Archives for December 2007

The IEEE T&T Joint Computer and Communications Society Chapter

The IEEE has a Trinidad and Tobago Section of which we are trying to get a Joint Computer and Communications Society Chapter up and running. We already petitioned and got permission from the IEEE to form the chapter about a year ago, but have been unable to get the other aspects working. So I have now taken that up to get the inner parts working – getting an executive, members active, etc., etc.

Trying to get people involved is proving to be difficult, but I still have high hopes. I am hoping that it is the season that is affecting everything – Christmas is a bad time to try to get anything done down here.

We have a large number of members, so it is just for them to get actively involved. Let’s see how it pans out for the new year.

The Breathalyser is coming!

I had the opportunity of seeing and using the breathalyser recently. It was quite easy to use and easy to understand. The officer (I can’t remember his name) was quite helpful and gave a pretty good presentation of the product, not to mention  displayed good product knowledge. What I can’t understand is why it hasn’t been introduced as yet.

What the officer explained was that while it has been passed, it has not been assented to in law (at least I believe that is the term). For sure we need this product in this country, especially for the Christmas and Carnival seasons. I could only imagine how many people will be caught using this product.

Here are a few things to note:

  • Mints will not help you to pass the breathalyser test. It may cover the smell, but the alcohol on your breath comes from your lungs and is not covered up.
  • Using mouthwash just before the test as an excuse will not save you. If you use mouthwash and the test reads high (which it will), you will be placed in the back of a police vehicle for the most ten minutes. During this time, the mouthwash would dissipate, and the reading should be low; if the reading is high, it means you are drunk.
  • More than two beers can bring you over the limit; it all depends on your size and gender (men are less affected that women).
  • Water helps. Drinks lots of water while drinking to help rid your body of excess alcohol.

In all I do hope they bring this out soon, but I can see a huge culture clash when it does come out. We are a nation of drinkers and it is especially expected during the Christmas and carnival season. It will take both a change in culture and a great deal of police enforcement.

It’s NOT the network!

Recently we had an issue at our office where mail was not properly routing to the different regional Exchange servers and mail was not being sent or received as queues were just building. The routing is done over the Internet through Virtual Private Network (VPN) connections.

I was asked to take a look at the network to determine if it was a network issue. I first asked a few questions just to determine the topology and how I can determine what might be happening, but not before I asked if there were any changes to any of the network or system elements – Firewall, Routers, Switches, OS or Application. I was told there were no changes, so I pulled out my trusty network protocol analyser – Network Instruments Observer ® – and hooked it up to a mirror port to the one going to the Exchange server.

After several hours of looking at the traffic, I could find no evidence of network issues. While there were TCP retransmissions, there were not enough to say that the network itself was causing the issue. In fact, what was evident was application layer errors (as opposed to errors at the transport layer and lower). So we started to look at the Exchange configuration; however, no changes were made to the configuration, or so they said.

Microsoft was later called in, who, after some troubleshooting, said that it was the network and had our IT guys making changes to MTU sizes and other things. For a while I started to doubt myself and my abilities to troubleshoot the network.

Try as they may, Microsoft could not resolve the issue. Somewhere during the process, they then disabled Smart Defense on the Checkpoint ® firewall and voila, everything started to work. So it wasn’t the network. It turned out that Smart Defense auto-update feature downloaded an update that caused the entire issue.

So what did we learn from all this.

  1. Automatic update is a bad idea for mission critical systems.
  2. Always check properly to determine if there were any changes to the system. A proper change management process is important.
  3. Always check every component. It is not always the network.

You always find that users complain that the network is slow or has problems when there is problem with mail, printing and especially the Internet. The most important skill to have for the IT industry, especially the service industry, is troubleshooting skills.

I find it easier to troubleshoot using the OSI Layers starting from the physical layer and moving to the application layer, ruling out each one as you go. But that is of course if you really have no idea of what the problem with be, so depending on the problem, it could be best to start from the top down.

Jury Service and Religion

Well I am on Jury Service and I will say that the experience is not as bad as I expected. First I must say that I have not been selected for the jury as yet; I was not one of the lucky ones. But the the initial part was intriguing and I am all for new experiences.

So anyway, there was one thing that came up during the selection, and that was an application for exemption from Jury Service. This particular individual’s application was that their religion does not allow for their participation as a juror. Now I have heard about this before about Jehovah’s Witnesses, but I was not sure if this particular individual was one. The argument is that they are not supposed to cast judgment, only God is to do that.

Now I question this thinking. Yes God will cast judgment and yada yada, but do we trust all judgment to him (or her). Is this really rational thinking, not that religion was rational to begin with, but really? If God is to do all judgment, then why bother with anything like policing or an entire judicial system? I mean, what is the purpose of it all if we aren’t supposed to do anything to the criminals. It would be interesting to see a world run by people with the belief system, but then there shouldn’t be crime if everyone believed the same thing, wouldn’t it?

Still, at the risk of pissing off some people, I still thing the thinking is skewed, but then they shouldn’t be judging me right?