Monday, 23 December 2013

I don't usually do telephone vectors

A very busy day, and being one of only three staff who made it in I was landed with the scheduled jobs this morning. Now let me just say that all our voice and telephone specialists were off and the instructions and documentation they left consisted of the following sentenance (and nothing else): 'Change the opening hours on table 5 and 7 for the Students' Union box office and welcome desk'.

Well that's easy, the box office is closed...

However, when removing all the opening times from the service-hours-table and placing a test call you get a message saying your call will be answered shortly (then nothing).


Okay, no problem, let's look at the call routing...

Ahh, it looks at a holiday table. Yay! So... to get to the message saying the box office is closed, the closure dates need to be in the holiday table. No problem. So I will change the closure dates to reflect the days it is closed.

Test call... perfect, "The box office is now closed, please call back..." etc...etc

[A little later...]

Oh S**t

It seems, though, that some bright spark has decided to use the SAME HOLIDAY TABLE FOR EVERY VECTOR. That means changing the holiday table for one number, in this case the box office, also changes it for the University switchboard, the helpdesk, student services, registration, the welcome desk, and on and on...

So thanks to me large parts the University didn't receive any calls this morning (when, in the most part, it should be open until 6pm Christmas Eve).

Now I have created seperate holiday tables for different departments and phone lines so one can be closed while another is still open.

I'm not sure how it was supposed to work (no documentation). Do they usually keep people on hold until they realise nobody is going to answer the call on days when they are closed? In my opinion this is not good service and, fingers crossed, people ringing in should now get the correct messages for the correct services at the correct times.

Probably best if I stay off the voice system now until the University opens in the new year.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Transmit Power Control - Wireless tips (No. 1)

You may have seen on your enterprise access points that the power level can be moved up and down. You may also see, in most cases, that the power levels are numbered 1-7 or 1-8. So what do these numbers mean?

If you are using a controller-based solution, you will see something like the above screenshot in your access point settings. If you don't use a controller then these settings should be on your interfaces of your AP. At first glance you might take a look at that and go "hang on, is 1 the highest or is 7 the highest"?

The table below shows the meanings of the power level on our access points. The reason they are numbered like this is because you can have different maximum power levels in different countries, and setting the country code determines what it is, rather than vendor having to write a different config page for each country.

The dBm and mW conversions are much easier to work out if you remember the 3's and 10's rule. This rule simply states that:
  • Adding 3dBm doubles the power in mW
  • Removing 3dBm halves the power in mW
  • Adding 10dBm adds ten times the power in mW
  • Removing 10dBm removes ten times the power in mW
So you can see now, looking at the table, that as the power level drops one 'level' the transmit power goes down 3dBm and the mW of power is reduced by half.

As another example, if you were to reduce the power level from 20dBm to 10dBm (so you have removed 10dBm), you would have gone down to one-tenth the power in mW, 100mW to 10mW. This rule is especially handy when working out antenna gain.

So why would you want to reduce power?

Where do I start? There are a whole host of reasons, which mainly involve interference. Say you've got your AP on 'full whack' for best coverage and you're leaking onto the floors below in a shared building or into a neighbor's building. Firstly, that's not good etiquette, but say they have their own wireless network, and they have a protection mechanism that will send deauth packets to rogue AP's. Now they're going to kick all your users off your AP.

Now, if you have more than one AP. Say, for example, you are having a conference of 400 people. You're probably going to need more than the 3 x 2.4GHz channels you would normally deploy but the access points are all in the same room, so you're going to want to reduce the power to prevent the AP's interfering with each other.

My third example (I could go on) is, say you have an access point in a lecture theatre turned up too high, somebody who can authenticate with your network walks past outside. They are not using wireless, but have their device switched on. It automatically associates and now every device in the lecture theatre has to share airtime. Worse still, say the device connects using 802.11b. The protection mechanisms will be switched on and you have lost 50% of throughput (Source).

I hope this has given some idea about power settings on wireless access points.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Catch up

Well it's been 3 months since my last post and, inspired by my friend's posts about his days working in school, I thought it was about time I put something on the blog.

It's been a busy few months and one of the reasons is I have sat and passed my CWNA. I am now a certified wireless administrator, and as a result it seems I have a lot more responsibility at work... but not more pay sadly.

We also have a number of new buildings coming online at the same time and the usual departments moving over Christmas (and expecting the magical elves to come in when the University is closed and set up their machines, phones, faxes and so on to be ready for the day they return to work). As a result a few of us have been working weekends to get all the equipment set up and ready, but even then some of the timescales are ridiculous. Not sure how we are supposed to set stuff up when the sites are locked for Christmas (?).

Wireless access points going in the Graduate School

Over 30 switches going in 3 cabinets in the Grad School

75 IP phones to be deployed

As well as the Graduate School, that is due to be completed 6th January, we also have a training centre that should have been handed over already but is still not finished. We have two cabs in there we are waiting to be cleaned before installing a further 19 wireless access points, almost as many switches and media gateways.

We are upgrading our main student study building to gigabit port switches and will soon also be trialling 802.11ac in there. We have been reducing the number of patched ports and saving money on the amount of kit required and the power that is used. This has involved some early morning work to avoid disruption as best as we can (this is a 24 hours a day, 365 days a year open building).

The Student Union has just had a £20million refurbishment that involved installing two new data cabinets and wireless throughout. After numerous problems with contractors we may nearly be there on completing the install for this one.

That almost brings us up to date, with the exception of all the normal day to day faults and jobs going on. However, we had an 'interesting' day last week. When the Union's decided to call a strike so we were short of staff the students, as a sign of solidarity, decided to occupy one of the main buildings on campus, forcing all staff to relocate and causing us to urgently network empty buildings and providing phone services, laptops, PC's and wireless.

I was also informed that the project to install wireless 'everywhere' by summer 2015 was actually expected, by some of our department heads, to be completed by the start of the next academic year. September 2014. It will probably involve deploying around 2000 more access points, installing at least another 2 controllers and somehow finding the time to survey every room and space on campus over the next few months.

Well, at least they're keeping us busy. I wouldn't want to be bored.

Forgive me if, over the next term, I don't post as often as I would like. For more frequent updates I can be found on Twitter.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Found it!

Yep, a department moved out of a room and rather unhelpfully decided to pack the wireless up as they left. Never mind the fact that they only had one room and this access point provides wireless to everyone else in the building, or the fact that someone else will be moving in.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

DIY buffoons

One of our departments has expanded and purchased two further buildings. We were in the middle of planning how we were going to deliver voice and data services to these buildings when someone there said "our wireless isn't very good, it keeps dropping out".

Well I was surprised they could get wireless at all considering how far up the hill their building was. There was none of our kit yet installed.

No, he says, we have an access point outside our office.


After some investigation it seems someone has purchased some point to point wireless kit for £40 from ebay, been to another building and plugged one end in, then stuck the other end outside their office window...

...and expect us to support it when it doesn't work

Monday, 5 August 2013

Feedly Pro

As someone who follows a lot of blogs and has a number of different interests I really needed an aggregation service to keep track of new posts for me. After trying a number of RSS feed readers I found Google Reader did everything I wanted and more. But, as of 1st July 2013, Reader was no longer seen by Google as a project anybody wanted to work on.

I previously wrote about the demise of Google Reader and the alternatives I would be looking at here and here. I was extremely pleased to see the rapid improvements and tweaks the guys at Feedly were doing. Not only were they adding Google Reader-style 'views' and one-click migration to make the change seem more seamless, but migrating to their own back end as well. As they previously relied on Google's API I wasn't sure if they would be able to continue, or go the way of FeedDemon and be forced to shut themselves.

Feedly's user base tripled to 12,000,000 users at the end of May, proving that it was becoming one of the most popular options for people moving away from Google Reader. With free web, iOS and android apps it was easy to see why. I can only speak to the android app, but it is a delight to use, with gestures that make browsing, archiving, sharing and viewing easy and smooth.

This morning I arrived at work, poured my coffee, and opened up Feedly so that I could browse the news and a few articles in the 5 or 10 minutes before I was due to start work. I was greeted with a small banner saying that Feedly would be introducing Feedly Pro. I clicked on it. For $5 per month or $45 per year you could get additional features and help support Feedly to grow. Best of all, for the first 5000 users, you could get a lifetime plan for $99 (roughly £65).

This was something I had been expecting, with the massive numbers of users and speed of development it seemed inevitable Feedly must recoup some of the cost. Gladly it seems Feedly are continuing to offer the free service, just as it is, but you get extra benefits with the Pro version. This is a style of business I really support. I paid my $99 as I am happy to support such a good product and even if I don't ever need the 'Premium Support' I am pleased to contribute to the development of a good free service (if only more services were like that).

So, other than the premium support, what else do you get for £65?

Firstly, you get all your traffic over HTTPS. Secondly, you get article search so, if you are like me, and have hundreds of articles saved for that one day you may need a how-to on linux drivers or C++ for example, it is at your fingertips:

Another nice touch is the 'share to Evernote' button and it is good to see two of my essential applications working together. Once it is authorised to add articles to your Evernote account, when you click the button it will bring up a list of your notebooks for you to add the article too.

Not too much for £65, but I am sure with Feedly's success further features will be rolled out in the future, and to Pro users first.

As someone who doesn't like monthly subscriptions I probably wouldn't have bothered if the lifetime plan option had not been there (the free version is great and it is already add free). I don't know how many are still available but if you are interested take a look.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

802.11ac Macbooks

The Apple Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) has kicked off and one of the things I was keeping a lookout for was new WiFi developments to see how how it would affect our network.

It seems the Macbook Air's (here) have been given a refresh and now come with 802.11ac. You can also bet that the next iPhone will have it too. The HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4 are already released 802.11ac enabled handsets, but as the iPad drove the deployment of 'Wireless Everywhere' in our institution, Apple will likely be the driving force to upgrade to 802.11ac availability.

The goal of the 802.11ac standard is to provide data rates of 1Gbps on a single radio. It makes greater use of MIMO to achieve these rates and only uses the 5GHz band.

Why it is not time to deploy 802.11ac yet

We have had a few meetings with our suppliers and Cisco and discussed the 3600 access point. This AP was built with the ability to attach modules at a later date. One of the modules that was announced was the 802.11ac module. It slots in the back and screws down, leaving a slightly fatter access point.

Problem 1: You will need to change all your mounting brackets. As the AP is fatter with the module connected it will not fit on the standard AP bracket that comes with all your Cisco AP's. The new bracket will come with the module but, if you are like us, you have some AP's in some very hard to reach places.

Problem 2: Either upgrade switches or lose 2.4GHz. The AP can require 20 watts with all radios enabled. This means using PoE+ switches. If you turn off 2.4GHz on the AP then the requirement goes back to standard 802.3af 15.4 watts. So, in many you cases, you may need to choose to upgrade your infrastructure or lose features. Most of your clients are likely to be using 2.4GHz.

Problem 3: Cost. You may have the PoE+ switches already, you may have the 3602 models (if not, they are at the expensive end of Cisco's product range of between £600-£800), you may already be running Cisco software version 7.2 or later, and you may also be able to replace all the brackets without getting contractors involved. However, you will still need to spend around £320 on each module.

Problem 4: Planning. There is not a lot of planning and survey equipment that is able to carry out 802.11ac surveys. This makes installation decisions more difficult. At present the popular Fluke tools did not seem to have 802.11ac capability. Whether these can be updated via a module or a trade-in for a new model is not yet clear.

Problem 5: Two uplinks. Although I have mainly focussed on what we know from Cisco, some vendors may try to provide additional power by having two connections and help to achieve speeds beyond 1Gbps.

The next Cisco wireless products (possibly called a 4600) are likely to have 802.11ac built in. Hopefully this will be able to drive down the price and by then many institutions will be on one of the newer versions of wireless software.

From the non-enterprise perspective there are a number of Buffalo, Linksys and Netgear 802.11ac routers and adapters being released. A number of laptops and docking stations too are hitting the market. High-end smartphones too seem to be pushing the technology. It seems that ac will grow much faster than when 802.11n was announced and ratified, but we are not in a position to change everything just yet.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Don't Do This

We had a request come through about setting a phone extension up and then report that it wasn't working. When visiting the room it was discovered it had recently been refurbished... and they had this...

That's right! New trunking and sockets had been installed, and rather than cabling back to the data cabinet, the sockets have been cabled through the bottom of the trunking to a mini-switch stuck to the wall. Idiots!

Not only have they used inferior quality cables and added a network device without consulting with us, there is also the probability of multiple calls to fix problems where someone has turned the power off when they are not using it (as demonstrated today).

Added to this, the sockets are not labeled so you don't know which is which. One cable has a piece of electrical tape on it so I am guessing this is the uplink?

Another example of Estates departments trying to do things on the cheap rather than sticking to the IT spec.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Twitter Two-factor Authentication - a warning

Twitter has recently rolled out Two-Factor (or Two-Step) verification for logging into accounts. This is after a large number of high-profile hacks recently (BBC, The Telegraph, The Guardian. Financial Times), as well as many that didn't get lots of attention. A video about their implementation of 'login verification' can be seen on their blog here.

Why it might not work for teams

I am sceptical that this form of protection will do much for the companies that are targeted. Firstly, it requires having a mobile number set up on the account. How do multiple journalists in a company the size of the BBC, for example, post 24 hours from anywhere with only one mobile able to verify their identity? Many companies may choose to leave this new feature switched off to enable to teams to have continued access.

This is also due to the second problem they could face. Twitter only allows a mobile number to be associated to ONE Twitter username. So, again using the BBC example, there would need to be different mobiles (that you can't lose) for @BBCBreaking, @BBCNews, @BBCWorld, @BBCSport, @BBCworldservice, @BBCPolitics, etc etc etc.

Why it won't work for me

My mobile phone provider, EE, has the most subscribers in the UK (26.1million Dec 2012). Yet when I tried to enable login verification on my Twitter account EE was not an option, neither was T-mobile who they amalgamated with Orange.

Orange was on the list but, and here's the warning, if you try this when you are a new EE subscriber or formerly a T-mobile customer, rather than an EE-formerly-Orange-customer IT WON'T WORK AND YOU WILL BE LOCKED OUT OF YOUR ACCOUNT. Why this is, when Orange is part of EE, I don't know and there doesn't seem to be too much written about it on the web. For now I will just have to hope Twitter will work on and make a different authentication process available.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Google updates

It's been just over a week since Google I/O, the conference where traditionally a load of new Google products and services are announced. Since then I keep discovering lots of new little features in things like Google+, Play Music and Hangouts. Then today we got a major update to the Google Drive app. As a University that uses Google Apps we use Drive an awful lot so it was interesting to see what was in the update.

The first thing that caught my eye was the OCR. I previously used a separate app called CamScanner to take pictures of documents and use Optical Character Recognition to pick out words in them and make them searchable PDF's. Drive now has this functionality built in.

Also added is the ability to make a lot more changes to spreadsheets on the move. You can now make a number of changes to cells and fonts from the app.

As with all the recent Google product updates, the Drive layout has changed to a gridview (or card-view if you prefer). I have not been sold completely on the style changes on the whole. I still haven't got used to the new Google+ layout, you either have to hop around to read the posts in order or have most of the screen empty white space. The scrolling too can be annoying, especially when a bar keeps popping across the top the way annoying ads used to before pop-up blockers.

On the other hand it can be very clean and Google will want to unify the look across the product range. I thought the Google Now card style looked so tidy I even changed my work phone to mimic it (screenshot below - I also have cards for maps/navigation, calendar and weather).


A few other little annoyances are that the Hangouts app doesn't tell you who is online (the way Google Talk used to before Hangouts replaced it) and that the 'shuffle all' option has gone from Google Play Music. I think Play Music is an excellent product but it is annoying now having to 'queue' songs or just play from a pre-arranged or Google-defined list. I like the option of having a random selection from my collection.

I have replaced Google Reader with Feedly on my desktop and mobile. As it is being closed on 1st July. Since I first looked at Feedly I have seen a number of improvements and can recommend it highly. However, it does struggle sometimes finding feeds that Google Reader would add with ease.

A quite clever little addition I only recently noticed was in Google+, if you are sharing your location with someone, when they look at your profile and hover the cursor over your location, it changes their huge banner picture on their profile to a Google Map showing where they are. You can also see this information on mobile by scrolling left to the menu and then picking 'Locations'. This can then display all the people who are sharing their location data with you on a map.

Overly-attached-girlfriend's take note!

Monday, 29 April 2013

Too much kit (wasted switches)

When we kitted out one of our buildings we asked which network sockets they wanted making live. They wanted all of them so, believing they were going to use them all, we installed the necessary switches to accommodate this.

After looking at the switch logs it seems many, and in some cases most, ports are not actually getting used. So this weekend we went about rearranging the cabinets to recover what kit is being wasted.

The switches we removed piled up

Not only have we recovered £60,000 worth of switches that can be used elsewhere there is also a green saving in the amount of power being consumed. Added to this is the fact that the cabinets are tidier for us to make changes in.

Did I say tidier? Well, you should have seen it before. It's also been vacuumed!
6 switches removed and now down to 5 in this cab.

The green cables in the picture above are also coming out soon as these are our voice lines and we will soon move the building to IP telephony.

Typically, I still had a complaint from someone who rolled in at 2.30pm on a Saturday who wasn't happy they couldn't work (despite the fact that we gave notice and cleared the work with all the departments - and we have a dedicated 24 hour, 365 day a year building with all the facilities for working you would need). I wonder if we did the work overnight would we would still get complaints? We probably would.

We plan on recovering switches in a number of our buildings and then we can replace the older kit with these PoE switches which will help with rolling out more IP telephony and wireless. As I mentioned, it should also help with the University's green initiatives by reducing the amount of kit switched on and replacing the older, less efficient models.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Biggest Stadium Wireless Development

The San Francisco 49ers NFL team have announced plans to build the biggest stadium wireless network so far (source here).

Set to open for the 2014 season the 49ers goal is to support connections for all 68,500 fans simultaneously. The stadium could have anywhere up to 1500 access points, their senior IT Director said.

The 2013 Superbowl had up to 30,000 simultaneous wireless connections during the game (source) and traffic totalled more than 360GB.

It will be interesting to see what technology they use to deploy the network (with 802.11ac and 802.11ad device starting to arrive with high potential throughput). It is said to have a terabit capacity to support all the connections.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

What is it?

Took me a while to work out what it was, but this is probably the most original (and kookiest) android desktop/launcher I have seen:

Source: androidpolice

Monday, 18 March 2013

Google Reader Alternatives

Looking for an alternative to Google Reader, that is being closed in the summer, I have come across three possibilities so far. All have their pro's and con's.

Note: I am immediately discounting the likes of Pulse, Flipboard, Currents etc, as I am looking for a direct replacement for Google Reader and not a tiled aggregation service that puts content it thinks you will enjoy at the top.

Feedly can provide the feeds in the form of tiles (like Pulse, Flipboard, etc) but also has a number of different layout options, including the layout in the screenshot above that looks familiar to Reader users. It also has the ability to share content.

Multiplatform (android, iOS, desktop)

Currently uses Google Reader for synchronisation (as does FeedDemon that has decided to call it a day)

Another similar interface to Google Reader. You can star and share stories like you could on Google Reader and also change the layout or get rid of pictures. There are free and premium account options.

Multiplatform (android, iOS, desktop)

The android app is, according to the reviews, awful and often doesn't work:

The free version only allows 10 articles at a time and 64 subscriptions
Free accounts are currently not available due to high demand
Text-only previews is a premium feature
You have to provide a credit card to sign up

Currently in beta, The Old Reader is a project designed to work like Google Reader used to. You can log in via Google or Facebook.

Most like Google Reader

No mobile apps
Will be introducing paid accounts for full features in the future (link).

I am not sold on any of the three so far. Others I have been looking at all seem to use Google Reader to do the work with syncing and aggregation, so many of them may disappear the same time that Reader does. What would be ideal is an amalgamation of the three.

I was very tempted to pay for Newsblur, but all the recent reviews for the app on my portable devices say that it doesn't work, it force closes, crashes or just displays a black screen. I would need the premium version as I have so many feeds, but I am not going to pay if the android version does not work.

The Old Reader looks to work just as I would want it to on the desktop and works most like Google Reader. However, there is currently no mobile app which, with so many feeds, is how I keep up to date with most of the news.

Feedly, then, seems to be the pick of the bunch, but hopefully they will make their own engine (and that it works well) before the Google Reader switch off.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Goodbye old friend

Anyone logging into to Google Reader from yesterday will have seen the message above reporting that Google Reader will shortly no longer be available. This is a great shame in my opinion as it was one, if not the only, app I used just about everyday on mobile and visited most often online.

You may have seen the Google blog post entitled 'The Second Spring of Cleaning', in which Google states that "...over the years usage has declined. So, on July 1, 2013, we will retire Google Reader. Users and developers interested in RSS alternatives can export their data, including their subscriptions, with Google Takeout over the course of the next four months".

If usage has declined then it still seemed to be doing pretty well. The android app was pulled from the Play store yesterday too, but I was able to  take a look at how many people downloaded it. It was listed between 1,000,000 and 5,000,000. It also had an average rating of 4.2 out of 5.

With regards to the web version, I can only speak of myself, but I found it an invaluable way to organise over 120 subscriptions.
I know not everyone shares my disappointment. There was a lot of comments on Twitter yesterday from people saying that they use Pulse or Flipboard, for example, so they don't see what all the fuss is about. Both applications are good examples of what they do, but for me they present two problems.

First of all, they don't do the job I want on the desktop. Flipboard is only available in android and iOS varieties, while Pulse, which can be read on the desktop, displays a mash-up of tiles rather than a clean, ordered list of articles...and things were so much easier to find in Reader.

Secondly, I follow a huge number of blogs, both work-related and of personal interest. Some people might only post once in 6 months, while others would post 10-15 times a day. Google Reader was great at keeping these organised with unread counts, folders, labels, ability to rename feeds, star them, etc. It was clean and organised. It was also capable of group editing your feeds the same way Gmail can change the labels, status and location of any number of emails. You never felt you were bombarded with information that you had to sort through to find what you were looking for, or that you would miss something, perhaps an important instruction manual related to changes at work, because it was buried by a hundred other posts that went up when you went to sleep.

I would need a solution that could sync read, unread (and labels or 'starred') articles across platforms (without looking at your Google Reader account to do the job).

For many years Google provided this excellent free service and they should be thanked for that.They see the company going in a different direction, perhaps moving people from Reader to Google+ projects in the hopes of toppling Faceboook's crown? Despite the introduction of communities though, I can't ever see Google+, or any social media for that matter, replacing the RSS reader. There is just too much information to sort through, your hands would seize up with the endless scrolling before you had read them all, or sorted through them to read later.

I know there are other RSS readers out there*, I have tried many of them in the past. I went with Google Reader because it did the best job of meeting my needs. It worked on my Windows and Linux machines as well as my iOS and portable android devices. So, yes, I will be very sorry to see it go and will spend the next few months trying to find an adequate replacement. Hopefully, I will be able to keep up with everyone and every site that is currently important to me and my work.

*It seems Newsblur, that do support web, android and iOS, have suspended their free accounts (probably because of the influx of new users. Anyway, they only supported up to 64 feeds in the free version).

If anyone knows of a good (and free?) cross-platform replacement let me know.

Goodbye Google Reader 2005-2013.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Worth a weekend - The best Geek TV boxsets

I finished watching the Battlestar Galactica prequel, Blood & Chrome, this morning. It wasn't bad, but afterwards I was left with the memory of how truly great the 'noughties' version of Battlestar was. I decided I would compile a list of the best geeky boxsets to while away a weekend on.

I like lists. So, in no particular order:

Battlestar Galactica

Frak! That's a good looking toaster!

The Cylons are robots (or 'toasters'), created by the humans of the Twelve Colonies, who then turned on their creators and started a war. The war ended in a stalemate and truce but, 40 years later, the Cylons came back with 'suicide bombers' in human form. They destroyed all the planets and anyone on them, leaving just the people who were aboard starships to make an escape. The soon-to-be decommissioned Galactica is now responsible for protecting the last remaining members of the human race.

If I had a spare 50 or 60 hours, this is one box set I would like to watch again. Another good point, despite it being an American show, it has an ending. It doesn't just get cancelled while the story is ongoing or with a cliff hanger ending (see V, Invasion, Tru Calling, Pushing Dasies, 4400)

The X-Files

Mulder strong! Lift torch high, grr!

I can't believe there are people who haven't seen the X-files, but those that have may have forgotten how truly great it used to be (partly thanks to a couple of terrible final series' and mediocre films).

A creepy, outcast, UFO 'nut' who works for the FBI gets a new partner who, originally it seems, has been hired to refute and debunk his work on the 'X-Files', a series of unsolved cases that could contain paranormal or extraterrestrial phenomena.

Some of these episodes were fantastic. Gripping and suspense-filled and didn't feel over the top or silly.

I was reminded to include this show by the wonderful posts of Jennifer Cates over at Den of Geek who has been re-watching The X-Files from the pilot episode, and can write about it much better than I can. Those early episodes like 'Squeeze' are still fresh in the memory and fondly thought of. Her reviews can be found here. If you decide to have a weekend X-Files-a-thon though, I will forgive you for stopping after series 7.


We picked this table despite 
it only having three chairs

It is quite appropriate that this should follow The X-Files in the list as, to me anyway, this is The X-Files of the 21st Century. It follows the X-Files formula of 'Monster-A-Week' style combined with a story arc that flows through it at the same time, leading to stand-alone or mythology-based episodes.

Again the main characters are working for a almost-secret subdivision of the FBI. Instead of aliens, however, the unknown threats often arrive in the shape of time-travellers, genetic or psychological experimentation and parallel worlds.

Unlike the first two in this list, Fringe is still going, but with the final series soon to be released.


Quick! I think I see Harry Styles

Sherlock Holmes in a contemporary setting (a theme recently copied in America with Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu), this time he has access to the internet and GPS while Watson has returned from Afghanistan. Smart writing and story telling. Despite being adapted from Conan Doyle's originals you still don't always know where or how it's going to go.


Look, wings! B*tches love wings

Probably one of my two favourite current shows (with Sons of Anarchy being the other), not really that 'geeky', but Dexter does work in a forensic lab so it does...because I said so.

Who'd have thought you would root for a serial killer? Great writing means you do.


Pull stupid

What Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost did before Shaun of The Dead.  You sure know it was going to be 'geeky'. With references from Star Wars, The Matrix and Close Encounters... to name but a few, it had to be included didn't it?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer & Tru Calling

Before I go vampire hunting I make sure 
I put on my lipstick and makeup

I have put these two together on the list because they are both guilty pleasures. A guy in his thirties probably shouldn't like these shows, but I do.

It is easy to forget now that there weren't a lot (or any?) vampire shows about at the time Buffy started. In a post-Twilight world they are everywhere, but few have as many cute and funny moments as Buffy does. Episodes such as 'The Body' were genuinely poignant, while 'Hush' was a gripping, funny and scary take on Fairy Tales. Plus, if you plough through the series box sets, you will find it has a satisfactory conclusion. A proper ending.

If you settle down with Tru Calling on the other hand, be warned you will find it was cancelled on a cliffhanger ending. If you missed the stories of Tru Davies it also stars Eliza Dushku, this time as a medical student having to work in a morgue to cover her student fees. She finds out after coming into contact with a body that she can re-live the day and she ends up trying to prevent them from ending up on the slab.


Eww. Why is the floor wet?

Future, space travel, inventions, robots. I know, another show that has gone downhill recently, but I challenge anyone not to get emotional at the 'Jurrasic Bark' episode.


Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Wireless update

Just an update if you have been following our wireless rollout this year.

We have had over nine thousand authenticated clients using our wireless network simultaneously every day so far this week.

This is 80% up on the same time last year and 200 devices higher than our previous peak.

So far it seems to be going well, only seen one complaint recently. The main problem seems to be the time it takes to get even more of the campus and residences covered. We can survey a site and put in the cable routes and drawings, but it is getting held up with the buildings and estates departments while they allow the work to be done. I had a user, who is quite senior in one of the departments still waiting, offer to 'kick someone's ass' yesterday.

I will see if it makes any difference.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Best of PS3 Exclusives

I have had a bit of time to get back on my PS3 lately and with a big Sony announcement tomorrow (PS4?) I was thinking about the best Playstation-only titles I own.

3. Resistance 3

The first instalment was a cracking game, the second wasn't quite as fulfilling. So far, part 3 looks like it might be the best of the bunch.

2. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

Fantastic set-pieces and action, fun script and great gaming. Lara Croft, Indiana Jones and Jason Bourne rolled into one.

1. Heavy Rain

When I started the game I really wasn't sure it was going to work. However, this ended up being the most innovative, surprising and unique game I have played. Coupled with great story telling and many different ways the story can end depending on the choices you make and how well you do at the tasks in front of you makes this my number one.

Honourable mentions: Everybody's Golf World Tour (a fun game you can pick up and put down whenever you have a few minutes), Infamous (Big, open, interesting title where you obtain superpowers and can choose how good or bad you are going to be), Uncharted: Drake's Fortune and Uncharted: Drake's Deception (wonderful games, although I haven't completed the third instalment yet)

Monday, 18 February 2013

Check with the network team

This is why the University should always check with the networking guys before doing any work.

We noticed on our monitoring equipment that we lost connection to a number of properties over the weekend and help desk started receiving a fair few calls. So, after going up and having a look, checking the fibre at both ends, power, the switch and router, as well as the cabling, it seemed the problem was in the middle somewhere...

... then we find a number of properties having asbestos works done between the router and our students/staff accommodation. We got into the basement safely, where our comms cabinet is, and pointed out which cable was the fibre. After a brief chat with each other they said "yeah...we cut all them".

Turns out they were told they could cut everything in that room. Not, their fault, they were just doing what they were told and needed to in order to get the area clean. Trouble is, now we need a new fibre and have some very angry residents.

We also had no idea it was happening, so no chance to get a plan in place to offer solutions or warning to the people involved.

Estates departments should really check before deciding what to tell people to cut and what not to.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Would you carry your PC around with you?

This is a picture of what Fox News calls a 'thumbtop' computer. It is rumoured to be a $50 computer that you can take anywhere with you and its power comes from the monitor. It will connect to a keyboard and mouse wirelessly and run Chrome OS.

You can read the full article here: Fox News

After the popularity of the Rasberry Pi it was probably inevitable that a big company would manufacture a small, cheap machine running a Linux-based OS.

So, would you use one?

Monday, 11 February 2013

The leaning cabinet of the CH

Isn't it always the case, when you take over from someone they leave everything in a right mess?

I have spent hours updating the documentation on the wireless network and trying to bring it all together. In doing so I found a cable plan of an access point we had put in for staff in the Children's Hospital, but there was no record of it on the cab layout, hardware database or wireless database. So I went to investigate.

I found the access point, sat there quite happily, for possibly over a year, with no lights on... no power.

It turns out no PoE switch was ever installed to power the AP and it wasn't patched or set up on the system. I guess it is lucky no one has complained, but if they had we would have found the problem. If I hadn't have been backing up and digitising our records then I don't know how long it would have been sat there.

However, I don't think that was the most shocking thing I found. When venturing into the area where the cabinet is I found the cabinet was being held up by a piece of wire.

There were no screws in the bottom holding it in place.

Basically you touched it and it would move. The piece of wire was stopping it falling down or falling on top of you.

Why, for years, people have thought this was acceptable I don't know.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Time saving on surveys

We have recently purchased a great little helper to speed up the time it takes to do wireless surveys.

Rather than going from room to room and taking the time to keep booting it up, we now have a portable power supply with an 8 hour battery life.

We had used extension leads too, but when the building is enormous you still have to keep plugging it back in. Now, as you can see from the size, we can turn it on at the start and stick it anywhere.

The supply is from Terrawave and provides 802.3af PoE to the access point via an RJ45 port. It was around £100. We have mounted the bracket on top and can swap the bracket for different models of AP.

This will also be good for buildings where they are still building sites and there is no power sockets live at the time of the survey.

3502 surveys

As the 1142 (in the picture above) is no longer available we have been recommended the 3502i as it works with our WiSM 1's. However, there doesn't seem to be an autonomous mode for this AP in order to do surveys. One thing we might try is putting it in H-REAP mode after it has been joined to a controller and setting a static address. We have got to get some in first to give it a try. I've got a conference call with the suppliers and network team next week.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Walter Cronkite in the Home Office of 2001 (1967)

A different screen for everything? Dude, you can fit it all on one screen and put it in your pocket.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Show me the [wireless] money

If you have been reading my blog posts this academic year you will find a lot more of the posts are about our wireless network. This is due to the fact my role has evolved into almost completely a wireless networks dominated one. Mainly only because I was the only one who knew a bit about the network and how it worked when the main wireless guy left, but also because in this term just gone wireless demand has exploded.

This isn't necessarily a bad place to be in. Yes, there is lots of work to do, but hopefully all this work and extra importance will lead to a better position and more training. Fingers crossed.

Whether it is the popularity of the iPad (or tablets in general?) or ultra-light, ultra-thin laptops and netbooks that have no ethernet port like the Macbook Air, we have seen student wireless traffic outweigh wired traffic by 2:1 (numbers here).

We also have over 8000 simultaneous wireless connections during a day (compared to 1000-2000 last year) and over this academic year we have had over 72000 unique mac addresses connect to the educational wireless service (called eduroam).

Still though it is not enough, we have a number of requests coming in saying:

"When are you going to get the whole campus covered?"

"When am I going to get wireless in my office? I need it, I've got an iPad"

Well, my boss has got a meeting with the new director next week so we have been putting some numbers together to see what it would take to roll out wireless everywhere on campus. It looks like we would need approximately 969 more access points. Then there is the fact we need at least 300 new switches as many don't have PoE ports, the cabling, sockets, asbestos abatement, upgrade of cabinets etc. This has led us to a figure of about £5,000,000.00, but...

Houston, we have a problem...

We can no longer purchase the model of access point we have deployed EVERYWHERE as it apparently interferes with the French weather survey equipment. We are told there are no more Cisco 1142s in the country, and the access points we have been recommended by our suppliers, the 1602 and the 2602, don't work with our WiSM 1's as they are EOL and we need to upgrade to the WiSM 2.

We haven't got a price yet, but we think these will be about £15,000 each. Not including all the new licences we need. Then there is the time it will take to upgrade the core and migrate all 1400 existing access points across.

There are a couple of alternatives we could have for our WiSM 1's (1262 and 3502), but these, as far as we can tell, won't have modules to support 802.11ac , which could be ratified by the end of November this year.

So either way we will be having to swap everything out sooner or later, or as soon as Apple starts using 802.11ac (rumoured to be a deal with Broadcom for their 2013 new line up).

Maybe we should ask for something more like £10,000,000 over the next few years?