Silence is golden…

As you will see things have been extreemly quiet of late.  Due to some personal stuff that was happening throughout May/June I had to focus my attention elsewhere for a while, then of course we have had the kids summer holidays which is always great.  You get to see the kids more but then after about……2 hours you wish they were back at school and you can clearly remember why you hate the summer holidays!

We have also just returned from a weeks holiday in France which I have to say was an enlightening experience.  It is some years now since I travelled abroad so I was a little green about these things but I knew all the normal stuff that was required (passport, GB plates etc).  However, being a devout techy I had to take some essentials to ensure that I didn’t loose connection with the world.  First stop was with T-Mobile to see what it was going to cost me in terms of mobile phone calls, should clients need me then I want to know how much it will cost me and also to ensure that it was enabled for "roaming".  I was told that it was indeed enabled for "roaming" and to make a call back to the UK would cost me "38p per minute" and to receive a call would cost "19p per minute", not too bad however I was then told that I would also be charged "19p per minute" for someone to leave a message and then "38p per minute" to collect them!!  Not too much of a piss take.  I then asked what the rates were for data usage while abroad…this just go better again.  I was told that it was much cheaper than it used to be as previously it cost £7.00 per MB but now it was only £1.60 per MB.  Now obviously the young lady that I was speaking to but I am afraid that I do not agree I mean come on, on one hand we are told that we are part of the EU, the European Union, but all that goes out then window when the mobile companies have the opportunity at a pound of flesh.  Needless to say I decided to see how much the Wi-Fi would cost on site.  During the ferry crossing my mobile picked up a network called "On-waves" which is the maritime network between then English and Franch coast, what a fantastic service.  However, when my mobile joined the network I was greeted with the following message:

Welcome to Maritime.It will cost you /min to make and /min to receive calls here.  You can send a text for 40p a message and a picture message for 20p. To speak to T-Mobile Customer Services call +44XXXXXXXXXX from your mobile.

Now this was a nice message to get however it failed to provide a clue as to the cost of calls on this network.  However, on my HTC TyTn which has a T-Mobile 3G data only sim inserted I received the following message:

You have latched onto a maritime network.  Please note making and receiving calls are charged at £1.80/min from this network.

Slightly more dramatic costs for calling, I mean come on £1.80 per minute to make or receive a call you might as well just butter me up and stick it to me!!!  Once in france another SMS was received confirming that call costs that I had already been notified of prior to leaving.  Once we were at the site it transpired that Wi-Fi usage is charged at 8€ per hour which I just wasn’t prepared to pay, I mean it just doesn’t cost that much to buy it so I ended up spending the week with no Internet access whatsoever which was really quite surreal but oddly pleasant.  Some would call me a tight git but I refuse to pay unreasonable rates for services such as this, what do you think?

 

 

Posted in Light relief, Mobile, Personal | Leave a comment

Spam prevention

Recently we had some problems with our DNS provider for the business which caused us to look at moving the domain over to another more reliable provider.  In the end we decided to settle with hosting the DNS with pipex and while they may not have always had the best reputation they are one of the larger players, considering the problems recently meant that we had no email or website traffic we were not able to get caught with that again.  All went well with the transfer as I made sure that all of the DNS records were live before the actual transfer took place so the transition was completely seamless.  However, since then it would seem that the spammer capitalised on one oversight that I made during the transfer; this was SPF (Sender Policy Framework).  For those that don’t know what this is basically it is a TXT record within DNS which defines the hostnames and/or IP addresses which can receive and send mail for the domain name it applies to.  This TXT record is read by any mail server that can support it and should the email not have originated from the correct address then it is treated as spam and discarded as such.  If, however, the mail originates from a valid address then it is processed as normal and passed on to the recipient.  On the other hand if the recipient mail server does not support SPF then this information is simply ignored.  Since I hadn’t got this information handy I was tasked with re-creating the SPF data which for those that have looked it is not the most straightforward thing to do however Microsoft have very kindly created a wizard on their website which takes out most of the work.  The address is as follows: http://www.microsoft.com/mscorp/safety/content/technologies/senderid/wizard/

Using this wizard you are able to enter your domain name and it will process the DNS record to see what settings exist with regard to mail servers and then guide you through the process of creating the SPF data.  Over the past few years I have using a number of tools but this has to be the easiest to follow.  So check it out, the more people that use SPF the less spam will be possible.

As always thanks for reading and if you have any questions then drop me a line.

Posted in Business, IT Support, Security | Leave a comment

Light relief

As anyone in IT will tell you most of your time is spent in front of a computer and if you work in support then a whole heap of that is spent watching progress bars descend into the abyss of life.  I would estimate now that I have spent approximately 40% of my working time watching progress bars move across the screen just waiting from something to finish installing or uninstalling.  Then as IT people we go home, see our family, then start working again or at least that is how my life tends to pan out.  However now that the better weather has finally started I was able to get out in the garden today and start to get things straight so that the kids could enjoy the summer.  Danny As with many other people we enjoy nothing better than a BBQ in the summer and part of that is to make sure that the garden is fit for the occasion.  The kids also really enjoyed being out there today as they were able to get scooters and stuff out and really play and for those who know me Danny was able to really have his first play outside.  For those that don’t know me, our youngest was born in July ’06 and was born with a great deal of problems and we are told he is "one of a kind" as no child with problems as severe as his has ever survived, to see more on Danny go to his blog www.potter-tate.co.uk.  Any how Danny had a great time out there as you can see for yourself.

While it was a great day outdoors for a change it would seem that the forecast is back to being shite tomorrow as they are expecting heavy rain again. Still one day out is better than nothing!!

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Linksys woes

Over the weekend I was onsite finishing off and installation for a client of a VoIP PBX system that we had provided.  What they had got was one of IP PBX’s with 4 Linksys SPA941 IP Phones connect to 2 ISDN2e lines so that they had 4 incoming calls.  Due to the nature of their business they get a large volume of calls and the 2 analogue lines they had previously was just not cutting it.  Anyway, I connected the last phone to the system and decided to set the daylight savings time rule on the SPA handsets so that BST would be correct on the handsets.

Linksys SPA941 So I dutifully changed the config on server so that the new correct dates were inserted and then did a factory reset on the handset to force it to get the correct configuration downloaded to the handset……boy was that a mistake!!  What actually happened was that it downloaded the configuration for the server, restarted and when it came up again the display was not working it simply displayed the text logo for the handset.  Now to all intents and purposes it looked as though the firmware had fried which was not something that pleases anyone.  However, after downloading the firmware from the Linksys website it continued to do the same thing and as the display was screwed I couldn’t use the setup option to perform another factory reset.  Anyway, after much backtracking I finally got the old daylight saving time rule from another handset and changed the configuration file on the server along with on the handset and rebooted and finally all was back to normal.  At this time I still don’t know why the rule upset the phone so much but what I do know is that it caused be about 2 hours of hassle the I could have done without on a Saturday.  Once I have tested this out in the lab I will let you all know the fix.

Posted in Business, IT Support, VoIP | Leave a comment

No backups = Disaster!

How many business do you either deal with directly or know that do backups? A large percentage I would say however how many individuals (home users) actually do backups?  Not so many.  If you ask a home user about backups then they will usually tell you on of two things:

  1. I don’t really have anything important to backup
  2. I brought some CD’s to do it just haven’t got around to it yet.

Let’s address these one by one….

  1. I don’t really have anything important to backup.
    Lie, Fact most people these days own a digital camera which they use to take photo’s of their kids, family, friends, holidays…..you get the idea.  How many of the photos taken do we print?  Well I find typically less than about 10%.  How many do we want to keep?  All of them.  And rightly so, these are memories that can never be recovered.  In the days before digital camera’s we got out film’s developed and kept the photo’s and short of a house fire these were never lost.  Now with digital camera we can take more photo’s for less but if you are leaving them an a hard drive somewhere then they stand a very high chance of getting lost.  BACK THEM UP.  If this means that you have sit there for a couple of hours feeding blank DVD’s to the computer then do it.  At the very least make a copy onto another computer.  When it comes to photo’s I always advise everyone to make three copies of each DVD full of photo’s; Disk 1) Use this one to look at photo’s; Disk 2) Store this one at you house in a loft/safe or whatever; Disk 3) Store this a another family members house, so if yours burns down you still got them.
  2. I brought some CD’s to do it just haven’t got around to it yet.
    So goes to you just BACK THEM UP.  The fact is that if you don’t YOU WILL LOSE THEM I guarantee it, it may take a few years but it will happen.

The other option is to get yourself a NAS box (Network Attached Storage) and connect it to your router.  When it’s on the network it will be available to save data to which will give you a little redundancy in your storage network.  There are programs that you can use to automate the backup task such as SyncBack which is available as both a full retail version or also as a Freeware version.  What this application allows you to do is create a profile for performing a backup copy of data from one location to another and while this will not help in a house fire it will create redundancy for hardware failure which is much more common.  So make sure you get those backups sorted out and if anyone want’s any further advice then don’t hesitate to contact me.

Posted in Business, IT History | Leave a comment

When the goings good…..

At the moment business is going from strength to strength which given the current economic climate is quite amazing because if the media are to be believed then we are on the brink of global recession.  Now while I run an IT business I do not claim to be the global economist nor a great authority of all things financial, this is why we have accountants!, but that said I am able to do simple maths and see the obvious.  What seems to be happening at the minute is the "credit crunch" a term which up until a few months ago never even existed and while this situation is very real it seem to have been brought about by the ever rising house prices and peoples need to own their own homes.  This then led on to the banks continuing to lend money in whatever way they could some working on mortgages up to 50 years….mental.  Now as a business owner I have taken a step back and looked what is happening in our business and in particular in our business sector.  What I have seen is very little difference it last year, in fact to be quite honest we have been busier than ever with sales month in month out increasing by up to 200% which is excellent.  So much so that I was asked recently what business I was looking for and I replied "None" as we are so busy.  So what is really happening? Well I think that in this case beauty is in the eye of the beholder or in this case the future of the economy is in our own hands.

I truly believe if we continue to bang on the recession drum and preach to all who will listen that a end is coming then it will come.  If that same energy is channeled into driving our businesses forward and working hard to keep everything going then it truly will. One of the great stories that shows what can be done with a little determination is "The pursuit of happyness", for those that do not know it follows the story of "Chris Gardner’s" dream of making a success and getting rich; its a real story of rags to riches.  So what do we need to do to get things moving, well here’s my opinion for what it’s worth:

  1. Focus on what your clients need and supply it, provide what they are asking for and not what you want to.
  2. Listen to what the media are saying and incorporate it into your plans but do not let it be of detriment to the business
  3. Believe that what you are providing will give value to your clients because if you don’t believe it then why should they
  4. Always remain positive, it will drive you forward each day and will carry those around you with it, remember when you smile the whole world smiles

Ok as I say not a global economist by any stretch of the imagination and it certainly is not the secret to success, but if you work hard and believe in these things then it will help drive your business further.

Posted in Business, Personal Develoment | Leave a comment

Nothing like politically correct!!

I was round to see my dad recently and he showed me a video he’d found on youtube and it had me rolling. The video is of Jeff Dunham with "Achmed the dead terrorist", below is the video for your enjoyment !!!

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But I know how to use office….

I’ve been working in computers now for about 15 years and seen many versions of software come and go.  My time in IT started with DOS 6 and Windows 3.1/Windows NT3.51, from there it build through the various Windows versions going to Windows for Workgroups 3.11, Windows 95, Windows NT4, Windows 98, Windows 98SE, Windows ME, Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows 2003 Server and finally Vista.  Through the the whole upgrade process the Operating System has gone from strength to strength although this is a subject of much debate where Vista is concerned, but no the less Microsoft has done a lot for the desktop market despite all of the problems they have created.  They have also done a great deal with office, I’ll always remember one of my old bosses used to love to say to people:

"What version of Word are you running?"

"Version 6"

"Wow that’s old now they’re at Version 95 now!"

Now to most it’s pretty obvious that MS made a leap in their naming of office applications after Office 4.3 (Word 6) when they then release Office 95 which went on to be Office 97, Office 2000, Office XP, Office 2003 and now Office 2007.  Again the Office suite has seen a great deal of progress made and a whole host of new functions and other things that make working easier and more efficient.  The problem is how do you find all of these new feature or if you have found them where do you find the time to learn how to use them.  More people now are using computers at home and as a result it has changed the IT Training market especially in small businesses where most staff will say they know how to use Word, Excel, Powerpoint etc but do they?  I have always said to clients that they know more about Word and other Office apps than I ever will, and they will look at me gone out. Why?  Because I don’t use it I just fix it.

I was talking to one of our partners and a good friend of mine recently who’s an IT trainer.  He was telling me that they we’re starting to run "Surgeries", perhaps not the best title as it conjured up images of a room full of sick people wondering desperately why they bothered being on time as the doctors is running an hour behind.  He went on to explain that many companies have staff who are proficient in using Office applications but could to with help on certain little things.  So what they do is they get setup in a room and effectively run a drop-in training room where members of staff will go to them with a specific problem and they will address it via a short 20 minute session, then when they are done another person will come in.  Now coming from the school of "I know how to use it" even I can see what value this would be, so I asked the all important question "What about cost?".  He replied "well it can work out as little as £12.50 per person depending on the number of delegates".  At that cost I don’t there are any businesses that can’t get value from that particular type of training……lets call it Micro-training!!

Ok so it’s a little shameless pimping of a partners business but the thing is I don’t pimp other peoples wares lightly as it’s not the way I do things, however this type of training is completely different to anything I have ever seen before and despite being a Nottingham based company they work throughout the UK to support businesses.  So if you’ve got staff that can’t mail merge, can’t do graphs in excel (that’s me Andy) or other such tasks then give Andy a call at F1rst I.T. Training and Support on 0115 926 2078 or email him on andyhardy@f1rstit.co.uk

Posted in Business, IT Support, IT Training | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Gimme just a little more time

I had a call from a client (whose also a friend of mine) the other which at the time made me laugh, the kinds of laugh that makes you fall of the seat.  It goes a little like this:

Client: Hi Rob, I’m probably going to regret asking this but I have been asked and I don’t quite know how to fix it.

Me: Go on

Client: I have been asked to look at the time on the server as it’s wrong so it’s making all the PC’s the wrong time.

Me: Oh right, I thought we had the network timesyncing externally

Client: I’m on the Grenwich Mean Time website and our server is 20 seconds fast and I’ve been told to see if it can be sorted.

Me: (thud as I hit the floor, wait a further 10 second to stop laughing) Right ok, you are joking right?

Client: NO

Me: Oh right, you sure you’re not joking?

Client: NO

Me: Ok let’s see if we can sort it out

So the conversation went on, now the above wasn’t being rude as it may seem as we often make a point taking pot shots for a laugh but it did raise an interesting point which I tend to perform as second nature on servers that we manage but not everyone does.  The point is that now with the advent of PC integrated clocking in systems they often take their time source from the network so if the time is wrong (usually tends to be a problem when its out by minutes rather than seconds but hey not for me to judge) then staff could be clocking out at the wrong times so these systems become flawed.  So if anyone wants to get their Windows Domain controller synced with a reliable time source then read on.

Important The following information contains details of changes to be made to the Windows Registry.  If you are unsure of what you are doing then please do not attempt it as serious damage can occur if you modify it incorrectly.  For extra protection read the following KB article from Microsoft on how to backup and restore the registry KB322756

To configure the server with an external time source then do the following:

  1. Click on Start, click Run, type Regedit then click OK
  2. Change the type to NTP Server
    1. Locate the registry key
      HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESYSTEMCurrentControlSetServicesW32TimeParametersType
    2. In the right pane double click on Type
    3. Change the value to read NTP, the click OK
  3. Set AnnounceFlags to 5
    1. Locate the registry key
      HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESYSTEMCurrentControlSetServicesW32TimeConfigAnnounceFlags
    2. In the right pane double click on AnnounceFlags
    3. Change the value to read 5, then click OK
  4. Enable NTPServer
    1. Locate the registry key
      HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESYSTEMCurrentControlSetServicesW32TimeTimeProvidersNtpServer
    2. In the right pane double click NTPServer
    3. Change the value to read 0.pool.ntp.org,0x1, then click OK
      Other time servers can be specified however I have found that this one is the most accurate
  5. Quit the registry editor
  6. Open the command prompt an enter:
    net stop w32time && net start w32time

There are a number of other values that can be changed with regard to acceptable time differences and time shift however the standard setting is sufficient for most small business however details can be found in article KB816042.  With regard to my friend, this is the process that I ran on his server now he’s a happy man as his server is now accurate to within half a second of GMT……go figure!

Posted in IT Support, Microsoft | Leave a comment

Damn it’s dead!!

As an IT guy I have heard this so many times that if I had a pound for each time I’m sure I could have retired by now.  For anyone that has had this happen it is the most sickening feeling you can get and it goes something like this.

You arrive at the office at 7.30am as you have some extra work that you need to get done before the 9am meeting.  So you plug in the laptop, switch on and go get a coffee while it boots……except when you come back you have the infamous blue screen of death BSOD.

Blue Screen of Death

And the sinking feeling begins.  With notebooks this tend to be a major problem as the hard disks are not so easily accessible especially if you are not technically minded and have the necessary adapters to connect them to a desktop.  So how can you get your data off, after all your not really bothered at this point in time about the notebook as you can borrow a desktop you just want your data, enter UBCD4Win.  UBCD4Win is a bootable CD that you build using the download from the website along with your Windows XP CD and what it creates is a CD full of utilities that allows you to gain access to the information on your hard disk without having any special tools.

Burning

Using this CD you are able to insert a USB memory stick and then boot from the CD.  Provided that the disk isn’t completely screwed up then you can access the data using Windows Explorer on the CD and copy the files off to the memory stick and allow you to get working before the meeting starts.  Then just send the laptop to the IT department or log a fault call with your support company.

So take a look at UBCD4Win as it does a lot more than just boot Windows.

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