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Steve Cassidy

CeBit 2014 diary: Cameron comes to town

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

IMG_1539

How can one link together rural broadband, Big Data and enterprise resource-planning software? By including a pair of EU leaders in the mix, of course. An early start on the stand of sponsor Software AG at this year’s CeBIT put me in a very unaccustomed position among the scrum of paparazzi, as German chancellor Angela Merkel and British prime minister David Cameron walked up behind a fearlessly simplistic diorama of Smart Big Data at work.

As you may be able to tell from my wobbly picture, the perfectly sensible explanation of how cargo-tagging and inventory management makes shipping more efficient may not have exactly kindled the perfect spirit of European allegiance that both Merkel and Cameron would have preferred as a takeaway message for the assembled press-pack. It certainly fired up Software AG’s Karl-Heinz Streibich, whose German flowed much faster than my talent for translation; I got the idea, in as much as an appraisal of the use of Big Data in an Internet of Things around a container port can be made in a three-minute speech with two impatient heads of state waiting their turn with the microphone.

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HP cuts off upgrades to spite its loyal customers

Monday, February 10th, 2014

No updates for HP servers

If you have an HP ProLiant server, or a ProCurve switch, then you’d better set some time aside before February 19th to download the drivers, BIOS updates, patches and fixes for your model from the HP support website. Because after that date, unless you have a current warranty or a Care Pack Service Agreement, you will be unable to get your download.

In a startlingly brief five-paragraph blog post entitled, with no obvious sense of irony, “Customers for life”, senior HP staffer Mary McCoy lays out the company’s rationale for this move and slips in various interestingly chosen phrases, such as that this “aligns with industry best practices” and that HP is “in no way trying to force customers to purchase extended coverage”.

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Posted in: Rant

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How to cancel recurring PayPal payments

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

Coins and notes

On almost exactly the first working day after Christmas, I was irritated by £39.99 being spirited out of my bank account by PayPal, sent on my behalf to Microsoft – with absolutely no trackback or narrative to the transaction at all.

This type of transaction is a modern plague and whole lifetimes of reading material on ultimately frustrating and self-indulgent Adventures in Billing stories can easily be found on this subject, starring pretty much every major brand you can think of: Microsoft, PayPal, Google and more. The most commonly cited bad guy in this field is Netflix, whose free startup offer collects your payment details and then seamlessly slides into charging you, by way of PayPal’s repeat-payment system. The email notifying you of the transfer only ever comes after the money’s been sent, not before.

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Posted in: How To

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Stupid Windows 8.1 tricks (or how not to upgrade your PC’s hard disk)

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

Business laptops 428There has been a bit of a burst of action lately with engineer’s utility updates. No, come back! This is important.

You may think that “engineers” are a vanishing species and it’s all about just unwrapping the latest Chromebook, which will immediately solve every computing problem you ever had, but it’s not: despite the dire forecasts of the death of the PC, other forces are at work, including both the growing demand for data storage and the relentless pace of hardware improvements.

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IBM Watson meets Willy Wonka

Thursday, November 7th, 2013

Question key

Forgive me for a bit of speculation here: I’ve spent a couple of hours in the company of the IBM team behind Watson, the cognitive computing brontosaur which, in 2011, famously won the US game show Jeopardy against two human competitors, in what had all the appearance of a fair fight.

This represented a reasonable test of an entire suite of processes, for breaking down a human language question into a search and then marshalling multiple potential answers into a ranked set of probabilities of being the answer, if not necessarily the one the human was expecting.

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Michael Dell’s reasons to be cheerful

Friday, October 25th, 2013

Michael Dell TechCamp

In retrospect, I should have seen the signs way back. Dell Tech Camp, which has been a largely UK and Ireland-based event in the past, suddenly upped sticks and took itself off to Paris, foregoing the previous offbeat locations for a distinct – if overcrowded – up-tick in the shape of the mysterious Maison de X, which was variously described to me as a “technical college” , “founded by Napoleon”, and “tres chic”.

The press corps was unusually extensive, and packed unusually tightly together on tres chic little gold-painted chairs, so that the head honcho for Tech Camps past could take the stage for only a few seconds and say “who better to tell you what’s going on than… Michael Dell”.

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VMworld: I like Gelsinger when he’s angry

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

Pat Gelsinger VMware

I’ve said before that people’s experiences with virtualisation vary wildly. I get on with the whole concept very comfortably, but I know people who still suck their teeth and shake their heads every time it comes up.

The most blogworthy moment of this year’s VMworld conference in Barcelona came when one of the greatly expanded corps of European press came out as a fundamental virtualisation sceptic. One of the problems of being a long-term techie in events that cross several language barriers at once is that the “footprint” of the invites can be spread remarkably wide: I didn’t catch the nationality or publication of the (evidently, lone) sceptic, but there was no mistaking VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger’s reaction.

The sceptic’s perspective was that virtualisation – the whole thing – was just another layer of inefficiency: a software stack that keeps people away from the basic performance of the hardware, which should really be avoided. Surely, he argued, network virtualisation was merely a case of more of the same?

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Windows Server 2012 R2: what businesses have been waiting for

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

Microsoft cloud computing briefing

Apparently it rains a lot in Seattle. I wouldn’t really be able to verify that, because I was inside a training suite for the entirety of my visit last week, sitting with the Microsoft Windows Server 2012 R2 development & marketing teams, working through the new features in Server 2012 R2 which, as you will see in Satya Nadella’s blog post qualifies as the Swiss Army Knife of business server operating systems.

It’s worth a read, because Nadella is the head of the Enterprise and Cloud division at Microsoft. In the past everyone’s been used to thinking “Gates said” or “Ballmer announced”, but this is the new Microsoft, and the degree of autonomy in the Server group is easily measurable by the increased confidence of their presentation.

As always, the weight of the tutorial sessions wasn’t quite the same as the emphasis of the press releases. You may be unsurprised to hear that we didn’t spend very long looking at the new Azure US Government Cloud. Conversely, we spent plenty of time discovering how the new features in Windows Intune combine with non-Microsoft devices to let corporate administrators set up their own, tame App Store-like lists of applications, remote desktop sessions and approved resources.

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Why your MP probably isn’t an internet porn addict

Thursday, September 5th, 2013

Porn

The minute I read the BBC article on the newly-released figures for porn site accesses from computers within the Houses of Parliament, I smelled a rat.

Looked at from the perspective of a long-standing network administrator, what does this report actually tell us about the state of IT inside the mother of Parliaments? The key revelation is that the statistics for porn site access vary hugely, month on month: in November of the period they looked at there were over 110,000 accesses. In February, there were only 15.

Let’s take those numbers apart. The report says that there is no direct accusation of specific individuals, and that the total headcount in the House is around 5,000 people, including MPs, the Lords, security and support staff, and the tribes of lobbyists, researchers, etc. So what does 110,000 porn accesses in a month really mean given that level of staffing?

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How AOL killed a company’s email

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

Spam folder

AOL is a long-standing provider of online services. I choose that sentence with care: firstly because I want to draw a distinction between “online services” and “internet access”, and secondly because I want to dispose of the fact that far back in the mists of time, there were plenty of PC Pro types, including me and erstwhile editorial director Mr Derek Cohen, who had AOL accounts. For several years, this was a mainstay of my internet access, so trust me when I say that it gives me no pleasure at all to relate this current, 2013 tale of woe.

My client is a wholesaler of raw materials to the fashion business. It has a small list of customers and every so often, it has an over- or under-supply of its principal product. My client has tell its customer base whether it’s sensible to make orders or to hold off, and it has been using a mailing list to do this job for several years. Unbeknownst to my client, there are some gaping holes in its success rate when it comes to mail delivery, and the principal source of the problem here is AOL.

If AOL thinks it has detected incoming UCE (unsolicited commercial emails, to use an acronym that doesn’t come from a Monty Python sketch featuring lots of vikings) then it takes pretty serious and far-reaching action. Rather than responding to the spammer’s apparent reply-to address with a notification of UCE status, AOL goes straight to the top of the tree and threatens the ISP that hosted or forwarded the traffic with a blanket block of not only that customer’s mail, but all customers’ mail. Stopping the flow of identified messages is the only solution it will accept.

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