Wednesday, 13 January 2010

The joys of snow and trains

Today I needed to get into work early to start looking at one of our file servers that has started throwing some worrying errors since a Windows Update last week.

I therefore left home at 5:40 to get to my local station (Guildford London Road) only to discover no trains were going to be running from it on account of an inch of freshly laid snow.

Ok - bit annoyed about that - so walked the extra 20 mins to get to the Mainline station and catch a slightly delayed fast train coming up from Haslemere - however that was 2.5 hours ago now and I'm still not at my final destination - London Waterloo!!

So far on this epic journey I have been delayed by 2 failed trains being on the same line in front of mine and 1 train that caught fire!

So assuming there are no more issues I should get to work over 3 hours 45 minutes after setting out this morning - a record commute for me!

However an old neighbour who I meet on a train last week had a 4.5 hour commute last Thursday - so she still holds the record.

Please understand the normal commute takes 50 mins!

Here's an update at 9:20 - we're so close to Waterloo I can smell the Costa coffee - but guess what - we've just been told our train has failed - I could break my neighbours record afterall!
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Companies can save money over Xmas by Switching off PC's and Printers

Leaving electrical equipment on over the 11 day Christmas break may costs companies in the UK around £110 million in wasted electricity - according to Make It Cheaper.

Jonathan Elliott, managing director of Make It Cheaper, commented: "You only have to feel the heat of a mobile phone charger to know that it's still sucking up electricity even when it's not attached to your phone.

"And leaving a PC monitor on all night wastes enough energy to microwave six cold turkey dinners. With most office equipment, off doesn't actually mean off anymore.

"As a business we care about people wasting money. Anecdotal evidence suggests that if people were not told to switch things off, they wouldn't get shut off. It is probably down to inertia, as most people are now working long hours and are dealing with terrible public transport, and therefore most people just want to get home.

"Some large companies are installing energy management systems to monitor who is leaving their computers on overnight. But in reality smaller businesses have got more important things to worry about than energy management systems. Our advice is it that it is a massive waste of money, so make sure someone is switching off your equipment. Don't turn off the heating, but instead turn the thermostat down. Everything that is not being used should be turned off completely."

Obviously you will need to leave the majority of your production servers and phone systems on - especially for webservices, faxes & voicemail and remote users who need access over the Christmas period. But there is no reason to leave desktops, printers, scanners and other peripherals on.

The last one to leave the office on Christmas eve should switch off all unnecessary equipment and save their business some money!

As a CIO at a company whose sole purpose is to save businesses money, I have to set an example and consider all possible options to save energy. I have the following recommendations:
  • You may want to consider power option settings in Group policy for standard desktop users.
  • You should consider using virtual servers rather than physical ones - we use VMWare Server 2 for many of our production servers at Make It Cheaper ( Blade servers are also much more efficient. Another benefit is cooler and more efficient servers mean the server room requires less air conditioning - saving more energy.
  • Use thin client applications and consider cloud based computing. We are developing thin client (browser based) in-house applications for Sales and Operations - this will in time allow us to move away from full desktop PC's to thin client desktops for all users - again saving energy (and money).
  • You should try and purchase equipment that features the ENERGY STAR eco-label as much as possible.
  • You should look at simple and cost effective products like ByeBye Standby ( - which allow you to switch off equipment using a remote control. Remember equipment on standby is still using energy.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Dev Server issue with Visual Studio 2008 solved

My development PC suddenly started to behave strangely when running development ASP.NET sites from within Visual Studio 2008.

Everything had been working fine for months but suddenly I got this error: "Unable to launch the development server because port xxxxx is in use" - where xxxxx was the random port used by Visual Studio.

I managed to fix this issue by changing settings in my Anti-Virus software (ESET NOD32). Under the Setup menu I selected Advanced Setup. I then navigated to the Web access protection area of the configuration and selected Web browsers.

Once in this area I then excluded both Visual Studio 9.0 executables.

When I returned to Visual Studio and hit F5 or selected View in Browser - everything worked as before.

Not sure why this started happening but I'm glad it's fixed!

Monday, 21 December 2009

Offsite Backups

Our data is key to our business - so securely protecting it and ensuring it is always available - even in the worst case scenario of the main office becoming inaccessible - is a must!

About a year ago I decided to start using Amazon S3 - - to backup our data on an hourly basis securely to the Cloud. This was in addition to doing daily backups to Tape and using Acronis for backups to the network of all shares and servers

Over the course of the year it has proven to be reliable and reasonably cheap with prices recently reduced for backups to European servers ($0.150 per GB with free uploads to the end of June 2010).

In conjuction with S3 we use a very neat and useful backup client called Jungledisk - again this was extremely cheap to purchase and allows us to grab data from all locations on the network and configure various hourly, daily and weekly back up jobs that upload the data to Amazon S3 servers.

Jungledisk also allows you to create network mappings to your offsite disks and has many configuration options allowing you to keep previous versions and only back up certain types of file.

For SME's with smaller budgets than the big corporates I would highly recommend this combination as a good cloud backup solution for Enterprise data.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Tweeting To A Facebook Fan Page

It's easy to use your Facebook Fan Page to update your tweets - but how about using Twitter to update your Fan Page?

Seeing as there is currently no application out there that easily facilitates this - here's the workaround:
Tweeting To A Facebook Fan Page

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Successful Windows Workflow Integration

The HUB is a new application I'm developing with my team of fine young developers that will give Make It Cheaper (the UK's number one business comparison service for Utilities) an extremely intelligent CRM application that both tracks customer journeys through the various business processes and fully integrates with the call centre's PBX (Avaya IP Office).

The HUB GUI is being developed in ASP.NET making good use of Ajax and Telerik controls.

The business layer is written in C# and uses Windows Workflow foundation for handling and moving tasks through the various business processes that I have previously mapped.

All application data - including Workflow tracking and persistence data - is held in SQL Server 2008 databases.

Using Windows Workflow foundation we will be able to track how long it takes to process opportunities that come into the call centre - either via our custom web services (used by partner websites) or Phone.

We have already intregrated Zeacom - a server that plugs into our PBX - and exposes real time call centre data to the HUB application. It also preserves all call data for rich reporting - this data will eventually be exported - alongside the application and workflow data - into a single Data Mart.

Over the last 2 weeks we have spent time successfully integrating Zeacom with the HUB. This enables us to automatically redirect existing customers to the same Energy Consultant that they dealt with previously. It will also allow us to pop up the customer information on the consultant's display - prior to them picking up the call. This will greatly increase customer satisfaction levels and consultant efficiency.

It also enables us to accurately track the source of each phone opportunity (in the same way we can for web service opportunities). This is important for tracking the success of marketing campaigns and opportunities sent in via our many partners like Moneysupermarket, GoCompare, uSwitch, Energyhelpline and UK Power - to name a few.

This week we have started plugging in the Windows Workflow components that I had previously built. By the end of the day we successfully integrated one workflow with our opportunities web service. This went suprisingly well - so I'm very pleased with this progress.

Because tasks can takes hours or days to complete and many are undertaken by Energy consultants or Operations staff, I have opted to use State Machine workflow.

I will keep this blog updated with progress throughtout the build and will start uploading useful code that readers may fine useful.

That's all for now - but a good day today!!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:Woking,United Kingdom

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Workflow Issues

Today I stumbled across another annoying feature of Windows Workflows whilst developing the HUB application for Make It Cheaper.

When you change the definition of a workflow any persisted workflows will no longer deserialized - often causing an IndexOutOfRange exception. I found a useful article on this at

This article gives a work around using GAC - but it looks as if we will have to wait for Microsoft to resolve this in a future hotfix for a simpler approach