Category Archives: tech

Moving from Microsoft to Linux – a small business view

My wife used to work for a small business, just her and her boss.

She had worked for large companies that owned their own IT departments and was used to ICT that worked* (the usual caveat for ICT..)

Working in a small business was an eye opener for her, she went from having a telephone support to having none.

Luckily for her and him and unluckily for me, at the time she joined the company I was injured and at home recovering from surgery. I was able to help with both purchasing and setting up of clustered servers to host a CRM and other related business software.

The company got free ICT support because it helped my wife; it also kept me from being bored.

Due to him being an intractable Yorkshire man (I can say that because I too am one..) her boss ran all his laptops/PC’s on Windows OS’s while everything I had access to, servers, laptops and PC’s that my wife worked on all ran variations of Linux – Ubuntu..

The time required to support Linux was vastly less than that of Windows, just the odd apt-get upgrade and hey presto.. I also insisted that all email transactions were done via a browser rather than a thick client, again needing less support and reducing exposure to any virus.

When my wife eventually left to set up her own business ( I carried on with the free support to her ex boss as it didn’t take up too much of time and I enjoyed helping out.

Continue reading Moving from Microsoft to Linux – a small business view

IOT – the internet of things..

I’m hooked – seriously hooked on the IOT (Internet of Things) and home automation..

I’ve always liked data, collecting it, manipulating it and using it to either understand a situation or work through a problem.
The IOT is all about data and dare I say it – ‘big data’..

It was back in 1997 when I first looked at the IOT and thought through the possibilities, that was the heady days of windows 95 & 98.

A sudden realisation that very soon every single device could have an IP address and could talk to the World opened my eyes to the possibilities of automation.

It’s taken quite a while for me to re-visit that thought but now I have I’m not going to give it up until I’ve automated all the things!

Continue reading IOT – the internet of things..

Humber Elections

2015 is an election year in the UK, we have a chance to change our government through exercising our democratic right to vote.

To do this effectively we need to know who is standing to represent us and what views they hold on particular subjects.

This information is usually contained in a manifesto which, if the candidate is attached to a political party, is written in conjunction with the party members.

At the last general election, in 2010, the national voter turn out was around 65%, of which the two parties currently governing managed to get about 60% of that vote. So they actually represent around 36% of the population..

Anyone who has any understanding of democracy will realise this is not an ideal position from which to elect a governing party, this lack of representation is leading more and more people to disengage totally from the political landscape. We won’t mention the discourse people feel with the whole of the political set.. That’s another argument!

Engagement of the younger generation has always been poor, with the last election just 52% of 18-24 yr olds voting, these are the very people who will be most affected by the results of any election, it’s their very future which you’re voting on. Due to the very nature they don’t vote in the same numbers as the older generation means that the prospective MP’s don’t court the votes of the young.

Their views are mostly ignited and political promises of the MP’s are usually skewed towards the elderly as they are more likely to vote.

I want to help engage more voters into the political system to chose their future which is why I’ve converted the excellent election application created by Adrian Short.

Adrian is well known for building excellent community engagement through his multiple web applications, on this occasion he created an application to show the results of the various elections in his home town of Sutton.

I’ve converted his application from the Ruby language he wrote it in to the php based Laravel MVC framework. I’ve also placed it under the same leftcase licence that Adrian’s original software was released under.

The source code can be found on github.

The application can be seen at

It will allow you to view the results of the elections, the parties, the candidate and their candidacies, it will link them all together and provide a means to find party manifestos.

You’ll also be able to find your nearest polling station by entering your postcode and links to how to register to vote.

Many thanks have to go to Adrian for creating the original code base for me to copy from, it’s so much easier not having to reinvent the wheel!


Cisco uccx wallboard

As always with personal blogs – life gets in the way.
In this case life == getting fit, I’ve spent a lot of time cycling and at the gym.
Cycling is, for me, the perfect companion to working at a PC all day, I get to switch off.  My brain has time to disengage from the problem solving and normal thought processes and by the time I’ve finished I feel so much better, both physically and mentally, but I digress..

This post is about a recent project I was asked to get involved in, creating a wallboard for the UCCX equipment we use on one of our service desks. The staff were used to having a wallboard so when we moved across to the UCCX system the costs/benefits of purchasing the official wallboard didn’t stack up (I was led to believe) .

I was asked to look at the problem and with a bit of help from some vbscript code from Stoke Council I set about creating a new front end.

The vbscript code does the database connection via an ODBC connector, this connects every 3 secs to the database and reads from a summary table.  It then creates an XML message which is served via a web server.

Getting the ODBC connector to actually connect was a pain…

Informix is not as easy as MySQL – I’d even say Oracle is easier than Informix!

Some of the gotcha’s that we learnt were that the protocol has to be ‘onsoctcp’.

The client locale (on this occasion) has to be ‘en_US.UTF8’ and we also found that sometimes when the connection failed we could bring it back up by un-checking the ‘use server database locale’ on the environment tab, clicking apply (it fails to connect) and then ticking it back again – click apply and it connects… strange but true.

We also had to set the buffer size to 4096.

All in all it was a serious pain to get a stable connection through to the box but in all fairness, since we figured out the exact requirements of the connection it’s just worked – we rarely have to touch it.

That’s the database side – now onto the front-end, which is on a separate server.

A Laravel based site consumes the XML and updates a dashboard that the service desk staff can read.

It’s a bit convoluted as we need to pass data from one bit of the network to the another but it works and so far has been reliable.

The Laravel front-end was built quickly and used constant feedback from the service desk staff. Getting the right information in the right place was harder than I realised, I think we went through 20 iterations before it settled down.

The front-end is built on top of boot-strap CSS.

It was a fun and simple application to build, the end users are really pleased and we saved the tax payer a bit of cash as we didn’t have to buy the official front end.

Win win..


UCCX bootstrap Laravel based wallboard


Alfresco and Project Management

I recently wrote on here about using Alfresco to hold HR records, this is still ongoing but has stalled while HR decide on how to change their processes. So in the meantime I’ve been playing..

Using a project management methodology is a  great way to bring some order out of chaos.

If used correctly and with the right elements it can be a brilliant way of keeping projects & programmes on track, allowing resources to diverted to potential problems early on.

I’ve been a PRINCE2 practitioner (Candidate number: P2R/803590) for 10 years and have used it in all projects I’ve been involved in, it’s worked really well in the formal setting of the Council.

But.. project reporting across a large organisation can be hit and miss.
As time passes standards can slip as document versions get out of sync and people start to develop variations to the original training, similar to bad habits we all form once we’ve passed our driving test, and don’t lie I know you don’t always indicate when passing a parked car..

Using Alfresco as our document management system is a way of addressing the problems of document versions, it’s an out of the box function that’s easy to implement.

As for standardisation I can create a ‘project’ folder template and put the newest version of any document into that.  Users can then create a folder that copies the template, so each new project will always use the newest documents – simples.

Now what about project and programme reporting, the bane of every project managers life, well this is where Alfresco can help too.

My proof of concept uses a project model built within Alfresco that can be applied to a project folder or preferably to a project site

The contains such attributes as project manager, project state, risks, etc, etc everything that is usually written on the report that the project manager has to routinely present to the project board.

The attributes are then exposed as an API via  the very easy to use Alfresco webservices.

I’ve built a Laravel webapp that consumes the API content and then presents dashboards for project/programme managers as well as the governance/audit teams.

I’ll post the process and files later – anyone got any questions?



Alfresco folder permissions

I’m currently working on a project to create Electronic Personal Folders (EPFs) within Alfresco on behalf of our HR partners.

Content will include things like contracts, leave requests etc

The brief is to automate the creation of the folders and make sure the permissions for the folder and sub-folders are correctly set.

A manager should be able to see all of their folder plus the folders of their staff, while an employee should be only able to see their folder.

The script processes a CSV that is created from one of our HR systems and calls a custom Alfresco web script, this creates a top level folder which has the Payroll number as the name and the job description/employee name as the title. Underneath this it creates the sub folders (Pay, leave, etc) and applies relevant permissions to all the folders, e.g. Leave is read/write by the manager but read-only by the employee.

This ‘creation’ script is part one, it will be called to initially create the (EPFs) for the current employees and there after on any new employees.
Continue reading Alfresco folder permissions

Back to work..

Today I’m mostly working through the emails that have built up while i’ve been on sick..



That’s how you deal with those, now onto fun times.. First day back to work is always a good one to deal with technical issues, and I’ve got some technical issues with Alfresco; one is the changing of returned elements from the OpenSearch API and the other is my fault..
Continue reading Back to work..

Narrative Clip – closer look

Well it arrived and I’ve been wearing it now and then, but being off work recovering from surgery there’s only so much ceiling you want capture..

I’ve not got around to uploading any photos and making any moments just yet as I run a linux household and Narrative haven’t released a Linux driver/uploader app yet.

They’ve released a Mac version so I can’t imagine there’s that much effort required to get a linux version up and running?

I’ve tried to install the uploader under Wine but got a lot of errors, I’ll take a closer look when my head is a little clearer (less drugs..)

I also installed it on a Windows XP VM running under VirtualBox but as the Narrative Clip wasn’t recognised under Ubuntu it couldn’t be shared via the USB to the VM… fail…

I’ll have to dig out the Windows only hard drive I’ve got somewhere to give the uploader a go..
Not a happy chappy  🙁

In the mean time I took a load of photos of the Narrative clip so I could remember it clean, it’ll soon get knocked around!

The debate around ‘security’, privacy & wearable tech is going to be an interesting one..