UK Budget, Education, Greece, Georgenomics

It’s UK Budget Day and George Osborne has been strutting his stuff, playing to his party and to the world stage. Amongst the usual increases to Duty on cigarettes, beer etc. one of the small, but possibly important points is the removal of maintenance grants for students from September 2016 onwards. These were available to households earning under £42,000 a year and provided up to £3,387 a year (for a household earning below £25,000) to help towards the cost of going to University. Without wishing to get caught up in the politics of what is a low income household etc. I thought some of the reasoning behind this change deserves comment, the following is from the BBC website:

More than half a million students in England receive a maintenance grant from the taxpayer, worth in total £1.57bn a year.

Mr Osborne said the cost of this was set to double to £3bn in the next decade as the cap on student numbers was lifted.

There was a “basic unfairness in asking taxpayers to fund grants for people who are likely to earn a lot more than them”, he said.

Take a moment to re-read that again before you move on…

Yes, our intellectual and economic giant of a Chancellor believes it is unfair for current tax payers to fund education for future tax payers because they are then “likely to earn a lot more than them”. Now, you can call me old fashioned, but isn’t the point of a decent education to increase the earning potential of the population, allowing them to earn more, which not only increases the countries economy, but increases the amount of tax the government receives, giving it more money to fund things, such as education, health and pensions. Pensions that will be paid to the tax payers who currently fund education, but will be paid for by those now (hopefully) high earning University educated ex-students. I think George deserves a C- for this one so far.

To add to this, George Osborne added:

“So from 2016/17 academic year, we will replace maintenance grants with loans for new students, loans that only have to be paid back once they earn over £21,000 a year. And to ensure universities are affordable to all students from all backgrounds we will increase the maintenance loan available to £8,200, the highest amount of support ever provided.”

The solution to removing grants from those who might struggle to afford University is to ask them to borrow more. It’s OK though, because they won’t have to pay it back until they are earning over £21,000 – bear in mind the maintenance grant kicked in under £42,000 and the full grant was available for less than £25,000.

The only response I can think of to a solution of “if you are poor, it’s OK, just borrow some more, it’ll all work out in the future” is:


For this combined with the above, I award George Osborne an overall mark of F (that’s a Fail by the way George, in case you are unsure).



David Cameron: Tax and Legislation

In the news today, apparently David Cameron has pledged to pass a new law guaranteeing there will be no rise in income tax, VAT or National Insurance during the lifetime of the next parliament if he is elected. Whilst this might sound like a good thing, here at The Internet Sheep, we disagree. So, in an open letter to David Cameron:


Dear David,

we read with interest your pledge not only not to raise income tax, VAT or National Insurance during the next party should the Conservative win the election, but also a commitment to pass a law guaranteeing this. Perhaps you could answer a couple of questions.

Why do you think it is necessary to pass legislation to hold yourself to a manifesto promise?

Why you think that it is appropriate to use UK legislation as a political tool for an election?

Do you honestly believe that specific legislation such as this make for good laws?

How do you justify abusing both the electoral and legislative systems for party political ends?

Personally I think this announcement is disgusting and highlights everything that is wrong with UK politics at the moment. I believe you should be very ashamed of this announcement, and should withdraw it and apologise immediately.


The Internet Sheep.

Audi and Amazon: Car Boot Delivery

I came across an article on the BBC News site yesterday with a headline of “Audi and Amazon to try car boot delivery service“. In summary it seems that Audi, Amazon and DHL are proposing a system where you can get your parcel delivered to the boot of your car, using a one-time access code.
Sounds great right? Parcel delivered wherever you happen to be, so if you are out and about, it doesn’t matter. No more “we called buy you were out” cards through your door!

Except, thinking about this led me to a couple of interesting questions – interesting for me, maybe crucial to you if you own a recent Audi. To distill the project into it’s simplest technology requirements for “Audi’s in-car communications system, Connect”, it appears that Audi have the technology to do the following:

  1. Track your car and provide those details to a third party.
  2. Remotely unlock your boot (and presumably other doors?).
  3. Provide a code to a third party to do the same.

Now, where “third party” is DHL, it may all seem OK, but replace DHL with random stranger, or worse still, random hacker on the Internet.

Bear in mind that in-car security does not have a great reputation, and the more technologically advanced it gets, the more problems seem to occur.

I wonder what the requirements on liability insurance will be for the companies involved.

Second Annual Open Doors Weekend

The second annual Open Doors Weekend will be celebrated by construction firms opening 80 sites across the UK to welcome public entry, according to Construction News.

Over the weekend of 27th-28th September, school groups, the public and twenty Members of Parliament including most notably, Vince Cable, the Business Secretary will visit. Amongst those opening sites will be Manchester United’s Old Trafford Hotel Football, a lane creation project on the M25 and the Cross Rail development in London’s Paddington Station to give a real insight as to the construction industry. Visitors will have a tour, meet project leaders and seeing real life demo’s of construction and groundwork insurance covered activity.

The weekend is also about showcasing what the construction industry has to offer for young people considering a career in the industry and that it is not just about getting dirty and digging holes. Architecture, new construction methods and iconic projects will be highlighted in the hope of creating a robust, sustainable industry for the future.

Insurance Dealer thinks Health and safety will potentially also feature with firms requiring groundworkers insurance and public liability insurance and hope that there is delivery of a positive stance on risk management to keep injuries and damage to a minimum.

Online Recruitment Still Most Popular

A global survey by FindEmployment has determined that online recruitment is still the most popular method for job searching, with 27% of respondents favouring it. Interestingly, despite the efforts of FaceBook, LinkedIn etc. social media is the least popular method, with only 6% of those responding to the survey stating they would actively use it. Out of the respondents, 41% reported they would use a mixed approach of all the available methods.

Using a recruitment company was favoured by only 9% of those who responded, behind using personal research and contacts, whilst newspapers and other traditional media scored even lower, only just comign ahead of social media as a method.

‘In order to maximize the efficiency of your company’s recruitment strategy, and to ensure that you get the most cost effective business solutions for all vacancies that your company is looking to fill you must engage with every form of job search that candidates perform nowadays,’ said Igor Medet, General Manager of DeltaQuest Group. ‘The best way to find candidates and fill vacancies fast whilst cutting costs on recruitment, is to find a place like the FindEmployment network where candidates congregate as they can utilize many of these methods of job searching.’


McLaren/IO Partner on Data Centre Energy Efficiency

On the 6th of June, McLaren Applied Technologies (MAT) and IO announced a technology partnership focussing on energy efficiency in the next generation of data centres. At current estimates, data centres consume two percent of the worldwide electricity supply – a figure that is equivalent to the output of roughly 30 nuclear power stations. With the forecasts of increased demand for data centres and data centre capacity, it is likely this demand will grow.

The partnership between MAT and IO will combine the McLaren’s expertise in data modelling, airflow and application to the physical world, expertise gained in part through it’s experience in Formula 1, with IO’s specific expertise in data centre design and technology.

At the announcement in Singapore, Dr. Geoff McGrath,  Managing Director of McLaren Applied Technologies said “Data centers are integral to all our lives. However, as the amount of information we collect, process and store continues to grow, the demand for energy will also increase.  Our partnership with IO will enable us to utilize our unique expertise in performance management, simulation and high performance design to make a real difference to this global energy challenge.”

“IO is already the world leader in the development of cutting edge data center technology and systems.  However, they have challenged themselves and McLaren to think differently and to identify ways to improve efficiency, to cut energy usage and reduce emissions.”

“Anyone who has seen a Formula 1 race knows that McLaren is unrivaled when it comes to integrating outstanding software with the hardware built to receive it,” added Kevin Malik, IO CIO and GM of IO Labs. “We are extremely excited about this partnership and its potential to yield substantial advances in the telemetry, visibility, and analytics of IO data center technology. Our companies speak the same language and the insights gained from this collaboration will be invaluable to the data center space.”

source: PR Newswire

Data Backup – It’s Like Insurance

Most of us are aware of the need to backup our data, whether it’s our office computer, home computer, web site or one of the many gadgets that now occupy our homes, however just knowing we should be doing it does not always translate into actually doing it – and even if you are backing up your important data, is it enough to recover everything should the worst happen?

Over the weekend, a site that I look after suffered from a storage failure – in this case it was simply a storage server that locked up and needed a reboot. Once this was done, most of the servers connected to it recovered happily. One, however, did not and required a scan and recovery of the main file system. The server rebooted happily, but once back up and running all was not well. Web pages were serving random binary gibberish, and so it was time to turn to the backups.

There are generally two types of backup system, those that provide a “bare metal restore” and those that don’t. The former allow a complete restore of the server from scratch, usually using some form of boot media. The latter allow you access to the files, but reinstalling the OS and reconfiguring software may be required once files are restore. In our case, we had to use a file based restore, but luckily, as the server had its boot files intact, we could set up a live boot CD, wipe the main data partition and just restore all the files from the most recent backup (taken at 3am that morning). It took a couple of hours, but the end result was a functioning server again.

The moral of this story? Having a working backup of your data is like insurance, and should be treated like car insurance, home insurance or if you are a business, like your office insurance – you hope never to use it, but it’s a worthwhile cost for that peace of mind, and if you do need it, it’s worth every penny!

Thinking Outside The Box

I owe the inspiration to this one to the BOFH (Bastard Operator From Hell) – you can read the current episode here – worth going through the archives if you haven’t come across this before.

Anyway, if you bother to read the comments, the wondrous phrase “Thinking outside the box” comes up, largely with respect to project management. Now, if you have worked in IT for a while, this should make you laugh. Using the phrase “thinking outside the box” within IT is, to be blunt, a tautology. It is what the job is about. It is what we are paid for. The essence of the job is to find solutions for a problem, and this means finding solutions that are NOT obvious – choosing the obvious ones is easy.

To put it another way, it’s a bit like a Formula 1 driver selling themself as being able to “drive fast and not crash” – it’s the basic skill you expect them to use, that is, after all what you are paying them for, and if they can’t do that bit, they may as well not bother.

So, next time you hear someone tell you how important thinking outside the box is, remind them that that is the basic skill, and, maybe, if they think that sets them apart from all the others vying for your business, they are not as skilled as they think they are.

Bob Diamond – A Question?

Now that Barclays (ex) Chief Executive Bob Diamond has gone, there seems to be an unanswered (or even, unasked) question left hanging about what he did or did not know. From the open letter written on the 28th June 2012 to Andrew Tyrie, Chairman of the Treasury Select Committee and published on the Barclays website we learn:

“This inappropriate conduct was limited to a small number of people relative to the size of Barclays trading operations, and the authorities found no evidence that anyone more senior than the immediate desk supervisors was aware of the requests by traders, at the time that they were made. ”

Now, ignoring the slightly weasel-wording, this would seem to claim that Bob Diamond (and his management team) were unaware of the attempt to manipulate LIBOR rates etc.

However, following his resignation, Barclays have published information of a memo in which it is stated:

Mr Tucker stated the levels of calls he was receiving from Whitehall were ‘senior’ and that while he was certain we did not need advice, that it did not always need to be the case that we appeared as high as we have recently.”

The memo was sent by Bob Diamond to John Varley, the Chief Executive at the time and Jerry del Missier, president of Barclays Capital.

In itself there may be nothing wrong with this, but, if this memo is being presented as evidence that Barclays were under the impression that mis-reporting LIBOR had been approved by the Bank of England, then the claim that Bob Diamond did not know must surely be false – it would be disingenuous to claim “I didn’t know it was going on, and in any case, it had been approved by the Bank of England”.

N+1 Redundancy – How Not To Do It

This morning, as I got up, I noticed that our server monitoring system (Nagios – if you don’t know it, give it a look) was erroring for a set of customers servers. They’d been rebooted a couple of times over the last few weeks, so I decided a visit to the DC was in order to check everything was OK. Having brought all but one of the servers back on-line (it’s a clustered system), I noticed that we had a few internal fan failures, and swapped a couple of fans from a spare box into a live server to save me having to grab some from spares, and made a note to order up replacements.

So far, so good, but these servers have 6 or 7 identical fans inside, and it appears that the failure of even one of them will lead to the server shutting down and refusing to boot. It looks like the designer failed to understand the concept of redundancy – if you are putting that many fans in, why not add one or two more so in the event of single failure everything can carry on after an abnormal event is logged.

Now, I am mostly a software guy these days, but, really, if it seems obvious to me, surely it’s obvious to others. We are talking major named brand, not some nameless box shifter.