Archive for November, 2009

UK Three-Strikes Law

November 28th, 2009

If you’re not on to this already:

I did all three.

I can’t convey the pertainent points as well as a certiain Mr Langridge does, so here is a link to his blog post about the subject. I warn you his blog post contains strong language, but I feel it’s justified.

Cold Callers

November 24th, 2009

It’s 14:15, I should be working, but as I’ve been interrupted twice in the last 15 minutes by <Insert Person Name> from <Insert Company I’ve never heard of> who’s been working with a number of local schools, including ones we exclusively support, I thought I’d take another 2 minutes to express my frustration here.

Five top tips for technology companies calling schools:

  1. Don’t call me. It’s invasive and likely to make me think of your company as desperate for business. Most of the companies we deal with regularly are as a result of word of mouth recommendations or me calling those companies. There is a reason for that.
  2. Don’t bend the truth. If you’re working in a local school then tell me which one but PLEASE don’t try and pretend that you’re big around here when you aren’t. You will be found out.
  3. Don’t post me something and then phone to find out if I got it. Royal Mail are very efficient when it comes to delivering your unsolicited junk to the school, and our lovely post-person is very efficient at getting it to my pigeon hole. I’m equally efficient at getting it from the pigeon hole to the recycling box.
  4. If you simply must phone, please have something interesting to say. Asking me for my 3 year requirements is not my idea of a good use of 10 minutes. We have internal reviews and Becta SRF for that thank you.
  5. Finally if I say I’m not interested in your company, and request that you don’t call again, please respect my wishes. Yes I’m looking at you IT Index/Probrand or whatever you’re called right now. Oh, and getting someone else from the same sales team to call doesn’t excuse this.

Rant over. If that saves me ONE cold call it’ll have paid for itself.

Could 2010 be the year of the Linux Desktop?!

November 20th, 2009

With the release of Windows 7 and Windows XP some 8 years old now, it’s getting to the point where it’s time to make some changes on the desktop.

Without signing the school up to a Microsoft Schools Agreement, we’d be looking at approximately £45,000 to upgrade to Office 2007 and Windows 7. We’d also have to start looking at running Samba 4 at the network core to support Windows 7, or, move to Active Directory which would be an additional cost (server licensing + 2008 R2 CALs).

It seems then that this might be an opportune time to consider alternatives. The school has alot of Linux at the network core. File servers, domain controllers (LDAP + Samba + bind + dhcpd), Learning Platform, VoIP, SAN, Virtualisation Solution and more are all Linux-based and we have the expertise in the technical staff to support those systems.

From a BSF point of view I’m hoping this is a smart move too. It will significantly reduce ongoing licensing costs and is pretty hard to beat for long-term sustainability. It also makes the job of any potential managed service provider bidding on our site significantly harder since the expectation will be that the philosophy of the school should not be fundamentally changed by a switch in service provision.

My Christmas holiday project therefore will be to get an Ubuntu 9.10 box to mirror the functionality of a standard teaching workstation as far as possible. We’re pretty sure we know where the sticking points will be, but like most things, you won’t really know until you try.

Main points as I see them now:

  • Support from Leadership
  • Support from Governing Body
  • Training for Staff (and Students?)
  • Support for Windows-only software
  • Support for Legacy files (Microsoft Publisher being the worst offender)
  • MIS software officially requires Microsoft Office to run and runs on .net 2 and 3.5
  • Desktop Lockdown
  • Monitoring
  • Updating software (local apt repo?)

I’ll be posting here progress as I go along in the “Open Source Schools” category.

Audible – two months on

November 17th, 2009

It’s been two months today since I signed up for Audible.

If you’ve not seen it before, Audible is an audio books subscription service. You pay about £8/month and for that you get one audio book delivered to your mobile device. Unfortunately it uses evil DRM technology and hence playing the books back on my Nokia E71 uses alot of battery. It also taxes the phone to the point that switching between applications while it’s playing causes the audio to stutter.

The books themselves seem to be well read. I got the new Dan Brown “The Lost Symbol” first. I’m a fan of Dan Brown, despite the slightly dubious technology, plot holes and formulaic structure and this new book was no exception. I easily finished the 18 hour recording in the month allotted.

Next I got Knots and Crosses, the first of the Inspector Rebus books by Ian Rankin. I really like Rebus adapted for TV. Now perhaps I’ve not been fair to them but they just don’t come across so well as the Dan Brown did. I find myself falling alseep listening to them – and actually not caring that much that I missed a big chunk out. That’s not helped as it seems the chapter indexing is messed up on the recording so I can only skip about by fast forwarding and rewinding manually like an old audio tape! Come on Audible. This is 2009!

Anyhow as we’re in to month three today, I get my next credit and I’ve no clue what to choose. Answers on a postcard.

BSF PCP Merger?

November 16th, 2009

It seems that PfS told the LA not to send in our readiness to deliver document. Hmm.

We’re awaiting official news from the LA but the whisper is that the LA are looking to bundle PCP (Primary Capital Program) and BSF together in to one round of funding, and one big deal.

Now that’s doubly interesting because the LA has a very good support service available to primary schools and employs a significant staff to service that contract. Surely then it looks more likely (and I think it would make sense) that the LA would seek to extend their existing service in to a full Managed Service to service at least the PCP part of the deal, and perhaps to cover BSF too?!

Watch this space!

Secure Offsite Backups

November 16th, 2009

With more and more people having laptops at work, we needed a way to allow them to backup their files from remote locations securely.

We use Backup Professional from Attix5 for our server offsite backups but it’s frighteningly expensive when you have more than a handful of devices to backup. What I wanted was a system that does the same job, but that’s Open Source.

First I looked at duplicity/duplicati which I’ve used before and would do a good job, but they really require you to do a regular full backup and sometimes we don’t see remote devices for months at a time. We could have setup a very long interval between full backups, but the longer the restore chain, the greater the chance of having problems when you need a file restored.

I’d all but resigned myself to that limitation when I stumbled across BoxBackup. It offers continuous incremental-forever backups and you don’t even have to trust the server you’re backing up to. All the files on the remote server are encrypted and access to the server is by SSL certificates.

It’s not the friendliest bit of software to install, especially on Windows but I’ve made it work on all the machines we’ve tried so far, including a couple of Windows machines. The icing on the cake would be VSS support on Windows and a nice cross-platform GUI to wrap the whole install process and make it alot simpler.

The really nice thing is that you don’t notice it backing up. It runs as a service on Windows and as a daemon on Linux in the background and updates files on the central server once every hour (by default). You can configure it to send you email when it finishes each backup run along with details of how much data was sent.

There’s an ftp-client like interface to view backed-up files and to restore them to your machine. You can also restore directly to a USB drive attached to the server if you need to restore alot of files and don’t have the bandwidth to do it.

FileHunter 0.3

November 16th, 2009

I’ve made a two small changes to FileHunter today:

  • Ignore files with zero length
  • The needles directory is now searched recursively so files in subdirectories of needles are considered when searching haystack.



November 5th, 2009

Ever need to clean a bunch of files off a filesystem? It’s easy enough as long as you know what the files are called.

However, there are certain types of files that some users might want to disguise on a server, which shouldn’t be there. FileHunter takes a folder full of files, “needles” and searches (optionally recursively) the directory “haystack” for occurances of those files – regardless of their filenames, extensions etc. It can then optionally remove those files too.

While it didn’t take me very long to write this, I thought it might be generally useful so it’s available here under GPL v3 or any later version.

It requires Python v2.5 or later and is only tested on Linux (Ubuntu 8.04) at the moment. It’s been run on a filesystem with about 160 needles and 2 million files in the haystack without incident. In theory it should work on Windows too but standard disclaimers apply.


There’s a newer version available here.