Monday 18 June 2012

Power Outage $30K per second

An article in the Register caught my eye. It gives a really graphic view of the potential costs of power failure. In this case it was an LCD screen manufacturing plant.

Thursday 7 June 2012

Just in Time fuel supply - is it worth it?

In a BBC report we learn that Manchester (UK) airport ran out of jet fuel. They hold between 12 and 24 hours supply, relying on a single 30 mile pipeline from a refinery to provide replenishment. Considering planes can't fly without fuel I'd call the fuel storage and supply an essential asset. Without the fuel the airport would have to close or operate on a considerably reduced  traffic. Not keeping several day's supply in buffer tanks on site seems like a false economy to me.

The same problem can exist for the fuel supply of standby generators . Some organisations depend on fuel tankers arriving within a few hours of a major outage. If there is a regional power outage it is likely the demand for fuel will exceed the logistics capacity of the tanker firms to deliver fuel. Standby fuel storage capacity is a risk which must be formally assessed and the decision signed off by business management. The danger is that some bright accountant will think money can be saved by reducing fuel stocks and utilising a Just-In-Time delivery.

The pace of invention

When I started work in my first job as a Gov't sickness benefits officer life was very different from now. If we wanted to send a letter to a claimant, we'd write the letter in handwriting, pass the handwritten letter to a typist who'd return a typed version complete with a carbon copy a few hours later. After the letter had been reviewed by the supervisor it was put in an envelope  in an out-tray for collection by the post clerk. The carbon copy would be filed in the cardboard file jacket of the claimant. You'd get a rocket from the supervisor if your letter contained any spelling/grammatical errors or there any obvious typing corrections. Our only contact with a computer was that we had to punch a couple of circular holes in punched cards for each case file. There were no keyboards on our desks, just a pencil, ruler, black ink fountain pen and sometimes a government issue ball point pen

Lasers were in the early stages of development in scientific research labs. Primitive liquid crystal display (a four inch pane changing from dark to light) was about to be demonstrated on television in the Tomorrow's World programme. Over the years I've seen many developments in the field of technology and computing. I was begining to wonder what was now left for man to invent and exploit. Some basic browsing during last weekend has convinced me there are a lot of new discoveries awaiting.

Here's some examples of recent developments that excite me.:

Willow glass by Corning - a mass produced flexible glass.

Wednesday 6 June 2012

Corporate Theft

There's one thing a bit off the topic of technology, security or trading, but is in way related. I travel a lot and use hotel and airline loyalty schemes. I rarely claim the awards from the schemes but instead I prefer to allow the points to build up to maybe use for a big trip. As it happens I don't go out of my way to use those airlines or hotels. I travel mostly out of necessity to support my business. What really gets my goat (UK english colloq. "annoys me") is that once the points have been awarded the airline/hotel think they can snatch back the points if I don't use them within a given time frame. So far as I'm concerned that is theft by the supplier, I don't care what legalese grey fine print is tucked away in some obscure place. It is theft, plain and simple.

So when a supplier such as British Airways (BA) of the Hilton Hotels group (Hilton HHonors™ scheme) claws back points from me I always punish them by withdrawing business from them. The punishment always costs them more that the value of the "points" that they've stolen from me, and the business goes to a competitor.

Another extremely annoying business practice is selling my account to another business as though my business with the supplier is some kind of commodity they can package up and sell to another business. The banks and credit card companies are particularly prone to do this. When I do business with another business it is because I choose to do so. Once again I punish the business who "bought" me for assuming that I'll do business with them.  Sorry guys but you have to earn my trust, you have wasted whatever you paid for me and it will go to your competitor.  British Airways have played a similar game by selling my customer points holding to Avios, sorry guys it doesn't wash, you both lose.

If big business had the courtesy to ask me if I had any objections about being transferred to another supplier I might be more amenable, but they don't so they lose. Loyalty is a two way street.

Tuesday 5 June 2012

Wake on Wireless

Qualcomm announces Wake On Wireless for pocketbook computers and other devices. This could be a security nightmare as a command system for explosive devices and bugging devices. Essentially the system administrator will be able to wake up remote computing devices without a wired connection.

Be prepared to block unwanted WiFi signals to your business campus! Here a wallpaper which might help, but beware building a frequency selective Faraday cage is not always simple. Active WiFi and cell phone blocking is not legal in the UK, unless you are the security services. This is not a new technology QinetiQ dreamt this up a few years ago. There's other research on this, here, here and here.

Friday 1 June 2012

Destroy your hard drives

The UK Information Commissioner has fined a Hospital Trust £325,000 ($500,000) for not ensuring 1000 Hard Disk Drives were properly destroyed by one of its contractors (Sussex Health Informatics Service).  At least 252 of those drives went astray.

There's no excuse for this really. There are several good techniques to ensure the safe and complete destruction of data on hard drives. I'll happily advise any one who contacts me as to how this destruction can be done. From the BBC report it looks like one individual was not properly supervised and thought he could make a quick buck by selling rather than destroying the hard drives.

Businesses and other organisations have a legal responsibility to look after confidential data. If the personal information on those disks had leaked to the public domain it could done serious damage to those concerned. These types of cases will continue until the main Board of the organisation takes these privacy matters seriously and not treat it as an obscure technical matter. Break the rules and you can be fined up to £500,000. To be honest, fines will not fix the problem, the penalty should include a criminal record and a prison sentence of up to two years for negligent Directors.

Here's the 8 key principles by which the Information Commissioner can judge your organisation's processing of information, both electronic and on paper. They are based on the 1972 Younger report, it is not exactly a new concept.

Data must be Fairly and lawfully processed
• Processed for limited purposes
• Adequate, relevant and not excessive
• Accurate and up to date
• Not kept for longer than is necessary
• Processed in line with your rights
• Secure
• Not transferred to other countries without adequate protection