Archive for the ‘IT’ Category
After every cock-up, politicians appear on our TVs to hang their heads and admit that “Lessons Have Been Learned.”
Well, now it’s my turn. As many of you will be aware, the fotolibra website suffered a calamitous collapse last week, and as it fell it brought the Heritage Ebooks site down with it, as well as all our back office tools — admin, banking, invoicing, Datacash, payments, mailing systems and more.
The good news is that the only thing we actually lost was time. No images were harmed in the making of this booboo, no data was lost and no accounts were compromised.
I’m delighted to tell you that fotoLibra is back up and running after our calamitous crash. Everything is back to normal.
You can upload images again!
If you use fotoLibra DND, please quit the application and restart it before attempting to upload.
Two questions: how do we stop this happening again, and what are we going to do about it?
Well, Lessons Have Been Learned. We are studying a cloud computing model to run in tandem with our physical array of servers and RAID 5 disks which live in a server farm in Manchester. If one system goes down, the other has to be there for it. That’s redundancy.
Redundancy (which has a different meaning in the computing world to what it used to have in my chosen career path) must be at the forefront of our plans. When a system fails, another system must step seamlessly into its place.
What are we going to do about it? Firstly of course we must apologise to all our users, buyers, sellers and browsers. We let you down, and we are very sorry. I am personally desolated — the fotoLibra website has been live since March 2004 and in that time it’s never been down for longer than ten minutes, and then only for service upgrades. I was rather proud of that; but then pride comes before a fall.
Enough breast-beating. Let’s look to the future. Assuming we have an even more robust system, we still have to have a contingency plan. As for the images, which were unharmed in this little unpleasantness, as well as our existing RAID 5 storage and possible future cloud back-up I am planning to physically secrete caches of hard drives full of images in various undisclosed locations in Snowdonia. Just in case.
One of the worrying things about last week’s crash is that it took our mailing system down with it, so we were unable to tell everyone.
There needs to be a line of communication with fotoLibra users set up outside our inhouse systems. And it appears some kind Americans have already thought of this, and have created things called LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. In exchange they want our souls for all eternity, but it’s just the price we have to pay.
fotoLibra has opened a Group on LinkedIn, which will be my preferred way of reaching you. It’s a professional networking group, and I promise I will link with you if you ask me.
There is also a fotoLibra Facebook site, which will be run by our redoubtable web editor Jacqui Norman. She will link with you, but I won’t, as I have reserved my Facebook visits for keeping an eye on my extended family.
Finally, there is Twitter. Now I am not a chatty man, so this will be difficult for me, but I will try and post something every day. The content will most likely be taken from my commonplace book, so it will largely consist of wise thoughts, pithy sayings and the world according to my friend Dede. I hope that sometimes you will find it fun and amusing. From time to time there will be something of interest to fotoLibra users. Please follow me @fotoLibrarian.
This way, if there ever is another problem, we’ll be able to let everyone know — and you will know where to check if you think you are having problems with the fotoLibra site.
Please sign up to join these groups — if you can also put up with my disconnected ramblings, of course.
And please stick with us. We’ll be even better as a result of this crisis.
Whoa! All the bits of the fotoLibra site seem to be springing back to life, particularly the fotoLibra Payment Requests. Poor Yvonne has been flooded over the past hour with fotoLibra members cheekily asking for money for their picture sales.
This is outrageous. How dare they demand the money that’s owed to them? Why can’t they be happy with the postcard from sunny Rio de Janeiro, as traditionally sent by fleeing accountants?
But no, they want to be paid, and as we have sold their pictures, I suppose we’d better shell out.
I’m the one who suffers, you know. She doesn’t like writing cheques, so she takes it out on me.
She’s much happier making bank transfers, so if you haven’t already fed in your bank details, do it now — sign in, go to Control Centre> Account> Payment Preference (5th button down in the LH column) and fill in the three boxes. Simple. And the money will go straight into your account.
If you’ve sold a picture, that is.
As you can probably guess, this is me marking time until we get the go-ahead from Damien that it’s safe for fotoLibra members to start uploading images again. So I thought I’d do a little housekeeping, such as asking members to set up more bank transfers. It makes life immeasurably easier for us — well, for Yvonne, and by extension for me. I don’t normally have time for it.
I’m expecting the go-ahead any minute, but I’ve been expecting that since last Friday. I suspect it will be sometime tomorrow.
I promise I will let you know!
SEO, as you will know, stands for Search Engine Optimisation. We do it in-house, and we’re reasonably good at it. Of course, we could be a lot better.
But every hour we get emails from hopefuls who have stumbled across our URL and want to help us improve our rankings. Here’s one which was cooked up earlier:
Please forgive the direct approach. My name is Alan and I work as a Consultant in your market sector. I have been looking at your website today and would like a few minutes of your time to have an informal chat with you.
I really like the site, but you may be curious as to why the site isn’t ranking, and with that in mind I wondered if you would like a free SEO audit of the site looking at keyword density and a detailed analysis of the back link profile.
That should give you an excellent insight, and hopefully allow us to develop a plan for getting the site into some top positions.
The audit is FREE and with no obligation. So do please get in touch.
At least it was polite. And it came from Britain. Were I to reply to him, this is what I’d like to say:
Thanks for your email.
You are not a known consultant in our market sector.
You write: “I really like the site, but you may be curious as to why the site isn’t ranking,”
Well, it is ranking. And it’s ranking exponentially better than yours. Your site’s Alexa ranking is 22,713,269.
Ours is 52,212.
It works in reverse — the lower the number, the higher the ranking. So your site is virtually invisible to the outside world.
And you want to sell us your advice?
But I can’t be bothered. I’m too busy waiting for the fotoLibra RAID 5 array to rebuild and for our very high-ranking site to be fully functional again.
As hundreds of you are aware, the fotoLibra site suffered a catastrophic failure on Wednesday afternoon. I haven’t been to our server centre, but I have been dreaming of smoking, charred lumps of metal every night.
Damien, our Technical Development Director, is on site and we think he has been sleeping in our data shed in Manchester. He’s been there three days. New servers and hard disks were delivered yesterday,
I hope you can read this blog. It’s balanced precariously on an elderly fotoLibra server, woken from long retirement, to chip in at our time of crisis.
Yes, as hundreds of you have noticed, the fotoLibra site is down.
All systems read Go. Everything tested fine. The servers responded happily. But there was no fotoLibra site to be seen.
Any images uploaded to the site before Wednesday midday are safe and well. Do not worry. If you managed to upload after that time, which is unlikely, the images may have been lost. Have another go later.
After 24 hours attempting to diagnose and rectify the problem without success, I ordered a new server. That arrived this morning, and is being installed as I write.
We do have a contingency plan, and a further part of our yet uncompleted diagnoses is to find out why that didn’t kick in as planned.
Many, many apologies to all of you who have been inconvenienced by this down time. We are reassessing our 999 strategy and we plan to set up LinkedIn and Facebook fotoLibra groups and a fotoLibra Twitter account, as well as my own rather dull Twitter platform. More details next week.
The fotoLibra site should be up and running later this evening. I will post again when it is.
Cybercrooks are exploiting security flaws in Google Image Search to try to frighten people into buying evil software.
If you’ve ever seen a flashing banner saying something like “CAUTION — YOUR COMPUTER IS AT RISK” then you are a click away from being led down the path of perdition.
According to the SANS Internet Storm Center (always worth checking when a friend sends you another shouty email telling you yet again that some new bug has been classified by Microsoft as the most destructive virus ever) the villains have “compromised an unknown number of sites with malicious scripts that create Web pages filled with the top search terms from Google Trends.”
Click on an image, and there’s a possibility you’ll be routed to a page offering unverified anti-virus “scareware”, complete with misleading security alerts and warnings.
As far as we can tell, if you simply ignore the ads no harm will ensue. But of course we’re not experts, so we can’t be sure. Keep calm and shut your browser down. You can restart it straight away.
Apparently there are more than 5,000 hacked sites, injected on average with about 1,000 of these bogus pages. This means Google Images is referring about 15 million searches a month to these scam merchants — a mere drop in Google’s ocean, of course, but still a significant number.
There are free plug-ins available which will enable your browser to detect such evildoing. Check out Noscript for Firefox, and a chap called Denis Sinegubko is developing another Firefox plug-in that will flag malicious Google Image search results by placing a red box around images that appear to link to hostile sites, but I don’t think it’s ready yet.
Thanks to Netapplications.com for alerting me to this.
Geek stuff here: yesterday we bought a new 21.5″ iMac from the Apple Store in Regent Street.
It won’t print.
This morning we gave up and called Apple Care. We spent 2 hours and 10 minutes on the phone with them without any solution. The guy admitted he was completely baffled. We still cannot print from the iMac.
We have a Konica Minolta Magicolor 2450 and a Toshiba e-Studio 16s networked in our London office through AirPort Extreme. We have no problems printing wirelessly to these printers using a MacBook Pro on 10.5.8 and a MacBook on 10.5.8.
We copied data and settings from the MacBook to the iMac using Migration Assistant. The PPDs were not copied across.
We downloaded new PPDs from Konica and Toshiba and installed them.
The iMac will not see either of the printers which are on an AppleTalk Local Zone. The Add Printer option on the 10.6 iMac has “Default | Fax | IP | Windows” while the 10.5 MacBook Pro has “Default | Fax | IP | Windows | Bluetooth | AppleTalk | More Printers” and the two wirelessly networked printers appear under the AppleTalk window.
We connected each printer directly to the iMac using an ethernet cable. It still wouldn’t see them.
What are we doing wrong?
Apple’s Tech Support guy said that Apple only supported USB printing. From the great pioneers and advocates of WiFi (I bought an Apple AirPort 10 years ago) that comes a little hard.
We figured out a convoluted workaround. By checking Sharing Printers on the iMac, MacBook and MacBook Pro, we can finally see the printers, but this means we must have two computers running in order to print. Not a satisfactory solution.
Anybody got any bright ideas?
We’re taking it back to the store this afternoon, because of the multi-coloured stripes across the screen. Apparently the graphics card has collapsed. Not an auspicious start.
Readers may recall the troubles I’ve recently had with an enhanced ebook: The Guide to Birds of Britain and Europe.
Ever the early adopter, I rushed out and plonked my money down when the immortal Oxford English Dictionary was first published electronically in 1993. We didn’t use the word ebook back then.
It was merely called “The Oxford English Dictionary on Compact Disc”, and it came in a chunky A4 sized white plastic box. This was considerably smaller and lighter than the 16 volumes of the printed work, and of course somewhat cheaper, as well.
Inside the plastic box came a printed instruction manual, a floppy disk which contained the program and the necessary fonts, and a CD-ROM which held the data.
I can’t use it any more because it only runs on Mac OS 7, 8 and 9, and I no longer have a computer that uses those operating systems. Or a floppy disk drive.
But all is not lost. In June last year I had a cheery letter from Oxford University Press offering me, as a registered user of Version 1.0d, the Oxford English Dictionary 2nd ed — new Mac-compatible CD-ROM v4.0 on a Special Offer!
For a mere £149.25 more I would be able to read my version of the OED on a more up-to-date computer.
Of course for the same amount of money I could buy all 16 volumes second-hand from Abe Books.
And I wouldn’t have to chuck it away when Apple finally release Mac OS XI.
But now OUP have announced that the next edition of the OED may well be available only as an ebook — no print edition at all. So we’re moving to a situation where we will have to pay out regularly for upgrades to carry on using a necessary reference work.
It’s what the software and publishing giants have dreamed of. Books that expire after a certain time. After all, who is still using Photoshop I nowadays?
… is better known as SPAM, a sort of tinned meat. It’s a strange foodstuff, something I thought of as a product of the irretrievably grim British food rationing of the 1940s and 50s. But it turns out to be American, and some people eat it because they like it.
When Monty Python satirised the unimaginative British cuisine of the 1960s, they did a sketch in a restaurant where every dish was spam-based. This tickled the funnybones of early computer folk, and they would type “SPAM” over and over again to edge unwanted visitors off their primitive bulletin board sites. Once the verb “spamming” was coined, the force was unstoppable.
The key word of course is “Unwanted”. I do not want endless emails from China offering me Canadian pharmaceutical products (can’t see how that works) nor do I need any more chances to enlarge my manhood.
But if I sign up to an organisation, register with a business, give a company my details, join a club or become a member, I would expect to hear from that organisation. Especially if I’d paid a membership subscription. If I didn’t, I may simply forget about it — but if I’d paid, I’d want to know why I hadn’t heard from them.
Enter fotoLibra. It’s not compulsory to sign up to fotoLibra, just highly recommended. If you do, we will email you. And as a picture buyer or seller, what we send will be of interest to you. If it’s not, there’s a link at the bottom of every email which you can simply click on to be removed from our list. It also has our address so you can write and complain if we fail you.
What I’m saying is that we do not send out spam. People have signed up to fotoLibra, and we email them. Our problem is that a LOT of people have signed up to fotoLibra, and we simply cannot write to everyone individually, so we have to do what computers and email clients are very good at — sending one message to lots of different people.
Surprise, surprise. Lots of our innocent, requested emails get classed as spam. Of course we are to blame for some of it — we should never type the subject IN CAPITALS (apparently that’s popular among real spammers); HTML formatted emails (which ours are) send out alerts; bulk mailings are an obvious no-no. Trigger words such as ****, !!!! and %$%$ will often lead to blocked mail, even if used innocently.
Someone who will remain nameless recently sent out a fotoLibra Picture Call for photographs of guitars. Unfortunately she added an extra word commonly used in the publishing world to describe such books. Bang, bang, bang. Down came the shutters. The vast majority of ISPs blocked the mailing. As a result we only have 12 pictures of guitars to answer the call. Memo to self: get her to resend the call today WITHOUT the funny words.
Nevertheless it’s frustrating for us to mail people with information they genuinely want and then find our mailings are rejected. Some filters seem to be fairer than others, and I was particularly impressed by one company which sent us this message:
Your message was waitlisted.
Please add yourself to my Guest List so your messages will be delivered to my Inbox. Use the link below.
Click here to deliver your message
Boxbe (www.boxbe.com) prioritizes and screens your email using a Guest List and your extended social network. It’s free, it removes clutter, and it helps you focus on the people who matter to you.
Now that really does seem to screen out the professional spammers. HOWEVER — and this is a big HOWEVER — a quick search on the internet reveals a lot of people slagging off this company for spamming people themselves. I won’t be using it as a result, but it may suit some people.
So. Here’s our problem. Where is our solution?
In fotoLibra’s offices in London and Harlech we use Zen as our service provider, and we have no complaints about them at all. In fact we can heartily recommend them, having used them for the past five years.
They’ve just upgraded our broadband service from 8Mbps to “up to 20Mbps”, which is very exciting.
Before they upgraded us I tested our speeds. It averaged 4.79Mbps download, and 0.36Mbps upload. That’s ADSL for you; if we had straightforward Digital Subscriber Lines like they do in Germany instead of Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Lines,we’d be able to upload and download at the same speed.
That’s why downloading an image from fotoLibra is over 13 times faster than uploading an image to us. We’re sorry, but unless you’ve got DSL there’s not a lot we can do about it.
Back to our “up to 20Mbps” upgrade. It came on stream this morning, so I tested our speeds again.
6.23Mbps download, 0.67Mbps upload. Not as thrilling as I’d hoped. That’s 31% of the potential speed. We were getting 60% of our potential speed on the previous deal. Why should the percentage decrease so greatly?
Still, it’s a little faster, so that is a good thing.
But have you noticed that “UP TO” always actually means “LESS THAN”?