Colin’s IT, Security and Working Life blog

June 29, 2009

Social Networking in a time of crisis.

Filed under: Uncategorized — chaplic @ 11:50 am

Bit of a different posting this as its quite personal and probably of only benefit it to me.

Like many of you, I read and post on a few forums, some technical, some not. One particular forum has a large social aspect, and occasionally we meet for drinks.

Such an event was a few weeks ago. About 20 of us met up, had a few beers and set the world to rights. The next morning there was customary ribbing of the usual bad behaviour people get up to after a few beers.

But one thing was odd; one person was missing – he was sharing a room with someone else but never made it back. At first, there was little concern. After all, he’s a grown man.

Then as time wore on, it became a little worrying.

He wasn’t answering his mobile. Hadn’t posted online. His keys and train ticket were in the hotel room and it was past kicking-out time.

Alarm bells started ringing with me. I did a quick call round police stations and hospitals – no matches. Now, what else to do? None of us had his home details.

A quick check on his facebook page, and I found someone who he swapped a lot of messages with. Sent a message to them asking them to get in touch.

In the meantime, the shocking truth came out. The missing man had been killed in a road accident. His flatmate was in the opposite position to us; he knew the bad news, but didn’t know who he was with.

The flatmate posted on his facebook wall asking people to call; I did so and got told the shocking news. I relayed this back to the online forum who were obviously shocked.

The forum then turned into an online condolence book; those who knew him personally and online shocked, stunned and saddened all wanted to leave their messages of condolences.

The bereaveds family are not IT literate at-all. After a gentle sounding out it, it was agreed a paper version of the condolence notes would be appreciated by the family.

This required organisation, editing, printing.

To enable this, a private facebook group was quickly setup, where ideas could be shared and tasks agreed. The condolences were copied and pasted into word, then edited for style and content. IM was used to check some queries.

Whilst all this was going on the online forum was used to keep people informed, and ask for photos of the departed – his family didn’t have many recent pictures.

Naturally, people wished to show their respect by some token; the family had requested family flowers only but mentioned a favourite charity. A small, local charity with no online donation facilities. After a quick email to the charitys leader, a justgiving account was setup. This enabled the forum members to easily make donations, and a substantial sum was received.

The finalised document was then emailed to the printers to produce a high quality finished book, complete with condolences and photos.

Finally emails were used to set the funeral arrangements in terms of transports and timings.

His family were delighted and comforted by the book. It was over 60 pages and had as many photos.

A horrible afair all round; one might say if it wasn’t for the online forum then it never would have happened. What was for sure is the power and availability of online services allowed ad-hoc collaboration and integration to allow us to comfort his family, which was simply not possible even a few years ago.


June 12, 2009

Security does NOT mean firewalls!

Filed under: Government IT Security — chaplic @ 1:00 pm


I was in the unusual position of being part of an  interviewing panel who were evaluating tenders from the big consultancies firms for a piece of work.

The work was to provide a requirements definition for a fairly meaty government IT contract.

Of the four bidders, two of them didn’t refer to security once in their tender, one made me apoplectic as they discussed security as an optional extra in “phase 3”. WRONG.

One of my set questions during the interview was along the lines of asking what security challenges we might face.

All gave similar answers – making noises about firewalls, public access and so on. All very good but not exactly insightful.

What I was looking for is consideration of wider aspects – the old favourites of Confidentiality, Integrity and Availability, thinking about data aggregation issues and discussing risk, acceptable risk and mitigations/ controls to reduce risk.

If good security needs are not baked into requirements of projects, retro-fitting it is extremely expensive and difficult.

June 10, 2009

Laptop buying tips

Filed under: Uncategorized — chaplic @ 6:23 pm

I, like others like me, get the “you know about computers, I’m looking for a laptop” question. Here’s my tips

My laptop buying tips:

1) Are you going to be lugging it about every day? In which case, a 17” monster is not for you

2) Have a good go at the keyboard. Some laptops still have pretty crappy keyboards. All nipples/ touchpads are naff so buy a mouse too

3) Pick the laptop up by the corner, does it crack and groan? Not a good sign

4) Some laptops have ‘shiny screens’. This is a love or hate thing, you need to decide which

5) If you are going from one location to another with your lappy, a second power supply that you can leave there is handy. You can buy them cheap on ebay, if the odd electrical fire is OK with you.

6) Laptops are fragile and mobile, and if you own it long enough you WILL lose all your data. Think about how much data you have, how important it is to you and buy the backup solution at the same time. This could just be a USB pen drive.

7) If you are thinking about hardware warranty, I generally advise against – hard disks are the only things likely to fail (£100 to replace). If you damage your screen, it’s new laptop time. Unless you’re really unlucky, save the money of the warranty and put it towards a new lappy. You’ll be quids in.

8) Spec – Not all that important these days, but 2GB RAM minimum (No point in having over 3.5GB) . If you care for games, then firstly buy a PC instead but otherwise you want to make sure it’s got a proper graphics card and not ‘integrated graphics’. The smaller the laptop (Generally) the lower the performance, though bizarely longer battery life.

9) Manufacturers – Stick to the tier 1. Toshiba, Dell, Acer, Fujitsu, HP Compaq

10) “Free” laptops with a 3G subscription – They are not really free and at best cost neutral. I’ve done the maths.

11) Don’t pay the extra for msoffice/ works. OpenOffice is free, works with office documents and is genuinely as good to use/ better than office. That said, MS office is available at a decent price these days and better if you want familiarity and compatibility with the office.

12) Many come with a fingerprint reader. If your a klutz at typing passwords, these are nice

13) If you are going to be going 3G, you can get Dells with an inbuilt 3G card, not in shops though.

14) Get one of these lyrca zipup baggy things to encase your laptop in, then put it in a lappy bag. Not only can you just take the lycra bag with you sometimes, it keeps it clean/

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