby pictures, stuffed animals, dried flowers, unpaid bills, bowling trophies and Popsicle sticks. Ted doesn’t have a life, and he finds it deeply moving to catch a glimpse of yours.
  • When Ted sends you an email marked as "Highly Important" or "Action Required", delete it at once. He’s probably just testing some new-fangled email software.
  • When Ted’s eating lunch at his desk or in the lunchroom, walk right in, grab a few of his fries, then spill your guts and expect him to respond immediately. Ted lives to serve, and he’s always ready to think about fixing computers, especially yours.
  • When Ted’s at the water cooler or outside taking a breath of fresh air, find him and ask him a computer question. The only reason he takes breaks at all is to ferret out all those employees who don’t have email or a telephone.
  • Send urgent email ALL IN UPPERCASE. The mail server picks it up and flags it as a rush delivery.
  • When the photocopier doesn’t work, call Ted. There’s electronics in it, so it should be right up his alley.
  • When you’re getting a NO DIAL TONE message at your home computer, call Ted. He enjoys fixing telephone problems from remote locations. Especially on weekends.
  • When something goes wrong with your home PC, dump it on Ted’s chair the next morning with no name, no phone number, and no description of the problem. Ted just loves a good mystery.
  • When you have Ted on the phone walking you through changing a setting on your PC, read the newspaper. Ted doesn’t actually mean for you to DO anything. He just loves to hear himself talk.
  • When your company offers training on an upcoming OS upgrade, don’t bother to sign up. Ted will be there to hold your hand when the time comes.
  • When the printer won’t print, re-send the job 20 times in rapid succession. That should do the trick.
  • When the printer still won’t print after 20 tries, send the job to all the printers in the office. One of them is bound to work.
  • Don’t use online help. Online help is for wimps.
  • Don’t read the operator’s manual. Manuals are for wussies.
  • If you’re taking night classes in computer science, feel free to demonstrate your fledgling expertise by updating the network drivers for you and all your co-workers. Ted will be grateful for the overtime when he has to stay until 2:30am fixing all of them.
  • When Ted’s fixing your computer at a quarter past one, eat your Whopper with cheese in his face. He functions better when he’s slightly dizzy from hunger.
  • When Ted asks you whether you’ve installed any new software on your computer, LIE. It’s no one else’s business what you’ve got on your computer.
  • If the mouse cable keeps knocking down the framed picture of your dog, lift the monitor and stuff the cable under it. Those skinny Mouse cables were designed to have 55 lbs. of computer monitor crushing them.
  • If the space bar on your keyboard doesn’t work, blame Ted for not upgrading it sooner. Hell, it’s not your fault there’s a half pound of pizza crust crumbs, nail clippings, and big sticky drops of Mountain Dew under the keys.
  • When you get the message saying "Are you sure?", click the "Yes" button as fast as you can. Hell, if you weren’t sure, you wouldn’t be doing it, would you?
  • Feel perfectly free to say things like "I don’t know nothing about that boneheaded computer crap." It never bothers Ted to hear his area of professional expertise referred to as boneheaded crap.
  • Don’t even think of breaking large print jobs down into smaller chunks. God forbid somebody else should sneak a one-page job in between your 500-page Word document.
  • When you send that 500-page document to the printer, don’t bother to check if the printer has enough paper. That’s Ted’s job.
  • When Ted calls you 30 minutes later and tells you that the printer printed 24 pages of your 500-page document before it ran out of paper, and there are now nine other jobs in the queue behind yours, ask him why he didn’t bother to add more paper.
  • When you receive a 130 MB movie file, send it to everyone as a high-priority mail attachment. Ted’s provided plenty of disk space and processor capacity on the new mail server for just those kinds of important things.
  • When you bump into Ted in the grocery store on a Sunday afternoon, ask him computer questions. He works 24/7, and is always thinking about computers, even when he’s at super-market buying toilet paper and doggie treats.
  • If your son is a student in computer science, have him come in on the weekends and do his projects on your office computer. Ted will be there for you when your son’s illegal copy of Visual Basic 6.0 makes the Access database keel over and die.
  • When you bring Ted your own "no-name" brand PC to repair for free at the office, tell him how urgently he needs to fix it so you can get back to playing EverQuest. He’ll get on it right away, because everyone knows he doesn’t do anything all day except surf the Internet.
  • Don’t ever thank Ted. He loves fixing everything AND getting paid for it!

So, give thanks for all that IT has bestowed on you, and feel free to pass unto your engineer one of these many gift ideas… 

50 Fun things to do in a lift

I’ve been reminded of this I received some years back…

1. Make race car noises when anyone gets on or off.
2. Blow your nose and offer to show the contents of your tissue to other passengers.
3. Grimace painfully while smacking your forehead and muttering, "Shut up, dammit, all of you just shut UP!"
4. Whistle the first seven notes of "It’s a Small World" incessantly.
5. Sell Girl Scout cookies.
6. On a long ride, crash from side to side as if you”re on rough seas.
7. Shave. (Especially if you’re a woman.)
8. Crack open your briefcase or purse, and while peering inside, ask: "Got enough air in there?"
9. Offer name tags to everyone getting on the elevator. Wear yours upside-down.
10. Stand silent and motionless in the corner, facing the wall, without getting off.
11. When arriving at your floor, grunt and strain to yank the doors open, then act embarrassed when they open by themselves.
12. Lean over to another passenger and whisper: "Noogie patrol coming!"
13. Greet everyone getting on the elevator with a warm handshake and ask them to call you, "Admiral".
14. One word: Flatulence!
15. On the highest floor, hold the door open and demand that it stay open until you hear the penny you dropped down the shaft go "plink" at the bottom.
16. Do Tai Chi exercises.
17. Stare, grinning, at another passenger for a while, and then announce, "I’ve got new socks on!"
18. When at least 8 people have boarded, moan from the back, "Oh, not now. Damn motion sickness!"
19. Give religious literature to each passenger.
20. Meow occasionally.
21. Bet the other passengers you can fit a twenty-pence in your nose.
22. Frown and mutter "Gotta go, gotta go," then sigh and say, "oops!"
23. Show other passengers a wound and ask if it looks infected.
24. Sing, "Mary Had a Little Lamb" while continually pushing buttons.
25. Shout, "Bombs away!" whenever the elevator descends.
26. Walk on with a cooler that says "human head" on the side.
27. Stare at another passenger for a while, then announce, "You’re one of THEM!" and move to the far corner of the lift.
28. Burp, and then say "Mmmm…tasty!"
29. Leave a box between the doors.
30. Ask each passenger getting on if you can push the button for them.
31. Wear a puppet on your hand and make it talk to the other passengers.
32. Start a sing-along.
33. When the lift is silent, look around and ask, "Is that your phone?"
34. Play the harmonica.
35. Shadow box.
36. Say, "Ding!" at each floor.
37. Lean against the button panel.
38. Say, "I wonder what all these do" and push the red buttons.
39. Listen to the elevator walls with a stethoscope.
40. Draw a little square on the floor with chalk and announce to the other passengers that this is your "personal space".
41. Bring a chair along.
42. Take a bite of a sandwich and ask another passenger: "Wanna see wha in muh mouf?"
43. Blow spit bubbles.
44. Pull your gum out of your mouth in long strings.
45. Announce in a demonic voice: "I must find a more suitable host body."
46. Carry a blanket and clutch it protectively.
47. Make explosion noises when anyone presses a button.
48. Wear "X-Ray Specs" and leer suggestively at other passengers.
49. Stare at your thumb and say, "I think it’s getting larger."
50. If anyone brushes against you, recoil and holler, "Bad touch!"

In Search of a Provider (ISP).

OK, so I’m basically fed up with my current Internet Service Provider (Demon.net).  There’s nothing specifically wrong with their service, in fact, Id still recommend them to anyone who asked – stable, reliable and reasonably quick, but they’re no longer fulfilling my requirements.

Currently I pay £22 per month for an ‘upto 8mb’ service, which gives me about 3.5mb download, 448k upload, a static IP address and no traffic shaping or restrictions.  Or at least, it used to.  But over the last couple of months, I’ve been embracing lots more video over the web services as well as doing a few linux installs across the net.  This has meant that I have exceeded Demon’s Fair Usage Policy of 60GB in 30days, and therefore, they’ve started restricting my service to 128k download (256k upload) between 9am and 11pm every day.  Now, 60gb may seem like a lot of traffic, and upto 12 months ago, I would agree.  However, in these days of high definition video over the internet. combined with sites with ever more graphics, video, sound and interactivity, its very easy to burn through your allowance.  For example, if you watch a HD programme from the BBC iPlayer, these can be upto 2GB for an hour’s show – 30 of these and that’s your lot.  With the amount of Internet services I use,  the allowance disappears like sand through a colander.   I do have to question why they chose 128k as a limit – this is a pitiful amount and makes everything painful – even loading a webpage takes a number of seconds, so I’ve had to fall back to my 3G 3 dongle for general browsing activities.   I don’t know why they can’t set it to 512k to limit usage, but keep usage times reasonable, but then I guess that’s not much of an incentive is it? 

Anyway,  I’ve been scouting around for a true ‘unlimited’ package, rather than an unlimited but.. provider and my choices are few and far between.  My 3 key requirements are:-

  • True, unlimited internet usage.
  • Static IP address
  • <=£25 per month.

I require a decent internet service, and don’t mind paying for it, but I don’t believe its worth more than £25 for a standard ADSL service.

So having a look around, what I want can’t be achieved.   I had narrowed it down to o2 who seem to get excellent reviews, are reasonably priced, and .  However,  you have to be one of their enabled exchanges.  And as seems to be the way these days,  I’m not.  I live in a major conurbation and am connected to THIS exchange, but the only 3rd party provider is TalkTalk.  And they don’t do unlimited utilisation.  It seems that BT must charge so much for traffic, or perhaps its the pipes in the background, that the only economical way for an ISP to offer unlimited traffic is to offer local loop unbundling (LLU) service.  Now I wouldn’t mind this lack of LLU, if it weren’t for the fact that EVERY exchange in a circle around me has a variety of providers available,  and is scheduled to be an early fibre to the cabinet exchange, whereas I’m still stuck in the early 21st century stuck on plain old ADSL, and as a techy, this just isn’t good enough!! Grr.   I’m just hoping that LTE wireless becomes quickly popular (4G mobile technology offering very high speed data).

So, if anyone knows of a decent, quality ISP that matches my requirements above, and will work on a standard BT Wholesale service, let me know, because I’m seriously struggling.

Sky EPG –> Dreambox Bouquets.

I’ve recently updated the software on the Dreambox and wanted to put an updated Bouquet on there with all the channels lined up in the ‘sky’ style.  With over 1000 channels to sort through, I thought there had to be an easier way.  Sonic1 over on this forum HERE has put up a massive sorted list of satellite feeds all over Europe and I recommend you use it.  However, if you just want the Sky UK EPG layout only as your bouquets, I’ve reworked it and published it HERE

This is compatible with DreamBoxEdit (v3.0.0 tested) and you will need to update your preferred local BBC and ITV regions as appropriate.  Also, you may need to update the bouquet frequencies and listings if necessary, as they do get changed fairly often.

gOS(h)

As you may have heard, Google have decided to step into the Operating System arena by releasing one aimed at revolutionising the desktop OS market.  At launch, it will be targeted at the lightweight ‘netbook’ range of devices specifically for people who require regular, rapid access to the Internet.   Information coming from the Mountain View chocolate factory is that it uses the Linux kernel using a ‘new windowing system’, presumably their own GUI rather than relying on X Windows and KDE or Gnome.  Presumably it is a rework of the Android platform to better support larger screens, keyboards and mice, although they do say that the two projects are not intertwined.  The OS also has Chrome Browser built in and is designed to be an interface into ‘cloud’ computing resources that have been talked about over the last couple of years.  Because the big G now provides ‘office’ resources such as E-Mail, Documents, Spreadsheets and Presentations online, they don’t see the point in having massive computing resources on the desk to write a simple document, when their server infrastructure can provide that for free (on the basis that they’ll sell advertising to you) provided you can get online.

Its an interesting approach to take, and it will be interesting to see how it pans out.  However, I do have a few concerns.  Firstly,  the Internet is NOT yet all pervasive.  Sure, you might have it wall to wall at home, and you may have access in the office.  You may even have 3G on your phone or via a dongle to get online whilst you’re mobile,  but you don’t have to travel very far to enter an internet black hole.  For example in our Office,  I can get HSDPA access with T-Mobile and 3 Internet,  but BT/Vodafone barely even has a 2G signal.  Likewise driving home,  even though I travel the M6 corridor, one of the busiest routes on the motorway network,  there are at least 3 spots where the signal drops out completely.  At the moment, this isn’t a problem, because you don’t need access to the net 100% of the time to write a document or update your e-mail.  But if you’re sat there with a blank screen because your network has dropped out, frustration levels soon start to set in.   

Of course, you can get round all this with offline synchronisation, which is the one thing currently missing from another cloud computing environment you may be exposed to – Citrix.  However,  you’re then NOT working in the cloud when you’re working offline, which means more storage, processing and memory requirements, defeating the point of a lightweight computing model.

Maybe my fears are unfounded,  or will be addressed when 4G (WiMax or LTE) appears, but I still can’t see full coverage if you’re stuck up a mountain somewhere miles from the nearest transmitter.  Still, I await this project with interest and see how it pans out in the battle with Microsoft and the soon to be released Windows 7.   Its good to see Linux continuing to make inroads into the end user environment,  I just hope it doesn’t become the pervasive kernel standard to the detriment of other Linux projects.

BootNote:

You may have heard the tale attributed to various IT Thinkers of the early 20th century but generally now attributed to be Thomas Watson of the IBM Corporation.  The quote believed to be from 1943 goes “There is maybe a world market for maybe five computers”,  ironic considering how ubiquitous computing now is.  But the point is that Google is now building a single massive global computer (a mainframe if you will) that we all have access to via what could be pretty ‘dumb’ devices.  This computer currently runs the worlds most popular search engine,  it hosts videos,  allows you to go shopping and send Emails.  In 50 years time,  will computing be done not at the desk, but in ‘the world’?  Will we access the internet in the same manor that we access electricity today?  We currently plug an electrical appliance into a socket and it works using electricity.  In the future, will we plug a terminal into a socket and the internet ‘just works’.   Don’t be surprised if we move to a “pay for what you use” ‘net where you don’t buy access to the grid, but you do buy access to the resources you use just like the utilities of today.

You and I are gonna live forever…

Last Night, Oasis played the Coventry Ricoh arena and I was there to witness it.  40,000 fans all singing along to Champagne Supernova is truly a sight and sound to behold, and it was definitely worth the £40 a ticket to go.  Having spent my teenage ‘angst’ years listening to their music, in particular their seminal early albums means that they’re one of the top bands on my list of must see’s. 

The complete set-list consisted of ‘Rock N Roll Star, Lyla, Shock Of The Lightning, Roll With It, Cigarettes And Alcohol, To Be Where There’s Life, Waiting For The Rapture, The Masterplan, Songbird, Slide Away, Morning Glory, My Big Mouth, The Importance Of Being Idle, Half The World Away, I’m Outta Time, Wonderwall, Supersonic, Live Forever, Don’t Look Back In Anger, Falling Down, Champagne Supernova and I Am The Walrus’, and most them (apart from the most recent tracks) were all sing your heart out tracks.

Supporting were ‘The Enemy’ who were playing their home gig, and apart from the massive amounts of effing and jeffing (at least two per sentence) were also amazing with all their hits played at full tilt to really get the crowd going.  Also supporting were a new band called ‘Twisted Wheel’ – a Manchester band to keep your eye out for – Oasis on speed is the best way of describing them.  They played Glastonbury a few weeks ago, and I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of them in the coming years.

All in all, an excellent tour, and if you can get tickets to the Wembley shows in the next few days, do so – truly amazing stuff.

But to go back to the point of ‘must-see’s’,   I’ve had a discussion with a number of people as to who should also join that list.  The main one on my list would be Pink Floyd, but that’s never going to happen.  I also had a suggestion of U2, but I’ve never been that bothered about their music.  Pendulum look and sound good from what I’ve seen, but I don’t think their crowd is my crowd, and the same for Prodigy.  I saw Bon Jovi at the Ricoh last year and they were fantastic, so that would be worth a revisit, but I think the only other one on my list at the moment are the ‘Foo Fighters’ if they ever play the UK again.  And OASIS again, unless the split rumours come true.    So further suggestions please? 🙂