Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Finances and volunteers

Every Wednesday David comes in for the day as our book-keeper. He is retired and gives us one day per week doing our accounts. I am amazingly thankfull for all he does. The day he comes in I try to keep clear to work with him on all the financial matters. One day per week is really not enough time, so he is always behind and always trying to catch up. Today by 5pm I was whacked out and came home for a rest [the bacterial infection still seems to have left me weak] but David carried on working for another hour or so after me.

There are also dozens of other little jobs that need doing, which get sidelined till we get time or it becomes critical... the printer needs a new cartridge, the bath for guests has problems, we need more paper and so it goes on.

John is another volunteer - he helps us with technical support. Every morning he comes in and answers emails and holds the 24/7 support hotline phone for if there are problems. He is another person I am amazingly thankful for.

John leaves us to fully retire in November and David never catches up... we need more volunteers, people who can help. So if you fancy a retirement job in a pleasant location... let us know!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Testing... testing... testing...

No, I haven't just forgotten to write... well, partly, but mainly because I have been unwell. I had a urine infection, so the doctor told me, and felt really really unwell for a few days and then afterwards have had very much less energy than I normally have. I am on the mend now, but it really did take a lot out of me.

It's only a few days before Michael leaves us and although he is not happy that enough testing has been done, we have done a lot and today we did 'stress testing' of the new SMS system. Over a period of about 10 minutes 8 people fired SMS messages at the system as fast as they could, repeating the same message to emulate the equivalent of about 10,000 to 15,000 messages per day. Which is vastly more than we expect at the moment, but the aim was to see what would happen if there was a huge number come in at one time.

The results were very encouraging. At one stage the Desktop Mobile did have a problem, but Michael's code went into it's error catching routine and corrected the problem.

Peter and I have been working [since I have been back] at trying to get all the systems up to our new dual-failover system. We are not there yet, but hope to complete before the end of June.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The 'Lab' - part of the computer food chain!

A friend of mine who works for one of our partners sent me a URL to the Microsoft Macintosh Laboratory. It was very impressive... hundreds of Macs everywhere with a whole cluster of Mac minis. He added 'pity we cannot get anything even approaching this for our line of business'. So true. We would love some Mac minis for developing systems for use around our region. They would be great for monitoring stations and SMS gateway machines and audio workstations and... and... oh well, in our dreams.

Anyway the development of the SMS gateway is progressing and so you can compare our modest setup to Microsoft, here is a photo of our setup... just after we took delivery of another 3 Burnside desktop mobiles so we can test them clustered together. Well, actually it's half of it. The other half is a couple more lab computers on a big table the other side of the room. Most of the lab machines became lab machines because they were too old for anything else useful. So we use them for testing and development.

This week Michael will be trying to get his software to automatically configure itself for multiple Burnside phones on the same USB connection. In the old days [no not 'good old days' or 'bad old days' just the old days about 10 years ago] you plugged something like a modem into one of the serial ports. You knew because it was labelled 'COM1' that it was COM1. With USB it's not so easy... the com port changes when you plug extra ones in, hence why Michael's software has to go out and find the correct phone.

The machine at the front contains the motherboard we are testing for a new replacement we want to put in for all of our servers. Assuming it all goes to plan then it will be moved to our rackmount servers in about 2 weeks time. So far... [this is the third one we have tested] it looks fine. When we have approved that motherboard and completed testing and put it and others like it into service then the old slow motherboards will become lab machines replacing the even older and slower ones we currently have. Now you understand why we long for some of the resources that big brother Microsoft has at their disposal!

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Little things please little minds...

At least we had a couple of successes this week... for those following Sue's blog will know of the ongoing saga or maybe we should call it nightmare of selling our house in the UK... so some successes at the office help... a little...

We got a new motherboard [3rd one for those following this ongoing saga] for one of the servers and will be using it for testing the new SMS gateway for the next couple of weeks before putting it into service. The SMS gateway allows people to send and receive SMS messages from teams looking after the websites we host and radio and tv stations we partner with. Well... having had two failures with motherboards we at last have a success.

The new one is much better than either of the other two in features offered and works perfectly [so far]... no racing clock and full monitoring of voltages, temperatures and things and all connectors working. Actually there are loads more connectors than normal. For those technical I think there are about 8 USB connectors, 2 Firewire, goodness alone knows how many audio including an optical audio and 2 Ethernet. It is the 2 ethernet that are particuarly good. We normally have to fit an extra ethernet board to get our servers working, but this comes with 2 built in. Of course the bad news was the price. Which we won't talk about. Especially as we need five more of them.

Secondly got the first live test of the new SMS gateway working on the 'live' system. And it worked perfectly. Next week we shall change one of the live SMS systems over to the new software and see how it runs, monitoring it continually. Interesting to see the difference between the old version [which I wrote] and the new one written by Michael. Michael is with us for a further month and is a professional programmer. On the server when we run my software it shows up as the most 'hungry' program on the server for resources. It is almost continually top of the list of using up resources when we monitor. Michael's on the other hand is so low that it doesn't even show on the first page of programs! This is particuarly good news as we want to run many copies of his program at the same time for many different mobile phones.

Had a visit on Thursday from one of the folk that I did the live TV Outside Broadcast for last year. He was conveying thanks from the team for what I did and we spent about half a day talking about what might happen this year. I have made a number of suggestions and hope that they will be accepted so as to reduce the stress at both ends.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Catch up? When?

Tuesday/Wednesday have been catchup days... catchup with colleagues returning from vacation [in particular Peter who co-leads the team with me] and catchup with accounting.

Wednesday is the day David our book-keeper comes in. We spend the most part of the day raising invoices to partners for their projects. The problem is with the book-keeping and administration is that it isn't a full time job, but it is more than 1 day per week. So with david coming in one day per week we are always behind. We try to keep up with paying the bills, but the invoicing partners is always way behind. In this case we found one that should have been sent out in October 2005 that hadn't been. I don't know what the answer is really, other than pray that God sends us someone who can do 1/2 time book-keeping and administration.

We are also fighting an old accounting system - Quick Books. It's not really up to what we want it to do and intend changing over to SQL-Ledger as soon as possible. SQL-Ledger will help a lot, but we wanted to change over as soon as we got all the new accounts. Since we are now in the EU we can do things easier... so they say... all we need is the charity/company papers from the UK verified by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK and hey presto... we can do things in Europe. But it has been months and months waiting for the FCO to verify our papers and we are still waiting.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Good meeting, bad hardware

Had a good meeting this morning discussing how we will proceed with live interactive Internet radio. We hope to start the new youth radio station, with a high emphasis on music and interaction at the end of September. There's quite a lot to sort out before then, like the new youth team, music profile, themes etc. I came back from the meeting feeling that this was the sort of thing I enjoy -- co-ordinating a team of people towards a defined project.

Then this afternoon happened. I hate hardware. The mother board I had replaced... see this thread, proved to be faulty and had not allowed any SMS messages to come in or go out over the weekend. So I changed it back to the old, slow motherboard as slow is better than stop. So tomorrow I have to try to sort out what to do about it. Also one of the SMS 'desktop mobile phones' went faulty at the end of last week and we are having problems getting a replacement sent out. This means that the SMS project is effectively held up until we get it.

So, day start good, day end bad.