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You know how everyone’s a computer expert now?  They all know all the answers, ‘it’s the software’, ‘you need more memory’, ‘Macs/Windows/Dell/HP/whatever are crap, you should get a Mac/Windows PC/Dell/HP/whatever’.  As an IT professional stuff like this is annoying enough when its other techs saying it, when everyone else chimes in based on something they heard from some bloke in the pub the general result is said IT tech goes and finds a quiet corner to sit and cry in. Why exactly?  Because aside from the fact that these judgements are often just plain wrong, they regularly suffer from the usual problems of a collection of opinions of blokes in the pub.

They probably know less about IT than you do.

Or, if they do know about IT they are talking about a specific case and not in general terms.  More RAM will not solve every PC problem, one fault does not necessarily make a particular software package useless and (this is a big one) Mac/Windows/HP/Dell/whatever are not the without flaws, and they are not completely useless.  Companies don’t tend to survive very long if they are.

As a general rule, expressing your opinion of what the problem could be with your PC while the office tech is working on it should (if we were allowed) be met with a response somewhere along the lines of  ’If your such an expert why did you call me?  Fix it yourself then.’ unfortunately things like that are not considered good customer service so we smile sweetly and carry on regardless.  Please try to remember that we’re here to help and we are very unlikely to try and tell you how to do your job, so you telling us how to do ours is less than helpful.

Users at my current job have started using a new ploy to annoy the hell out of me, despite keeping them informed of progress and working hard to resolve their problem some have decided that faster results can be gained by emailing upper management with there problems.  This is more annoying than being told how to do my job, this is actually offensive to me.  Particularly as the normal tone of these emails seems to suggest that the IT department have access to a vast store of hidden funds which could be used to replace every PC and server twice over without having any effect on the companies bottom line.

Attitudes like this are what make me consider careers a long way away from IT, truth is though that none of those careers actually has much potential to earn me big money straight away so I’d have to make sure I got my hands on a fairly solid cardboard box to live in till they did….

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Many (if not all) of you will know by now that the Digital Economy Bill successfully made it through the House of Commons last week, the general consensus seems to be that this was a hell of a rushed job for a highly contentious piece of legislation.  I’d have to agree, although I do applaud the aim of the bill (to stamp out digital piracy) the execution suffers from the same lack of knowledge and bad planning of a large amount of regulation in regards to computing and the internet.

The major problem is the absolute faith the government seems to have that everyone knows whats going on on there own network, in the coporate world this should be true.  If an IT team can’t manage to secure their network in such a way as to stop copyright infringement then the company in question needs to find a new IT team.  Home users however are a different story, many don’t care (let alone understand) about securing their network.  Wireless networks are left with default passwords or weak encryption because the people who set them up are focussed on getting it working fast not on getting it working right.  These people are now at risk, with no proper security and no logging of activity they are going to potentially find themselves cut off by their broadband provider following a court order for a crime they didn’t commit.

Attacking the pirates themselves is the only way to have any effect on the rampant piracy that takes place day in day out all over the internet but it needs to be dealt with in a way that doesn’t put the innocent among us at undue risk.  The Digital Economy Bill appears to be written in a way which flies in the face of hundreds of years of British policy on law and order: Innocent Until Proven Guilty.  It will also have very little effect on those who are guilty, many of them are smart enough to use technology to hide their activities from basic monitoring and any deeper monitoring of traffic can and should be taken as an infringement of civil liberties.

Oh and for those who defend piracy by claiming it causes no harm because ‘I wouldn’t have bought it anyway’ please, grow up and take a look at what you are causing.  It doesn’t matter that you wouldn’t have bought it, that excuse wouldn’t work if you stole a car it certainly won’t work if your stealing software, music or movies.  Your actions cause reactions like the debill, you have attacked peoples livelihoods and their bottom line, they are fighting back.  Thanks, now we’re all screwed.

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So, I’m working on upgrading my home PC largely for the purpose of running virtual machines for Labs on it.  An old socket 939 AMD dual core with 2GB of RAM just isn’t going to cut it.  The problem is I’m hampered by a serious funding crisis, what with rent and bills my spare funds each month are limited and saving is proving challenging.

Various websites suggest ways for IT pros to make a bit of extra cash but in order to raise significant funds you have to invest pretty much the same amount of time as you do in your full-time job, this of course seems to leave me with only two options, get a pay rise (unlikely) or find a new higher paid job (challenging in this economy).  The other option is to find a killer idea that I can turn into my own money making business and considering the best one I have at the moment is this place which hardly sees any traffic and most of that is by accident I need to do something drastic to give my self the healthy bank balance I’m looking for.

the difficulty in regards to the job search is the catch 22 situation it creates, I need the better PC to allow me to study for certifications which would help me get a better job but I can’t build the PC until I’ve got the money which comes from having a better job….

The long game may work in regards to this little site however, page views are slowly on the up and I’m more which can only help.  better would probably be th next stage!

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As anyone with any knowledge of physics knows energy can never be destroyed, this presents a problem for those of us working in the wonderful world of IT.  Computers use energy and then that energy is left hanging around as heat, obviously this heat has to be dissapated somehow.  For a common desktop this task is performed by a combination of heatsinks and fans, in the realm of the server things become a little more challenging…

For a start, servers are normally in a rack, in a room all on their own, rack servers have a lot less free space inside them for air to move so the chassis itself contains a fantastic brute force collection of fans sucking in at the front and pushing hot air out at the rear.  Great right?  But where does this heat go when its left the server?  In a well configured its sucked out by some sort of air conditioning system whilst is blown in by the same system.

This of course is in a well configured system, in the IT room that its currently my task to maintain the process of keeping the servers cool involves an inadequate air con unit, 2 floor standing fans and a portable air conditioning unit.  This is because the people who put it in failled to communicate at all and so now rather than out IT room running at a relatively chilly 19 degrees its a far warmer 34.  Thus pushing the temperature of the servers up and resulting i the newest addition to our server rack overheating and shutting down 5 times in the past week.

Discussions are currently on going on the subject of replacing the current air conditioning unit but until those discussions reach some kind of conclusion every so often I have no other choice but to swear, walk into the room and hit the reset button.  This is followed by a 15 minute wait as first the hypervisor reboots and then the 6 virtual machines power on.

The upside to this is I have made some overtime cash out of it…

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Yes the old saying ‘its what you do with it that counts’ can be applied to many things, particularly in IT.  Thanks to bare metal hypervisors its now possible to run your entire IT infrastructure on a much smaller collection of hardware than was previously necessary.  Mobile phones can now perform many of the functions which previously required a fully fledged PC.  The relentless march of technology is focussed on power efficient processing.

All this means very little to me at the moment unfortunately because buried under a pile of UBE (Unsolicited or Useless Bloody Email depending on your mindset) more commonly known as SPAM.  Recent statistics put the level of spam currently being pumped out at somewhere around 80% of email traffic, 80% of all email currently flying around the net is totally useless and bloody annoying.  My companies current approach to this massive mountain of crap is…..

…. to place the most weakass, difficult to manage, leaky as all hell between the outside world and our mailserver.

On most days we may as well turn the damn thing off.

I have made my case for a replacement filter appliance, a dedicated machine with 24 hour support and a nice easy to use web interface and I’ve been ignored, so yesterday I put some figures together.  I’ve lost the link now but somewhere on http://www.wikipedia.org/ someone gave information from a 2001 study which put the cost of a to the recipient at somewhere around $0.10 (7p) so with this figure in mind I ran through the stats I had gathered and worked out a rough cost per year to my company of the amount of spam which currently makes it past our and has to be dealt with by a member of staff.  Even I was surprised by the answer:

£31000

31 grand wasted because the company won’t spend £3/4000 on a spam appliance that actually works.

The cost to those sending it out is probably about 10p.

I’ve made my case (again) and I’ll see whether a) anything actually happens and b) I get any credit for it (like perhaps some of that 31 grand being added to my pay packet).

Next I’ll see if I can find a good enough business reason for the company to buy my new home PC.

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IT staff as a general rule suffer from a lack of appreciation by their colleagues when things are working right, this is something that anyone working in a support role has to get used too but its a fairly bitter pill to swallow.  What makes it harder to deal with of course is the level of abuse you take when things go wrong.

A lot of this comes from the fact that many employees and businesses don’t tend to ‘notice’ IT when everything is fully functional, its like not really being aware of the water pipes at home until you turn on the tap and nothing comes out. Its just there. As long as it works it seems unimportant, when it breaks you realise how vital it is. This perception of IT isn’t particularly likely to change, IT now affects every aspect of our lives which results in a certain amount of blindness to its existence. This isn’t something that ‘society’ can really be blamed for, IT professionals have brought it on themselves. We’ve done so much to make IT seamlessly integrate itself into peoples lives its no surprise that it no longer registers on peoples radar until it breaks.

None of this makes any difference to the average IT pro of course, the moment users start clamouring for help because this or that ‘is broken’ we find ourselves seriously wondering where exactly all these people were when we keep things running while the rest of the world fell apart. Where was the praise when IT kept the company working with employees trapped in their homes by snow and ice still able to get on with their working day? The truth is, its not coming, we will forever be the unsung heroes of the corporate world. The mysterious figures who swoop in when the whole thing goes to hell in a hand basket and pick up the pieces putting companies back on their feet.

Its a tough job, but we’ll keep doing it because every now and then, usually when you least expect it someone will walk past your desk and say “thanks for your help, you guys do a really good job”.

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OK….  So its been a while.  Again.

Since the end of August I’ve been busy though, and so has this sites other contributor who has gone from being a trainee teacher to an NQT in her first full time teaching job with Ofsted showing up to inspect the school with very little notice.  We’ve moved into our own little pad and are currently surrounded by cardboard boxes as we try and organise to look like a home rather than a warehouse.

But thats not what your here for, if you’ve stumbled across this it’ll likely be because of the word ‘IT ’ in the subject line so my home and love life will be as interesting to you as watching paint dry (unless thats how you get your kicks of course).  Lets get down to it, the life of an IT is periods of intense boredom followed by extreme pressure and a jobs list full o f criticals (a lot like life generally) the trick as a good is to make sure you can deal with the criticals efficiently with minimal impact to your users.

continue reading…

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The last time you heard from me was back in March when I’d just passed the CompTIA A+ Essentials exam, in the months since I’ve added the A+ IT exam to the collection making me officially CompTIA A+ certified an I’m working hard on the Network+ (using the new 2009 objectives so woohoo! no in depth knowledge of Token Ring required!).

Apart from that I’m expanding my programming skill set to further aid with IT projects here at work (namely our shiny new intranet) and otherwise expanding my IT knowledge.  I’ve also become an AMBCS (Associate Member of the British Computer Society in case you didn’t know) so some nice new letters after my name :)

What else do I have to say after 5 months absence?

I’ve become increasingly frustrated by peoples fire and forget attitude to emails, a huge number of users around the globe appear to be under the impression that emails are totally fail safe, I’m here to tell you this is a long way from the truth.  Between your mail server and that of your recipient there’s a thousand and one different things which can stop your email getting through, quite apart from spam filters and addresses typos every email you send has to pass through a number of different points along its route any of which can fail and stop your email in its tracks.

Lets illustrate the point a little, between my companies offices and the hosting centre where our website sits there are 8 ‘hops’ each hop is a router which handles passing information on to the next step along the route to the destination server.  If any of these hops goes down then the route has to be renegoitiated to get round the break.  This 8 hop route covers a distance of all of about 30 miles by the way.

So lets look at the relative separation between hotmails servers and our mail server here, a much greater geographical distance with even more points of failure.  You see, its a miracle your emails arrive anywhere you actually intend them to.  So the next time someone says no when you ask if they received your email, think before you reply because its entirely likely the reason it didn’t is nothing to do with either of you and is actually because of a faulty step along the way.

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Those of you who have been really paying attention will have spotted an interesting little titbit in my twitter updates, you see last week I passed the wonders of the CompTIA A+ Essentials exam.  This brings me one step close to having a concrete record of my IT skills, not bad when its been your job for 3 years.

 

continue reading…

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I’m still thinking through the consequences of a staff briefing at work yesterday which contained mention of two of the most unpleasant terms you can hear in your working life, redundancy and pay cut. We are officially feeling the effects of the economic hole that British banks have dug for us, which is unsurprising when you think about it most of our clients are retired and living off investment income which means they’ve just seen that income slashed by the massive drop in interest rates. Along with this the falling value of the pound has pushed costs up significantly, particularly in Europe.

All this leads to a situation which many working here have never really experienced, in any real sense money hasn’t been too much of a worry for the younger generation and as a result our definition of ‘essential purchase’ is now being found to be flawed. So its time to cut costs both at work and at home, at work this is difficult, IT purchases are already only made when necessary for business functions rather than going for the nice to haves. At home on the other hand things are a little easier, WoW is gone, dad can foot the bill for the Napster subscription because he uses it more than me at the moment anyway and my subscription to CustomPC will be coming to an end. The three regular payments that will hang around are this web space (£5 a month I think I can swallow), my car and its associated bits and bobs (because frankly at the moment it would probably cost me more to get rid of it than keep it) and my mobile (without which I’d actually find it difficult to communicate with the outside world). All these will help reduce the outgoings but I’ll also be looking to increase the incomings which hopefully will include the money for the design and construction of a website for the playschool where Funkymonarch’s mum works.

Aside from all this I really need to sit and think about what my options for the future are and precisely where I’m going with my (work) life, do I stay in IT or is now the time to consider other possible career choices? Is now the wrong time to be considering a massive change in direction? A whole myriad of factors will go into making these decisions and the upshot of it all I don’t even know yet, what ever happens interesting times are ahead.

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