Tuesday, 30 November 2010

I miss snow days

One of the best things about working in a school was that when it snowed, quite often you got a day off work. Now, since I moved to HE, I have to come in and get soaked, cold and very tired from the even earlier morning commute.

I nearly could have done with a snow day yesterday, things nearly went tits up.

I was patching up some fibre in our main data centre when, all of a sudden, darkness. Okay, so the power has gone off. That is not a problem as the generator will kick-in... any-time... about now... no?.. bugger.

It became obvious from the lack of lights that the generator had not kicked in and we were running the whole building on a UPS which given the size of our building gave us about 20 minutes. Then phones, servers, the lot would go. Thankfully the doors lock open so we were not stuck in the basement comms room, but not sure how great that is for security (before you get any ideas we do have metal shutters out of hours).

We found out a contractor had been working in the plant room and for some reason had managed to knock everything off and stop the generator starting. So can we get into the plant room to look at fixing it? No as it is closed due to asbestos contamination and we need a mask, cover-alls, a risk-assessment and a key from estates.

We watched the UPS as it went down to 3 minutes left, 2 minutes left and so on. Grabbed some laptops to keep the switchboard up and running, forwarded all calls to our mobiles and grabbed some more laptops to take across the street and set up a helpdesk over there.

Then the UPS said went to 0% and everything was about to go off. Just as we got a message saying it was shutting down, LIGHTS, power, everything came back on. The contractor who was working on the electrics and had done 'something' to the cable had managed to get it back on.

Just in the knick of time, and people outside the building would not have noticed anything.

edit (from my boss): I saw two messages from the UPS, one saying 'I've had it', another saying 'I'm back', actually timed at exactly the same time (to the nearest second) - that's how close it seems to have been.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

The fun of a school helpdesk...

This reminded me very much of what it was like to work in a secondary school. Some of these are very funny:

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Useful Websites #4

Box.net - 5GB of free online storage (more can be purchased) that can be accessed and uploaded from your PC or mobile.

Dropbox - Another online storage solution, but a lot more popular than box.net despite offering a smaller amount of 2GB storage for free. Again this can be installed on your PC or mobile.

ThinkFree Office Mobile - View/edit/create documents (in all these MS compatible formats: DOC/DOCX/DOT/DOTX/RTF/TXT/XLS/XLSX/CSV/PPT/PPTX/PPS/PPSX/POT/POTX) on the move and get 1GB to store them online. Also with a PDF viewer.

erkie.github.com - Useful for letting of steam. Destroy your favourite, or least-favourite, websites... asteroid style.

BitDefender Quickscan - Run a virus scan in your browser. Good for checking if your antivirus software might have missed something.

Panda ActivScan - Another free online antivirus checker that works with Windows 7 among others.

Academic templates - Microsoft office templates for teachers.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Worst job in the world...

...for me at any rate. I know some people love heights but this video of some broadcast engineers climbing a tower taller than The Empire State Building scares me. I have to do some jobs that trouble my vertigo, but if I had to do this I would have to quit. It also seems like they are not attached unless they are having a rest.

When you think he can't go any further, he just keeps going.

Overclocking android

I blogged about my new phone in a recent post here. Well some clever/crazy/geeky/brave (delete as appropriate) person has had a go at overclocking a Desire Z (G2 outside of UK) and the result is in the video below:


How to... DNS

Most of my posts concentrate on the work and education side of networking. However, I would just like to post a basic guide about home DNS.

Basically DNS tells your computer where to find the website it is looking for. This is usually done by your ISP. You may not know though that there are better alternatives. I will mention three of the most popular here, Clearcloud, Google Public DNS and, my personal favourite, OpenDNS. All of which are free to use.

Firstly, you may be asking why you might need to use a DNS service. One reason, without going into too much detail, is speed. The three DNS services I have mentioned have improved DNS lookup times as well as setting their services up to adequately handle the traffic from clients. This is done in many ways that there is not the room to go into here but includes load balancing, prefetching and securing the servers.

The second reason, and the reason I changed my DNS from my ISP, is that security holes tend to be patched quicker with the three services above than the DNS servers of some ISP's do. When somebody finds a security hole in DNS then can re-direct your requests wherever they like.

OpenDNS blocks phishing attacks using Phistank. The three also help prevent denial-of-service attacks, malware and other spoofing attempts. Clearcloud checks the website against a known blacklist before it delivers it to you, and seems to lead to no speed loss.

Another major benefit which some people don't realise is that some DNS services such as OpenDNS add content filters. So if you had children you could prevent them from seeing adult material using the DNS service. Or just specify your own level of filtering.

OpenDNS also has the added benefit of fixing typos, such as youtub.com when you meant youtube.com.

So how do you do it? Pretty simple really. Open the properties of your network adapter (Network Connections > Local Area Connection Properties > Internet Protocol Version 4).

In the box that says 'use the following DNS server address' enter the service you would like to use:

Clearcloud: and

Google: and

OpenDNS: and

Then restart the PC.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Changing fast

It was only a few weeks ago I mentioned there was talk of moving the staff over to Google Apps. In what seems like hardly any time at all, we are going ahead. IT staff will be moved over tomorrow as a 'trial run' before it goes live for everybody.

Partly motivated by money savings and partly by the size of the storage space and, hopefully, the possibility of less faults, I would be interested to hear other educational institution's experiences, not only with Google, but with the Microsoft Live@edu and any others that are out there.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Android 2.2

My new phone has arrived. I have been waiting for the HTC Desire Z to be available in the UK for a while now and here it is:

It is called the G2 in other parts of the world including the US but we already had a G2 over here which looked more like a Legend or a Hero.

I was looking forward to this phone for a number of reasons. Firstly because it has a slide-out keyboard, which I love. After using smart-phones in the past with them I now can't do without them (for blogging, emails etc). I was hoping I would not have to resort to getting a Motorola Milestone, which just seemed to be only okay to me.

Secondly it has Android 2.2 (froyo). So that means Adobe Flash 10.1 for all those flash websites and games. Having 2.2 also means it is super fast and it supports USB tethering and acts as a portbale hotspot. I also have a lot more room for installing apps and can move the apps to the SD card to free up even more space. The camera and 3G is better than what I had in my previous handset and the battery, memory and processor are a vast improvement.

As it has the new HTC Sense interface it also supports being backed up, locking, ringing and sending messages to from the internet in case you lose it. You can also turn on the GPS and find it on a map.

From a work point of view, we have an app that runs on android 2.0 and above (my previous phone had 1.6) that we are currently testing. This provides campus information, maps, updates, twitter feeds and so on which I am now involved in testing.

I also wanted to upgrade so I can create some apps myself for my job. We have a number of hours 'personal development' time to use to learn something new or go on some training courses. I am planning on creating some apps to control my desk phone (sending calls to my mobile and making internal calls using the desk phone) and logging in and out of the helpdesk remotely.

The plan is so that I can be in America and my boss can be in Australia, for example, and we call each other on android phones, both using our desk phones. So he doesn't see my personal number, I don't see his, and the call is using the work phones for billing, etc. We can then forward calls to the office, conference in someone from the office and access our voicemail.

I am downloading the SDK and java tools. I'll keep posting my progress.

Monday, 8 November 2010

More fibre

As I mentioned in a post here, I was going to show you the miles and miles of fibre cable we sell to our contractors for use with our new projects. Well we had a problem with the Virgin Media guest service where it is stored so while I was there I snapped some pictures on my phone.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Future cabling

One of the things we are currently discussing is whether to start to use cat6a cabling or whether to skip it and move straight onto cat7a when it becomes more affordable and widely used.

We have been looking at some of the cabling and other cat6a equipment and there are some pictures below. There is a picture of some shielded and unshielded cat 6a cable and some new connectors.

Cat6a is designed for 10Gigabit Ethernet. So for new buildings that are going in and will be used for years to come it is soon going to be a consideration so as to get the right size pathways and future-proofing. 10GbE NICs will be on the way.

From handling it cat6a feels less flexible but we have seen some interesting patch panel and socket designs to make the cabling tidier and to suit your needs. I would be interested to hear if anyone is using cat6a and what things you have come across when using it.

Friday, 5 November 2010

£1million each...

I was recently asked to do an audit of our cabinets for insurance purposes now we have upgraded most, if not all, to Cisco kit and got the Bay Networks stuff recycled as they went out of business in 1998.

Amazingly the total value came to £6,607,200 worth of kit. If we add on to this the access points, cabling, network sockets and phones we also support then the eight of us probably look after about £1,000,000 worth of kit each.

That is definitely getting brought up in my next staff review. Is a pay rise out of the question?