Monday, 24 August 2015

Notice of Limited Service from Skippy - 27th August until 30th August‏

I will be offering a limited service from Thursday 27th August until Sunday 30th August 2015. This is due to a Hospital Appointment for Thursday morning to resolve a problem I am having with my knee. As some of you may already know I have been unable to walk unaided for a couple of months now, and have been unable to perform my daily duties without taking ridiculous amounts of medication.

I'm pleased to report that this issue will hopefully be sorted with my hospital appointment, with the likelihood I will need a long weekend of recovery to completely resolve the issue.

I have therefore had to take the decision to limit the services I can provide during these dates in order to aid my recovery. The following services will be unavailable during these dates: 
  • Emergency call outs
  • Home visits
  • Office visits
  • On sight IT survey's
  • Appointments 
The following services will remain unaffected and will still be offered during this time: 
  • Telephone support (will be unavailable between 10am and 1pm Thursday)
  • Email support
  • Remote access support
  • Online technical support
  • Website development
  • Database development
  • Playing Batman on my PS4 (sorry, couldn't resist) 
Essentially I will be around to help, but will be unavailable to visit premises or make any appointments until next week. Please feel free to drop me an email, call me or leave me a voice mail and I will get back to you as soon as possible.

I apologise for any inconvenience this limited service may cause.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Conquering IT Gremlins at St John Vianney's

Somewhere in this building a Skippy has been doing his computer thing
On the last few occasions I've updated my blog I always seem to start with an apology for the time in between this post and my last post. This beginning is no exception, but I say my apologies with hesitation, because I am very much overjoyed with the fact it has been a long time.


The reason? I've been busy fixing the IT infrastructure at an entire school.

St John Vianney’s Primary School, Hartlepool. One of the best run schools in the area, always scoring high in inspection results, and home of some of the committed, hard working people you are ever likely to meet. And I’m not merely saying that to gain favour with them for writing this blog (they don’t even know I'm writing this), I mention it because a successful reputation doesn't just happen. It requires commitment and everyone singing from the same Hymn sheet, something which the school can demonstrate as a fine art form.

Some of you will recall the school name from a few months back when it inspired a national debate in the press about tattoos in a strict Catholic school. Whatever your opinion on this subject, having been in the school at the time this happened, apart from a couple of days of conversations between staff you would never have known anything happened within the school walls. It shows the determination and commitment of all the staff in continuing to keep the school running smoothly even through the eyes of the public.

One thing that hadn’t been running as smoothly as it could was the IT equipment dotted around the school. From intermittent, slow internet, to projectors that would switch themselves off for no apparent reason, there was always something iffy with the technology at St John’s.

Around 18 months ago I was invited to discuss with a group of teachers an idea for a website. Whilst there I apparently made an impression, not only demonstrating an amazing website (of course I would say that haha), but fixing the projector while I was there. The headteacher of the school attended this presentation, and shortly after my pitch was over I was whisked to the school for the first time to see for myself what problems they were having.

The school put a lot of faith in me, something at the time I had only been granted by people who I had built a strong relationship with. No one in the school, apart from a friend I knew from my days at school, knew who I was, and why I was sat in the Headteacher’s office discussing the day to day running of the school, something which is normally reserved for high ranking members of staff only.

A few weeks went by. I started by making a website for the school, but the main topics of conversation I kept having was how to make the IT system in the school better. Originally I was dismissive of the problems they were having apart from the website I was making for them – the school had large contracts with several external IT organisations, and they should be able to sort out any issues the school was having. Including me in the mix wasn’t cost effective for the school, and I was worried these contracts would hinder the level of control I would be able to have in fixing any problems.

It was only in February 2014, 3 months after I had met the headteacher of the school that my views changed. I’d recently been discharged form hospital again due to my own health issues (which has already been documented on this blog). I’d been invited back to the school to discuss the running of an online teacher assessment tool, and a team of people were going to be there to demonstrate how it all works, along with an IT technician from one of the IT organisations the school had a contract with.

This event changed everything. I wasn't sure if the technician was nervous, but he made mistake after mistake after mistake. He even unplugged the schools server from the internet to switch on a camera, something which caused the teachers computers (registers, school work, presentations etc) to go into meltdown, with temporary profile’s appearing everywhere and nothing saving.

That was my first official job at the school. To plug the server back in. The other technical already looked nervous.

The next day I met with the headteacher and the deputy headteacher, and they wrote down everything that needed addressing. I had a walk around the school and was introduced to each class and staff member, with my list of issues growing longer as I met more people. I started work immediately.

What I didn’t tell the school at the time was that I had absolutely no real world experience of doing around 90% of the things they wanted me to do. They needed a new server, I’d only ever read about running a server. They needed new laptops and projectors – I’d never sourced equipment for people before, only set up existing equipment. I’d never worked with other organisations before, and I was one person compared to some companies that had 100’s of employees.

It’s fair to say I was very much out of my comfort zone. The school needed my help though, and I’d purposely set up The Legend of Skippy to help people with their IT problems. I’d said on several occasions that I was game for a challenge, and this was certainly it. Up until that point I’d purposefully stuck to making websites and software, this was the opportunity I needed to start my IT support part of my business. Talk about jumping in at the deep end!

Below is a list of some of the things I have had to deal with over the last 14 months. This list could have gone on for much longer, but these are just some of the things that stuck in my memory.
  • Granted admin rights for the schools old server – this cost £60 to get from one of the external IT companies. £60 for 2 minutes work! It was alarming to see that no one in the school could actually get access to their own server. It was expensive, but was an absolute necessity.
  • Wrangle with an Interactive Board manufacture for 3 months to prove that the board they supplied us with was faulty – Ever since the touchscreen board had been fitted, before I started working there, it kept switching off every 15 minutes. The company who built the board wouldn’t believe me. It took 3 months to get them to come back into the school, and the only reason they came is because I agreed if they couldn’t find a fault they would charge me, personally, £750 for an unnecessary call out. The board broke. I skipped like a kangaroo. They took the board and fixed it. Job done.
  • Set up 35 iPad’s one by one, only for them to be unusable until a few days ago because the internet was terrible – The wireless internet was a running joke in the school. At 1.15pm every day, for 15 minutes, it would always go off. I was so proud of setting up those iPad’s manually, and was so frustrated when they couldn’t be used.
  • Set up an online homework system so kids could do their homework and schoolwork online, anywhere in the world - The first system the school gave me total control over, with no interference from the other IT contractors. Needless to say, it continues to work brilliantly to this day.
  •  Installing antivirus on 100+ computers, one at a time because the internet kept cutting out – You would think a large IT contract would include antivirus software. Apparently it didn’t. This needed to be addressed, at a time when the internet was so bad I couldn’t do it via the server. So I did it the old fashioned way.
  • Sourced and installed 4 new interactive projectors – A few of the projectors the teachers used had seen better days. During half terms some had to be replaced as they suddenly broke. This was a headache at first, but I soon found a reliable company that could provide the projectors I wanted at a reasonable price for the school.
  •  Replaced the school’s old server with a new model, creating 250 brand new user accounts, copying everyone’s data over into their new profiles, reinstalling the school printer, printer accounts, replace the network cabinet with a larger one to increase ventilation, and having total control over the school’s IT infrastructure – This was the longest week of my entire life. Doing a full server to server migration and setting literally everything up again as if it was brand new was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. As a rough estimate I’d say such a task would normally take between 4-6 months. This was done, because it had to be, in a 5 day half term in February.
Of course I am completely lying and doing others an injustice by saying I did this all by myself. None of this would have been possible without the fantastic help and support provided by PC Trends, a fellow IT business based in Hartlepool.

As mentioned earlier setting a server up was something I’d never done, let alone have to set it up and have it working perfectly in 5 days. Getting PC Trends in to get everything set up is single-handedly the best decision I’ve ever been responsible for to date. Not only did they not baulk at the almost ridiculous task I put on the table for them, but they had everything up and running within 2 days. This gave me 3 days to copy everyone’s data over and get all the schools computers back up and running again. I had no time to test anything, and didn’t know if anything would work until the staff arrived back at work at 8am on Monday morning.

Suffice to say PC Trends didn’t let me down, and everything worked perfectly, and continues to work perfectly to this day. Thank you to both Phill and Simon, the brains behind PC Trends. As of right now you are my favourite new people in the entire world.

Having the new server in place and actually having full control over it also paved the way for a lot of the unnecessary contracts the school had with external IT companies to come to an end. Because of this the investment the school made in installing the new server will be recouped in savings within 6 months. Essentially the server will practically paid for itself.

Now, back to the list. I’ve only got a few more to go!
  • Upgraded the school’s internet from 10MB to 100MB – You read that right folks. A school with 80 members of staff only had a 10MB internet connection. This was identified to be the main reason behind the very intermittent wireless connection. The system just couldn’t cope with such a high volume of staff and students on the same network. Yes the jump up to 100MB isn’t massive in today’s modern standards (a 1GB connection was available but was somewhat expensive) but it was invaluable in getting the IT infrastructure. The iPad’s can finally be used effectively!
  • Retire the school’s old server – The problem with the old server was that it was only 600GB in size. For 300+ user accounts and hosting thousands of documents, images and videos, until the new 4TB server (potentially increasing to 16TB if required) staff were saving things on various external hard drives, which was a security and logistical nightmare. As of last week the old sever was switched off, and I will shortly be donating it to a charity I support who will find 600GB of server space a God send. This follows my mantra of no tech left behind!
  • Train staff on basic IT skills and have a backup in place – With the new school curriculum focusing very much on IT, it was imperative these changes were made before the end of the school year. I can now finally support the staff without worry that something will go wrong, and even spend time showing them how to do basic troubleshooting. An internal backup procedure is now in place too, meaning that if problems do happen there is a strong process in place to ensure it’s not the end of the world.
A lot of planning went into getting all of these things sorted, and it’s fair to say that the last 14 months have been the longest in my professional career. Longest, but also the best.

I want to thank everyone at St John Vianney’s for putting up with my random visits and frustrations since I officially started my work in February 2014. It has been a journey…a long, difficult, fun and perplexing journey. I now believe the difficult times with the IT are behind them, and they can now start planning for the future. Yes there will still be some minor annoyances along the way (the printer is undoubtedly next on the list to get sorted, it’s only designed to print 50,000 sheets a year and the data shows it prints a lot more, so it’s very rapidly getting worn out), but let’s hope we can all look back and laugh at the time the computers were very misbehaving.

Bring on the next challenge! Oh wait, it’s already happened, the Community Centre over the road from my house is having similar problems…

Looks like another adventure for Skippy!

Keep Smilin’ peeps

Monday, 9 March 2015

March 9th 2015 in Numbers

On this day all of these things happened

  • Created 125 student profiles to logon to the school computers
  • Installed Office, Chrome and Adobe Reader on 7 laptops
  • Uncorrupted 32 PDF files so that they opened again
  • Fixed 1 phone that hasn't worked in 2 years in 30 minutes
  • Fixed 2 interactive boards that had lost their touch screen function
  • Recovering 7,000 documents from an external hard drive that had decided to become corrupt.

And tomorrow I'm going to answer my phone and return all the missed calls I've had while installing the new server at the school.

Then I'll right a blog explaining the epic journey I've been on at this school. Exciting times have been had!

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Is the Hartlepool Masterplan Really Going to Work?

Does Hartlepool need a Ferris Wheel? Not really

I've just finished completing a survey about the proposed changes that the Council want to make to key areas of Hartlepool. They want to renovate Church Street, move Mill House Leisure Centre to even nearer the Town Centre, and add more transport options to link Church Street to the town.

Having read through the proposals they somewhat baffle me. I had a bit of a rant in the 'Additional Comments' section these types of surveys gave you. This is what I wrote.

"I'm of the opinion none of these changes will have any impact on the tourism and attraction of Hartlepool. Mill House is in a strong key area anyway linked by bus travel, Church Street is but a stones throw away from the town and has no need for extra transport links.

The investment would better suited in tidying up the general look of Church Street and keep it looking traditional. Housing for students can be available via the existing side streets through simple renovation.

Much more of a priority is the state of major roads such as Oxford Road and the sight of the side streets that come of it. I would strongly consider sorting this housing issue out to make the town a much more desirable place to live so people can spend money long term, rather then attracting tourists who give just a short, one off economic hit".

I even forgot to mention Jackson's Landing. That should be renovated and reopened as a shopping destination, just as it used to be. But this time don't put over priced and over hyped shops in there, put family friendly brands and shops in there. Basically it should be an extension of the Shopping Centre and the various Retail Parks Hartlepool now has.

Of course this is just an opinion, but I think my raised issues have some merits. What do my fellow Hartlepool Residents think about this?

Monday, 26 January 2015

We Need to Talk about the Need for Speed Movie

Need for Speed
Need for Speed sets a new benchmark for driving films

After a week of working hard, so hard in fact I didn't have time to update my blog, I want to talk about something other then computers and programming again. I know the last few updates haven't exactly been related to those things, but when your writing a blog it's good to keep things fluid and unpredictable.

Besides, we are living in a world were so much happens on a daily basis, and if something strikes me I feel the need to talk about it. This time I need to talk about Need for Speed. I've just got around to watching it, and just to get it out there from the get go, it is one of the most fantastic films I've had the pleasure of watching. High praise indeed, and let me share my reasons why.

First up, I absolutely love the Need for Speed video games. I've been hooked since Underground, rank Underground 2 as my favourite casual racing game (although Burnout Paradise runs it close), and even though the quality has dropped over the last few years I still can't get enough of each new release. If EA read this, I beg you to return the games to the after dark street racing environment, and I'm pretty sure I can find enough people in the world to agree with me on this.

Second, I'm pleased to say the movie doesn't have a stupid story like the games. Need for Speed games are about racing and modifying cars first, story a very distant second. A movie can, and should be, a lot different. After all we watch movies as a form of escapism, and when there's nothing to interact with, like a game, the best way to suck you in is with a good story. The Need for Speed movie has, in my opinion, a great story. It's a somewhat cliché revenge story, but the way it has been acted, directed and shot makes it a story you will definitely enjoy. Come the last 20 minutes you will be rooting for Tobey Marshall, and they way the story pans out is just fantastic.

Thirdly, the bar isn't exactly set high when it comes to great street racing movies. The Fast and Furious Series try their hardest to create a character building plot, but it ultimately comes down to loud cars, lots of crazy driving and a few explosions. After almost 7 instalments it still hasn't achieved what Need for Speed has done in a 2 hour movie. Going back even further Gone in 60 Seconds tried its hardest to make you like the characters, but there was no getting away from the fact it was all about the cars.

Need for Speed sets a new benchmark on modern story driven car movies. A fantastic cast, cars, stunts, story and direction, complimented well with a musical score I was not expecting (but works brilliantly) makes for my new favourite street racing movie. It'll never win an Oscar, but if your looking for a great movie to watch at the end of a busy day, look no further then Need for Speed.

The Fast and the Furious - it's over to you, but I doubt you'll be able to do anything.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Where has Skippy been for the Last Week?

Bonjour my fellow internet dwellers. I'm really sorry I wasn't able to update my blog at all last week. Had a randomly busy week setting up various computers and other IT equipment at various locations.

Thankfully that very minor busy period is now over and I can get back to keeping you all informed with my latest offerings of advice and shenanigans.

Speak to you all soon, lots of exciting news to tell you all about.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Is David Phillips the Worst Commentator Ever?

David Phillips (on the right) continuously ruins my Football viewing
This is a question that every football fan can understand. You switch over to watch a match, the build up begins, the TV presenters make you believe it’s a game of life and death, final predictions are made by the studio guests...and then your passed over to the football commentators.

Needless to say the next 90 minutes of supposedly sporting pleasure are about to be ruined by voices that don't belong. I don't know what level of respect in the game football commentators have, but in my household they have, over the past few years, become some of the most annoying, borderline hated, people to grace my TV set.

I can't even see you, and yet you annoy the living daylights out of me.

But which commentator is the worst? This debate can go on for all eternity purely because of the sheer number of bad commentators. And do we really have to call them analysts? Ex professionals who get giving a microphone to explain to the viewing public what's just happened? No, you’re not a fancy analyst - anyone can do that - you are just a lesser commentator.

I'm going to throw one hat into the ring based on the performance I've literally just had to endure while a half decent game was going on. This performance was so bad that if you only listened to the commentary you would be hard pressed to realise an actual football match was going on.

David Phillips. Commentator for Sky Sport's Spanish Football coverage.

I've just finished watching Granada V Sevilla in the Copa Del Ray. Granted it was never going to be a classic, it finished 1-2 to Sevilla, and it was an OK game to watch. But listening to it was a different story all together.

Whenever something remotely uninteresting happens Mr Phillips has to analyse every single part of it in such fine detail that he completely missed the next 5 minutes of the game. It was made even worse in this match because the main commentator (your lucky I have forgotten your name) seemed to egg him on, filling in any gaps in David's knowledge and allowing him to continue to ramble on.

In the second half I watched the winger from Sevilla run through the channel, whip a ball in with pin-point accuracy, the striker had found space in the box and headed the ball on target. The Granada goalkeeper pulls off a great save and ball is cleared.

Every single part of this would have been great commentary...except all we got was David talking about a "19 year old who is still learning the game", only switching back to the live action unfolding before us as the goalkeeper saved the ball, completely disregarding the amazing run, cross and heading of the ball.

And there's more. Iago Aspas, on loan at Sevilla from Liverpool, came on and played the last 15 minutes. Cue the endless chat about how he didn't get his chance at Liverpool, went for big money, never fully justified his talent, ended up back in Spain on loan, is only really worth 5 million Euros....all this while a football match is going on is being completely ignored.

I'd like to say that this was a one off occurrence, but it isn't. Every time I hear his voice on Sky's otherwise great La Liga coverage a little part of me dies inside.

A commentator’s job is simple - tell me what is happening in the game, and maybe give me some quick interesting facts when there is a break in play. Mr Phillips, please do this and leave your lengthy monologues for after the match or Revista De La Liga (Sky Sports Review show for Spanish football).

Is it too much to ask to have a decent commentator who actually commentates?

If you need inspiration for a great commentator Sky Sports don't have to look far in their Spanish coverage. Gerry Armstrong gets it spot on every time, and is thankfully used on all the big Spanish games. He reads the game beautifully, comes to quick decisions in game (and isn't afraid to correct himself if the replay shows otherwise) and focus purely on the game.

But no, we end up with David Phillips, and the countless over commentators who don't actually commentate.

Who do you think is the worst football commentator?