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June 21, 2010

More new posts over on


New Posts Over on New Blog

June 13, 2010

All the excitement is now on

New Site

June 10, 2010

Blog has moved over to

Educational Innovation in the Making

June 8, 2010

Inspired by the concept, I did up this logo — then made it open source!

Every so often, I come across an idea that really grabs my attention and that I really want to see work. This is one: An innovation from Lloyd Hardy in Cong, Co. Mayo,  for open-source, third-level learning. In fact, instead of just blogging his plan after I read about it, I was moved to get in contact with him to find out more.

So, over the last few days, we have been discussing the Free Software University (FSU) and his plans for the online college. Hardy says he has already lined up 150 tutors and learners keen to get going. The lessons will be open source and made available free of charge to students. He is also quick to point out that open source means more than free of charge. “It means free as in freedom,” he says.

Licensing will fall under the Affero General Public License (AGPL). “The one thing we need to do in this ideology is to protect the innovation of students from abuse. The AGPL allows us to do that,” said Hardy. “In this way, we hope to better ourselves – as a band of learners and to provide a fertile environment for the latest innovation,” he added.

No certifications or accreditation are available yet, but that should not deter serious students from taking third-party tests such as the American College Level Examination Program (CLEP). Hardy hopes to have some courses available in the coming months. Those will probably deal with web development, GNU/Linux scripting, Joomla and so on.

Lloyd Hardy photo

Lloyd Hardy

Hardy is hoping to offer a rich learning environment where students can draw on fellow learners, tutors and industry partners. “The means by which we ‘afford’ such qualified tuition is by ‘industry partnering’, where any company who would like to interact as closely as possible to a body of researchers can become involved. The company benefits by having access to new technologies and by having students work on their real-world projects, which gives students rich working environment experience,” he said.

As I mentioned, this is an idea that really grabbed my attention. I even wrote up a newspaper article on it, and sent it off to the Sunday Business Post earlier today. I’ll have a lot more to say on this subject, but I wanted to make an initial blog posting now to help get the word out.

There’s Gold In Them Thar Bills

June 3, 2010

Money is all around us; it’s just that we keep spending it and cannot seem to hold on to much. Any realistic, money-saving tips that come our way, therefore, are worth their weight in, well, gold.

Yesterday’s talk at the Irish Computer Society on Cost Control for IT Managers* had just that — some concrete advice on how to reduce expenditures by looking at non-payroll overheads. Given by Fintan Swanton of Expense Reduction Ireland (ERI),  the seminar zeroed in on two areas IT Managers should be able to make a quick impact: electricity and phone charges.

power buttonHis first piece of advice is no surprise: Shop around. Swanton said he phoned around earlier this week, and Energia, Airtricity and Bord Gáis are offering to beat the ESB‘s prices by between 10 percent and 12 percent for commercial customers. Swanton also recommended watching electricity prices after Oct. 1 because the energy regulator has decided that the ESB is free to set prices for commercial customers. Ironically, observers expect this to result in lower prices for business.

The second piece of advice is to understand your bills. Some customers may be paying extra because they exceed maximum agreed usages. Known as the Low Voltage Maximum Demand, Swanton said this clause “constantly trips people up.” Two common reasons companies end up paying is due to moving location or expanding. He said one ERI customer with 17 sites ended up saving €10,100 a year after they reconfigured their allowances.

Low Voltage Maximum Demand is one of the tariffs for commercial electricity customers. It includes charges for capacity – in essence Maximum Import Capacity (MIC). This is the maximum current you can draw from the grid and the MIC  is set in the connection agreement. You have to pay per kVA of MIC, so if it is set too high, you are paying for capacity you’re not using, and if it’s too low, you can incur substantial penalty charges for exceeding it. There’s more detail here on the ESB website.

Assuming people are still making profits and want to reduce them for tax purposes, Swanton said qualified, energy efficient, capital  equipment can be written off in one year. This includes HVAC, BEMS, lighting and IT equipment.

phone iconOn voice, Swanton’s advice was similar. Shop around and keep an eye on your bills. He suggested keeping away from fixed-term contracts due to the amount of competition in the market. His experience was that savings of 25 percent can be found. While providers will offer discounts on call rates as an incentive to switch, smaller discounts are available on line rental. They are not offered, so you will have to ask, he said.

Swanton said ERI is always finding unneeded items on phone bills. These can include line redirection, obsolete equipment and unused lines. He warned, however, not to disconnect lines that appear inactive in case they are needed for alarms or incoming faxes.

Phone bills can be a treasure trove waiting to be reclaimed. “Invoicing errors are extremely common,” Swanton said. The Aberdeen Group estimates between 7 percent and 12 percent are wrong. Swanton said his experience was at the higher end of that range, and few, if any, are in the customer’s favour. Some examples include:

  • Being charged the wrong rate
  • Paying a minimum call charge
  • Failure to disconnect line as requested
  • Rental charges on equipment not in use
  • Charges for discontinued data services e.g. X.25
  • But his favourite is being invoiced for “items the carrier cannot explain.” He told of how one customer’s bill had an alphanumeric entry. They rang the carrier and they could not explain the charge. After many calls and a lot of time, ERI recommended not paying the charge unless the carrier could explain it properly. It was dropped without explanation.

Other suggestions on tackling phone bills include:

  • GSM gateways for mobile
  • Prohibiting directory enquiries; use the internet instead
  • SIP for teleworkers
  • Consolidating mobile devices to one carrier
  • Reviewing bills to eliminate excessive personal use

It was a good seminar. There was a lot there and it is not easy to do justice to it in a short blog posting. But, it would appear based on ERI’s experience, that many organisations are failing to fully claim their savings.

* ICS members can see a video of the whole talk by following the link on the events page.

The Future of UI

June 1, 2010

John Underkoffler, inventor of the data interface in the film Minority Report, demonstrates the latest in computer 3D user interfaces. Science fiction becomes science fact. The talk is around 15 minutes long.

More Facebook Woes

June 1, 2010
Facebook Like Button

Possibly hiding a trojan

Protesters organising a mass defection from Facebook yesterday said 33,313 quit the social networking site. It sounds like a lot, but in the context of the site’s 400 million users, it is a small percentage. The Guardian blog reporting the story said the site also has to worry about a new source of trouble. Consumer groups in the U.S. are applying political pressure, the blog says.

Ultimately, it won’t be an unofficial rabble of protesters that bothers Facebook or forces more coherent improvement; it will be US regulators.

As if that isn’t enough, security flaws have been reported in the code behind Facebook’s like button. Basically, a teaser encourages users to click on the button to add it to their Facebook page. You click on the link and a trojan gets installed. Then the bait is added to your newsfeed where others can fall for the same trick. Here is some advice if you have been hit:

If you’ve been hit with this likejacking attack, the best you can do is remove the like from your profile and delete the post from your News Feed. You might want to apologize to your friends with a Facebook status update, too.