Entrepreneurs making a difference

When I first heard about the work of Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunnus and his concept of the microcredit I thought that it was a fantastic idea. Basically, as wikipedia says :


“Microcredit is the extension of very small loans (microloans) to the unemployed, to poor entrepreneurs and to others living in poverty who are not considered bankable. These individuals lack collateral, steady employment and a verifiable credit history and therefore cannot meet even the most minimal qualifications to gain access to traditional credit. Microcredit is a part of microfinance, which is the provision of a wider range of financial services to the very poor.”


Personally, I am also a big fan of the book “The World is Flat” by Thomas L. Friedman which in part talks about the concept that if you give people hope and say in their own future then they are much less likely to become militant against what they see as an unfair system (basically). Having started my own business I strongly believe that support budding entrepreneurs is a way to not only improve their lives but their families, their communities, and so on up the food chain.


Other IT people ask me why I spend time doing things like my free online videos, my blog, my Sharepoint site, my free documents, contribute to the local SBS user group, recycled computers at no cost, offer business mentoring and so on? Sure I ask for donations to assist with these but basically the donations so far haven’t even reached double digits (no kidding), so they are basically done off my own back. Why do I do this? Simple, when I first started out in my own I had no one to assist me and I had to basically figure it all out for myself and I can tell you at times it was a REAL struggle. I vowed then, that I would never let that happen to someone else if I could help it, so today I do what I can.


One of my plans with the recycled computers was to eventually send machines overseas to try and help people who really don’t have the opportunities that we today take for granted. Well, that plan proved too expensive once you start working out the costs of getting machines overseas. It did not however dim my concerns for places like Africa where they are just falling further and further behind everyday. If you are like me you feel that you should contribute to things like World Vision but you strangely don’t feel fulfilled by simply donating money that gets dolled out as they see fit. You are also aware of the stories of the abuse of funds that sometime happens in these organisations.


However, while reading a recent article in Fortune magazine, I was alerted to kiva.org, which basically allows you to make contributions and allocate those funds to local entrepreneurs in places like Africa and Asia to expand their businesses. Based on the idea of the microcredit, the funds you provide are loans to these people who repay them over a set time period. The great thing is that you can start with as little as USD $25 and pick someone from a list of people on the web site. Once you have selected someone, others will also contribute until the required amount is reached. During the life of the loan you are provided with updates of the project and the repayments. Once the loan is repaid then you can allocate those funds to another project or withdrawn if you wish.


If you are still cynical I highly recommend you visit the Kiva we site to learn more. I also recommend you read the following article from Stamford University and finally this blog entry from Guy Kawaski (of Apple fame) as further evidence of the merits of what Kiva is trying to achieve. Still doubtful about loaning money to someone in Africa? The repayment rate is greater than 99.67 percent! And the chances are that if a payment isn’t made it isn’t because the person has absconded with the money, typically they have been sick (lack of medicine) or someone in their family has been sick (again, lack of medicine) or there has been a natural or political upheaval (how easy we believe WE are being ripped off when something we would never even think of has happened!). Each potential business you loan to also has a repayment rating to help you make your choice.


The Kiva website has all the details and makes it easy to get started via a credit card payment. You can track all the people you have loaned money to as well as other who are contributing from all over the world. I can’t tell you what a GREAT idea I feel this really is and how technology has made it even easier to get funds to people to grow their business and improve their lives.


I am extremely proud to now say that I am a Kiva supporter and have also convinced my family to provide assistance as well. Now I am asking others out there to look at Kiva and see whether they too could lend a hand. I have been very blessed in my my life and I hope in some small way that with Kiva I can at least help someone else that once I was unable to.

The Vista debacle

Seems like the angst over Visa and Visa Service Pack 1 just won’t go away. Have a look at this article from the Australian and take the time to read some of the comments posted by people. Then go and read this posting from Susan Bradley which kinda illustrates that we have seen this sort of karfuffle before.


I agree that Microsoft hasn’t done a very good job getting Vista out to the market but I do think you have to take a step back and look at the reality of the situation here. Microsoft is a commercial organisation. The reason it releases new software is to make money. The sooner it gets people to buy this software the sooner it makes money. Sad, but true. If you want to run Vista and avoid potential issues, get it with a new PC that has enough grunt to run it (i.e. 2GB of RAM). If you upgrade on existing hardware or over the top of a previous version of Windows, sorry, but you are going to have problems. Sad, but true. If you think that all your old software is going to run on Vista, it ain’t. You are going to need to upgrade. Sad, but true.


Look technology is all about change. If you want to use the latest features and benefit from the latest advances then you gotta upgrade. You can’t usually retro fit airbags to a 1960’s car can you? If you want airbag protection then you gotta go and buy a new car. Sad, but true. It is important not to over look the fact that these issues aren’t solely the fault of Microsoft. Other companies that run under Windows have been slow to modify their programs to suit the changes in Vista. Why? Like Microsoft they are commercial organisations. They aren’t going to spend money on developing something until it is worth their while. They are clearly waiting until there are enough Vista systems out there before they act. Sad, but true. Does this create a viscous circle, where everyone one is waiting for some critical point at which enough Vista is shipped? Yes. Sad, but true. Ladies and gentlemen, this is a commercial world we live in. If these companies don’t make money, they go out of business and then who is going to write the applications your require? It’s all about money. Sad, but true.


Sure Microsoft could have done a better job but they are working under a number of restrains here. Are other software companies failing to do their part to make Vista compatible software? Yes. Are hardware companies failing to provide driver updates for their products because they don’t deem it commercially viable? Yes. Are people failing to appreciate that they really need to upgrade to new hardware (and software) if they want to go to Vista? Yes. And so on and so on.


Bottom line? If you want to reduce your chance of issues with Vista get new hardware and be prepared that some of your old software may not work. Is that fair? Nope. Sad but true. That that is the way with technology. So maybe it is just time to accept the fact that you are going to HAVE to move to Vista sooner or later and you are PROBABLY going to experience some issues. That’s life with technology, so just get over it so you can on with it.

Here’s an interesting observation

Of late we have been removing ISA 2004 (and 2000) from our clients SBS servers and implementing dedicated firewall devices that also do any spam and web content filtering. There are a lot of reasons for this, increased reliability, less load on the SBS box, more flexibility and so on. Once we learned that the new version on SBS (SBS2008) won’t be supporting ISA on the same box as the other SBS software we decided that was further confirmation that this is the right thing to do moving forward. So the only reason that you’ll be selling a client SBS Premium in future is if they want SQL Server?


Interestingly, after removing ISA from these SBS boxes we no longer see all these strange kerberos and failed authentication errors in our SBS monitoring reports. Now, all the client workstations did have ISA Firewall client installed but in our experience certain software (especially printer monitoring software) always wanted to get to the Internet and usually via it’s own method (resulting in authentication errors). So remove ISA out of the loop and this software simply goes to the Internet out the default gateway. Whether that is good or bad is still debatable but interestingly in some cases we have had servers with thousands of authentication errors per day disappear to almost none. Interesting eh?


Now ISA did serve a purpose but lately we have found it to be more of hindrance than help. If you need to configure port forwarding sometimes you got issues, many of the usage reports didn’t show totals correctly or in order or with actual user names and so on. Now I’m sure all of these could be solved but it is much easier to get the whole firewall function off the SBS box and onto a dedicated device. It also improves reliability in the fact that you can fiddle with the Internet without affecting the SBS box.


So, if you have a whole lot of authentication and kerberos errors in your monitoring reports and you are running SBS with ISA and two NIC’s then have a look at ISA maybe being the cause of the errors. What you can do to prevent these errors I’m not 100% sure but I have found that perhaps taking ISA out of the loop is an effective solution. Today, if we sell a client SBS Premium because they SQL server we won’t install ISA or WSUS for that matter (why we don’t do WSUS is whole other story). Unless a client specifically wants SQL Server we’ll sell SBS Standard with a stand alone firewall device, much easier and much cheaper for the client.

The more I do, the more I learn

Just learnt some more important lessons recently after being involved in another SBS Migration. In most cases these days we migrate existing clients using the SBS Swing Migration kit put together by Jeff Middleton. If you are in the business of upgrading Windows networks then I strongly suggest you take a look at Jeff’s site (www.sbsmigration.com) and invest, since it is going to save you hours of work.


During the forklift of Exchange Server databases from the old server to the new server we discovered that they wouldn’t mount. The reason was that the distinguished name of on the old server was different than the new server. The old server looked like /o=first organization /ou=first organization.. while the new server read /o=business name /ou=first organization. The reason for this? Well, it turns out the old server was an OEM installation which meant that Exchange had been configured BEFORE the client details had been entered. Thus, even using the Swing Migration kit, the same server name and domain name there was an issue. The situation can be rectified using LegacyDn, which allows you to change these values. Now, you have to be careful using this tool as the following Microsoft KB article says and make sure the values from the old server match the new server. We also found that after making the changes you need to reboot the new server so that the values will be flushed through the AD.


After the reboot you will also probably need to disconnect all the existing user mailboxes and then re-connect them so that all the details are correct. A pain, I know but it did the trick. So the lesson here is that if you are migrating from an OEM installation of SBS then more than likely you should run LegacyDn to record the Exchange database details just in case there is name mismatch after the migration.


Now, during the migration process we had some issues with Exchange public folders and I was trying to mail enable them while using Remote Desktop from a workstation. Now for some reason the option to run the Exchange tasks wasn’t being displayed when I hit the right mouse button on the public folder. Turns out that it won’t display unless I am using Remote Desktop as the console session. To to this you need to run:


%SystemRoot%\system32\mstsc.exe /console


It seems that there are somethings that just don’t work unless you are remoted in as the console session. So lesson two is that if you plan to do any administrative work on a server via remote desktop (especially during a migration) always remote in as the console session.

Video 42 – Wireless security

I’ve just uploaded Video 42 to YouTube. To view it simply click here.
In this video I’ve focused on why implementing Wireless Security is important. All it takes is a single opening for someone to potentially gain complete access to your network and Internet. The video concludes with some recommendation about how to make sure your Wireless Network is kept secure.

Is this the end of the Blackberry?

Like the Ipod, one of the great technology revolutions recently has been the introduction of the iPhone. Both of these devices are probably not a massive technological revolution in real terms but they have revolutionized the look, feel, design and way a technology device has been marketed to the masses. Apple is to be congratulated whole heartedly for this, they are masters of the game.


One of the major appeals of the iPhone is not doubt its interface. The ability to drag pages, the appearance and more make it a stand out of design that few other suppliers seem to be able to duplicate (even though it wouldn’t seem that hard). We are yet to see the iPhone here in Australia yet I know that one of the biggest drawbacks it has had is its inability to be used in a corporate environment. The major requirement here is the ability for the phone to sync up with corporate email servers, probably the most popular one being Microsoft Exchange Server. In many cases this has meant that executives had to choose whether to forgo the iPhone for the standard Blackberry (or Windows Mobile device) or carry around two devices.


Well no more. It would seem from this press release that Apple is going to allow the iPhone to work with Microsoft’s ActiveSync technology, which will lay the ground work for the iPhone to sync with Exchange Server. The removal of this barrier will probably see the wide scale adoption of the iPhone in business markets. This spells trouble for Blackberry devices (and Windows Mobile devices as well mind you). The Blackberry maybe functional and maybe already widespread but it lacks one important feature when compared to the iPhone. Coolness.


As the iPod generation begins to make a greater impact on the business world, rising through the ranks, there seems little doubt they will demand the iPhone as the communications device of choice. The acceptance by both Microsoft and Apple that this is in both of their best interests, I believe, is going to make a significant change on the technology landscape in the years ahead. The biggest loser in this change, at the moment, would certainly appear to be Blackberry, however if I was selling Windows Mobile devices I wouldn’t become complacent. Windows Mobile devices probably have one more development cycle left to challenge the iPhone before they too come under significant threat.


When it comes to market share, cool beats functional any day of the week.

Sometimes it pays to stop and think for a moment

So I was trying out some software that I’d heard about that would protect your PC from browser based attacks. I installed and rebooted and guess what? Blue Screen of Death. Damm. Now it wasn’t the end of the world but it was still a pain since I stupidly hadn’t attempted to install the software on a Virtual PC first.


So without thinking too much I booted into safe mode and attempted to uninstall the software using Add/Remove programs. No good, needs Windows installer which doesn’t run in safe mode. Next option, hack the registry and remove all references to the product I just installed. Reboot, still Blue Screen of Death. Damm. Next, take out my image recovery CD and boot to it planning to restore my boot drive from an image I made yesterday. Boot to CD, start restore program, just about to press the Start button, when my logic finally catches up with my brain.


Wouldn’t the simplest way be to boot into Safe Mode and do a System Restore? Yes, ladies and gentlemen it was and it fixed the issue but it does illustrate a point. In the world of IT we are faced with “disasters” everyday but we probably don’t have a method of effectively dealing with them. I suggest that maybe the best idea is simply to take stock of the situation and then DO NOTHING. Well, not quite nothing. I’d suggest a deep breath and some time thinking about the problem and possible solutions. It is better to survey the land than charge into a battle with the wrong plan. Patience, grasshopper, patience.


It is too easy for even an experienced hand like myself to rush into the fray “knowing” the solution. In some cases it may even make it worse. A little time to think about the issues, even write down some solutions and then develop a strategy can make all the difference. Now I generally try to implement this strategy but as I found out here, it is so easy to slip back into the “full-steam” ahead mode. Human instinct after all I suppose.


Such a situation reminds me of a good book I recently read called Deep Survival: Who lives, Who dies and Why by Laurence Gonzales. It delves extensively into what makes some people survive while others perish. The psychology behind the findings are truly amazing and I would still recommend you read it just for the incredible stories of human survival. For a complete review hop on over to Goodreads and and link to my profile (director@ciaops.com) where you’ll find my list of readings as well as reviews of the material. If you like reading, the Goodreads is a great site.


So in this world of rush, rush, rush more time actually thinking about a problem before acting can actually be a good thing and will more than likely save you time in the long run. Patience is a virtue that I need to constantly work at.

Ah ha, what I have now figured out

In my last post I mentioned how I was having some formatting issue posting updates to the blog using Windows Live Writer. Now that I have looked through the menu options on Live Writer I have solved that issue.


What you need to do under Windows Live Writer is go View | Update Weblog style. This will download a whole swag of formatting layouts and make then the default for Live Writer. Now, Live Write looks exactly like the format of the blog with the same fonts, backgrounds and what not.


So now, as you can see I have my paragraph breaks back! The bottom line is when you install the Community Kit for Sharepoint and you plan to use Windows Live Writer to post updates make sure you also Update the Weblog style in Windows Live Writer before you starting posting. All very simple when you know how eh?