Archive for June 2, 2017

Was The British Airways Epic Outage Caused By Contractor Who Accidentally Switched off The Power?

Posted in Commentary with tags on June 2, 2017 by itnerd

Last weekend, a computer outage caused epic chaos for British Airways which was forced to cancel flights from both London Heathrow and Gatwick airports. That in turn caused stranded passengers no end of frustration until everything got sorted. Now, if you were one of those passengers, you want to know what caused this. Here’s the possible answer:

A BA source told The Times the power supply unit that sparked the IT failure was working perfectly but was accidentally shut down by a worker. An investigation into the power outage is likely to focus on human error rather than any equipment failure, it said.

I have a bit of a problem with the above based on my experience in data centers that big companies the size of British Airways typically use. Actually two problems.

Typically with the sorts of data centers that these companies have, you have two sources of power. One is what comes from your local power company, and a second is a diesel generator which takes over if the feed from the power company fails. From there it goes to one or more massive and centralized uninterruptible power supplies (UPS). From there the UPS distributes power to power distribution units (PDU’s) that are in the racks that the servers reside on. The servers plug into the PDU’s in the racks, and those PDU’s have usually on/off switches that are harder to use than your average on/off switch. Now, it is possible to bump into a power switch on a PDU and take down a couple of servers by accident. But I find it implausible to do something of this scale by accident. The only way I can possibly see a scenario like this happening is if somehow the UPS was shut down. But from my experience, that isn’t exactly easy to do. In fact, it takes effort that goes beyond what would constitute an accident.

That brings me to point number two. If a company has systems that under no circumstances can fail for any reason, the company uses a clustered configuration. Meaning the system is made up of more than one computer that if the company is paranoid, may be spread out in different locations. The idea is that if one member of the cluster fails, the others will pick up the slack. This even kind of implies that British Airways doesn’t employ a cluster or any other fault tolerant configuration. Given what they do, that seems really weird as this sort of configuration is kind of commonplace in organizations this size.

My feeling is that this source is serving something up that doesn’t quite pass the smell test. Though, I will admit that there have been cases where something like this has happened and this sort of explanation, no matter how implausible it might be ends up being the truth. And if that’s the case, British Airways has some serious explaining to do.


Infographic: Screen Time: The 4 Ms

Posted in Commentary on June 2, 2017 by itnerd


Source: Canadian Paediatric Society

More info on this can be found here.

Visitors To The US Will Need To Hand Over Their Social Media Info If They Need A Visa

Posted in Commentary with tags , on June 2, 2017 by itnerd

I’ve been following this story for a while now, and it’s finally become reality. The US Government has rolled out a new questionnaire for U.S. visa applicants worldwide that asks for social media handles for the last five years and biographical information going back 15 years. From the report:

The new questions, part of an effort to tighten vetting of would-be visitors to the United States, was approved on May 23 by the Office of Management and Budget despite criticism from a range of education officials and academic groups during a public comment period. Critics argued that the new questions would be overly burdensome, lead to long delays in processing and discourage international students and scientists from coming to the United States. Under the new procedures, consular officials can request all prior passport numbers, five years’ worth of social media handles, email addresses and phone numbers and 15 years of biographical information including addresses, employment and travel history.

Welcome to the world of extreme vetting. And the problem with this is that:

  1. It’s not going to work because nobody who is up to no good is going to serve up any social media information that highlights the fact that they’re up to no good. Nor are they going to make it easy enough to find. Thus I seriously doubt that a single “bad dude” is going to get caught via any sort of extreme vetting.
  2. The unintended side effect of this sort of thing is that nobody is going go to the US. That’s going to have a negative effect on the $1.6 trillion in economic output in 2015 that tourism to the US generates. And according to The IndependentThe Washington Post and even FourSquare, tourism to the US has dropped since President Trump took power in the US. And my wife and I are examples of this as we cancelled a vacation to the US and instead will be road tripping across Canada simply because we do not feel that the US is a good place to go on vacation right now. I also have really cut back on any business trips to the US since Trump became president unless I have no other choice for a similar reason. Thus in the process, depriving the US of additional revenue from the flight, hotel, car rental, restaurants, etc. that my business trips would generate.

I suspect that once jobs start disappearing and the lawsuits start getting filed regarding how overly broad this appears to be, then they may be a rethink of this. We will have to watch and see.

UPDATE: I should have mentioned that disclosing your social media is “voluntary” as per this from the Reuters story:

While the new questions are voluntary, the form says failure to provide the information may delay or prevent the processing of an individual visa application.

So, to me it sounds like you pretty much have to hand this info over if you want your visa application processed in a timely manner.


The IT Nerd’s Father’s Day Gift Guide 2017

Posted in Commentary on June 2, 2017 by itnerd

For the fourth year in a row, I am posting a Father’s Day Gift where I’m offering up some high tech gift ideas for dad:

OWC Envoy Pro mini – Fast 120GB SSD Thumb Drive: Dads will love this lightning fast 120GB SSD USB drive that fits in his pocket. This is not your average thumb drive — elegant, light, and strong, Envoy Pro mini is a full-sized desktop-class SSD performance go-anywhere storage companion — incredibly fast and perfectly portable for dad’s life on the move. Price: $119.99

NETATMO PRESENCENetatmo Presence is the first outdoor security camera with breakthrough artificial intelligence to detect and report about people, cars, and animals. It analyzes in real time and can alert you if someone loiters around your house, a taxi pulls up on the driveway or your dog is playing in the garden. Price: $349.99

OWC Mercury Elite Pro mini – Portable Storage & Backup:  Available from 60GB to 5TB, this is the portable storage drive for fathers who like to take hundreds of photos and videos of their friends and family without worrying about losing their files. The Mercury Elite Pro mini multi-interface storage drive for Mac & PC features USB 3.0 and 2.0 high-performance eSATA Plug and Play data storage and backup reliability with a choice of a SATA hard drive or Solid State Drive (SSD). The  Mercury Elite Pro mini delivers up to 600MB/s transfer speeds for demanding data storage and backup in an impact resistant, heat dissipating 5×3-inch brushed aluminum enclosure with super-quiet operation. Price: $64.99 and up

NETATMO WELCOMENetatmo Welcome is an indoor security camera with revolutionary face recognition technology that sends the names of the people it recognizes directly to your smartphone. Welcome allows you to keep an eye on the home; it sends immediate alerts when a stranger is detected or when loved ones are safely home. Read my review herePrice: $219.99

NewerTech NuGuard KX iPhone Cases for iPhone 7:  Rugged without the bulk — military drop tested cases for iPhones, including iPhone 7, 7 Plus, 6S, 6S Plus, 6, 6 Plus, 5S & 5C, and Samsung Galaxy S4. The NuGuard KX case is perfect for fathers that travel or work/play outdoors. Available in black, red, and blue, with unique design options, such as a U.S. flag. Price: $29.75-$34.75

PERSONAL WEATHER STATIONDad won’t forget his umbrella anymore with the Netatmo Weather Station. It accurately measures outdoor and indoor home temperatures, relative humidity, sound level, barometric pressure, and air quality. It also grants access to live measurements, historic data and graphs on your smartphone, tablet or computer. Price: $179.99

Roku Ultra: Upgrade Dad to the ultimate streaming player! Roku Ultra is fully loaded with a powerful quad-core processor, stunning HD and 4K HDR picture quality, and an advanced point-anywhere remote (plus a remote finder feature, in case it gets lost between the couch cushions) that doubles as a controller for some casual gaming. For that early-morning or late-night bingeing of his favourite shows, Dad can plug headphones right into the remote and listen without disturbing the rest of the family. And of course he can also control the action right from his smartphone with the Roku app! Price: $139.99

Axon 7 Mini: The ZTE Axon 7 Mini is the perfect smartphone for the dad who appreciates both style and substance. A 16MP main camera takes stunning photos and video, while the sleek aluminum design offers timeless appeal. With a 8-core Qualcomm processor, plenty of storage and memory, a fingerprint scanner and long-lasting battery, the Axon 7 Mini has plenty of power for everything Dad can throw at it. And finally, the Dolby Atmos Digital Surround Sound and dual stereo speakers let him rock out to his favourite tunes in crystal clear Hi-Fi quality from anywhere! Price: $399

Travel Rockstar Battery Pack + Charger + Surge: For the dad who loves to travel: look no further than the Travel Rockstar! This 3-in-1 gadget features a dual-outlet power bar, built-in surge protector for keeping dad’s gadgets safe and a 3,000mAh battery pack for keeping his phone topped up. This thing does it all! Price: $59.99 USD

VELOP Whole Home Mesh Wi-Fi System: A great gift for Dad that will benefit the whole family, VELOP sets up in minutes and delivers flawless, ultra-fast, full-strength signal throughout your home. Because not every home is the same, this modular system lets you buy as few or as many VELOP nodes as you need, and place them wherever you need them, making dead spots a thing of the past. With powerful tri-band mesh technology, you’ll get seamless roaming and maximum speed right out to the edge of your network, even when everyone’s streaming their favourite shows. Read my review here. Price: $299.99 (1-pack), $499.99 (2-pack), $649.99 (3-pack) CAD

For the dad who’s always hard to buy for, Gift Jeenie takes the guessing out of giving. A social gift-giving app, dad can add exactly what he wants to his profile, then allow friends and family to connect and coordinate so he doesn’t end up with four ties again. Of course it works great for any occasion: Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, birthdays, Christmas, and more.

Do you have any other suggestions for Dad? If so, please leave a comment and share your thoughts.

Audi Gets Accused Of #DieselGate Like Cheating By The German Government

Posted in Commentary with tags on June 2, 2017 by itnerd

The German government has accused Audi of cheating emissions tests with its top-end models according to Reuters:

The German Transport Ministry said it has asked Volkswagen’s (VOWG_p.DE) luxury division to recall around 24,000 A7 and A8 models built between 2009 and 2013, about half of which were sold in Germany. The affected Audi models with so-called Euro-5 emission standards emit about twice the legal limit of nitrogen oxides when the steering wheel is turned more than 15 degrees, the ministry said. It is also the first time that Audi’s top-of-the-line A8 saloon has been implicated in emissions cheating. VW has said to date that the emissions-control software found in its rigged EA 189 diesel engine does not violate European law. The 80,000 3.0-liter vehicles affected by VW’s emissions cheating scandal in the United States included Audi A6, A7 and Q7 models as well as Porsche and VW brand cars. The ministry said it has issued a June 12 deadline for Audi to come up with a comprehensive plan to refit the cars. Ingolstadt-based Audi issued a recall for the 24,000 affected models late on Thursday, some 14,000 of which are registered in Germany, and said software updates will start in July. It will continue to cooperate with Germany’s KBA motor vehicle authority, Audi said.

This shouldn’t come as a total surprise as Audi is owned by VW and VW likely shares parts and technology with Audi. But it’s likely bad press that neither company needs right now as it will likely spark similar probes elsewhere on the planet. Plus, VW was likely hoping to put DieselGate behind it.