Monday 23 December 2013

Time To Move On

Search the Internet for "spare parts for a model T ford" and you won't find Ford Motor Company at the top of any listings. 

Search again for parts for a Ford Capri and you're likely to have the same problem. Why? Because times move on and companies have to devote their time and attention to new opportunities and stop spending time and resources on old products.

The same process applies in the computer industry.  Back in 2001 Microsoft launched Windows XP and it bought a fresh change to how things were looking back then. A couple of years later, Microsoft launched Office 2003 and now both XP and Office 2003 are going to be shelved when it comes to "updates".

Support for older programs requires a team of developers to upgrade the software, ensuring that it contains the latest bug fixes and security patches.  However, when you consider that this software is over 10 years old, you can understand why Microsoft and other software developers want to turn their attention and teams to keeping the up to date software protected and supported.

What does this mean for you? If you have XP or Office 2003 you need to be aware that your software will no longer receive updates around April 2014. You can still use the software, but as new security breaches are discovered, you won't get new protection from Microsoft.

"Why Move on ? I like XP!"
Good for you. If you're happy to take the time protecting your system and it runs well for you, great. We're not demanding that you change, but certainly would recommend that you consider upgrading as you'll have all the benefits of the new software along with the countless security and bug fixes over the years.

As anybody that owns a classic car will tell you, there's a certain pride and joy in running an older vehicle, but you have to be prepared to put the time and effort into keeping it running.

And as anybody that buys a brand new car will tell you, there's a certain amount of excitement discovering what all the buttons do.

Monday 11 November 2013

The Advantages Of Disloyalty

For any of you with an iDevice (and we're guessing that's a lot) you will probably be familiar with iMessage, the built in messaging app that comes with nearly all Apple products. Fairly solid service. However, somewhat like a spoilt child (or a multi-national, billion dollar enterprise) iMessage will not play nicely with any other messaging service or operating system. So if you have a friend who dares not to possess a Cupertino necessity, you may have to text them (remember texts) or, deep breath, talk to them.

There are, of course, perfectly viable alternatives. WhatsApp, Skype, Viber, Kik, MessageMe, Line, Voxer, BBM - take your pick, all of which have the major advantage of being cross-platform. Android, iOS, Windows, Blackberry, even Nokia (I never thought I'd say 'even Nokia'), you can communicate regardless of the device. Let's do that exercise again. Take a photograph on your iPhone, share it via Photo Stream and your iPad will be delighted. If your Windows Phone owning friend wants a copy though, they are out of luck. Be disloyal and auto-upload to Dropbox however and go share-crazy.

Another approach is one that many of us here at Estuary favour. One of us has an iPad as their tablet of choice and an Android device as their phone. On the odd occasion when a must-have app is only released on one platform, we're covered. We have recently written some apps and are ready to test them on both major platforms. The same principle applies to desktop computers. Microsoft Windows will run on an Apple Mac much easier than OSX, Apple's operating system, will run on a PC. So owning a Mac, although an expensive proposition, allows you to get the best (relatively speaking) of both worlds.

There are no perfect answers when it comes to owning tech and the product simply does not exist that will single-handedly do everything you want it to all the time. Still, some judicious purchasing will cover a lot of eventualities.

Done. (How bracket-tastic was that post?!)

Monday 4 November 2013

I'm Over Here (Which Means I'm Not Over There)

Today, more than ever, people interact with social networking by means of their mobile devices, bringing images and unique interactive data to the masses.

We've often seen images of our friends on Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram etc, with a location tag linked to the image.  Gradually our photo's on our devices get organised to location, so we can quickly find images we took when were were on our holiday in some sunny or fun location.

However, with this exciting and interesting addition, comes a word of caution - particularly if our privacy settings are not closed down enough.

With today's technology and search engine power, it is not too difficult for a criminal to build up a picture of your movements if your location services are switched on to public access.  They'll be able to see and work out where you are by following your twitter account, your Facebook account or your Instagram account and know when you are at various locations.  And of course, while you are in a new location... you are NOT at home.

It might be easy to conclude that nobody knows where you live, but with a few deductions, a few checks on the names of the friends you have, or the school you attended or place you work, your address details could easily be discovered.  We'll let your over imaginative thoughts conclude what could happen if a criminal knew where you lived and when you were not at home.

So what can we do about it?  

Let's not be party poopers and suggest that we don't take photo's of our holidays (although the thought of going through hundreds of "and this is another picture of that sandwich we ate in France" photo's does make us consider this). No realistically it would be a far better idea to ensure that our location services are restricted to friends and family and make sure that those we have listed amongst friends and family are just that. Friends and family.

Technology will always have it's place in society, it's made enough of an impact to never go out of fashion in today's life, but its also open to abuse. And abused it is. It's used to advance everything, including crime.  So by doing our part, we can reduce the risk of it happening to us.

Wednesday 30 October 2013

What is the world coming to? (About 400mb)

I was rebuilding a work machine today and had to re-install all the drivers and software necessary for the user.

It was while downloading the mouse driver and the printer driver that I suddenly noticed that both of these seemed to take a long time in installing.

The mouse driver took longer to install than the anti virus program (We install a business/networked version of Kaspersky) and the printer driver was over 400mb, which was also bigger than the install size of the anti virus!

I couldn't believe it!

Is this a crazy pattern that developed from a sloppy practise of programming? Or is it simply the amount of code necessary to drive the hardware nowadays? 

Have computers gotten so complicated, that the devices that connect to them are requiring large chunks of programs to keep control and make them accessible? 

Talking of which, I need to switch my twitter enabled coffee machine on. 

Thursday 17 October 2013

The Benefits of a Social Network

I was quite surprised today to hear somebody say that they deleted an invite to "LinkedIn" because it was of no benefit or use to them as a salesperson.

While its true that Social Networking has a history of being a bit of a 'gamers and gossipers way of keeping in the know', it also holds some value for businesses.

How often have you met a friend of a friend (Fig.1) and found that you have a lot in common? Or needed some work done at home, and were able to get in touch with a friend who knows somebody that can do the job reliably for you?  As a human race, we prefer dealing with people that we know, than pass the work on to an unknown untrusted person that we found in the local business directory.

Social Networking can be a powerful tool in enabling you to get to know the people that your friends know, and getting your business credentials across to a customer of a customer.

Its quite normal to join a social networking site and start finding people that have similar needs to your existing customers, or who you are not normally able to approach because they don't know you.

However, now that you have a common interest, a common friend, the door has opened for you to have the opportunity in extending your network in that direction.
(Fig 2)

So don't be afraid of the technology. It's a tool that will save you a lot of leg work and will open doors of opportunity.

A properly worked Social Network has the ability to work more effectively than cold calling on the telephone. So join, fill out your profile in the best way you can, and start meeting the people that might make a difference to your working life.

Tuesday 8 October 2013

Old Tin Can

An article in The Telegraph today, reported that Britons are losing around 5½ days because their computers are slow. This got us thinking... and calculating.

Lets say the basic wage for an office worker is around £16,000.  That's around £307 per week, or £61 per day. So 5½ days at that rate is around £338.

Most IT departments would purchase a basic office machine for around £300. They'd get a reasonable machine for that price and everybody would be happy. But add another £338 to that budget and suddenly it's a different story..

The difference between the two is striking. You go from a 2 core processor to an 8. You increase your ram from 4gb to 16gb. The graphics processor leaps from a built in motherboard display to a 2gb graphics card and the storage also increases from 500gb to a 2TB drive and 128gb Solid State Drive.

Certainly the performance between the two machines would make a huge difference in the lives of the workers, increasing efficiency and reducing stress.

It doesn't surprise us to read these stats. This is something we've been a great believer in, giving the worker a full orchestra to do the job instead of expecting them to write a concerto with a tin can and a cocktail stick. 

We've seen workers struggle with slow machines and seen support staff spend countless hours trying their best to find ways to tweak a little more speed out of the workstation. In the end you spend more money in time and resources than you would have spent investing in the right equipment at the beginning.

Don't be afraid of the tech and invest wisely.

Wednesday 2 October 2013

In Defence Of The Tech [I]

The first in what I fear will be a regular series...

We've read a recent spate of news articles that turn up at least once a year. In their simplest form, they go like this,
'I went on holiday, came home and got a mobile phone bill for £27 million.'
There is a recurring theme in almost all of these stories. And it goes something like,
'I didn't know I was going to be charged £120 per MB while abroad.'
And therein lies the problem. Not that the bill was a mistake. Not that the phone was racking up a phone bill with an evil smile on its face. The issue was that the human in this equation didn't know all the facts.

That's not to say the mobile service providers are completely blameless. Historically, roaming charges were notoriously hard to find. It really wasn't even made clear enough that charges were significantly increased while abroad. There again, how could it not be. Being able to phone or text the same number and have that person or message reach you wherever you are in the world is a phenomenal technological achievement.

So this seems to be down to getting all the facts, then using your phone within your means. Data use is what will rack up the largest portion of your mobile bill while abroad. Some apps will use data to check for updates and that data can mount up quickly. Most phones have the facility to switch off roaming data and if you don't need constant internet access and can live off of WiFi only, switch it off. If you do need mobile data overseas, it's worth asking your provider what offers they can give you or buying a SIM card specifically for the country you're travelling to.

Estuary IT - Defenders of Tech since 2013!

Tuesday 24 September 2013

Default Password? No Thank You!

Have you ever been in a location where you need Internet access and you use your mobile phone as a Personal or Portable Hotspot.  Essentially you use your mobile phone's Internet connection as a WIFI for your laptop or other devices.

Upon setting this up initially, you might find that your device will provide you with a password to use. How convenient! However, you might give consideration before making use of that connection.

In a recent test, researchers found that the list of words selected for these default passwords was little under 2000, and with equipment that could try 390,000 guesses per second, were able to crack the password in under a minute.

Have you evaluated your password recently ? How secure is your password ? Social networking is an open book when it comes to your life, is your password made up of names of places or children or maiden names - things that could easily be guessed from the locations of your photos, or list of children you mention in your posts?

Why not see how secure your password methodology is? Follow the link below and try out a few passwords to see just how secure they are:-

Certainly consider changing any default password that your device thinks up. Why not put THAT password in the web site above and see just how secure it is?

Monday 16 September 2013

Cryptolocker and the importance of Backups.

Imagine walking into your office, or switching on your home computer to find all your important files, word documents, spreadsheets or music, photographs and videos locked.

Locked so tight, that you'd have to contact the NSA to unlock it for you.

Now imagine seeing on your screen the words "Your data has been locked, pay $300 to have them unlocked. You have 50 hours..."

Seem crazy? Well, this is a new breed of nasty virus spreading around at the moment, and once your data is locked, even removal of the virus wont help. Antivirus software companies are working hard to come up with a good detection for this breed of Trojan virus, but it seems one of the only ways you can get your data back without paying the money is by having a BACKUP.

We've always championed backups, regular ones at that. But now is a prime reason to do so.

Always be careful about what you download, particularly if it contains an attachment. This is one way that the virus spreads, as an attachment to your email and so if you get any emails that contain an attachment treat them with utmost caution. Delete it if you're not sure. If it's legitimate, you'll be able to get the company to send you another copy.

Backing up your data is VITAL for businesses and if you have data that you cherish, it's important that you backup regularly.

Tuesday 10 September 2013

The Big Apple

So tonight was interesting as we heard a few things from the big Apple. I don't mean that location in America, but the bigger Apple. The one that makes all those lovely devices.

Apple tonight made more tech history with their announcements from California.  iOS 7 is to be launched on the 18th September and contains a lot of default things built in that most of us had to get apps for.  A cleaner screen, ease of use and the nice thing is that if people have a device with iOS 5 or above they'll be able to do this over WIFI directly from their device.

Interestingly one of the things that caught my attention was the announcement of the iPhone 5C. Multi-coloured and a "cheaper" version of the iPhone 5S.  I am sure that it might be better than it first looks, but in my mind it's devalued the iPhone. I always thought of the iPhone as a classy phone to have. Now... not so much.  How many people will buy the iPhone 5C compared to the more expensive and more "full on" iPhone 5S? Who knows.. time will tell. But was it a good strategy move?

Surely Apple don't make mistakes, they know what they are doing. Right ? 

Oh yes. Google Maps.  "Nuff Said" ;)

However, the A7 64 bit chip in the new iPhone 5S? Now that is interesting. The A7 chip is about 40 times faster than the original iPhone !  Serious bit of processing speed.. They've also added a new M7 chip which will monitor the movement of the phone. This will apparently give rise to more motion and fitness apps and this could be an interesting watch.

Security was addressed, with a fingerprint reader. Not so sure about this and again it'll have to be seen to be believed. To think that my phone will not open and potentially delete everything because it can't read my fingerprint is a concern.. but I guess if I worked for MI-5 I would like that.

Well.. let's wait and see..  I know for a fact that week tomorrow, most of the iPhone planet will have a new iOS to be introduced to, so we'll bring you more information as that becomes relevant.

Wednesday 28 August 2013

Obviously! Or Not?

I had a very interesting experience over the weekend that demonstrates the challenge that software developers face in making 'user-friendly' software.

My mother's phone died last week, so I gave her one of my old ones. Aren't I a great son. Now, her old mobile was a super-simple, big-button phone designed for - erm - a more mature generation. The replacement was a 'top of the range in its day' Nokia touch screen. Disaster looms.

One particular sticking point was adding phone numbers to the contact list. I'd added a shortcut to Contacts on the home screen so it was easy to open. However, we then hit a user dead end.
Mum: "How do I add another phone number?"
Me: "You touch the phone book icon with a plus on it."
Mum: "You make it sound obvious. I didn't know that."
 Me: Safe silence.
Mum was right, it was obvious to me. I want to add a phone number, therefore I touch the only button with an add symbol on it.
Mum: "What now?"
Me: "It says 'tap to write' up there. So tap it."
Mum: Tap. Enters contact's full name.
Me: "Whoa whoa whoa. It says 'first name'. 'Last name' is the next field."
Mum: Disgruntled silence.
Let me make something quite clear. My mum is not a stupid woman. She's a history-buff, has high-level music certificates and a younger age than me on brain training. Yet, on some level, this seemed beyond her.

We do programming here at Estuary, so we understand the challenges in making a genuine user-friendly system. You could use text on all the buttons but as soon as you release that software in overseas' markets your translation work significantly increases. Symbols are universal, but they have to be crystal clear.

Also, the psychology for many people is that 'this is technological, therefore is going to be hard,' however simple the interface. It takes a lot of work to make something easy. A lot.

Now, close your browser and get some air. No, close it. It's the red cross in the top corner. Was that not obvious?

Thursday 15 August 2013

Digital or Analogue Calls?

Oh how things have changed since the first telephone in 1876 !

What started as a way to get multiple telegraph messages across the same lines soon developed into speech and nowadays we have millions of conversations travelling the world at great speed.

Years ago, everything relied on a diaphragm to change sounds into a current and at the other end of the line, the current was used at the other end to convert it back into sound.

Nowadays, although the mouthpiece and earpiece are of similar technology, the signal is digitised and chases at light speed down optical circuits. Also is the more recent development of VOIP - Voice Over IP.

What is VOIP ?  This is the technology of sending the audio signal down a digital line through the Internet, racing around the world and converting it back to an audio signal at the other end by a computer or similar device. The benefits?

One of the main benefits is cost. Conversation Audio isn't bandwidth hungry, so it can travel down your Internet connection even if you don't have a very fast connection.  If you are already paying for a broadband connection, you can have endless calls to other VOIP connections for "free" - there is no charge for the length of time you spend on a call, nor is the charge of the call determined by distance, so long as they have Internet.

Other services are available too, SKYPE is a popular VOIP service which offers the facility to allow callers to call Landline numbers which are NOT on the Internet by taking the signal into a local phone exchange over the Internet, and then converting the signal to regular audio for the final distance to the receiving telephone.  The benefit?  Long Distance Calls for the price of a local charge.

There are many benefits to VOIP, and as the service continues to improve and expand, we can see that most or all telephones we be this way.

So the choice remains yours, for now. But VOIP will continue to bite away at the old Analogue phone service.

Tuesday 21 May 2013

It's a Raid!

As we become more and more dependant on our computer systems, it becomes more and more apparent the need to keep backups.

While the cost of external back up drives is getting lower and lower, there is a constant risk of "forgetting" to take regular backups of your data which only becomes apparently when your main system crashes, or the drives fail.

Is there anything we can do, which happens quietly as we work ? Yes.

RAID is a system of using multiple drives to give data redundancy. This means that you end up with copies of data occurring as you work and can give almost instant safety.

The level of RAID largely depends on the space you have in your computer tower, and the budget that you have. But even the simplest systems could support the basics RAID settings that would give most users a level of comfort.

We'll discuss just 4 levels of RAID. There are many others, but the 4 should help most home users and some smaller businesses too.

RAID 0 uses a system of STRIPING the data. This means that if you had 2 x 500gb drives you'd have about 1000gb (1TB) of storage space.  The plus side of this is that half of the data is kept on one drive and the other half is kept on the other. This gives you twice the space and double the speed as both parts of the data can be accessed at the same time.  The down side is that if one drive fails, you lose all your data.

RAID 1 uses a system of MIRRORING the data. This is much safer as the data is stored on both drives at the same time. The access time is slower as the computer has to write the data to two drives concurrently, and you don't get any more space than just one drive. But if one drive fails, you have a second drive with exactly the same information on. You can then purchase a new drive to replace the failed one and it will copy the information across onto the new drive - thus mirroring the information once more.  For low budget, this is a good system as it only costs the price of the additional drive and most computer towers would have the space to house it.

RAID 5 uses a system of Striping with Parity. You need 3 drives for this to work. This means that the data is spread across the three drives but a "parity" bit is written away too, which means that if one drive fails, you have enough data across the other two to rebuild the information when you install a new drive.  It takes a while to rebuild, but it gives you the speed as well as low cost backup options.

RAID 10 uses MIRRORING and STRIPED together. You require 4 drives for this to work.  The system will pair of two of the drives and stripe the information across the other pair. You then get the speed of striping as discussed in RAID 0 but with the redundancy coverage of RAID 1.  The down side is that you have to invest in 4 drives to make this system work. It all depends on the importance of speed and data recovery.

This is not a conclusive article on the benefits or negative outcomes on RAID. There are more in-depth discussions across the web. But we wanted to give a quick overview on the facilities available to users as data becomes more and more important.

Have fun and remember.. BACK IT UP!!

Tuesday 30 April 2013

When Is A Virus Not A Virus?

One of the first computer viruses was detected in 1982 but was more of a distraction than a danger. Nowadays, viruses can spy on you and your data, demand or steal your money and wipe your computer. Anti-virus programs are de facto and, as we've discussed before, you can keep yourself safe as long as you're up to date. However, there is a side-effect that, although not as destructive, can be just as massive a waste of time.

Rather than spend the considerable amount of time needed to write a half-decent (I use that term loosely) virus, some people just say it exists. They spread the word around the internet and, as other people come across the information, they spread it to all of their friends. The really successful ones spread like wildfire. Everyone thinks they are doing the good and right thing by warning others, but the virus doesn't exist. What is actually happening is email servers around the world are getting clogged up with emails about fictitious viruses and the originators work is done.

So what do you do if you receive one of these emails warning you about the latest deadly computer virus? Delete it. Do not pass go, do NOT pass it on to all your friends. Just hit Delete and move on with your life. Even if it was genuine, your friends either have an up to date anti-virus program or don't. If they do, they're safe. If they don't and they subsequently get the virus then they brought it on themselves. Hopefully they'll learn to protect themselves in the future. But realistically, the chances are the 'virus' is a hoax and a massive waste of time for all concerned.

This public service brought to you by Estuary I.T. and a significant amount of caffeine.

Thursday 28 March 2013

Keeping Your Cool (Or, I'm Your Biggest Fan)

Our less than stellar experience with Macs continue as it has recently started locking up after anything between 10 minutes and an hours use.

The usual culprit for sudden locking is dodgy memory modules, so we systematically tested them all and found them to be functioning correctly. Macs are notoriously hard to self-service, which is probably a good idea for most home users, but pros find their hands tied too. However, we appear to have tripped across the solution.

The second biggest culprit after fading memory is heat. Computers generate heat, processors particularly. You could fry an egg on a processor left running under normal circumstances, so they need fans. In fact most computers have at least two and possibly four or five fans. If any one of them slow down or fail, the unit will start heating up and there comes a point when it simply cannot function and so stops processing. Hence the lock up.

For the Mac we found a small piece of software that allows manual control of the three fans sitting in it. We increased the speed of all of them and now it appears to be running fine. Problem solved, although it should never have happened in the first place.

As any technician will tell you, opening up PCs to service them usually reveals conditions suitable for smallpox to find a footing. If your unit has progressively become more unreliable it may be worth taking the side off and, very carefully, vacuuming or brushing out the internals. But do be careful, you may do harm than good if you charge in intending to get a mirror-like sheen. You're only looking to remove build up of dust.

If previous experience is anything to go by, you might find a computer under all that dust. Or money. Or some long-lost tribe.

Wednesday 27 February 2013

The Subjective And Out-Of Date Recommendation Post

Probably the second biggest bane of an IT professional's life is being asked for recommendations. (We've already discussed the first). So we're going to take our life into our hands and make some. However, please be aware that they are purely what we like and you may not get on with them. And if you are reading this any time after the day it was posted, then it's out of date.

Dell: Reasonably priced, decent equipment. After-service is pretty ropey though and upgrade prices can be a little steep.
Novatech: Get what you pay for machines, not always the cheapest, but after sales and services is good.
HP & Compaq: Nice equipment, but you get the feeling you're paying more because of the name plate on the front.
Acer: Nice laptops.
Mac: Expensive and not for big game players, but look pretty and are user friendly.

Firstly, the anti-recommendation...
Panda, Norton and McAfee: Overblown monsters that want to take over your entire system. They will slow your computer down and it's a matter of time before you have a problem that was caused by them. McAfee isn't too hot at detecting some basic and common viruses either.
AVG/Avira: One word - free. And for the regular PC user they provide ample protection.
AVComparitives is a useful comparison tool and Bitdefender won its Product of the Year award, with Kaspersky not far behind.

Office software
Microsoft Office: Fine but there's a good chance you won't use everything you've paid for.
LibreOffice: All the mainstream parts of Microsoft's offering with a 100% price difference.

iPad: Still at the top of the heap but there are a number of viable alternatives. Worth trying a few before you commit.
Honorary mention: Paracetamol - Always read the label (True in IT too!)

Philips: Nice clear displays with good colours, recently been finding these to give good value for money too.
LG: Good Prices, good contrast ratios
Relisys: The monitors last, but the power packs fail, and they're not the run of the mill IEC leads which most monitors use, so you find yourself stuffed.

Canon, HP, Epson: Yes.
Lexmark: No.
And if you expect to print from an iPad, ensure the printer supports Airprint.

Trust: Don't. They're rubbish.

We'll try and update this post occasionally, so check back.

Wednesday 13 February 2013

Your Password Is 'Out Of Date'

We spoke recently of the survival of the fax machine. There's another technology that has survived despite its inherent weaknesses - passwords.

As has been proved time and time again recently, passwords are all too often not a sufficient protection. We have written before of the importance of creating a strong password but it's almost impossible to get this flawlessly right all the time. In an ideal world, every account you own would have a different password. That password would be a minimum of 8 characters. It would include lowercase and uppercase characters, numbers and preferably some punctuation. No part of it would appear in a dictionary or be a date. Basically, it would be impossible to remember.

There are services that can generate and then store secure passwords. The flaw here is that you will either tick 'remember me', therefore giving anyone who gets hold of your device free access to your accounts, or you will rely on the service to remind you of what the password is. Access to that service is likely guarded by a single password and the circle is complete. If I can crack that password, all your accounts belong to me.

In addition, as computers become ever more powerful, they have the potential to crack passwords ever quicker. Somewhat ironically, graphics cards are better at this than processors. Any password is crackable. It's just a matter of time.

Two-step verification is a way forward. Google, Dropbox and a number of other services offer this and it entails a constantly changing number generated by your phone that you have to type in after your password. Sadly, all too few services offer this and it does take longer to access your account. It's only a few seconds, but they add up.

Fingerprint and facial recognition have bee trialled with limited success. Also, most of these systems have a backup that, if recognition fails, will ask for a password. And here we are again.

So what's the way forward? There is space for a new technology that resolves these problems. But it'll take better men than me to come up with it. Any ideas? Comment below or on our Facebook page if that man or woman is you.

Tuesday 12 February 2013

The Paperless Office

In a slightly risky proposition, I've started writing this article without any clear answers, hoping that I will find them as we go. The question? What is stopping the paperless office?

It's been somewhat of a buzzword for years and it makes sense, on paper (Ha Ha, see what I did there?!). It would save trees, it would minimise clutter, it would speed up searches, it would minimise loss in the event of disaster. To elaborate...

Saving trees: not to be overly 'green', but it's basic maths. Less paper = more trees. More trees = good. So there's that.

Minimise clutter: this is basic business sense. Clear desk, clear mind and all that.

Speed up searches: now we're talking. If I want to find one piece of information that I know was posted to me at some point in the last year, that's going to take a significant amount of time. If I want to find something that has been emailed to me in the same period of time I can probably find it inside of five minutes. It doesn't matter how good your filing system is, if I am equally systematic in my method of electronic storage, I will find it first.

Minimise loss: this is quite a biggie actually. If your office burned down now, what would you lose? If your answer included anything that you consider important and of which the only copies are now ash, you could be in trouble. A good electronic backup (one that is safely stored off-site, either via removable drives or cloud storage) will allow to set up at another location and continue with minimal disruption. In other words, it may well save your business.

So why, in the 21st century, is this still a dream? Let me think...

I suppose there's a comfort factor to paper. As humans we are often rubbish with change and committing to purely an electronic method appears to a step too far.

There's a perception of speed with paper. If someone phones up and says to me 'can I give you a phone number,' I'm going to grab a sticky-note and a pen. It's unlikely I'm going to open a document on my PC, type in the number and save it with some meaningful file name. Effectively, as soon as the computer is off I've lost access to that information. But aren't tablets changing that? Or phones for that matter?

Then there's signing stuff. If I need a document signing I'm going to post or fax it. This probably goes toward explaining the otherwise inexplicable survival of the fax machine, mid-20th century tech. Digital signatures - not a name but a code unique to you - exist but have never really taken off. And again, tablets could be the answer as it is possible to sign an electronic document, as most of us do when we receive a parcel.

Why else is the paperless office not happening? Leave a comment below or on our Facebook page.

Friday 8 February 2013


With mobile technology becoming more and more accessible to the general user and the advancement of such technology over the years, it's not uncommon to see people taking their tech into work with them or using such technology instead of work issued equipment.

BYOD or Bring Your Own Device has steadily become a bit of a nightmare for IT Departments because staff are keen to use their devices through work networks, but as ownership of the equipment belongs to the user and not the company, it becomes hard to impose restrictions upon the levels in which the user may gain access.

Is there an answer? Not an immediate or clear one, no. The reason is that staff want access but don't want their equipment touched by the IT team and the IT team don't want the users to have unchecked access or confidential work data on a personal device.

There are a few options:-

  • Have a "Use our equipment or nothing" policy. This will cost the company a little more if technology is required. It will also mean that the user may possibly carry around two phone devices, but the security control on the work device remains under the control of the company.
  • Allow personal devices within the workplace and hook them onto an independent WiFi router which bypasses the main network, keeping the two separate.
  • Allow personal devices to be used, but maintain a strict watch over what kind of company information is accessible to those users
I don't think that there is a perfect scenario. Each company will have to make a decision on the trust and size of their personnel, but with a bit of planning and ensuring that policies are in place, BYOD can be beneficial to all.

Monday 21 January 2013

Have You Tried Turning It Off And On?

It's become such a constant refrain in IT support that it's become a bit of a joke...
Have you tried restarting your machine?
So why is this often the first recourse for an IT help-desk type? Simply because, 7 out of 10 times*, it works.

At the very least, restart the program that you are having problems with and preferably restart your machine. Why? Imagine your computer as a worker in an office. You give it a job to do and it quite happily gets on with it. Then you give it another job. No problem. And you carry on piling jobs onto it which, for today's workhorses, is no big deal. However, there comes a point where one piece of paper gets lost. It's here somewhere but there are twenty piles of paper scattered all over the desk. Everything grinds to a halt while this one piece of paper is searched for. There is a quicker way of doing this. Clear the desk of all paper and start the jobs again, one at a time. The paper will turn up, or be recreated.

Now it's not a watertight illustration, but it gives you an idea of what the issue is. I hate to break it to you but computers are dumb creatures. So if one part of a process goes walkabout, the entire system could grind to a halt while the software tries to untangle itself. In the long term, it's often easier to clear the decks, as it were, and start again. Restarting will close every program and file, shut down the operating system and basically allow it to find itself, in a non-profound sense.

Save what you can. Know what you've done and what will need doing again. Make a coffee. Black, no sugar. Thanks.

*79% of statistics are made up on the spot

Sunday 20 January 2013

4K - The next step

Technology has a habit of moving forward just as we think we've caught up. High costs normally make us think "I could never afford that" but over time the costs become reachable as technology takes the next step in becoming something even more unreachable.

Just as we thought High Definition Television had settled down, with the advancements like 720 & 1080, the industry announces another format which is being used, and something that we "must have"

"Must have" is probably a little strong at this stage, currently the costs of televisions displaying this are between 'cost the earth' and 'out of this world' but we are sure that over the course of time, we'll be able to pick them up in our local market stall '10 for a fiver'.

4K is the buzzword at the moment. What is it?  Simply put, it's a high resolution.  Apparently the images are so good, that you could use a camcorder set at 4K and record moving images, with every frame rate at such a high quality, you could use them as stills.  Ideal for catching that perfect shot.

1080HD Tv's are currently at 1920 x 1080. 4K is set at a whopping 3840 x 2160.  It's tempting to think "that's only twice the size" but in reality you get 4 pixels for every 1 when compared with a 1080HD TV. 

What does this mean?  Better quality of course. More realistic images, less "jagged edges" of course.  What it also means is that the media that carries that information will have to change too.  It's more pixels for every frame, therefore the storage will be greater.

Currently storage would be subject to being compressed.  A trailer for "The Amazing Spiderman" was a massive 500Gb. JUST the trailer! A standard Blu-Ray disk holds around 50GB so something will need to be done to transport this type of film.  It's even doubtful whether you could stream this over current broadband speeds.

Oh, and if you're still connected to the Internet by a modem, it would have taken you over 2 years (888 days) to download that trailer!