Have you saved three lives lately?

My blood type is O- so I feel it is my duty to give my blood regularly. O- is the universal donor; this is the blood which can be safely taken by any person, regardless of their blood type. It’s thus essential for emergencies where there is no time to waste.

The Australian Red Cross Blood Service (ARCBS) does a tremendous job, with a great deal of care and professionalism. Every interaction with the Service has been tuned to deliver a wonderful donor experience, from recognising my number when I dial in, to the nice snacks on the way out.

Whole blood products are split into three components, being red blood cells, plasma and platelets so the ARCBS states each whole blood donation “saves three lives.”

Even so, donations of plasma and platelets are also especially valuable, particularly when you consider whole blood can only be safely given every three months or so, while these other components more frequently. Thus, if your blood type is more common these may be more suitable options.

Whatever the case, whatever your blood type, if you are healthy and able to donate, then I’d encourage you to consider it. You can find out more information, including eligibility and your nearest donor centre at the ARCBS’ web site.

DMWBloodBank blooddonation

Testing the Plantronics Voyager 3200 in a busy car park (and being laughed at :)

I’ve been reviewing technology for over 25 years.

My latest review is the Plantronics Voyager 3200 Bluetooth headset. I’ve long been a fan of the Plantronics Voyager line, with its over-the-ear design and long boom microphone. It’s also delivered excellent audio quality and has only improved over time with built-in smarts to automatically answer a call if you put the headset on your ear, a smartphone app to keep firmware updated and more.

I strayed from Plantronics for a while, having a Bang and Olufsen earset 3i and while it was a truly terrific, truly comfortable piece of equipment, it worked only on iOS – not Android or Windows Phone – and, of course, had a fatal blow to its longevity with Apple’s decision to remove the 3.5mm earphone jack on the iPhone 7. I switched back to the Voyager line, picking up the Voyager 5200.

Plantronics sent me their latest Plantronics 3200 to review. At first, I was sceptical, thinking by virtue of its model number it would be a lower quality device – still excellent, make no mistake, but no 5200.

To my pleasant surprise, the 3200 is truly a high-quality Bluetooth headset. It fit firmly in my ear first try, and remained comfortable throughout my use. It comes with a charging case, it’s stylish and professional to look at, and it has three microphones with noise-canceling technology to filter out background sound.

Here’s my review on iTWire.com, and a bonus YouTube video where I gave it a real-world test in a busy local shopping centre car-park, much to the mirth of some passersby.

Tips for a new IT Manager

One of my most popular stories on iTWire in the last few years is Lessons for a new IT Manager where I distill things I’ve had to learn over the years. There are many good people – be it in within technology or any other field at all – who are competent, skilful, trustworthy and reliable.By virtue of their performance, and the confidence the business has in them, they find themselves elevated to new and lofty roles where they are no longer “on the tools” but directing those who are.

By virtue of their performance, they find themselves elevated to new and lofty roles where they are no longer “on the tools” but directing those who are.

Yet, despite the obvious compliment of how much confidence the business has in them people management and leadership is an entirely different set of skills to, well, doing stuff.

The Peter Principle wryly notes people are promoted to their level of incompetence. The truth behind this is people are promoted based on their performance in the role they currently have and not necessarily the intended role.

It doesn’t have to be this way. With some self-reflection, some gumption and drive, good managers can be made.

I give my tips here, but let me give a spoiler: it boils down to communication. You can’t be a leader who doesn’t talk to your team and your stakeholders.

You only die twice

I’m a licensed private investigator and people are often fascinated by this. It’s not the glamour you see on TV and in movies. In fact, much of what you see in fiction is not even legal. I can’t go to the police and ask them to “run some plates” for me. Any officer who did that would be committing an offence. Nevertheless, quality information, and information security, are two of my gigs, and being licensed by the state to perform certain covert activities can be helpful.

People like to hear stories about investigation. It’s not all cheating spouses and car chases. In fact, one tale that sticks in my mind the most involves someone I never even met.

I was asked by an insurance company to look into a strange situation. A worker had died, and a lady claimed to be his partner. Co-workers of the deceased didn’t know her, and she had three different addresses, all several hundred kilometres away from the workplace. What was the deal? Additionally, was it a genuine worker’s compensation matter? Was he travelling to work? Was it his regular path to work?

The case was already several years old. I had a report from a previous investigator which identified the deceased worker stayed at a caravan park, yet the owner had sold it and taken all his records and the new owner didn’t know the guy nor had any contact details for the former owner. That’s where he seemingly gave up the chase.

I phoned some of the former co-workers. They didn’t know the lady. Worse, they barely remembered the man. As I spoke to more and more people it made me sad to wonder just what does someone’s life mean when people don’t remember you anymore. Did he ever live at all? They said they didn’t know if he had a partner, they didn’t really hang out with him socially, and didn’t know a lot about him … someone they worked side-by-side with for years. Still, they did have a recollection he lived at the caravan park.

I phoned the caravan park. Sure enough, the owner said someone else had talked to him a couple of years back so he knew the situation but he didn’t know the guy, didn’t know the lady, and had no information at all. He didn’t know where the owner was and he didn’t have any of the old records.

I wasn’t content with this. I hit the phone book and dialled everyone in the state with the same last name as the owner. This worked! I spoke to a few people, got a lot of answering machines, even had some people call back to say they didn’t know the person I was looking for and it wasn’t them. However, I got one number right because the old caravan park owner did call back. He knew the guy. In fact, he knew the lady. And he knew their son.

The worker was from mid-NSW. He lived there with his family. He would stay at the caravan park on weekdays and head home for the weekend.

After hearing again and again, “I really can’t remember him” it was so exciting, so relieving to know the man existed. He lived, he was known, he really stood there and really did these things.

All this time I had also been trying to reach the lady. The mobile number I had for her was no longer connected, and a landline number in the phone book was continually engaged.

I drove to her town, some 400 kilometres away from the workplace and the caravan park. It was a cold, icy night. The outside temperature was one degree Celsius and the road signs said to beware of ice.

I checked out the three addresses I had. The lady didn’t live at any of them. I filled my car at a petrol station and asked the attendant if he knew the family. He said it might be the people at such-and-such a street. I drove around and an older lady answered the door. Inside I could see a young lad. I instantly knew it was the son. I told the lady who I was and why I was there and who I was looking for. She said it was the right home, and called her daughter, who came right away.

The daughter arrived. She was the deceased worker’s partner. She and her mother showed me photographs and told me stories. They shed some tears together as they recollected events.

The man was her partner. They had a family together. He worked in a different town, and would stay there during the week. He came home Fridays and drove back again Sunday nights. They rented at one address, but had put in an application at a second address, planning to move. That was not to be.

One fateful day in May the man drove off the road. Maybe he fell asleep at the wheel. Maybe something else happened. Whatever happened, he left the road, crashed, and passed away. It was a cold, cold early Monday morning.

He normally returned to the caravan park on Sunday evening. Yet this time he left early Monday. It so happened that Monday followed the second Sunday in May. We know it in Australia as Mother’s Day. He stayed that night, opting to get up early and drive 400kms to work that morning. Sadly, that was his last trip ever.

After he passed away, the lady cancelled the new rental they were moving to, and found herself a new, smaller, place. Hence the three addresses. She now lived elsewhere. The landline I called was correct, but she had her dial-up modem connected 24×7, preferring to use her mobile to speak. She’d cancelled her own previous number, opting instead to transfer her partner’s number into her name so she could keep that number forever.

The lady and her mother wept as they spoke. They had photo after photo. There were holidays, there were memories.

The man had lived, and this was his partner, his family and his story.

I reported my findings to the insurance company. I never get told what happens in the end but I’d like to think – even years after his untimely passing – I helped that family get compensation. I feel so appalled by the previous investigator giving up at the first hurdle.

Yet, more than anything, I will never forget the emotional roller coaster within myself. I lamented how somebody could live and die and people around them struggled with memories. Then I met the family, and his memory was so strong and so real in their lives.

There’s a saying that people die twice. The first time is when they physically die. The second time is when their name is mentioned or remembered for the last time.

This is the story of Sam Carroll. I never met him; I never knew him. Yet, he lives on as you read this story. It’s not his time to die twice.

When 2x RAID 5 = RAID 10

An occasion I will never, ever forget is the time I set foot in a small business and the developers and IT Manager alike told me how their database server was in RAID 10. They spoke at length about the research they put in to determine the most performant disk configuration and came to the determination RAID 10 was best for their requirements.

The old adage, “what gets measured gets improved” is equally true in reverse; what doesn’t get measured doesn’t get improved. Noting the database was a key component of the company’s business, and that no reporting or analysis was occurring, I recommended several tools such as the free open-source dbWarden script. I speak more about this and other good, even essential, tools for keeping your database healthy over on iTWire.

The results were not good! In fact, there was significant lag. The database server was spending most of its time waiting to write – adding up to minutes every day, and many queries were taking over 100ms.

I asked the IT Manager to show me the disk setup. He took me into the server room and entered the server’s RAID configuration. Two RAID 5 volumes. We looked at each other, and he immediately said, “This was RAID 10! The systems administrator must have changed it!”

He asked that person if he changed it, he said no, that’s how it has always been. The IT Manager, never short for an answer, then confidently explained the server had been ordered from Dell as a database server so Dell “must” have pre-configured it according to their best practice.

It got worse.

Within Windows, one of the RAID 5 volumes was used exclusively for drive E:, which contained nothing but the Windows pagefile.

The other RAID 5 volume was partitioned within Windows as C: and D:. The operating system, the application, the database and the log files were all on the one RAID 5 volume albeit two Windows partitions.

Oh, and there were also a bunch of file shares, used by the most prolific file-heavy section of the business sitting on D: also.

You can be sure I made a series of recommendations, not only relating to infrastructure configuration but about staffing too.

A new day, a new site

With Microsoft Office 365 bringing public-facing, unauthenticated, websites to an end I’ve been rethinking my web hosting. I’ve been running web servers since 1994, from hand-coded HTML through to a variety of content management systems, both self-managed and hosted. After thought, it seems the easiest today is to let WordPress do the work for me, particularly given the convenience of posting on-the-go via the WordPress smartphone and tablet apps, as well as through Ulysses which is replacing Grammarly as my to-go text editor. I liked Grammarly’s cloud sync a lot, but the developer’s refusal to support even a 12.9″ iPad Pro, telling me I can only run it on a desktop web browser, makes it no longer a viable option.