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November 01, 2010

Restore point test

set db_flashback_retention_target = 120

create restore point, then two days later the flashback log is not deleted.

Some archive log is not deleted since
“RMAN-08139: WARNING: archived redo log not deleted, needed for guaranteed restore point”

Drop restore point, the flashback log was dropped as well in this command.


October 28, 2010

A bit of a change

I’m in the middle of big changes in my life. I’m buying a house with my best beloved boyfriend half way across the country. I haven’t blogged in a while but have decided to rejuvenate this forum for keeping a diary of the things I enjoy doing so people can keep up with me etc. It’s also a way for me to keep track of how my house and garden develop over time.
I’ve made most of my old entries not publiclly viewable but all the old stuff is still here. I’ve left out my walking routes (which I hope to be adding to) and my PGCE statement which people seem to find useful.

Here’s to more blogging!


October 13, 2010

How Many Millionaires Does It Take To Run The Country?

So benefits are being cut, and public sector pensions are being cut, and jobs are being cut, and students are to be charged more… One recurring theme to be found in much of the invective unleashed by those who oppose the government as it merrily slashes its way around the place is that this financial pain is being inflicted by a bunch of millionaires. Until today I hadn’t quite realised the extent of this. Yes David Cameron and George Osbourne have the sort of histories (and faces) which scream “excessive money in the family” but I didn’t realise how deep it ran.

Depending on who you ask either 18 of the 23 full time senior cabinet members (The Times) or 23 of the 29 members entitled to attend cabinet meetings (The Daily Fail) are worth more than a million pounds. Indeed, according to the Mail article only Vince Cable, Andrew Lansley, Eric Pickles, Baroness Warsi, Patrick McLoughlin, and Danny Alexander don’t have a million pounds stashed away somewhere from property, shares, inheritance, publishing or wallpaper.


Lend us a fiver!

Apart from the curious situation where two of the three men tasked with tackling the economic state of the nation (Cable and Alexander) aren’t in this rich club, does it not strike people as a bit… exclusive?

I’ve nothing against millionaires in theory. I only know two millionaires and both earned their money through hard work and graft. Yes, I grit my teeth at the unfairness of those born with silver spoons and rich parents, but if there’s one thing history has taught us, it’s that money can be lost as well as gained – just track down Rupert Everett’s apperance on ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ to see someone encountering the evidence of an ancestor who frittered it all away. The rich should pay more tax and take more personal responsibility and that, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with having more than a million pounds.

However, if virtually the entirety of a country’s leadership is comprised of millionaires doesn’t that suggest that the national leadership is lacking a perspective or two? Like those of people who have less than a million pounds, aka the vast majority of the people of Britain? After all, the median wage in Britain is smidge over £25,000pa, a rate which would require nearly 40 years in order to accumulate a million pounds, if the recipient didn’t spend a penny and wasn’t taxed.


From the BBC, 2006/07 figures give an idea of the shape of British earnings.

So here’s my completely unworkable and insane idea for the week.

You might have heard of Labour’s women-only candidate lists. It’s not new news, here’s an article about it from 2002, and whatever its problems it does come from a well intentioned position – the desire to bring about equal representation of women and men in parliament. The idea, amongst those who advocate it, is that this equality is a good thing as it brings a proper representation of the British people. I am sympathetic to this, even if I am not 100% certain that single gender candidate lists are the best way to achieve it. Harriet Harman has also made it one of her aims to get half the shadow cabinet roles to go to women.

But if we’re trying to move towards equality in one area, why not another, just as pressing – financial status? I’m sure the massed ranks of millionaires in the cabinet can do a most excellent job of understanding how things affect millionaires, but I don’t believe they have enough insight into my position, or that of the family struggling at the poverty line, or even the upper middle class family with the doctor on £80,000 and the head teacher on £70,000. If we take it as read that a cabinet full of men cannot act in the best interests of women (and I believe they couldn’t, and vice versa), how can a cabinet of millionaires act in the best way for the massed ranks of non-millionaires?

So the madcap idea of the week is this – force the cabinet to represent the population in general. With 29 positions there might be space for as many as two millionaires (not because this is proportionate, but because it’ll be hard to wean ourselves off our addiction to excessively rich people right away) and then 27 people from a variety of financial positions, although the majority would earn between £18,000 and £30,000. Why not? A list of people for the 29 slots from which the cabinet will be decided, and then when elected they will all have to work together to decide who gets which role and how to run the country. Of course it would be almost totally unworkable in reality (because if there’s one thing people cannot do, it’s work together), but it would bring voices to the table which are flat out ignored by all major parties.

Otherwise we’ll just go on being run by an unrepresentative group of people who won’t feel the pain we’ll feel in the next few years. And that cannot be healthy, surely?


September 29, 2010

E–Mil, Illegitimate Sprogs And The Mail's F Grade In History

Writing about web page http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1316129/Ed-Miliband-I-dont-believe-God-I-WILL-married.html

The Mail, today:

[Ed Miliband’s] personal set-up has caused consternation since he became the first major political leader in British history not to be married to the mother of his children.

First major political figure in British history not to be married to the mother of his children?

Poor Charles II. Forgotten again, and by a very Royalist newspaper. :(

Still he probably had a good time having kids (well, having the attendant sexual intercourse) with Lucy Walter, Elizabeth Killigrew, Catherine Pegge, Barbara Palmer, the Duchess of Portsmouth, Moll Davis, and of course, Nell Gwyn. What a randy monarch (but apparently not a major political leader despite being, y’know, a pretty major political leader and figure).

Of course there was also Henry I, William IV, numerous other male monarchs.

And Ken Livingstone, who clearly much be a major leader based on the amount of bile the Mail and its London mini-me The Evening Standard throw at him.

And what about David Lloyd George? Prime Minister from 1916-22, of whom a newspaper wrote in 2008 “there are no politicians today who could ever think of getting away with the uber-sexed personal life, peppered with illicit lovers and illegitimate offspring, that Lloyd George led over 14 years in Downing Street, first as Chancellor, then as Prime Minister, from 1908 to 1922.”

The newspaper in question? The Mail.

Still, they might be historically ignorant and internally inconsistent, but check out their page three totty:


Phwaor! David Lloyd George!


August 02, 2010

oracle listener config

I puppetized Oracle listener.ora, then suddenly I cannot connect to Oracle


sqlplus system/xxx@db_service

ORA-01034: ORACLE not available
ORA-27101: shared memory realm does not exist
Solaris-AMD64 Error: 2: No such file or directory

I checked the configuration, everything seems fine.
ORACLE_HOME=/package/oracle/product/10.2.0
ORACLE_SID=argon

After some fruitless effort, I notice the value $oracle_home in of /var/opt/oracle/oratab is /usr/local/oracle. /usr/local/oracle is the symlink of /package/oracle. I changed the value of /var/opt/oracle/oratab to /package/oracle and reset the environment variable ORACLE_HOME to /package/oracle. Restarted the database and I can now connect to database.


March 13, 2010

Making web sites

Writing about web page http://theheels.co.uk

So I decided I wanted to make a simple web site for my band, The Heels. (theheels.co.uk if you’re interested) Along the way I discovered two or maybe three things:-

  1. If you’re used to working with a content management system, it’s an unpleasant slap in the face to have to go back to using CSS & HTML for layout. It’s easy to kid yourself that if you know enough HTML to do simple formatted text, images and tables, that you know enough to do layout but that’s tragically untrue.
  2. Equally, though, for a web site as small as the one I made, it’s not worth the effort of trying to select, install, and learn how to drive a content management system of any sort. It would have taken significantly longer to get any CMS working than it did to write a dozen or so pages by hand.
  3. One thing that’s annoying to have to do by hand is a change to every page; often a CMS saves you from this. But if you pack as much as you can into common CSS files, that fixes the problem from one side, and if you have a text editor which can search and replace across many files and folders, that fixes it from the other.

November 05, 2009

Educause '09: Portals

Writing about web page http://www.ithaca.edu/myhome

At a session about building a portal, I was struck by the similarities between the presenters’ institution – Ithaca College – and our own setup. They have three groups governing their web presence:

  • Their web strategy group has oversight. This is a high level group with VPs, Marketing, Admissions, Provost’s office, etc.
  • IT Services has technical leadership and hosts the institutional web site(s)
  • Marketing & Comms shares responsibility with ITS for brand, high level content, UX, etc.

They have a richly functional and well populated CMS which they built themselves, and a year or so ago, decided that they would build a portal to accomplish the following:-

  • Provide a home for a person’s (not the institution’s) activities. User has complete control over portlets, tabs, etc. – except for the “message center” portlet which is mandatory. The Comms Office control what appears in the Message Center.
  • Provide a single entry point leading to other resources
  • Improve communications between institution and students
  • Make transactions easier and information easier to find
  • Make a lightweight system that reuses as much as possible of existing web services & content.

A fairly similar set of circumstances to our own. What they built was a PHP / mySQL based application which uses the iGoogle portlet standard to deliver the following:-

  • Drag & drop UI for selecting & arranging content. (Choosing a background colour for each portlet turns out to be surprisingly popular and well used.)
  • The portal is a single sign-on participant, so starting in the portal means you won’t need to sign in to move on to other apps, and data can be pulled from other apps without needing to reauthenticate.
  • Webmail & calendar views in the portal (in fact, the only access to webmail is via the portal, to drive traffic)
  • Access to third party email accounts (Yahoo, Gmail, IMAP)
  • Lots of portlets for non-institutional data – Facebook, Digg, Reddit, Twitter, RSS Feeds, etc.
  • Search portlet shows results inline for people, web pages, blogs, etc.
  • “Service tabs” are whole-page applications (eg. change your password, see your calendar).
  • Users can publish and share their tabs with others if they’ve made a useful combination of things.
  • There’s a very Facebook-like gadget which shows you who else is online, their status updates, comments on other peoples’ statuses, their photos, etc. You can define who your friends are just like Facebook.
  • Mobile-optimised rendition (webkit optimised) – mobile home page is a list of portlets, then each portlet gets its own mobile-optimised screen. Similarly, an accessibilty-optimised rendition of the portal.

What’s striking about this to me is that they reached a different conclusion to the thinking we’ve so far been doing. Their portal at present doesn’t have access to much institutional information about the individual. So there’s no gadgets for “My modules” or “My timetable” or “My coursework”. The gadgets are fundamentally just news, email and external. They hope to add gadgets which can display institutional data, but there’s back-end plumbing which needs to happen first (again, sounds kind of familiar). Until I saw this presentation, my take was that you absolutely had to have those institutional data gadgets to succeed. But the Ithaca portal has achieved the astonishingly high take up rate of 80% of the members of the university visiting it at least once per day. Without institutional data. It’s given me pause for thought.

Ithaca have an excellent micro-site intended for people who are interested in their portal but who aren’t members of the university. See for instance the home page, some video tutorials, the presentation from today, and some usage stats


Educause '09: The future of the CIO

I went to a presentation about the future of the role of CIO. Most of what was said was fairly predictable (and that’s not meant as a criticism; anyone who reflects even briefly about how IT is used in universities, how the technology itself has changed and evolved, and the changing economic and political climate in universities, could hazard a perfectly reasonable stab at what’s occupying CIOs’ time nowadays). It would have been surprising and in some ways delightful if there had been a left-field, unexpected prediction such as:-

Within five years all CIOs will need to become accomplished mandolin players

but alas, such whimsy was not to be had (though as it was the presenter’s birthday, the audience sang Happy Birthday to him, which was almost as good).

Instead, the observations revolved around the fact that IT is now deeply engrained in, and vital to, every aspect of the institution’s work, and therefore the CIO of today can expect to be spending more time and effort on quality of service issues such as availability, planned downtime, risk assessment & management, financial management, disaster recovery, and so on. There was an interesting assertion that service delivery is now as important a part of the CIO’s agenda as strategy and planning, whereas historically it wasn’t, because there was less reliance on IT and therefore a more relaxed attitude to service availability.

But the very best observation in the session came right at the end, in response to an audience question which was along the lines of “You’ve said that the CIO’s remit is broader and deeper than ever, and that there are more things than ever before which need your time and attention. How do you decide what not to do; what you can stop doing?” (referring back to this morning’s keynote by Jim Collins). The speaker observed that finding ways to stop doing things or not to do things was indeed important, and threw in a couple of great observations. Firstly:-

I try not to say no to things directly. I see it as part of my role to guide the conversation around until I’m asked something which I’m confident I can say yes to.

And then, expanding on why this is a better tactic than just saying no:-

Saying ‘no’ is exercising power, and in a university, when you use power, you use it up.


November 04, 2009

Educause '09: live@edu

I went along to a Microsoft presentation on live@edu, which is the off-premise, hosted email service which we’re going to be delivering to our students early in 2010. Since we’re already some way into the project to manage this transition, there wasn’t a lot in the presentation which I didn’t already have some dim awareness of, but there were a few interesting points:-

  • Online, hosted Sharepoint is going to be added to the live@edu offering in 2010. It’ll be free for students, chargeable for staff, with the possibility of additional paid-for support if you want it. It won’t be as feature-rich as on-premise Sharepoint, but (depending on what’s in and what’s out) that might not matter for some student purposes. More information here (and I love the almost-too-frank FAQs; “Q: Aren’t you just copying Google? A: No! No way! We were here first!”)
  • Moving student email accounts over via IMAP looks pretty do-able .
  • The tech guys I spoke to seemed very confident that it is possible to do single sign-on integration with our Shibboleth-based in-house system. We might need our email or directories team to add some extra stuff to an AD and/or stick a special certificate on one of their AD servers, but given that, the rest of it, they say, is possible. Could just be sales talk, but the people I spoke to seemed too much in love with the geeky details of how you’d do it to be sales guys. ;-)
  • There’s a Windows Explorer add-on which lets you see your Skydrive file store as if it were locally attached storage (well, almost; you can drag files into and out of it and do file operations on the remote system in Windows Explorer, but it’s a network place, not a drive letter mapping, so it doesn’t show up directly in Open and Save dialogs, which is a shame). Still, makes it much more workable to have larger file sets in Skydrive, and much easier to move stuff in and out. It’s slightly surprising that it’s a third party offering rather than a Microsoft one.

Educase '09: Engaging the community

I went to a workshop about engaging your community when doing projects. Much of the advice that came from it is, on reflection, fairly common-sense based – communicate effectively, find users who are keen to be involved, make sure that senior people who could block your project are engaged, work on framing the problem rather than jumping to a particular solution, and so on. And the session wasn’t about how to actually succeed with your project deliverables, nor was it intended to be.

But I enjoyed the session nonetheless, partly because it was a workshop with exercises, rather than a presentation, and partly because it was led by enthusiastic, engaged presenters. And it served as a useful reminder that it’s eminently possible to have a project which succeeds brilliantly in terms of delivering what it was supposed to, on time and on budget, but which on some other level is a failure because what it delivers doesn’t do what people want, doesn’t make them happy. If you work in IT, it’s easy to get caught up in the nuts and bolts of getting things working and keeping things working – and of course that’s important – but it’s perfectly possible to deliver a service where everything’s working yet nobody’s happy. This session was a great reminder of how cultivating and maintaining good, productive, collaborative relationships with your users / colleagues / customers (delete according to taste and the prevailing methodology at your institution) is so very important if you want to deliver real services, rather than just be in the hardware and software business.


Educase '09: Cloud computing

There have been a couple of presentations on cloud computing so far; one on the in-principle pros and cons, and one on the nuts and bolts of an actual on-premise private cloud implementation. My thoughts:-

  • It seems fairly clear that 99% of people talking about cloud computing are actually talking about software as a service – Google hosting your email, or an out-sourced helpdesk or whatever. I’ve spoken to only a couple of people who are doing anything with genuine cloud services such as Amazon’s EC2 or S3.
  • People pointing up the risks of apps and data held off-premise seem to have a rose-tinted going on fictional view of life with on-premise services. Of course it’s true that your SaaS arrangement could have privacy issues, availability and SLA challenges, vendor lock-in, contract risks, and lack of control over the evolution of the service. But the unspoken argument against off-premise SaaS seems to be that these issues don’t exist, or exist only trivially, if you stay on-premise. But most universities who run Microsoft Exchange on site, for example, freely admit that they have outages, data losses and meaningless SLAs. And they are just as locked in to a vendor as if they asked Microsoft to hold the data in Dublin. And if you’re in a UK university, then if I say “Contract challenges”, I’d bet reasonable money that the word that comes into your mind first is “Oracle” – for an on-premise, supposedly bought and paid for piece of software.
  • Almost everyone has anecdotal evidence of people within their institution going off-site independently of what the central IT service may or may not be doing, be it forwarding email on to a third party provider, using Google Docs to collaborate or whatever. So unless you’re an institution with unusually strong central control (either technically or at a policy level), many of your members have voted with their feet and accepted the risks (possibly unknowingly, for sure).
  • An unspoken, but I think real concern, seems to be about the loss of accountability. If you run Exchange on site and it explodes, the thinking seems to be, you could fire someone. Whether you actually would or not is a different question, of course, but the principle that you can point to someone and say “this is your fault” seems to give some people a kind of warm fuzzy feeling. So if the university’s senior management agrees to go off-premise, the argument seems to run, who could they then blame if things went wrong later? Kind of a sad world-view to be planning your blame strategy in advance, I think, but there seems to be some of that floating around.

Educause '09: IT Governance

My next session was on IT governance, though it would be more accurate to describe it as being about project governance. That said, there were some striking differences between the way the speaker’s institution operates, and what happens at Warwick:-

Firstly, there is a committee for selecting and prioritising projects. Kind of like our own IPSC, I guess, but with the striking difference that this committee allocates resources directly; it has about a million and a half discretionary dollars to spend, and somewhere between 60,000 and 80,000 person hours annually. What this means, clearly, is that putting a proposal to, and getting the approval of, this committee is actually a real mechanism – indeed, the only mechanism – for getting a project resourced and underway.

This contrasts with our own somewhat fragmented situation, where committee approval, funding allocation and project management all happen in different places, and it’s quite striking how logical it seems, when presented by someone who’s doing it, that these things all need to happen in the same place.

The other point that’s interesting is that the speaker’s institution approved and delivered of the order of a hundred or so projects per year. In order to accomplish this, they had to ensure that their approval, management and review processes were as efficient as possible. If each project requires extensive documentation, frequent meetings, the participation of lots of people, then the number of projects you can do is limited. So there’s a relentless focus on reviewing, streamlining and improving the process, and ensuring that nobody who wants to commission a project, or who is working on delivering a service, feels that the resources they have to devote to project management are disproportionate relative to the resources devoted to the deliverables of the project.


Educause '09: Jim Collins keynote

The first keynote session of the conference was, as is often the case, not about a specific technology or even really specifically about the sector. Jim Collins is an author and consultant who has worked on the question of what distinguishes great companies from merely good ones, and he spoke entertainingly (with a hint of Al Pacino; he likes to speak very quietly and then suddenly SHOUT and then go quiet again) on some of his thoughts and observations.

There isn’t really a narrative thread to be pulled out of what he said, so I’ll just jot down a few interesting points:-

I liked his five stages in the life of a company:-

  1. Hubris borne of success
  2. Undisciplined pursuit of more
  3. Denial of risk and peril
  4. Grasping for salvation
  5. Capitulation to irrelevance or death

A bit like the Gartner hype cycle, I guess, if slightly more doom-focussed. Other nuggets:-

  • Leadership is like a plug variable for companies; when we don’t really understand why a company is succeeding or failing, we ascribe it to leadership. But we don’t know what that is. Leadership exists in both succeeding and failing companies, so what’s the difference?
  • A leader who has concentrated power is different from one who doesn’t; we might call the latter “legislative” leaders; their role is to manage things so that the right decisions can be taken, rather than simply taking the decisions.
  • The exercise of power is not really leading; real leadership is getting people to do what you want even though they don’t have to.
  • Packard’s law states that if you allow growth to exceed your ability to execute on your plans for growth, you will fail. And key to execution is having the right people. A classic failure mode is to grow faster than you can put the right people in place to manage the growth.
  • Motivation is an internal characteristic. You can’t supply motivation to other people as if it were a commodity, and it’s insulting and pointless to try. You can destroy it and take it away, but you can’t manufacture it.
  • The signature of mediocrity is chronic inconsistency.
  • What is brand / reputation? A non-quantifiable sense of the trustworthiness of an institution; that it does the things that it says it does, well.
  • It’s a good strategy for both individuals and the organisations they work within to build “pockets of greatness”. Competence is powerful and attracts people, because it’s so rare. So someone who builds a pocket of greatness is likely to progress.
  • In the context of how power is distributed within different types of organisations, I was tickled by Jim’s description of academics within universities: a thousand points of no.

His advice for concrete things to go away and do? Cherry picking my favourites, we have:-

  1. Decide what not to do. Have a stop-doing list as well as a to-do list, though then, of course, you face the tricky dilemma of whether the stop-doing list belongs on your to-do list.
  2. Review your questions to statements ratio and see if you can double it in the next year. Knowing the right questions to ask is more important than knowing the answers.
  3. Turn off your gadgets; put whitespace in your calendar. You cannot enage in disciplined thought while checking your email/Twitter/Facebook or if your phone is ringing.

Educause 2009

Writing about web page http://www.educause.edu/E2009

I’m in Denver for the Educause conference. It’s probably the biggest IT-in-HE conference in the world, and whatever you’re interested in – e-learning, cloud computing, weathering the downturn – it’s a safe bet that there’ll be a session on it here.

I was last at the conference five years ago (also in Denver, coincidentally), and that time, one of my main interests was in helpdesk software, and I hoped to use the conference as a lever to try and persuade my colleagues that we should switch away from HEAT, which I thought then (and still think) was a bit of a dog’s breakfast. It’s taken five years for that particular plan to come to fruition, so I guess I should be cautious about what I might accomplish this time around. But if nothing else, there’s a bunch of people talking about things that Warwick is very much interested in right now, and, for as long as my laptop battery lasts, I’ll be taking notes which hopefully might prove useful to us in the future.

Some of the sessions I have my eye on include:-

http://www.educause.edu/E2009/EDUCAUSE2009/CloudComputingHypeorHope/175837
Cloud Computing: Hype or Hope? Does this paradigm offer great promise or extreme peril to the core mission of the academy? Two academic IT leaders will debate the pros and cons of moving mission-critical services to the cloud.

http://www.educause.edu/E2009/EDUCAUSE2009/RevisitingYourITGovernanceMode/176027
Revisiting Your IT Governance Model. Four years after adopting an inclusive IT governance and prioritization process, we’ve completed 188 projects, spending $8.4 million and expending 250,000 hours. We will describe the history of our governance, our recent governance process review, and how the process has evolved to create a collegial and transparent method for prioritization.

http://www.educause.edu/E2009/EDUCAUSE2009/BlackboardMoodleandSakai/175839
Blackboard, Moodle, and Sakai. A discussion of the pros and cons of adopting proprietary versus open-source solutions. Issues addressed will include total cost of ownership, licensing, options for application hosting and technical support, and how new features find their way into a product.

http://www.educause.edu/E2009/EDUCAUSE2009/VirtualDesktops60PercentCheape/176062
Virtual Desktops: 60 Percent Cheaper, but Are They Worth It? Pepperdine University is conducting a 12-month study to assess the costs and feasibility of replacing desktop computers with virtual machines that allow multiple people to share a single PC. Results from a pilot implementation will be shared, revealing costs, power usage, user satisfaction, ease of administration, and recommendations for installation.

http://www.educause.edu/E2009/EDUCAUSE2009/WhatVersionofGoogleAreYouUsing/176070
Project Management and IT Governance Through Agile Methods. Decision making within IT governance and project management is commonly driven by hierarchical, centralized, and formal planning. Agile Methods, adopted at SUNY Delhi, focusing on openness, transparency, self-organizing groups, collaboration and incremental development, deliver continuous innovation, reduced costs, and delivery times, as well as more reliable results.

http://www.educause.edu/E2009/EDUCAUSE2009/ITMetrics/175721
IT Metrics. This session focuses on developing, collecting, and reporting IT metrics, leveraging peer efforts, and identifying benchmarks to improve the overall performance of IT departments. Frequently used metrics are customers’ feedback on IT services, balanced with internally recorded metrics of actual customer IT services usage. A constant goal of this group is to assist others in implementing metrics in a more rigorous, meaningful, and timely manner.

http://www.educause.edu/E2009/EDUCAUSE2009/WhatHappenedtotheComputerLab/176090
What Happened to the Computer Lab? Over 80 percent of respondents to the annual ECAR study of undergraduate students reported owning laptops; nevertheless, usage of expensive public computer labs remains high. Panelists from three institutions will lead a provocative discussion on updating existing computer labs.

http://www.educause.edu/E2009/EDUCAUSE2009/TheHeatIsOnTamingtheDataCenter/176111
The Heat Is On: Taming the Data Center. Power and cooling continue to be “hot” topics in the data center. Many vendors offer green solutions and products. Should an organization retrofit or build a new data center to meet increasing demands? This session will focus on some strategies to manage data centers more effectively.

http://www.educause.edu/E2009/EDUCAUSE2009/BuildingaResearchITDivisionfro/176128
Building a Research IT Division from the Ground Up
The nature of the research enterprise is changing rapidly. Large-scale computing, storage, and collaboration needs are now common. We describe how we scoped and funded a central IT division focused on research IT support to address these needs, and the successes and challenges we encountered along the way.

http://www.educause.edu/E2009/EDUCAUSE2009/IgnoranceIsntBlissHowtoFindOut/176140
Ignorance Isn’t Bliss: How to Find Out What Your Clients Really Need
Providing IT tools and resources that meet client expectations requires persistent and creative efforts to understand their needs. Six presenters in this session will describe surveys, face-to-face discussions, and other means of learning about client needs and how to effectively follow up on those expressed needs.

According to my scribbled notes, I’m aiming to attend 16 sessions in two days, so I expect to get progressively less coherent as time progresses. Let the Powerpoint begin!


July 17, 2009

Some cool–looking Star Wars toys and action figures

As a lowly webmonkey I rarely get to see the actual physical products we sell. I could buy them, but I’m not rich enough for that. So unfortunately I can only really go based on the lovely pictures that get loaded onto the website.

Since we’re supposed to be well-known for selling Star Wars things, and that we rank pretty badly for it, I’ve decided to find what I think are the best-looking upcoming Star Wars toys. This is all part of the experiment.

I’ll start with my personal favourite, this is the one that caught my eye and made me decide to make this post.

Imperial Shock Trooper

Technically this is related to the prequels (or clone wars cartoons) so by rights it should be rubbish. However, it looks bloody cool. The design is somewhere between clonetroopers and stormtroopers so I imagine it’s supposed to be a gradual progressions. But apparently this guy is a Shock Trooper, that sounds pretty impressive so I like to pretend he shoots lightning (rather than going with the boring conventional definition of shock trooper). The red colouring is what makes this figure stand out, and apparently he’s fully articulated. That’s right, not just partially articulated, but fully. Is there some sort of quality assurance board that governs whether an action figure can be considered fully articulated? I ask because I very much doubt he has a completely accurate human skeletal frame with all joints and motions.

He’s not cheap (about £70), but if you’re the kind of person who’s inclined to buy this kind of stuff, he’s worth a look.

Deluxe Imperial Shock Trooper at Forbidden Planet

Next up it’s the….

Sandtrooper

Quite similar to the Shock Trooper, but it’s a true original trilogy style Storm Trooper, who happens to be a bit dirty, this makes him into a Sandtrooper apparently. Since this stuff is all made up anyway, I guess I can accept that a Sandtrooper is different to a Stormtrooper and this isn’t just an attempt to cash in by making numerious variations of exactly the same model.

He’s more expensive than the Shock Trooper (coming in at a hefty £75) and doesn’t look quite as cool, but still worth a look if you have more money than sense.

Deluxe Imperial Sandtrooper at Forbidden Planet

Ultimate Quarter Scale Figure: Mace Windu

Yeah that’s right, it’s Mace “I’m going to crash your party, bitches” Windu. The guy who made purple lightsabers the height of manly fashion is apparently now available as an “Ultimate Quarter Scale Figure”, whatever the hell that means. I can only assume it means he’s quarter the size of ol’ Samuel L himself, which would make this figure pretty big. By the looks of things he’s trying to force persuade you into buying his action figure, I guess he’d have to since it costs £75. Apparently he also has 25 points of articulation…

It looks like he also come with real cloth for clothing, this basically means you’re paying £75 for a Barbie.

Ultimate Quarter Scale Figure: Mace Windu at Forbidden Planet

Challenge time

Find me the highest number of points of articulation that an action figure has ever had, you are not limited to humanoids. I guess some sort of giant worm or dragon action figure might be the winner here.

There’s lots of other things, but frankly these were the ones that looked the best to me. If you’re really interested in seeing everything else, I guess you could always visit this convenient link that lists all of the Star Wars toys that we sell on the interwebs

Not everything costs as much as £70, though some of it a lot more. £50-70 seems to be the sweet spot for things that look good but are also in the realm of affordability.

I was serious about the points of articulation thing, I want to know.


Pondering Ponderousness

I’ve been wondering what to do with this blog for a while, mostly because I have a proper site (that happens to be being rebuilt) as well.

I’m thinking I might start using this blog for general rants, whilst keeping my main site as a more professional gubbins. I’m also thinking I could use it to highlight any cool stuff I spy my company selling. We sell all sorts of cool action figures, statues and comics, some of which look pretty cool – even if I can’t actually afford any of it myself :(

I’ve been trying to push the idea of a more community-oriented section of our site for over 2 years now. The main argument being that by providing valuable content, you are going to encourage a lot more inbound links as well as a positive attitude towards the company. When you compare this with sending our numerous newsletters per week which just list products, and have a site with over 20,000 products but no opinion… the benefits are obvious. In this day and age, transparency and a human face are going to do a lot more for boosting traffic than wearing out your existing customers.

My previous 2 posts here were largely to prove a point (though the results are obviously skewed due to the obscenely high scoring that Google seems to give .ac.uk domains). Permitting for different Google servers (each server has different rankings for pages because changes take a long time to propogate across them all), I’ve managed to boost us from page 4 to 1 of UK searches and from virtually unranked to page 1 of worldwide. Obviously this is only for a very specific set of keywords and I had to write some very targetted content (and links), but I hope it’s proved my point – inbound links are everything, and if you provide content that people want to link to, you’re on to a winner.

So I’m tempted to keep using this blog to push certain parts of the site, but only to the stuff I genuinely think is cool. I have no intention of turning this into a marketing portal and I would kind of like to return to the entertaining kind of posts that used to be so common across Warwick Blogs.

BYE THEN.


July 08, 2009

Uh oh, I did it again :( (more Urban Vinyl and Art Toys)

Follow-up to Designer Toys / Urban Vinyl / Art Toys are expensive and look cool from Andy's Dumb Ramblings

...I bought 3 more Monskeys

Monskey Army

Apparently the red one loves nature and hates waste. The diver one loves diving and hates sharks. Personally I think he picked the wrong sport if he hates sharks.

I’ll try not to buy any more, 4 is enough methinks…

I also have a secret agenda here, I’m testing the effect a blog post has on google rankings. Trying to encourage my employer to interact with the internets a little more proactively. Though to be honest, I think it would be worthwhile even if it didn’t affect our rankings in any meaningful way.

I’m curious as to whether Warwick Blogs are still as powerful in Google as they used to be, I remember when I was the number one search result for Threats to Global Peace.

So here’s the rest of our Urban Vinyl


July 06, 2009

Designer Toys / Urban Vinyl / Art Toys are expensive and look cool

Hello, it’s me again.

Why am I posting here and not on my real site? Because I’m redeveloping it. And when it’s finally launched, you too will be able to see that it should never have taken as long as it has.

Anywho, in the last couple of years I’ve been slowly exposed to the scary world of Designer Toys / Urban Vinyl / Art Toys (whatever the hell you want to call them). No, I’m not talking about edgy urban music ‘records’. I’m talking about the odd craze where artists take a prefabricated vinyl (plastic) figure and art the shit out of them (yes, that is a technical term). Sometimes they’ll even design their own vinyl figure first, and sometimes they won’t even use vinyl, they’ll make plush toys. What a crazy world.

Anyway, I finally took the plunge and bought one of the cheapest vinyl figures I could find. It’s a “Monskey” and his name is “Teakia”. According the packaging he likes fire and hates noise. He also believes we all have psychic powers. In many ways he’s a lot like me.

Here’s a picture of him:

Unfortunately there’s also a boatload of almost identical monskeys with different designs, this is why I’m going to be very poor. Even more poor than I am thanks to living in London and earning a non-London wage.

Here’s a link to a whole bunch of other urban vinyl monskeys

There’s an unbelievable amount of urban vinyl, so it’s lucky I’m not one of those guys who gets hooked on collecting stuff. No wait, you’re the one who doesn’t get hooked, I’m the one who does… Unfortunately most of it costs a fortune. You can even get a 18 inch tall white monkey thing that you can doodle all over designer toys, art toys, and urban vinyl 18 inch Mega Munny at Forbidden Planet) ... seriously, who comes up with these ideas?

Also, it’s my birthday soon so buy me lots of nice things. Yes Mannion and Widge, I mean you.


June 26, 2009

Sugar on a Stick

Writing about web page http://wiki.sugarlabs.org/go/Sugar_on_a_Stick

Today I had a quick go of Sugar on a Stick, the liberated version of the software that runs on the One Laptop Per Child computers. It’s pretty good and I can see where it would come into its own if it’s wirelessed up with a classroom full of other laptops, all chatting and learning and stuff. For me the best thing was dancing back in time to that day, once a year, when the teacher would drop this round robot on the ground and get us to program it to move forward and turn right. That’s right, the LOGO Turtle. Consequently I had retro fun using the Turtle Art software that’s included with a reminiscent tear of joy trickling down my beautiful face.

Turtle

Fig 1. Witness my procedural vector text rendering prowess.


There is also a 2D physics playground app where you can draw shapes and watch them fall over and basically smash shit up. It’s pretty good and I’m usually all in favour of smashing things up but I dunno; not sure if kids should be learning science and getting all knowledgeable. They might grow up clever and make us look really stupid.

If you want to try it you can find some old dusty computer that’s not running very well and maybe use this to give it a bit of life, or you can do what I done and use VirtualBox to make it appear as a little virtual computer in a window, inside my real computer. I know, creepy.


June 12, 2009

Pirate World

This advert bothers me…

Movie World at PC World

It bothers me because I don’t quite understand what PC World are offering here. As far as I can tell, the only realistic use for their magic hardware is to stream pirated movies from your PC to your TV.

How many legal websites offer on-demand movies in the UK? I’ve found maybe two, but Google for ‘download movies’ and you’ll find the Pirate Bay and Mininova come up first.

Apparently in the cinema this advert is coming up right before FACT’s advert telling you how lovely paying for films is.

I’m not convinced PC World’s latest promotion sits easily alongside that.

P.S. I’m not even going to go into the creepiness of the main guy in the advert or the pointlessness of the Christian Slater cameo.


May 21, 2009

Why journalism and the market don't fit together

Robert Picard’s piece in the Christian Science Monitor, Why Journalists Deserve Low Pay (published Tuesday) will go down with the NUJ like a lead balloon. He argues that journalists deserve low pay because:

Wages are compensation for value creation. And journalists simply aren’t creating much value these days.

If we accept his first point – that wages are compensation for value creation – then his second point is right on the money.

But that’s a slavishly ‘markets-rule-the-world’ kind of mindset. In the real world, wages are compensation for our time, effort and experience. We get paid more (unless we’re a banker) because we put in the time, the graft and have the knowledge and qualifications to do the job that’s required.

Basically, my point is that if we’re going to pay people because of the value they create, then teachers and doctors would be multi-millionaires and journalists would earn 50p per hour.

Neither of those things are the case.

But let’s ignore that for now and move down Robert Picard’s piece, because much of it is a wake-up call to the struggling media industry.

Journalism must innovate and create new means of gathering, processing, and distributing information so it provides content and services that readers, listeners, and viewers cannot receive elsewhere. And these must provide sufficient value so audiences and users are willing to pay a reasonable price.

Like much of the article, this is so right it hurts. But written from an American’s perspective (albeit via Oxfordshire), Mr Picard’s argument ignores the importance of public service broadcasting, which is fairly thin on the ground in the US.

There are lots of stories out there for everyone to chew on, many of them original, worth reading and worth paying for. But with public service organisations to compete with, commercial news providers find that the pool of original journalism is reduced in size and harder to find.

This makes it hard to have such a diverse, privately-owned, profit-making media in the UK. But I’m not going to complain about that. Too much of the commercial world (whether television, radio, print or online) has given up the fight and has little energy left for original, value-creating journalism. They should be left to wither or should face up to radical change.

But Mr Picard’s scenario, combined with the UK’s exceptional circumstances, make me think that the Guardian’s model of ownership (through a not-for-profit trust) might be the best way forward. It recognises the necessity for a pluralistic media industry while not relying on the distraction of profit above-all-else that most organisations have to live with.

Mr Picard’s article calls on journalists to change their mindset, and he’s right to do that. But the ownership model needs to change too. Unless journalism is taken away from shareholders and investment funds, it won’t just fail to create value. It’ll fail to exist.


May 20, 2009

Why the next Speaker has to be Sir George Young

I won’t predict the next Speaker of the House of Commons. My last prediction, that Michael Martin would cling on, proved to be somewhere in the region of wrong.

Instead, I’ll offer a few reasons why the Conservative MP for North-West Hampshire, Sir George Young, should be trusted with the role.

1) Independence
He’s not afraid to walk the difficult path. In Andover, the centre of his constituency, he disagreed with almost every Conservative in the town on plans for an enormous Tesco warehouse. They generally supported it – he was one of the leaders of the campaign against it. By doing so, he was against those who wanted the jobs, but probably caught the public mood at the time. Perhaps he was guilty of following that public mood for electoral gain, but nevertheless, don’t we need a Speaker who’s in touch with what the public wants right now?

2) Transparency
Sir George was one of the first MPs to publish their expenses online. I doubt there are any others who reveal their spending in as much detail as this. In 06/07 he claimed £165 for food, for instance. The one black mark on his record might be that he maxed out his second home allowance for the last two years.

3) Balance
If convention is that the Speakership rotates between someone from the Government benches and someone from the Opposition benches, it really is time for a Tory.

4) Form
As the Chairman of the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges, he knows how the system works but can’t be blamed for its failings. He’s also a man in tune with the times – he led a campaign to get broadband into rural areas back in 2001.

5) The X Factor
He’s likable. He’s not annoyed anyone on the opposition benches, and he’s a lover of Parliament (theyworkforyou.com says he has well-above average attendance). Yes, he’s a Baronet, and yes he’s what people might call a ‘Grandee’, but he’s also a safe pair of hands, from the right party, at the right time.

P.S. Make of this disclosure what you will, but I lived, for just over a year, in Sir George’s constituency and regularly met with him to do radio interviews. That fact probably colours/informs my judgement somewhat.


May 19, 2009

'Education, Education, Education': The Results

Figures released quietly on Friday reveal the success of some of the government’s education programmes.

Michael Gove, the Tories’ Education Spokesman, asked the government how children on free school meals (the widely used guide to childrens’ family wealth) had done at A-Level and in their Sats tests (soon to be abolished).

These are the answers he got:

Those on free school meals who sat Maths A-Level:
2004: 554 (13.8%)
2008: 705 (17.1%)

Those on free school meals who sat Further Maths A-Level:
2004: 31 (0.8%)
2008: 53 (1.3%)

Those on free school meals who achieved Level 7 in their KS3 Maths tests:
2002: 5,120
2006: 9,233

But it’s not all good news. While Maths has been a big success, English results have actually worsened.

Those on free school meals who achieved Level 7 in their KS3 English tests:
2002: 2,663
2006: 2,364

These figures only reflect successes (or otherwise) in English, Maths and Science. Many teachers say the focus on these three subjects came at the expense of other subjects, especially at primary school. Where maths figures appear to be good news, those for modern languages show the inverse. Those getting two language GCSEs at grades A* to C fell from 7.3% of pupils in 1996 to 4.7% in 2008.


May 18, 2009

The Speaker will cling on

I think the Speaker of the House of Commons did enough today to cling onto his big green seat.

He was, of course, awful. Woeful. Abysmal. He needed a good showing, and he summarily proved he didn’t know House of Commons rules by getting confused over the technical arcania of substantive motions. I was momentarily transported back to student politics.

Shudder.

But he was nice to Gordon Prentice and Douglas Carswell who did their very best to rile him.

This was out of character, and was the one solitary thing he did today that was different from last week. Hidden in his measured, if stuttered tone was a smidgen of a whiff of a note of change.

The Speaker didn’t give the people (nor the media) what they wanted though. No retirement date. No immediate release of every MP’s expenses. And beyond that faint dram of forced friendliness, no sign of change.

He doesn’t want to go. The PM may want him to go politically, but electorally a by-election in the until-now safe Glasgow North East seat would be disastrous. And a contrived band of Scottish friends, led by the ridiculous Lord Foulkes, don’t want him to go.

All they have by way of weaponry is the sharp sword of convention.

Rarely do five or six people stand up to sixty million and win. In this battle, full of history and precedents, they just might.


May 11, 2009

They're not all scum

I think the Telegraph, and others, have gone too far with MP’s expenses now.

Yes, some of them are money-grabbing little sh*ts who deserve the marching orders they’ll be given at the next election.

But some of the MPs who’ve had their expenses splashed across the newspapers really have done nothing wrong.

The Daily Mail have the news that Oliver Letwin claimed £2,000 to replace a leaking pipe under his tennis court. His response that:

I was served a statutory notice by the water company to repair the leaking pipe, which runs underneath the tennis court and garden. No improvements were made to the tennis court or garden.”

seems to have been pretty much ignored – the paper’s still run the story and painted him as an expenses cheat in the process.

Another overblown example is the Prime Minister – yes his cleaner seems to be flipping expensive, but suggesting he was siphoning off public money to line his brother’s pockets is pretty close to an outright lie, and yet it’s the impression most people will now have.

I’m not too worried about individual MPs being slandered though – their electorate will see through the media bluster at the next election.

But I think the general ‘they’re all at it’ mood of the press is going to be really damaging. With a change of government more than likely, you’d expect turnout at the next election to be higher than 2001 and 2005.

But if the public think politicians are universally a breed of tight-fisted, public money-stealing good-for-nothings then it wouldn’t surprise me if turnout actually dropped. What, after all, is the point of voting for anyone if every politician is bent?

Gordon Brown’s claim that the system is at fault is nearly half-right, but it takes a certain kind of person to exploit that system.

However, the media’s completely over-the-top wall-to-wall coverage of the 650+ liars, cheats and bastards will do nothing for the public’s faith in democracy. And if that breaks down, we really are screwed.