Outside of my work as a developer at 3Bit, I freelance as a professional (i.e. paid) piano player. I've played at just about every event imaginable - weddings, funerals, Christmas carol singing, Santa parades, live gigs. I began learning at a young age, and hated every moment - it wasn't until my late teens that I actually started to enjoy music, and am now grateful I stuck with it (or rather mum made me stick with it!). I now often sit at a piano for an hour after work to unwind.
Through all my many years of accompanying good singers through to the tone-deaf (and everyone in-between), I've noticed an interesting trend - today, the average Joe Blogs can't sing as well as possibly their grandparents were able to.
The tell-tale sign for me is having to often lower the key of a song to make it easier to sing.
Music is made up of many parts, and one is the key (as dictated by the key signature at the start of the music). If a song is in the key of F, for example, and a wedding congregation is struggling as the music is too high, the key can be dropped down (to D, to C etc), and this brings the notes back into the vocal range of everyone trying to belt out the tune.
The same works in reverse. If a song is too low, the key can be raised. The fine art of all this is finding a key that isn't too high or too low. It is also quite specific to the music.
If a song features notes that are all quite close on a scale (think Do Re Mi from Sound of Music), the key can be easily adjusted. If the song has notes all over the place, you have to be careful that the key is a good average over the whole piece, or you'll become unstuck half way through (the carol Silent Night is a good example of a song that features a very wide range of both high and low notes).
At Christmas time 2008, I played for a crowd of 1,500 at a community carols event. I was amazed that every carol we played had its key dropped down, some quite significantly. A music purist would shudder at this!
My theory is that most of us do very little regularly singing, and unlike the past generations, our vocal chords don't get the workout theirs did, hence we can't easily get to the higher notes they could. 50 years ago people could sing well, and composers set their music to the key that suited singers the best, which is now too high for us. Of course, this is just my opinion.
My remedy for this - more singing in the shower, and if you can't hold a tune to save yourself, turn the stereo up louder.
Blatant self promotion: if you're looking for some piano accompaniment, fire me an email.
The definition above is taken out of an online dictionary, and I've Kiwified it. Why is it when we suffer an outage of a service we pay for, that most Kiwis come up with the most unreasonable levels of compensation?
Maybe it's because I'm often on the provider side of the equation, but I think I'm very realistic and forgiving when it comes to a third party failing to deliver a service I'm paying for. My whole thinking revolves around one simple idea: sh*t happens (from now on, the acronym S.H.). Am I saying that every outage shouldn't be questioned and just given an "oh well"? No, definitely not. Suppliers should be and need to be held accountable for any issues with their delivery of a service, however, you need to be realistic, and make sure your own bases are well covered.
The argument of "my business depends on this 100%" also doesn't sit well with me - if you have one provider that you depend on, and in the event of an outage you are up a certain creek without the wooden thing, it's your problem. Running a business without redundancy of vital parts is just asking for trouble. Even the most well thought out and tested disaster recover plans can quickly come unstuck, and it's up to you as a business to be prepared for the worst.
At 3Bit we provide a variety of web-based services (eg web hosting, emails, dedicated servers) for a range of clients in different industries. We've had the odd outage (few and far between, touch wood) and we work hard to get our clients back up and running as quickly as possible. We keep them up-to-date with personal phone calls and emails, as a happy client means more word-of-mouth referrals, which we depend on. An unhappy client will cancel their service, and not hold back in publishing negative feedback to the world.
We will credit an outage period to a client's account for their monthly fee and that's it. Lost sales and business are not covered. When signing up a new client, if I feel an outage would have a high detrimental effect to their business, I will often suggest mirrored setups with different providers. If they ask for an S.L.A. (Service Level Agreement), I will get one from our data centre provider and make sure everything is covered (including duplicating their setup in another physical data centre). Why? Because S.H.
Two events come to mind when thinking about outages and compensation.
Back in June, Genesis Energy had an outage where its prepay customers were unable to top-up their accounts due to a computing error. I remember an interview on TV1 where a consumer was asked how she felt about the compensation she was being offered, and I remember she commented that it wasn't good enough (unfortunately I can't find this interview on TVNZ On-Demand). My query is, what else could Genesis have done? They've apologised, credited her account, and she still wants more? Would she have been satisfied if Genesis delivered their web programmers to her door step, and given her a paintball gun to exact her revenge?
In December, Telecom had a massive outage from Taupo south. There was a mass wave of posts from Geekzone users, some of who seem to depend solely on Telecom mobile for life or death situations. As always, the demands for compensation ranged from the ridiculous to the more realistic. I think insane's post nicely sum up my feelings:
Personally I don't see why everyone is jumping up and down for compensation. Like DSL your mobile service is best effort. When your phone line has issues and your internet connectivity is cut you don't automatically get a credit from your ISP as you have no SLA.
Any Credit/offer Telecom give customers should be seen as a bonus. If you're relying on your best effort mobile service to support some mission critical application / service then perhaps you should invest in your own measures of redundancy instead of expecting Telecom to take care of this for you.
If it's important you'll have some sort of a backup. If your answer to 'did you have a backup?' is no, then it's obviously not that important to you.
Just recently, one of our virtual servers was down due to an outage with iServe. What do I expect from them? I expect regular updates with an accurate E.T.A. as possible (being called on mobile from their operations manager was a good start), a credit on our account for the down-time, plus assurance it won't happen again. I wasn't really too worried with the down-time as we had a Plan B.
Why? Because S.H.
Don't get caught with your pants down. Expect the worst case scenario, and plan for it accordingly.
Phil is responsible for the very nice re-design of Geekzone, plus the Geekzone mobile site. Phil also does some work for us here at 3Bit, and he is lucky enough to be based in the sunny Hawke's Bay.
Congratulations to you both, and thank-you Phil for all your hard-work here at Geekzone.
Over Christmas Day lunch with my extended family, an uncle mentioned he was upgrading his laptop on Boxing Day to take advantage of the sales. His laptop wasn't that old, so I was curious as to why he was considering a replacement so soon. His reply was his current laptop had a virus, and the virus was so bad the software he had wasn't able to remove it. I asked to borrow his infected laptop, and with the promise of beer and food if I could fix it, I booted it up the next day, and was presented with this gem:
SecurityTool is a very clever piece of deceptive software. It entices a naive user by presenting a banner on a webpage saying that it has done a quick scan of their computer, and has found viruses that should be removed (this is impossible, no webpage can scan your hard-drive). The user, believing the advert, downloads and installs this, and then the fun begins.
It configures itself to boot up at startup, changes the desktop background to white and puts a white overlay hiding your icons, and will not let you shut it down (it takes up the whole screen) until you buy a full version. It presents "viruses" that it has discovered (which are all fake) and encourages you to purchase the full version for your protection. Even my constant pressing of Ctrl+Alt+Del were futile - the program quickly hides the Task Manager behind the screen above.
SecurityTool is very simple to remove - boot into Safe Mode, run msconfig and stop it booting up at startup. Also, delete the executable and the system returns to normal on the next restart.
As a programmer, I was amazed at how simple the idea of this software is - tell the user they have viruses, don't allow them to do anything until they purchase the full version, the whole time they believe you as they are none the wiser.
All this leads into the point of this post: don't trust the internet. Some years back when we used to do IT support for a handful of large companies, the biggest threat to their network's security and stability existed between the monitor and the chair of every computer. An ill-informed user can wreak havoc (just ask the Waikato DHB) with their downloads.
For some reason, unbeknown to me, if a user reads something on a webpage or in an email, they trust it 100%. All of their common sense and knowledge goes out the window. They ignore all warnings and information given to them by those in the know, and they follow what they read on screen.
Other things to watch out for:
- A Nigerian (or any other country) prince doesn't have millions to transfer you.
- The flashing banner saying you are the millionth visitor are fake.
- Your bank/TradeMe/PayPal/Gmail et al. have not lost your data, nor will they ask for your password in an email.
- A friend will not send you an email out of the blue, with an attachment you were not expecting.
If you suspect a rat, you can be sure you'll find one.
Being confused about something online is not unusual - don't act on what you read, ask someone you trust (who knows what they are talking about), or seek advice from a legitimate computer store. You can save yourself a lot of wasted time and unnecessarily lost data by seeking good advice.
Have a relaxing break everyone!
On Monday my car was up for a 10k service, a Hometune technician turned up on time, left me a courtesy vehicle, and rang me later to advise what was needed. Front brake discs had to be replaced (which I was warned about by Firestone when replacing my tyres in January), and an oil change and new air filter. The seal on the rocker cover gasket was broken causing my car to leak oil. To my dismay, oil had also splashed onto the cam-belt, which meant it would have to be replaced as well (it had only just recently been done at my 100k servicing).
Hometune straight away admitted that they should've warned me about it when I had the cam-belt done, and since they'd forgotten to tell me, they were going to replace the cam-belt and clean up all the oil free of charge. They could've easily told me that the oil leak was bad and it damaged my cam-belt and I would've been none-the-wiser. I would've reluctantly paid for the cam-belt to be re-replaced, and cursed the day when I bought my car.
I'm very impressed with what the integrity they've shown with my last service, and it's nice to know that an industry where we often hear about people being ripped off through ignorance, that there are still some good guys about.
Their website: www.hometune.co.nz
Disclaimer: I gave Hometune a reference in August 2008, which we received a discount on our next servicing. I am not receiving anything for this blog post.