I.T. One day at a time

August 19, 2010

Someone shot the good Samaritan

Filed under: Uncategorized — Craig @ 1:49 PM
An article published on ITNews.com.au highlights the intentions of the UK ISP Virgin Media to alert users, who are connected to its network,when they have been infected with malware. On the surface this scheme appears to have great merit and could potentially save home users the cost of engaging a computer tech and potentially costly losses or repairs. Unfortunately it does raise a few issues with the limits of responsibility as it relates to the user and the ISP.
Consider this scenario, a customer of Virgin Media is the proud owner of a laptop installed with a Microsoft Windows operating system. On a recent business trip they took along their personal laptop and were required to utilize the hotels Internet connection for browsing and social media activities. During this time the Virgin Media user visited a site that had been compromised with a particularly nasty malware. The type that is actively looking for personal and financial information from its victims. The users computer has now been infected due to a less than rigid regime of updating their computer with the latest software updates. Remember of course that the hotels ISP is probably not Virgin Media and if it was, would more than likely not be connected to the residential systems that this article refers to. Fast forward a few days and this customer is now back home and has connected their laptop back onto the Virgin Media ISP connection installed at home. Over the next few days the systems at Virgin Media detect this malware attempting to crawl around within its network. They identify the endpoint that the attacks are originating from and are able to contact the recently traveled customer to inform them of this detection. I have never been privy to correspondence of this nature but I imagine it would be worded something like this:
Dear Virgin Media customer,
A recent security scan on our systems has alerted us to a computer you are using on our network is infected with a malware program. In order to continually enjoy our premium internet services we suggest that you download our latest and greatest security scanning software to rid yourself of this blight.

Yours sincerely Customer service rep.

PS if you don’t rectify this problem within the next fortnight we will cut you off.

Or something like that. Now depending on the amount of time passed from the initial infection until the ISP communication arrived, the damage may have already been done. If this customer has visited financial sites before being made aware of the infection then those details have already been compromised. It is therefore entirely in the realms of possibility this customer will feel that Virgin Media has been at fault here by allowing them to become infected. After all, if they can detect the infection why couldn’t they stop it? I understand the desire for ISP’s to get customers using their networks to have malware free computers but offering a hand to help someone these days can sometimes result in getting that same hand bitten.

August 18, 2010

Sometimes, just talking fixes the problem.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Craig @ 9:56 AM
One of the major benefits being touted by the current Australian Gillard government in regards to the NBN (National Broadband Network), is the
ability for doctors to use video conferencing to help diagnose patients. This point is a major driver for the implementation of the NBN and the astronomical bill that comes with it. Having a background in the IT support industry I am wondering if this path is the best one to go down for the healthcare industry.
When I started in IT support, everything was physically done at the users computer. Software was installed, errors were corrected and rapport was established with the user. Over time remote support technologies found their way into the industry and slowly but surely support personnel found themselves chained to their desks using products like VNC and Remote Desktop to solve users problems. You know the somewhat scary experience when your helpdesk operator announces they are taking control of your machine. Suddenly your mouse is whizzing around, seemingly with a mind of its own. Visiting sections of your computer you never knew existed until the error is rectified. This was viewed as a benefit to the helpdesk and support department. Users could get immediate remediation to their problem and the IT helper could move on to another issue immediately. On paper this is correct, however, in practice there are some negative aspects to this form of support . The loss of the face to face chat is the most important. This form of interaction is a benefit for company and staff moral. Some people spend their days only conversing with the same handful of people. Having someone else they can talk face to face with can be an enjoyable interruption to the daily routine. Some say that your resident nerd may not be the most scintillating repoirte but beggars can’t be choosers right ? One other aspect is the loss of the environmental diagnosis. By this I am referring to the ability of a support person to diagnose an issue based on what is happening outside the PC. Perhaps the user has moved the physical PC and its new location may be contributing to the current issues. Using remote technologies this may never be ascertained by the support professional. If this situation is compared to the Doctor talking to their patients via video link it is imperative that the technology is used sparingly and with the understanding that incorrect diagnosis is a real possibility. Training for the Doctors and a level of understanding from the patients will eventually make this an invaluable service but it should never replace the face to face time that in itself can be a form of healing to some.

May 4, 2010

The case of the slow case

Filed under: Uncategorized — Craig @ 12:00 AM

Tonight I was handed a computer from a customer who was having problems getting anything done on their machine. The machine was incredibly slow and essentially unusable. The machine was running Windows XP, they thought, and there had been no recent installs and none of the current software on the machine had been updated. Windows was regularly updated and no new hardware had been added. That took all the “basic” problems out of the equation.

After booting up the machine problems start to become a little more evident. The first screen I am confronted with is a Virus scanner warning informing me that it was completely out of date.  This was easily fixed. The second most evident problem is just how slow this machine was. The processor was being hammered, 100% and no signs of letting up.  After killing the buggy software responsible for this, I noticed the computer was still slow to respond. After checking through the running processes I noticed that “interrupt” was regularly spiking the processor to 90%. After a little investigation I found that the Hard Drive IDE channel had reverted back to PIO mode. ( a much slower data transfer rate than the preferred DMA mode). http://winhlp.com/node/10

So after a quick update of drivers and some hardware checks the computer was returned in practically store bought condition. Another happy customer.

August 27, 2009

The reason IT departments can be so stingy.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Craig @ 11:59 AM
Tags: , ,
Office technology can feel like working in a prison.

Office technology can feel like working in a prison.

There are many challenges that face an IT support worker in a day to day environment.
Starting at the urgent call from someone who has to be back up and working within the next 5 minutes or the company will lose millions, to the inane questions about which PC is best to do web surfing or send emails. For the record any computer on sale today is more than capable of sending every email you are ever going to write or display every webpage you are ever going to visit without raising a sweat. However, the challenge that causes the most consternation for those poor individuals tasked with keeping PCs running, are the “non-standard” requests. The request for that new piece of software or that different type of hardware you believe will give your machine slightly better performance, or simply give it a better look. While this may seem reasonable enough from the users perspective, especially if it is driven by a business need, it can be the catalyst for a large headache in the IT department. So why is a standard so important? To answer that we need to look at what a standard is and why we have them in IT.

Standards are a virtual green zone for the majority of IT workers the world around. It is the locked down settings for Internet Explorer or your Office programs, the brand of PC on your desk and the type of monitor attached to it. It is the way your IP phone is locked to only a few different ringtones and your handheld can only run approved applications. While most home users will install the latest and coolest software or buy the biggest and prettiest hardware, enterprise software and hardware is chosen due to its reliability, cost in units of a thousand or more, the availability of support and spares 24 x 7 x 365 and most importantly the familiarity the support staff has with using and fixing the technology. Of course this is not to be confused with the standards used in industry that dictate the laws on how virtually every device is to be used safely and correctly. No, these standards are the guidelines developed by the internal staff to best suit how the company works as dictated by the business.  If a standard environment has been implemented within your company then this ensures problems that occur en-masse are easily handled. You see, if all devices are simply a clone of each other then you can be extremely confident that a fix that works on one device will work on every other device in the network. This allows IT departments to be slightly more proactive than reactive, as they can test and rollout patches/fixes/upgrades after a relatively quick testing turnaround because they have been able to run through all the required tests on devices that are identical to what the user has in front of them. Well that’s the plan. Unfortunately these plans are completely undone by the previously mentioned “non-standard” request.  Some of these requests turn out to be frivolous and are simply due to a lack of knowledge on the requestors behalf of what assets or device capabilities are already available to them. However, there are always legitimate requests that will ultimately save money/time/resources or all three for the business. It then becomes the challenge for the IT department to shoehorn this new device or technology into the current asset fleet without causing problems or failures with the existing technologies. However, it must be kept in mind that a non-standard request just for your machine, no matter how logical or beneficial, can often be met with resistance from your IT department. Remember as soon as your device moves away from the standard you become a unique case that has to be catered for separately to the rest of the asset fleet. Multiply this by a few hundred to a few thousand depending on your company size and all of a sudden the IT department is running around personally attending to all these unique devices every time a patch, change or upgrade is required. With IT budgets the way they are in the current climate, you quickly begin to see why the “standard” environment is so strictly adhered to.

July 31, 2009

Google has moved in and it’s a bit on the nose!!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Craig @ 11:31 PM
Google building and sewerage plant

Google building and sewerage plant

A month  ago, Google moved into their new digs on Pirrama Rd in Pyrmont, Sydney, Australia. It is a fantastic looking place. A speculatively built 6 Star energy rated building.” The first of it’s kind to be built in the southern hemisphere” the building placards announced. Built close to Sydney’s world famous harbor and close to every conceivable facility. There wasn’t much fanfare, just a slow trickle of Google employees started appearing around the area as they were moved into the building. The Governor-General, Quentin Bryce attended the official opening of the Google offices and the media were escorted around the lavish offices and Aussie themed meeting rooms.

It was only a few days later however that many of us who work near the new offices started to notice an unbelievable stench  emanating from the building. When I say stench I mean take your breath away stuff. The mornings seem to be particularly bad and for myself and my colleagues, the job of walking past the building in the morning is extremely unpleasant. You see, just as you get to where the smell is at its worst there is a gradual rise in the footpath. Now being a typical 8 hr/day, desk bound I.T. worker I am probably not as fit as I could be, and that gradual rise in the path compels you to start drawing in slightly heavier breath. Let me tell you, when you get that first whiff of the “Google cheese” as we have affectionately nicknamed it , you nearly gag. You find yourself clenching your jaw shut and lightly breathing through your nose so as not to permanently stain your mouth  and perhaps end up with bad breath for the rest of the day.

Now in all fairness to Google the stench was around well before the first sod was turned on their new building, but unfortunately for them they are now the perceived owners of the problem. Especially since the building proudly advertises the overly clever sewerage plant attached to the side of the building that is clearly visible from the street due to its glass walls and LCD instructional display.

Perhaps one day soon they can get together with Sydney Water, The building owners and a plumber and work out the problem, but until then if you are ever invited over to the Sydney Google building, by all means go, but just don’t let them take you round the back for a cigarette because you might set off an explosion that literally causes the shit to hit the fan.

May 19, 2009

Understanding how you process information to help you get organized

Filed under: Uncategorized — Craig @ 2:00 PM

In my never ending quest to arm myself with the best system/process to maximise my already busy day I came across this great site. http://unclutterer.com/2008/05/14/understanding-how-you-process-information-to-help-you-get-organized-part-i/

Fundamentally this site doesn’t supply you with bread and water, it teaches you how to fish. What I mean by that is, you are shown how to memorise and organise things that suits your style, not just supplied with a tool that is supposed to solve all of your problems. After answering a few short questions you soon discover whether you are best to write things down, Say them out loud, or associate a picture with your memory. My own personal experience was to confirm that I am currently using a suitable process for my learning style (tactile) but also that I could probably benefit from a slight variety of techniques that include audible and visual prompts depending on the situation. All in all this is a great way to teach yourself how to learn in your own efficient ways.

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