Friday, February 23, 2007

A week in the life...

Monday morning, starts week normally: Catch up with things like email and prepare for trip to another country. Late afternoon: fly to other country, arrive late evening. Dinner with colleagues, starting around 10pm. After dinner one colleague shares with me his problems till approx 2.30am.

Tuesday morning... ahhhh... start work at 8.00am. Which is very bad news for me, being up at 2.30am the previous night was relatively easy, but starting to try to think about complex issues to do with web site design at 8.00am is positively tortuous. But I cannot start later as we have meetings planned for most of the day. So the first web site meeting ends at 2.00pm and I have lunch meeting with another partner till approx 5.00pm. Then go to another partner organization and start measuring up office space to see if a new department can use the office space: There are 5 offices to measure and try layouts for. Discuss the needs of this department and go to another meeting at 7.00pm. This is meeting over dinner, and ends at 11pm. Final meeting of the day from 11pm till 12.30am. Oh no it isn't... a colleague wants to talk so we do so till 2.00am again.

Wednesday morning... even more difficult to start at 8.00am but somehow I do. Today is an even more complex website design planning meeting and goes on till 1.30pm when I go to another lunch meeting with another partner organization. Meeting ends at 5.oopm and you probably guessed already its time for another meeting. But you'd be wrong... I get a short break and hmmm... meet informally other colleagues who want to discuss things... followed by a dinner discussion with a colleague and the next meeting starts at 8.00pm and goes on till midnight, when I collect some covers and cases I had made and go to where I am staying and again I have a colleague sharing with me till the small hours.

Thursday morning... joy of joys we start at 9.00am... well 10.00am would be better but never mind. Continuing on the complex website design meeting we started yesterday. This goes on right through lunch [and actually we all forget to eat] till I go to the airport at 3.00pm to catch a plane at 5.00pm. Now I am not sure if I should be pleased or not, but the airports have WiFi internet connections so I continue to chat [this time online] finishing off a discussion about another project till I board at 5.00pm

Friday morning... back in my own office so I start work at 10.30am and work through till 6pm. I think I worked out I had about 46 hours of meetings from Monday night through till Thursday night. I think I probably did a a more than 70 hour week this week so I am more than 'vaguely tired', but cannot sleep... so up writing the blog.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


Saturday: Phone call, “There’s water coming in through the roof of the office...” Rush in. Thin layer of water over the mini DV video recorder. More water over one of the monitors. Fortuneately no water over the brand new mac-mini, new flat screen and new portable hard disks.

So I clean up, move all the equipment out of the way, leaving some to dry out. And then go to look round the rest of the office to see if there are any other leaks. In the main server room I hear a noise... ahhhh... no we don’t have mice, we have rats. Big rats. About 20cm long with 10cm tail.

Monday: The pest control company come in at Peter’s request. “Sorry we can’t do anything today, its raining!” And leave.

Tuesday: Arrive in to find loads of tubes about the place with labels saying these are rat and mice poison [the pest control people say we have both].

Wednesday late afternoon: Peter leaves for home. I am alone in office. Scamper, scamper, scamper across the false room of my office. I don’t lift any of the ceiling tiles to look, yes I know I am much bigger than a rat, but I still don’t want to come face to face with one when standing on a chair trying to dislodge the ceiling tiles.

Thursday-Friday: No scampering.

Monday [following week]: John comes in to start changing the video edit suite furniture to take account of the start of building a new video editing suite. As he moved the old furniture we find two things: One an old bar of soap with teeth marks around [wondered why the soap suddenly disappeared] and blue rat droppings... blue means they have eaten the poison.

So what have I been doing all this time? Well, having lost John when he retired [not the John who is changing the edit suite but the other John] at the end of last year and Alex now only available part time, Peter and I realised we are supporting more than we can cope with for Internet resources for different agencies and individuals. So I have written a paper that we are circulating to our partners explaining the situation and suggesting we need to talk to see ways of supporting this work better for the long term.

As a result of this paper, we have had telephone conferences and meetings with various different groups to discuss alternatives. As I write this I am in the airport to fly to another Middle Eastern country to discuss with partners there.

Peter and I are really project people who are good at developing ideas and methods to use the Internet in creative ways to reach our audience. We’re pretty bad at long term day to day maintainance. And that is stressing us. We’re also lacking an office administrator as the discription above probably suggests: No, we haven’t fixed the roof leak, the toilet is still very slowly leaking water and the kitchen floor needs sorting along with 101 other things...

Currently we are providing various services to 15 partner organizations, over 300 secure email accounts, 30 websites, 7 24 hour a day radio stations, 7 audience relations systems with 9 SMS phone gateways with 10 servers we are directly re-sponsible for, plus consultancy and advice to those partners on other IT issues.

One of our key websites last year received 50,000 visitors per month and we had to reduce the number of visitors to 10,000 per month to enable the people relating to the visitors to cope. About 5% of our email users are 'high maintenance', often needing help with their own computers two, three or more times per year and taking upwards of six man weeks to support them. Last year we had John dedicated to taking and managing support requests [by that we mean where a user or partner organization says something is not working as expected].

The struggles have changed too: We are now facing approx 400,000 attacks against our servers per year. Within the last year, one website was compromised and turned into a spam sender, another website was hacked a couple of times and a third website hacked a number of times each time being taken over with pornographic images. These were all due to poor website pro-gramming and we are taking steps at a higher level to try to protect these poorly written sites.

Within the last month two partners have sustained hacks within their office networks which have resulted in one case potential denial of service and in the other actual denial of service to those office networks. Both of these were potentially caused by Word 'documents' within the office network: Even some types of 'document' are now dangerous to share between colleagues. We acted as consultant to one of these two partners, sorting out the blocking and advising on ways to reduce the possibility of a repeat problem.

Spam has become a major problem: On current growth we will be dealing with more than 20,000,000 spam emails this year. There are multiple divergent methods for tackling some of these problems with different proprietary manufacturers competing standards, so, even if you for instance, buy an off-the shelf Microsoft server for your office email it is guaranteed that some of your emails will be delivered incorrectly. Thus we are 'shooting at a moving target'.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Of mice and men...

Last week Peter and I had a quiet stroll around Europe... well not exactly, we checked in at 01:30 on Monday morning, flew overnight to London Heathrow, got a bus to London Gatwick and spent the day planning the meetings for the rest of the week. We then got a plane to Malta arriving there around 10:00pm and went into a meeting till approx 3:00am.

The following morning we were up and travelling to another part of the island by 9:00am to get to a meeting which went on all day. That evening we travelled back across the island [OK, it is small I'll give you that] to another meeting which fortuneately finished by about 11:00pm.

Next day... informal meetings all day and in evening with yet another agency. We went into this meeting hoping we could 'give away' some of the work we did to them. Unfortuneately they went into the meeting with the hope they could give away some of their work to us! Oh well, at least we know we are both overloaded.

Following morning, up and catch a flight back to London Gatwick, then pick up a rental car and drive to Birmingham. Rental car was amazing, it had one mile on the clock, really really nice. On the way up the M40, Peter was driving and I was logging on via GPRS [that's internet over your mobile phone] to sort out problems in our centre here in Cyprus. Thursday evening: Meeting with board of trustees.

Friday morning, up again and drive to the south coast to meet two groups of people from another organization. Lunch with one group and afternoon with another. Great meetings and 'can I sleep sometime please?' Phone call from Cyprus studio, they are having problems, so pull into service station and GPRS in again and fix it. [My comment: "Red light on means studio on air, red light off means off air, would have saved time if you told me the red light was off!"]

Then over to my mother's house for a couple of days, [where I did sleep!] pick up some software I had delivered to her and go to Brighton to buy some other that hadn't been delivered and catch a flight back to Cyprus.

So, into the office, first day back and I go to the control centre, hit the keyboard to bring it to life and... nothing! Follow wires through and find that the wire to the keyboard are broken. Think terrible thoughts about the people who were in on Friday and wonder how they managed to pull the cable so hard to break it. Hmmm... just a moment... that looks like teeth marks, very small teeth marks... and on that cable too, and that one... hmmm... MICE!