Thursday 18 December 2014

Keeping it cool

Note to self:

1 MW of Data Centre cooling needs about 12 tons of ice per hour.

Friday 14 November 2014

What is the value of integrity?

The latest round of fines on banks for manipulating the Forex fix rates are starting to be announced. A Daily Telegraph article suggests the total bill of penalties for this misconduct is $300bn. Who bears this cost? It is the shareholders and customers of the banks. For shareholders read pension funds in many cases. It is time for the Directors of the banks to earn their massive remuneration and to either bring their traders under control or go penniless from their god-like positions. 

It should have come as no surprise to bankers managers that traders will tend to misbehave and cut corners. If there had been a true desire to prevent this type of activity it could have been avoided. Ethical behaviour and integrity of actions has a very low cost. Dishonest actions seem to have a much higher end cost.

Friday 31 October 2014

Low latency trading - an interesting reaction.

I occasionally comment on a LinkedIn forum which has automated wholesale financial trading as its primary focus. My background comes from this arena of developing and supporting real-time trading systems and market data distribution systems.

One discussion topic raised was whether low latency trading has a long term future. Essentially this technique works by recognising market conditions, such as arbitrage opportunities, and creating almost instantaneous trades before your competition spots the opportunity. If the principal sums involved are sufficiently large it is possible to make a healthy profit.

I added a comment to the effect: "Low latency is irrelevant in investment, but important in trading." I'm firmly of the opinion that true investment needs careful research and consideration before any investment decisions are made. Trading can be very different, often just speculation.

I noticed that shortly after posting that comment my LinkedIn profile had been visited by forum moderator. I wonder if I touched a nerve somewhere in the Trading community?!

Wednesday 29 October 2014

Corruption of a Brand Name

My son bought me a pair of "mountain boots" from the UK store called Millets. The brand name of the boots is "The North Face" and they were made in China. These boots were not cheap; costing around 150 GBP retail, yet have been poorly constructed. The rubber rand on the sides of the boots at the position of the ball of the foot has developed a long vertical crack(s) at both sides of each boot. This not fair wear and tear, I've had several pairs of good boots which have lasted  several times as long. When I check inside the boot I find no leather underneath that part of the rand. "The North Face" used to be a respected brand, but manufacturers/retailers trying to maximise their profits have ruined it. 

I'd go as far as saying that I regard the boots as fundamentally unsafe for use on the mountains. They are just okay for street walking, provided there's no rain or you'd end up with wet feet.

In the lower picture you can see where two crack met to form a triangular flap. If you look behind the flap there appear to be no sign of leather, just cloth, In a properly made boot the leather should extend down to the welt.

Friday 10 October 2014

Is Google Docs feeling the strain?

We've used Google Docs in conjunction with Chromebooks to provide a low cost office environment. Google seem to keep changing the name at one point they called it Business Apps. There is a free version which has good functionality, but we've elected for the paid version to gain access to the Google Management facilities. At approx. £3 per person per month it is not exactly a massive spend.

However we have been noticing that loading documents from the system has become somewhat erratic and unreliable of late. We often see the spinning circle on the browser tab, then after about one minute's delay we're told there was a browser error and we should "refresh". Then the cycle repeats and eventually the document will load.  It is not the reliable service we'd come to expect from Google.

Their performance page does not appear to reflect these problems.

At quiet times of the day (6 am London time) there are no problems with these delays and we do have a fast Internet connection.  I'd expect these types of problems from Microsoft, but not Google. Currently I'm taking Google Docs off the recommended list. Given it is an underlying foundation of the Chromebook concept I'm not a happy bunny.

Tuesday 7 October 2014

Electrifying against terrorists

We're awaiting delivery of the components for a 150 metres electric fence. After a lot of research we've decided to go for a six strand fence running at 9000 volts. The energiser will deliver a 3 Joule shock. It needs to to be that powerful because some of the potential intruders resort to insulation to protect themselves. If we were protecting against a herd of elephants  it would only be 4000 volts. 

Government legislation requires we identify the electric fence by warning signs, but we don't necessarily have to use a notices in the first language of the intruders. It will need new permanent fence posts installed, stringing galvanised braided steel wire, wire tensioning, myriad insulators carefully placed and trimming back of stray vegetation to prevent shorting of the current. We'll also install a comprehensive electrical grounding scheme both through the earth and also on selected wires to ensure the electric shock load is delivered to an unwary invader.

We had a break-in last winter through an insecure fence at our remote site. After a ram raid the intruders did a lot of damage, but once we were alerted we were able to drive them away from our property. We restored the fences and it kept the intruders at bay.  The local police were not interested. The electric fence will present an additional layer of security and deterrence to keep these cunning intruders at bay. The intruders are of course sheep from a neighbouring field trying to raid our orchard when our winter grass looks more attractive than their field. 

The fence will protect our investment in recently planted fruit trees and also a hedge recently relayed in a the traditional manner (expensive). Protecting the hedge for a couple of years will allow it to regrow the natural defence of sharp thorns and intertwined branches.

The set-up cost, excluding labour, is only £5/metre or approx $3/foot of fence. Extending the fence costs less than £1 a metre. Planning the installation was quite a useful refresher course on planning for security situations where deterrence is required for human intruders. 

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Taking a break

I'm taking a break at the moment up in Derbyshire. Beautiful countryside and loads of beautiful driving and walking. In the evenings I've been helping a couple of friends with the websites for their businesses. Using Google Sites can be a really cost effective method of providing a reliably hosted web site, while allowing a simple interface for the business to maintain their own information. Here's one example from a local driving instructor. Pass with Paula is the site for Paula Duddles who is based in Belper Derbyshire. The site is all her own work developed from scratch, though I've helped her over some of the tricky technical bits and grasping how to use the Google webmaster tools.

Monday 23 June 2014

Unrepentant bankers

Here's a quote from the Economist (on-line 21 June 2014)  from an article entitled "The shrinking of British banks is bad for their employees, the City and Britain"

Before the credit crunch, finance was Britain’s most successful industry, its biggest exporter, taxpayer and provider of well-paid jobs. 

The article is about senior bankers moaning about the reduction of the importance of banking in Britain. It is clear they haven't got the message! Their actions were responsible for almost destroying the British economy. They think they should be allowed to carry on as they did in the good old days. The public debt arising from their lack of integrity will take decades to pay off. The banking system invented a gigantic fraud for which many more people should have received long prison sentences, but now they think their overpaid life style should continue as by right.

Pensioners and savers continue to be penalised by low interest rates as a consequence of the bankers' dishonesty yet the bankers' remuneration continues to spiral upwards.

Wednesday 11 June 2014

Work-around Epson WF-7110DTW Google CloudPrint

As mentioned in the previous post we have some problem with the WF-7110 printer from Epson losing connection to Google's CloudPrint. We'll have to wait for Epson to produce a firmware fix, but we have found that using the printer's browser interface to manually "Suspend" and then "Resume" the CloudPrint connection will nudge it back into life.

Friday 6 June 2014

How do we feel about the Epson Workforce WF-7110DTW

In the previous post I mentioned we'd retired our old HP DJ1220C on the grounds of feebleness and frailty and the high cost of care. The lively new replacement is an Epson Workforce WF-7110DTW, an A3 colour inkjet printer with built in duplex printing. Here's our initial review. We like it.

However following an incident with Epson's "logistics partner" during parts supply we cannot recommend this product for a business environment. You'll not find spare consumables (ink cartridges, etc) in high street stores or retail parks. You have to rely on Epson to supply or hunt around the internet. Epson's choice of partner makes cartridge renewal an uneconomic reality.

The printer is clearly designed, as it's name implies, to work in an environment where it is shared between family/co-workers. It has a USB connection which was useful during set-up, but the main connectivity is over a local area network. It also supports cloud printing by 3-4 different methods. It makes it relatively easy to print from mobile devices with LAN or Internet connection. You can also print by sending a document via email to an account at Epson which then sends the formatted print to your printer via the internet.

The print quality is fine for most business usage. It is not really a photo quality printer, though it does a reasonable job at printing photo's when run at its "high quality print" setting. The colours on the photo prints look a bit washed out compared with our Oki colour LED printer. If we'd wanted to print a lot of photographs we'd have chosen a different, more expensive, inkjet printer.

So far the paper handling seems to work just fine on A4 and A3 paper. We're mostly using 80 gsm office printer paper and there have been no mis-feeds. The duplex printing is achieved by dual-pass of each sheet but requires no user intervention other than changing the print setting to specify double sided printing. There was a slight vertical offset between the two sides of each page which needs manual intervention during the print layout design, for example a block of colour specified on two adjacent pages will appear about 2mm out of register if you hold the printed page up to light.

When printing double sided at high quality the printing speed drops considerably from the advertised rate, though for routine office printing it is just fine. Having two separate paper trays/cartridges as standard is a real gain for network printing, we keep one loaded with A4 paper and the other with A3 paper.

We like the Epson Durabrite Ultra inks used by this printer. They are oil based pigments for all of the CMYK inks which gives a smudge free, effectively waterproof result. There is very little ink creep even on lower quality paper. The black is not as dense as a laser printer, but it is perfectly acceptable for day to day business use.

The starter cartridges supplied with the printer don't last long, so be sure to order extra spare cartridges when ordering the printer, changing the cartridges is easy. So far we cannot comment on the number of pages we'll print for each cartridge, but having separate cartridges for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black will save money in the longer run if the use of colour is unbalanced (using one colour more often during printing). The "maintenance cartridge" is an additional unit, a small plastic tank filled with absorbent material. As the printer cleans/charges the printer nozzles the scrap ink is dumped into the Maintenance Cartridge. I've seen no prediction from Epson as to how frequently it has to be renewed, at £18 retail it is an additional operational cost, let's hope it doesn't need frequent changes.

The network administration and monitoring of the printer works well. Setting up for WiFi was straightforward and changes after the initial set-up were not difficult. It is possible to password protect the admin settings. We use Google cloud print and this printer includes the interface as standard. There is a similar facility for the Apple cloud printing system, but we haven't used that facility.

Edit 7th June 2014: We've come across what looks like a persistent problem with Google Cloudprint/Epson printers. There are quite a few reports of this over a sustained period when we searched for solutions. It is an annoying rather than serious problem, but Epson do need to get together with Google to create a proper lasting fix. It appears to be at the printer firmware level. This problem has been evident too long.

The nature of the problem is when left unused for a few hours the printer appears to drop off-line so far as Google Cloudprint is concerned. We have to use the printer's web based Admin interface to Suspend then Resume the printer service to get the connection running again. We still like the 7110DTW printer, but would not recommend it for businesses who wish to make extensive use of Google Cloudprint in their operations.

Saturday 31 May 2014

Paper not feeding on HP 1220c A3 Inkjet Printer

We do most of our printing on a highly reliable Oki LED printer C5800 colour printer. We've had this for several years  and it rarely jams or gives us any problems even with the double sided printing. You just need to change the toner cartridges occasionally and once in a blue moon the CMYK drums. It sits alone in a store room attached by LAN and always works.We also have a venerable old HP 1220C A3 Inkjet Printer that we use on the odd occasion, though since the office move this time last year it's been shelfware. 

This week though we had the need to print on A3 paper in colour so I dug out the HP1220C and plugged it by USB into our workhorse office PC and fired it up. The paper feed has always been a bit flaky but we coaxed it to accept paper through the manual feed. We discovered the HP original cartridges had dried up, no great surprise there as we'd not used the  beast in a long while. Nothing to fear as we had an unused spare set of new HP cartridges in the store cupboard and we whacked those into the machine. The black ink worked well and the colour was okay if we lived in a magenta only world. No amount of cartridge cleaning would persuade the new cartridges (Type 78) to print in full colour. By now time was running short and I could not wait for a next day delivery of new ink cartridges. We had to drive 20 miles round trip to the local PC World to buy some more. PCW only sold a combined pack of 45 and 78 Cartridges for a shocking £59! We bit the bullet and paid the ransom. Back at the office we hand fed the paper into the printer and coaxed it to produce 20 copies of an A3 document. If you take into account the 6 cartridges we worked through and fuel costs, the printing cost was £8.00 per page excluding any man hour costs.

As a consequence, we now have a new Epson A3 duplex inkjet printer on order for £200. The old HP 1220C will go to the car boot sale.

However to get back to the title of this post I had some free time this weekend and was determined not to be bested by the HP printer. I knew nothing was broken, other than the original poor design, in the printer. It was just a matter of cleaning the right part to remove paper clay from feed rollers. Of course the HP is not constructed for simple maintenance by office staff. Getting to the relevant feed rollers was quite difficult, but I eventually prevailed. If you look into the paper "tray" slot into the depths of the machine you can see a dark grey rubber feed roller on the right hand side. A torch help to see it. Using a nylon kitchen scourer pad, slightly moistened, on the end of a steel ruler I was able to clean the roller. You cause the printer to make a few page feeds while pressing the kitchen scourer against the roller using pressure from the ruler. It made some grinding noises, but did not pull the scourer into the works.

Since then the paper feed has worked perfectly!

Edit: 4th June 2014: - I spoke too soon, the HP 1220C decided to feed multiple sheets at the same time from the paper tray. It has to go! The Epson Workforce WF-7110DTW arrived the day after I ordered it on-line from Printerland. So far I'm very impressed. It has many modern features, such as remote printing which make the purchase well worthwhile.

Monday 19 May 2014

Chromebook Management

I'm writing this blog entry using our new Acer 720 Chromebook. It has greatly exceeded my expectations. Part of the reason for that is Google's Chromebook Management Console. We'd mentioned in a previous blog we were surprised by the Acer C720.

We are investigating the Acer notebook computer as a device to provide easy web browsing facilities for guests renting our holiday home in Wirksworth Derbyshire in England. Used in conjunction with the Management Console it seems the Acer 720 notebook computer will meet our needs.

These are the relevant features:
  • It is inexpensive compared to Microsoft Windows laptops;
  • It is fast and responsive to most usage;
  • We can remotely control who has access to the device;
  • We can remotely control what software is used on the device by user identity or group;
  • It offers browsing, email, word processing, spreadsheets, and Internet phone;
  • We can control what is stored on the device;
  • Data security is strong;
  • We can remotely control the browser homepage;
  • The software is automatically updated;
  • It has a keyboard;
  • It has a long battery life;
  • It boots up in less than 10 seconds;
  • We can centrally pre-load WiFi service Id's and passwords.
The Chromebook doesn't run Microsoft Windows software, but for most of our purposes we don't need it in the situation we are considering. There are solutions on the Chromebook system which allow the user to gain remote access to Windows PCs and Servers, but for the moment we are not looking into those.

We received notification from Google that the Management Console had been activated. Their email contained a link to some "get you started" instructions. We had a working system in place within 30 minutes. Supplementary information was easily on hand to answer any questions we had during the configuration process.

The mouse pad on the Acer uses some gestures we'd not encountered before, but they were easily mastered. While the mouse pad is fairly easy to use, my personal preference would be to plug in a mouse via the USB port if I was running a long session at a desk. For general office applications the screen resolution is more than adequate.

It is possible to play games and watch videos on the device, but this type of use is not really its forte. HD video playback was jerky, though the BBC Iplayer was fine. Youtube videos displayed okay.

Sunday 18 May 2014

Chromebook surprise

Like many people I've taken a quick look at the Chromebook and dismissed it as a nice idea, but unlikely to gain wide acceptance. However necessity is changing my mind. As mentioned in an earlier post, we've recently started a sideline business of holiday homes. I want to be able to offer guests the facility of a computer to enable web browsing if they've not brought their own device with them. Providing WiFi service is now a ubiquitous part of the service for a UK holiday home rental.

For tidiness I've decided the device should be a laptop computer or a notebook. A tablet computer is a possibility but some people are uncomfortable with a device which does not have it's own keyboard. The second factor in the decision process is the ability to control what data and programmes are installed on the device. We need to be able to reset the computer at the end of each weekly rental to remove any data or programs which may have been installed.

We also need to be able to lock down the computer and prevent re-use in order to discourage theft of the devices. Coupled with this we need a low cost device in order to keep the rental fees and security deposits charged to clients low. In fact many of decision points are those faced by IT managers in the choice of devices for their mobile workforce.

However those running holiday homes are not in the business of running server farms and PC support teams to support PC's in the field. We can't afford the fees of contracting the devices' support to a third party company.

After quite a lot of research and a serendipitous webinar from Google/Citrix I decided to take a closer look at the Chromebook. What attracted me was Google's Chrome Management Console with Google Apps. The Citrix side of things will be useful for businesses who want to provide remote access to their existing Microsoft Windows applications, but is not relevant to my immediate requirement.

The Google Management Console provides a ready made solution to the control of a remote laptop rented to our holiday home clients. It is a cloud based service so there is no investment in servers or management software. Above all it is inexpensive, particularly when combined with a Chromebook device.

I have purchased an Acer C720 Chromebook for evaluation. The retail cost including VAT was £199. Google's Chrome Management Console is £90 per user, though at present I've taken advantage of a special offer of £30 per user. Google Apps works out at £3.50 per user per month and provides most of the data storage and software that an average casual user would require. All of the device Operating System and Application updates are automatic. Gmail includes anti-virus and very good spam filtering.

Let me clarify those figures: One-off cost £200 (ex-VAT); on-going monthly support cost £3.50 for an effective, attractive and working laptop device complete with application software and remote management.

At the moment I'm waiting for the Google licence to arrive and I'll start the trials in full. I've had an initial play with the Acer Chromebook and so far I'm impressed. The C720 is lightweight at 1.5 Kg and has a battery life of around 8 hours. In common with most Chromebooks it boots up in less than 10 seconds.

More news to follow in this Blog. Here's the experience of a large school using Chromebooks. The interesting comment in there was: "While cost savings can be made on the cost of the hardware alone, the majority of the cost savings originate from savings made from infrastructure and device management.

Edit: 16/5/2014 later in the day: Received the Management Console licence from Google. I followed the clear instructions and no have a remotely managed Chromebook. It is now locked down to named users.

Saturday 17 May 2014

Hey you get off of my cloud

What happens to your data if your "Cloud" fails?

Check out Backupify and cloudHQ as ways to protect your data from sudden loss.

Our side line business - Holiday home for rent

We have used some of our hard earned cash to buy a house in the beautiful  county Derbyshire which nestles in the centre of England. We have spent six months refurbishing the building which originates from 1905 in the town of Wirksworth. The town has history dating back to Roman times.

If you want to find out more follow this link. The place is available for rental by couples.

Thursday 8 May 2014

Is your Cloud data secure with a USA based company?

A report in Computer Weekly shows a USA based judge ordering Microsoft to reveal data help in an EU country. Microsoft's appeal was turned down.

The underlying question is whether your company should store any of its corporate data in a Cloud/Data Centre operated by a USA based corporation?  If so it likely to be exposed to any US Government official or lawyer wanting a peak at your data.