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'.

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