Thursday 17 September 2020

Glacial Software downloads - Cyberlink

 In these days of fast internet connections and cloud based network and servers, you'd think that no manufacturer of commercial and retail software would have a poor download speed for upgrades and new purchases. We have a 120 mbps link to our business and around 20 ms latency. It is used daily for video conference, VOIP phones and other online applications. All of our servers are "in the cloud". We know that we have good connectivity.

We've noticed that one application does not seem to make use of our fast internet link. That product is the Cyberlink Application Manager. The software is used by Cyberlink to keep our versions of Cyberlink Director video editing software up to date. Downloading the latest version takes well in excess of one hour. When you start the application to update software, you think it is hanging or locked up. We've worked out it is actually working, but very slowly.  The program files are not massive, about 1 gigabyte, but we've learned to start the application and to leave it running.

It is almost as if Cyberlink has a software distribution server designed by an accountant. Perhaps an old IBM PC-XT on as 5 mbps data link to service all of its customers. As long as you are very patient, the process works.

This is not a one off problem. We've noticed it for the past few months.

Thursday 9 July 2020

Improved cleaning at the cottage

We're planning to reopen the Holiday Cottage in September 2020 if the Covid-19 situation permits. We'll need to be able to quickly clean the cottage during turnround between guests. We've already purchased an ultraviolet lamp for general room sterilization, but we also need to have a method to clean surfaces as an integral part of the safety processes.

Those involved in the cleaning work will need to wear protective personal equipment, such as disposable gloves, mask and disposable apron when undertaking the cleaning. So the process we've decided to follow is to first irradiate a room with Ultraviolet-C light for 15 minutes. This will destroy any airborne or surface laying virus particles. We'll then move the UV-C lamp to another room, while  using high pressure superheated steam to clean high touch hard surfaces and soft furnishings in the first room. This sequence will be followed through each room in the cottage.

We'll be using a Dupray steam cleaning kit to undertake the steam cleaning, thus avoiding the use of chemicals for sterilization. Our guests will not have to be exposed to residual chemicals during their stay. The superheated steam cleaning is also effective at cleaning greasy kitchen areas.

Monday 6 July 2020

Safe use of ultraviolet (UV-C) to sterilize small business premises

Using UV-C light to sterilize the rooms of the business, as part of a cleaning programme between business sessions has its advantages. It doesn't leave a chemical residue and doesn't increase humidity.  The process is quite fast, depending on the power of the ultraviolet lamp deployed. However it is not without risk to the operators of the lamp. There are fairly strict EU and USA regulations relating to the health and safety exposure limits for ultraviolet lamps. During use you need to wear protective clothing and goggles/face shields to avoid exposure to the light. 

Here's one example: Artificial Optical Radiation Directive 2006/25/EC is 30 J/m² at 253.7nm for a daily 8 hour work shift.

This is the ultraviolet lamp that we use for the sterilization process, it is 72 watt 230 VAC:

At a distance of 5cm, the ultraviolet light intensity of the lamp we use is around 17 milliwatts per square centimetre. This would exceed the daily safe allowance within a minute if exposed directly to the UV-V light output from our lamp. The further you are away from the lamp the intensity starts to decrease quite rapidly. The shape of the lamp reflector affects how the intensity of UV-C is distributed. Reflection from surfaces can also increase the indirect exposure.  As part of the safety procedures the operator should not be in the room when the UV-C lamp is switched on, unless fully protected by UV-C PPE gear. UV-C can be stopped by fairly light protective gear, but you need to keep it away from bare skin and the eyes. The light kills virus/bacteria by damaging the DNA/RNA within the organism. You don't need your own DNA being damaged.

However it is likely that situations will arise when you need to measure the intensity of the UV-C light to make sure you do not exceed the safe limits of exposure. We purchased a specialist UV-C meter to perform these measurement and to also test the safety level of any PPE equipment that we wear. You cannot detect UV-C light by your normal senses. We test UV-C radiation levels before, during and at the end of a sterilisation session. We also document those levels. We also record our tests on PPE equipment. 

We purchased a laboratory quality meter. It is a General Instruments UV512C meter.  We purchased it via Cole Parmer in the UK. The following link will lead to the Philips Lighting  advice on using UV-C for disinfection. We also use it at our holiday cottages.

Saturday 2 May 2020

ANSI/BICSI 002-2019 Data Center Design and Implementation Best Practices

Purely by chance I saw a reference on-line to the BICSI document on best practices for Data Centre Design and implementation.  I had a quick look on their website and was intrigued by the document. So I took a deep breath, opened my card wallet, and purchased an electronic version of their document. At $525  (USD) it is no lightweight purchase, but I think a fair investment if you are in that line of business.    Mistakes made in the early design processes of a Data Centre can be very very expensive to fix at a later stage in the project. At the very least this document gives a good checklist of things to consider. It also usefully refers to other appropriate standards.

My line of business is more in the area of Trading Floors and their associated technology rooms, but much of the Data Centre best practices are useful to keep in mind.

I'm about 25% through the first read of this document. It is delivered in an encrypted pdf format which you need a code to activate the document. One side effect is you cannot use adobe comments to annotate individual pages. Nor can you print from the document, and while it is understandable from the publisher's viewpoint it is a pain in the butt.

It is obviously written by people exposed to the USA management style of data centers. In the accommodation section most of the technical and security areas are described, but no mention is made of canteen or recreational facilities for the operations and engineering staff. Believe it or not people are an important part of a datacenter and their welfare is important.

Tuesday 21 April 2020

Oaksys Tech helping Covid-19 support Groups

As part of our work to support the local Covid-19 support group we are lending VoIP phone handsets to some of the organisers. The handsets are programmed to use the special range of distinctive numbers allocated by us to the team. To ensure good quality voice on the phone we are using Polycom desktop handsets, these are business quality devices designed for office use.  Once programmed by us, it should be just a matter of plugging the devices into the the RJ45 LAN outlet on the broadband router in the home and, after power is supplied, the devices automatically connected to the Sipgate service. The organiser team then obtain the full facilities of a distributed office PABX in their own home. It also protects the personal phone numbers of the organisers from general public exposure. There always are some weirdo's who would want to exploit personal phone numbers.

When purchased new, these handset have a price of circa £75 - £100 as they have quite powerful micro computers embedded in the device. In order to keep costs down we've purchased secondhand units from Ebay. These are fully functional older units no longer required by businesses, but look like new devices. They cost less than £20 to purchase including delivery.  The particular model we are purchasing have dual power options. You can either buyer dedicated mains power supply units delivering 24V, or they can use PoE (Power over Ethernet cable) which has power delivered via the network cable. The PoE option greatly tidies the cabling associated with using the phone, all that is needed is a single CAT5e network cable plus, in the home environment, a power injector unit close to the Broadband Router.

When used in conjunction with the Sipgate web browser interface you get "click and call" facilities from the VoIP phone with no need to dial the phone number via the handset keypad. You just click on the number and your handset rings. As soon as you pick up the phone handset, or press the speakerphone button, Sipgate will connect the call.

Well, that's all of the theory, now for the practice. When we received the secondhand devices, we found the units still had their programming from their previous owners. Some the previous programming was quite specialised. Normal configuration programming by us did not allow the phones to function correctly and connect to Sipgate. After a lot of research, we realised we had to completely wipe the memory on the phones, not just a standard "factory reset", we had to reformat the memory using a well hidden function on the phones. We then set up a FTP software server to hold the appropriate historic version of the software and basic configuration files. We were able to track the software and files down on the Polycom support website. It took quite a lot of Google research and the downloading of multipage administrator manual pdf files. Normally telecoms engineers go on training courses to learn these processes, we didn't have that luxury and spent about five hours hard work and experimentation to getting it done. Now the phone automatically visit the servers via the Internet, to pick up the latest configuration when they are powered up or restarted.

However once we'd "cleaned" the handset memory and reloaded the phones with new copies of the software they work just fine. Now that we understand the process, it is quick and easy to remotely program the handsets. It was time well spent. We're about to handover the devices to the volunteers, plus network cables and power units, all suitably sterilized with isopropyl-alcohol wipedown and exposure to UV-C disinfection lamp. 

We already use VoIP phones in the holiday cottage, but there we'd installed a brand new handset so we didn't have any configuration problems.

Edit: 21st April 2020
The only remaining problem is get the recipients of these VoIP handset to plug them in and to use them  So far the reprogrammed handsets have not been connected following delivery. There are no reported problems, though we've since discovered the recipients have called in a network engineer to resolve network problems in their home.

Saturday 14 March 2020

Event Bookings

I've recently been organising an event which needed to have tickets issued, and also capture contact details of the attendees to allow follow-up email messages. A couple years ago I'd come across which is an Internet Cloud based system run by a small British company based in Kendal. I liked it then and used it successfully for some free ticket events. They don't charge a fee for free tickets. It is fully featured and takes the pain out of issuing, controlling and following up of tickets.

For the recent event I decided to charge a small fee, to weed out the non-serious prospective attendees. I've looked at several different USA based systems, but was not happy with the features. I recalled the Trybooking system and decided to give it another go. Since my last use of the system a couple of years ago they have improved an already good system. From the attendees viewpoint it works well on PCs, tablets and Smartphones. 

  • Their fee for chargeable events is 15p per ticket and 5% for card processing.
  • After collection, they deposit the money into your chosen bank account.
  • It has a good automatic interface into our wonderful Xero accounting system.
  • It handles refunds well.
  • It handles VAT correctly.
  • You can do gift certificates and flexible offer voucher codes.
  • It has good reporting facilities.
  • There's automatic interface into social media such as Facebook.
  • It is easy to embed the booking interface, such as "Book Now" buttons, into other web pages.
  • It is multi-user.
  • It gives barcode check-in with an internet connected smartphone for multiple "gatekeepers"; reads pre printed tickets or smartphone screen tickets.
  • You can view who was checked in to the event and when the check-in took place.

I'm in the process of using and to provide sms alerts and voice message alerts in the case of needing to announce changes to events and/or reminders that the event is about to take place. This is a bit more complicated, but doesn't require programming skills per se. The next step will be to add a interface to allow the use of touch bank card, apple pay and google pay payments at events. I'll also add an automated Mailchimp interface for marketing at some point.

For one-to-one meetings I use Acuity Scheduling. This ties into my personal Google Calendar and allows people to book meetings with me, in my free time slots from their web browser. It can also take credit/debit card payments for the meeting fees. This uses my account to process the payment. All is tied into my Xara accounting system.