Blogging again

I seem to do this a lot.  I blog for a while, then go for ages without blogging anything.  So, this is my first post since April 2005.  I hope you enjoyed the break.

After being twice previously awarded the Microsoft MVP, this October I did not get the award.  I can’t really say I’m surprised, my presense in the newsgroups has been practically non-existant.  In the home security/virus groups, it became increasingly difficult to answer any question with a reply other than “scan your computer with antivirus software, or preferrably take it to a professional”.

With compromised machines, as most of the visitors to those newsgroups have, it’s rarely an easy process to clean an already infected computer.  Usually more than one infector is present, and will require scanning with multiple products in various ways.  The message that the populous need to get is “prevention is better than cure”.

Unfortunately, it was rare to see anyone asking for advice before having been infected — who goes looking for help before they have a problem?

Even today, those groups are still full of people with infected machines asking for help, and although the answers given by the MVP’s and other posters are often very helpful, I now believe that the recommended actions are beyond the scope of most of the users who come there looking for help.  Malware is becoming more sophisticated every day, and the steps needed to remove that malware are growing in complexity at the same time.

Other groups (such as Windows Server or Microsoft Office) have more defined questions that are easy to answer with specific step-by-step instruction of what to do to achieve the poster’s desired result.

So, I guess it was for all those reasons that I lost faith in the abilities of those seeking help to actually be able to help themselves.  The more thorough the instructions that were given as answers, the more arduous the task would become for the user to actually carry them out.

I still read newsgroups, I occasionally post in them, but not to the level that I once did.

A case of the sniffles

I seem to have come down with a cold.. or as some men would call it.. flu (or chicken flu, SARS, or just plain old traditional “oh my god, I think I’m dying”).  So my nose is all bunged up and my throat is sore.  In a warm room, the gunk inside my head melts and starts to dribble down my face.  Sleeping is interesting, I’m sure you’ve all had a cold at some point so you can appreciate the game of snot-chase.  You lay on one side, you feel it all drain into one side of your head.. then you roll over and feel it draining into the other side.  OK, I think I’ve sufficiently grossed out most of my readers now!  Sorry.

A quiet start to the week

The first few days of the students being back has been mostly uneventful.  We sacrificed one already completely broken laptop to fix as many of the keyboards as we could, so we’re back up to (almost) a full compliment of classroom laptops now.

There’s now begun a big push at work to try and get lecturers to actually take responsibility for the equipment being used during their classes.  They are being encouraged at the end of the last class of the day to take the time to shut machines down, turn off projectors and air conditioning, close windows if open, draw the blinds, turn out the lights, and lock the door.  Today is only Wednesday and I can say there’s been a small improvement in the four classrooms near to my office.  There’s still a few staff members who need some extra encouragement, but hopefully management will be taking care of that.

Tutors borrowing the laptops for use in a classroom will now be required to sign each one out to the students, check it for damage before use, and again at the end of the class when it is returned by the student.  Hopefully we will see an improvement in discipline during these times, and that the tutors will realise that ultimately the responsibility is theirs.

Get into the groove

We’ve discovered three more broken DVDROM drives, in the same room.  We were attempting to install some software from CD onto one of them, and it was working.  However, there was some noise and vibration from the drive, but we thought nothing of it.  After a while, the disc would no longer read.

After ejecting the disk, we saw why.

There’s a deep groove been carved into the surface of the disc.  I haven’t yet looked at the drive to see why this happened (or how they did it) but I’ll be posting a picture into the Gallery shortly, if I can get a good shot.

We’ve ordered some more drives.

Edit: The image is now uploaded, and can be viewed by clicking below:

Edit again:  I’ve now used the paperclip method to open the drive, and can see what caused the groove.  I’m not sure how, but part of the tray has been sheared away, causing sharp barbs to protrude.  It could have been done with a knife, it wouldn’t surprise me.  Anyway, I took a picture and put it in the gallery.

Extent of the damage

Today we had a chance to find out the extent of the damage the students have caused.

In one classroom, we have so far found two defunct DVD drives.  The mechanisms were completely trashed, most likely by ejecting the drive, then grabbing hold of the tray and forcing it in and out at great speed, far greater than the motor and gears will allow, causing all sorts of horrible things to happen.

Also a common occurance is the ‘moneybox’ effect.  Student places money on the CD tray, which goes into the drive, and doesn’t come out again.

We have a portably trolley of laptops, which we take to classrooms to allow students to work.  Today, we took them all out of the trolley, set them all up in a room and examined them.  We had several wireless PC CARD (or PCMCIA, why did they have to change the name?) missing, and we were dismayed to find 4 or 5 laptops with keyboard keys missing.

It makes me so angry.  We passed the info on to the higherups, which prompted the following email to be sent to all staff:


Incidents of petty, and not so petty, vandalism concerning IT
equipment are becoming almost routine and we must act to stamp
them out. In the latest incidents, several laptop keyboards in
the same set were seriously damaged and two CD units were made
inoperable. In both cases, the damage can only have been done
while the equipment was actually being used by a class with a
teacher present. A monitor has also been ripped from the wall
in [a classroom].

The cost to us all, in terms of physical and financial resources,
the additional work all of this creates for the IT Support Team
and the likely disruption to our own teaching because of
equipment-damage are unacceptable.

We must all review our working practices with our computers/
classes, be mindful of what our students are doing at all times,
tighten up classroom access and security procedures (including
shutting down at the end of lessons), remind students of the
disciplinary consequences of vandalism and generally be ultra-

I would urge course teams to discuss these matters at their next
meetings.  It is an urgent issue for all of us.

Thanks for your help and cooperation.

Let’s see if it has any effect.


Today was raining.  Continuously.  Well, it’s stopped now, but it was raining all last night and most of today.  I had to go into town after work today and thankfully it had stopped raining by this time.  This leads me to the point of this post:

What bugs me is people who walk around with giant umbrellas.. and it’s not even raining.

Now, personally, I don’t even own an umbrella.  If it’s raining, I’ll get wet, and I don’t really care.  My job is informal enough to be able to wear jeans and a t-shirt, and if my hair is a bit of a mess then nobody really cares.  I’ll happily walk to work in the rain as I did this morning.  Doesn’t take long to dry out.

But men who walk down the street with huge golfing umbrellas while it’s not even raining bugs me.  Firstly, they take up the entire pavement, forcing you to step into the road, usually into a giant puddle.  Secondly, you risk losing an eye every time you pass one of these people.  Third, I think they look ridiculous.  Not only are they so vein they want to use an umbrella while it’s raining, but they also want to use it just in case it might start raining again.

So, men, grow up.  It’s just a bit of water.  It isn’t gonna hurt you.


Images added to the Gallery

It’s a quiet day here on Campus with no students around.  The weather is grey and miserable.  What a change from the weekend where it was blue skies and sunshine.

I don’t really want to do any work but I guess I can’t sit here all day surfing eBay and posting to my blog.

So, for some entertainment I’ve put some images into my Blog’s Gallery.  Feel free to have a look, I’m sure I’ll add more over time.

Giving it a try

My blog looks awful in firefox. I’m gonna have to experiment with the different skins to find one that isn’t broken to any browser other than IE. To anyone viewing my blog in Firefox, I apologise.

British Summer Time

I didn’t realise that the clocks went forward last night.  I woke up at what I thought was an early time and it was only several hours later I realised half my clocks were wrong.  Only my computers and the VCR were correct, they’d adjusted themselves.

It’s nice having a day or two to adjust before having to go back to work on the new schedule.  It’s a good job I don’t have any trouble sleeping… just waking up!  😉

I seem to be spending a lot of time playing online games at the moment, my current favourites being iSketch and Psychobabble.

iSketch is like an online version of Pictionary.  The game gives you a word which you have to draw, and others in the (virtual) room have to guess what you are drawing.  Points are awarded according to how quickly you guessed the word, and some points also go to the artist.

Psychobabble is like those magnetic poetry games you can get, which you stick to your fridge to make sentences.  The game gives you a theme for each round, and a selection of words which you have to make into a relevant sentence, although most people tend to ignore the suggested theme.  After each round, all the created sentences are revealed and each player has to vote for their favourite.  Points are then awarded.

I’m also a good deal of the way through the game American McGee’s Alice.  It uses the Quake engine, and has some seriously chilling music.  Wonderland has become warped, and Alice must fight her way through it to defeat the Red Queen and restore peace.

Other favourite games include Grand Theft Auto III Liberty City and Vice City.  I can’t wait for San Andreas to be released for the PC.  I hope my old GeForce 3 ti200 will cope.

For some more online fun, try Scorched 3d.  Based on the old Scorched Earth game, it’s been taken into the 21st century.  Sweet 3d graphics and online multiplayer gaming make this a fantastic strategy game.  I recommend you practice before going against other player online, some of them are rather good.  It’s available for Windows, Linux (of many flavours) and Macintosh OSX.

Long weekend

It’s a long weekend – but in a good way!  Four days off from work, and then it’s two weeks without the students being there!  Finally a time to do some preventative maintenance to the network, to repair things they’ve broken, and to make some new posters..

At least, so you’d think.

Three days out of the first week we can’t do anything because there are students in working to catch up.  They’ll be doing the work they should have been doing during term time.  So, as the first week is only four days anyway that’s an entire week out the window.

So now we’re looking at the second week.  Things are looking hopeful for the Tuesday, but you never know what will happen.  Wednesday I’m off to Microsoft HQ here in the UK for a bit of a get-together with other MVP’s, which will be fantastic, but it’s also another day where nothing will be able to be done.

Becuase I’m off on the Wednesday, that means Tuesday might not be the best day to do it either.  If things go horribly wrong who’d be there to pick up the mess?  Well OK so there are three other people in the IT team but unfortunately they just don’t have the right skills.

So I’m just gonna relax this weekend, spend some time online, perhaps even go outside (!) and take a walk in the park.  Feed some ducks.  Although, I’m sure they’re sick of bread.  It’s holiday time, and the sky is blue and the sun is bright – and every family in town with young children will be going to the park to feed the ducks.  Well if the ducks don’t eat it I’m sure the Canada Geese will.