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Tag Archives: Apple

Fun in the Sun – Florida (part 1)

In 2011 and 2014 we were in the lucky position to be able to visit Florida in the US, to be more specific Orlando.

This posting will mostly deal with our first visit in 2011, with more posts to follow for those interested in taking a trip over the pond for a fun break in the sun.

Our 2011 trip started with a Thomson flight from Glasgow International Airport to Stanford Airport. We’d chosen the route because it was cheeper than the flight to Orlando International, however Stanford is considerably further out than Orlando International which meant that we had to prebook a limo from the airport to our apartment, which meant it wasn’t as much of a saving as it first appeared.

We were staying at Mystic Dunes resort, which is close to Celebration and not far from Orlando. The resort hosts a large selection of villa apartments large enough to accommodate a family or a group of friends staying in the area.  There are a lot of facilities such as multiple swimming pools, a golf club and loads of other sporting areas dotted around the grounds. Our stay at Mystic Dunes was decent, but it was a bit far away for our first visit to Florida, especially considering our plan was to visit the Disney and Universal Parks (with a bit of retail therapy on the side).

Mystic Dunes had done a deal with the PlatinumTransportation Inc to supply all the transportation which meant that we were pretty much stuck with using them, which I believe may have cost us quite a bit to get around.  Despite the reviews on Yelp, we found the drivers of the cars and the busses to the parks to be polite and helpful, unlike the people that queues for the busses in the parks (that’s something for later).  The busses to the parks (Seaword, Disney’s Epcot and Animal Kingdom as well as Universal) started off at Mystic Dunes, which meant that you were guaranteed a seat on the long journey out but on the journey back Mystic Dunes was the last stop off, meaning if you didn’t get a seat you were standing until seats eventually freed up.  Some of the busses had screens which showed movies such as Despicable Me or Disney (usually Mickey Mouse shorts or Lion King), although sometimes the screens didn’t work or had problems, but it was occasionally a happy distraction.

Our lack of knowledge and lack of belief in our ability to drive in the US meant that we made some rookie mistakes, but we had done a bit of planning before we left so we weren’t completely naive.  There is a wealth of information on-line about Florida, the parks (Walt Disney World, Universal, SeaWorld, Bush gardens, etc), malls, and so much more, so I won’t go into it here, maybe in another posting…

Our plan to get to all the parks that we wanted, at times that weren’t so restrictive, was to use the Transportation and Ticket Centre at Magic Kingdom. The TTC allows you to use Disney busses, boats and monorail to get to and from all the Disney parks and resort hotels whilst still being able to access public busses such as Lynx to get out with Disney’s Kingdom, allowing you to get to the malls and Universal’s parks.  The only Disney location that you can’t get to from the TTC is Downtown Disney.  The secret to getting to Downtown Disney is to get a Disney Bus or Monorail to a Disney hotel and then get a Disney bus from there to Downtown.

As this was our fist visit to the area, we had decided not to take a gamble, hire a car and try driving on the other side of the road, something that I don’t regret despite the number of times we made mistakes with the Lynx bus system and had to call for the Limo to pick us up. In 2014 we did take the leap and get behind the wheel as it appears that most people drive in Orlando, but more of that in later posts.

Our original reason for going over to Florida was to have some fun and ride some of the more extreme rides in the area.  We had ridden all the rides in Alton Towers at the time and felt that it was time for me to up my game and try the bigger, faster rides in the states.  What happened once we reached the parks changed all that and our view on Disney changed forever and I suspect it will never be the same again.

We visited Universal‘s two parks and loved the big rides, atmosphere there and the more adult feel was great.  The big rides were amazing and the City Walk area was where we fell in love with the laid back Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville. Margaritaville was a more subdued taste of Florida, good drinks, good food and a relaxed atmosphere which is a great break from the push and shove of parks.  For those of you with a fear of big rides then a few sips or a big gulp (if you really need it) of one of their tasty cocktails will soon sort out those nerves.  On one visit the barman was concerned that we had had a few drinks but had not yet eaten anything, after a quick discussion and realisation we were from Scotland, he realised that there was nothing to be concerned about.  On one trip we did try the Volcano Nacho’s which we were warned was a monster… we should have listened.. after the large plate, stacked high with “Tortilla chips layered with chili, cheese, pico de gallo, fresh guacamole, sour cream and jalapeños”  it was clear that the picture on the menu did not do it justice and we had really under estimated this monolith, after a brave struggle we had to eventually admit defeat.

When we went into Disney’s Magic Kingdom the feel was completely different and we almost instantly became Disney fans.  My better half joked that they must put something in the air conditioning system on Main St because after the Main street parade our view of Disney changed and something just clicked with us.  We realised that there is more to the Disney parks than just the rides, a feeling that you only get at Disney park and something that becomes electric within Magic Kingdom.

Our trip to the Florida Mall showed that UK Shopping centres are nothing compared to the US and being a Apple fan I had to check out the Apple store ( Hello, I’m FreakOut and I’m an Apple addict ). I can’t remember much about the rest of the stores, but I do remember there was loads for everyone and there is a big ass M&M’s store (which is far better than the only UK store in London and has a massive range of varieties of M&Ms that you just don’t get over here [except possibly CyberCandy in London’s Covent Garden]). My better half started a long distance retail affair with the Bath and Bodyworks, something that I have to admit that even I have started to love, which is yet another reason we keep going back to Florida…

Our one and great disappointment was that we never held back at the Disney parks for any of the night time fireworks at either Magic Kingdom or Epcot, something we would make up for in our next visit…

Edinburgh Apple Store Grand Opening

I know I’m really late in posting about the Grand Opening of the Apple Store, Princes Street, Edinburgh but as I was lucky enough to be there and take some photos, I thought it’s about time I wrote something about it.

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I arrived about an hour before the opening time, but despite this, the queue was not as long as I had anticipated.

The queue was separated between people wanting to purchase the new iPhone 6 (or 6 Plus) [shortish queue] and those wanting to see the shiny new store, who formed a long, winding queue which snaked in front of the building next door with a small brea , for the lane that runs down the side of the store, to allow traffic to pass.

The queue was well mannered as usual and despite the cold Scottish wind (luckily the rain had stopped by this time), the queue was well mannered and cheery. After speaking to a few people in the queue and overhearing some conversations, it appeared to me that the latter half of the queue had never attended an Apple Store opening before and most were a bit bemused by the situation, but realised that it was all part of the experience.

As with the other Grand Openings, which I’ve had the opportunity to attend, Starbucks staff were on hand with a smile on their faces and a small warming hot chocolate or coffee to keep everyone’s spirits up.

Just before opening the sound of bagpipes filled the air and the Apple Store staff came out to welcome everyone with a quick procession around the queue, clapping and cheering everyone who had been waiting for so long.

The security staff. who were managing the queue, were friendly and well mannered despite spending hours on site after setting up the barriers in the rain earlier in the morning. Their simple pass system for ensuring that no one was able to ‘skip’ the queue, as the queue passed over the lane beside the store, worked really well and appeared to also being utilised for those waiting in line for iPhones at the same point in their queue.

Once beside the store, the sheer vastness and open clean design of the store was evident, even with the crowds of fans and staff who had already filled the ground floor of the store.

A short wait later and I was finally passing through the glass doors and getting the customary high fives from the corridor of staff that welcome you into every Grand Opening as you grab the opening day t-shirt (I’m still surprised that some of the fans in the queue didn’t know about what would happen and that the t-shirts are only available in one size, to the first 1000 to enter the store).

Once in the store I had a quick look round and realised that the ground floor was a bit too crowded for me. After bumping into a regular face at these events and a short chat, I was soon heading to the side of the store and up the beautiful staircase (no glass this time) to the bright, clean and airy upstairs, which I believe is the Genius’ area (although there didn’t appear to be a Genius Bar )

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Upstairs was a lot quieter and had space for the children’s area, Genius area, Training area, loads of accessories and all the stuff you find at the back of the ‘mall’ Apple Stores (or Upstairs in Glasgow’s Buchanan St Apple Store).

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The look of the store really caught my eye, from the aluminium air conditioning ducts, floating from the ceiling, to the amazing staircase (which I kept taking pictures of – a bad habit of mine [see my Flickr account] ) and the sense of light and space, which was ever present, even on what could be the busiest day of the store.

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Looking out the first floor window, I could see the Apple flag curled round the flag pole and even an hour after the store opened (yes it took me that long to get in and have a look round – Something my long suffering better half was a bit unhappy about as she sat patiently in McDonald’s up the road) the queue was as long, if not longer, than it had been when I had joined it initially.

Unlike other Grand Openings, it stuck
me how busy the store was. There
were Genius Appointments happening within an hour of the store opening (if not before) and there was a clear demand for the new iPhone 6 / 6 Plus, which is something I’ve not really noticed before, at least not on the same scale.

Hopefully my photos will do the store justice, but I would recommend a visit if you’re in Edinburgh.

I’ll certainly be back in the Edinburgh Apple Store when I’m next in the capital and maybe next time I’ll get a better feel for what the store is really like, without all the clamour of the Grand Opening.

If you want to find out more about the history of the Edinburgh Apple Store, I would suggest checking out Gary Allen’s blog “IFOAppleStore” (IFO=In Front Of) which details the rumours about the Edinburgh Apple Store over the past decade as well as interesting details on many of the Apple Stores throughout the world and other info on that Apple fans may find as interesting as I do.

Taking the next step

I have been looking around for a new role over the past few years but have newer found the right fit that would persuade me to make the move.

I have a LinkedIn profile and have been approached quite a few times with roles that don’t tick the right boxes for me in some way or another.  Some of these roles have ben with some big organisations such as HP, Sky or GE but they just don’t have the right feel about them so I’ve not made that move.

Probably one of the more interesting approaches was a UK based company, with an office in Edinburgh, that deal with constantly developing and expanding cloud computing market and appear to have a bright future but at the same time realise that they need to provide the dull and boring grey IT services such as Blackberry integration into their offering.  I have noticed that the organisation is again hiring in Edinburgh after successfully opening a new Amsterdam office in 2013.

Despite all these approaches I’ve failed to find that fit. As some readers will know in 2013 I unfortunately missed out on a role that I had hoped that I would have been able to finally secure.  The role is one of the hardest roles to secure in IT support, but I still took the plunge after finding out that the organisation in question were hiring for a new Scottish location (which is still in construction, after several years of rumours and over a years worth of structural work to the existing building).  One of the organisation’s recruiters even ran through a screening telephone interview and I was very hopeful to secure the role, but alas it was not to be.

 I am now faced with yet another dream role, which Unfortunately I can’t take… I have approached by two separate agencies (actually one agency has had three different members of staff try to contact me about the role as I appear to be such a good fit for it !!??)..  The role is a Apple Server role, with Mobile Device Management (MDM), Active directory / Open Directory / LDAP, iMacs iPhone / iPad and soo much more..

This amazing role is for a very solid (and prestigious) organisation, the pay level is amazing and the location is pretty good as well.  Looking at the description of the role it is the sort of dream role that I would love, it even appears to be one of these amazing roles that you could take and develop with as it grows and changes, it has challenges, new skills to learn, old skills to update, and it appears that there is a real desire within the organisation to invest in Apple technologies and systems.

So what’s the issue?  It’s a 3 month contract role!! I’d have to give up a full time permanent role in order to take a bucket load of money for what could be a short term contract (there is mention of extension but there is no mention of a permanent position) and then what? 

Now some IT guys will probably think I’m crazy, some of these guys go from contract to contract, taking the work wherever it is and that’s fine for them. I’ve know some guys would take the money and run (even if they didn’t have the skills and knowledge they would sell and BS their way in to get the pay off and worry about the consequences later ). Personally I’m not one of those guys. I like to take on a role and grow with it, develop with the oganisation to create something. I have a mortgage and I don’t mind turning down the big cash payouts in order to keep a steady pay check, a roof over my head and some form of stability in my life at a time where I have enough stress in my life.  I gave up contract work over 13 years ago (when I was single, had no commitments and was free to take stupid gambles on my future) got married, got a mortgage and moved on with my life, I’m not willing to risk it all for a short term dream role, no matter how amazing that role looks. 

So maybe 2014 will be the year of that elusive role that ticks the right boxes without all the negatives, I hope so?

12 Days

For the past few years, those in the know have managed to get free treats from Apple via the “12 Days of Christmas” App for iOS devices (available in the App Store)

With this App Apple give “gifts” from the 26th December to the 6th January (12 days). These gifts can be in the of Apps (games, tools and utilities), Music or Films & TV shows.

In the past they have (in the UK at least) given away a Kyle EP, BBC Top Gear TV episode, Father Ted XMAS special, part 1 of BBC Doctor Who XMAS special, Top
selling Games such as Mirror’s Edge and so much more.

For those in the know it’s a great way to get free stuff for your iOS device every year.

Apple are a bit sneaky about the software, Each year (for the past few years) they have released a new version of the software that you have to download (ie if you have last years version you don’t automatically upgrade to this years version).

If you are lucky enough to have downloaded the App before the start of the promotional period, Apple have ,for a few years , Provided an extra gift as a special ‘thank you’ so it’s worth getting the updated app as soon as it’s available.

So when’s this years App due to be released? Well I just checked and this years “12 Days” (full name this year is “12 Days of gifts” ) appears to have arrived in the App Store on the 10th December.

I’ve just downloaded it and this years app opens and asks for your region for the iTunes Store (incase people are traveling over the festive season?). The app has moved from the blue and white winter theme to a black and gold theme, making it look more like a high end present, rather than a winter gift.

I’ll keep you updated when I know more…

MacWorld (UK) recently wrote an Interesting article on the 12 Days App for 2013 (and a recap of last years “Gifts”)

Cisco / Linksys E4200 router (Update)

For those of you who read my original posting on My home network setup and my upgrade to the Cisco Linksys E4200 may be wondering what has happened to my further testing?

Well I’m glad to say that I have some positive and negative news.

After purchasing a Virgin Super hub on e-bay and spending over an hour on the phone to them, only to find that Virgin Media won’t connect Virgin Super hub devices unless they supply them directly (some legal and technical reason that appears to me just to be a reason to try and force people to pay for an upgrade). I managed to get Virgin Media customer services to send out a super hub for free (which is better than the £20 they wanted to charge, better than the £4.50 per Month upgrade price and better than the £70 fee they wanted to charge only a few months ago.)

Now if you are thinking of getting a super hub (model VMDG480 [made by Netgear]) from Virgin Media I would warn you that it is very basic compared to Wireless routers that you can by online from Cisco/Linksys, Apple, Netgear and other related companies, but it is essential if you want to connect your own wireless router to Virgin’s network. The super hub supports the 802.11d, 802.11g and 802.11n standards but you must choose either the 2.4GHz (older, up to 42Megabits per second) or the 5GHz (more recent, up to 300 Megabits per second) frequencies, which may cause issues if you have a mix of old and new kit in your house (as we do). The router does allow ‘guest’ networks to be set up but these have to be on the same band as the normal network (so no chance of having both 2.4MHz and 5MHz).

After all this is said I would like to point out that in order to be able to use your own router (such as the Cisco Linksys E4200) that you need this (or it’s new upgraded Super hub 2), which can be switched into ‘modem’ mode to allow your own wireless router to be plugged onto virgin’s cable network without loosing some of the enhanced capabilities. In addition to that the Superhub has 4 Gigabit ports in the back which is essential for anyone looking to connect any network kit to the device (including a router), this is a big change from the old Virgin Hub (VMDG2800 By Netgear) which only acted as a 802.11b router and only had 4 10/100 Megabit connections which is, in my opinion, not sufficient nowadays. One big issue is that the LEDs at the front of the router are too bright, with no way to turn down or disable them. this has been such a issue that mine are now covered in electrical tape to make the device bearable.

Virgin do offer the newer Super hub 2, which appears to offer the ability to broadcast on both the 5GHz and 2.4GHz ranges at the same time and has 5 antenna (2 for the 2.4MHz range and 3 for the more recent 5MHz range, which is better than the Cisco Linksys E4200 2 [2.4GHz] and 2 [5GHz] combination) and it’s capable of up to 450MHz (comparable to the Cisco Linksys E4200) however the USB port on the back of the device has been disabled and there is no option to enable it ) *(details from expertreviews.co.uk). Saying all that, it does allow you to at least dim the LEDs at the front of the modem ( the Cisco Linksys allows you turn off the lights altogether, although I haven’t found them to be any issue).

So, this article was supposed to be about the Cosco Linksys E4200, so
lets get back on track.

Well now that I have a Virgin Media router that I can put into Modem mode, I can finally test the functions of the E4200.

Firstly The public wireless, this works at a basic level, where a secondary set of networks are created on the same frequencies that are enabled on the main network. The guest network
is given a different IP range from the main network (strangely it shows in the DHCP Client Table report as a ‘LAN’ connection instead of a ‘wireless’ connection ?), it’s probably best described as ‘temperamental’, this may be because my devices are usually connected to the router so it may be getting confused when I change the wireless to the Guest one (which starts with the same name but tags ‘-guest’ to the end). The settings allow you to restrict the number of uses on the guest WI-FI and you have to specify a password of between 4 to 11 characters. To access the guest network the user has to choose the network and then they should get an Web page prompting for the password.
All In all I don’t like this setup, if you have to have a password I’d prefer to be able to use a longer length ( to make it more secure) and I’d like
to be able to change the guest network
screen to something that welcomes and provides contact detail to friends, family and people that need emergency access (I believe that this is important in today’s connected world – More on this in a possible future post).

Now that I have that rant out of the road, What about the wireless it’s self. Well so far the router (acting in both router and bridge mode) has worked well with the wide range of devices connected to it. Now that I have a Virgin Media Router set up in ‘modem’ mode I can now connect it to my 1TerraByte USB drive, which I can now browse on my 13″ MacBook Pro (retina display) and saving files is easy, however best performance is when I’m connected to the 5GHz frequency (obviously).

The main issue I have is that, despite the drive being connected to the USB port and showing as USB2.0 and the MacBook Pro being on the 5MHz frequency, TimeMachine will not use the device as a backup. Numerous attempts see TimeMachine attempt a backup only to see it fail. Now since I’ve used this USB drive to perform TimeMachine backups when it is connected locally to the MacBook Pro, I suspect that the issue is with the Cisco Linksys router. My attempts
to resolve this issue have been futile as the support site advises that the firmware is the last supported and the software provided for Apple OSX only supports older versions of OSX (which is frustrating as my old imac couldn’t run the software as OSX was to old to be supported by the software ?) , these issues appear to be because I possess version 1.0 of the router. The later version of the router may support TimeMachine better, but I’m not in the position to be able to test this.

So what about the streaming media capabilities?
Well I’m glad to report these appear to be working better.

I can connect to the Streaming media capabilities of the Cisco router using my iPhone 5 ( using the Twonky app, Twonky Beam app, Media Connect or FlexPlayer apps ) which will play back M4V files created using iMovie (it still
has issues with movies ripped via handbrake, Apple iTunes purchased movies or TV shows all of which are considerably larger [?]), Music files (MP3 and M4A [iTunes]) and photos.

So, from my testing it looks like streaming works but is still buggy on Apple devices.

Since the router I have is the original V1 and CiscoLinksys

iPhone ideas

Further to my posting on what I would like to see in the next iOS release, I have spotted rumours about Apple allegedly approaching their Apple store staff for “out of this world” ideas for the next iPhone.

So what would I like to see?

Ability to project images. This could be used to show pictures and films at locations where there isn’t an Apple TV. The problem with this is one of the camcorder companies already used this idea (fairly unsuccessfully I believe), Also there are a lot of companies providing this as an add on for the iPhone and it may use a lot of power?!

I’d love a Virtual ‘floating’ keyboard to allow more space (would work with the iOS concept) for typing but still allowing you to read what you had typed. This would be really handy for filling in forms on websites using Pages and stuff like editing LinkedIn and WordPress postings :-). The alternative would be the laser keyboard which has been around for some time ( or keyboard keys are beamed into a work surface from the phone and it detects which key you are pressing).

For those of you that have read my posting on the future of IT will not be surprised by: 3D display and the ability to take and record 3D pictures. Think of all the extra you could see in 3D. I’m sure I read that there was a camera sensor that could record different angles when taking a picture, and the detail was supposedly really good despite having a low megapixel sensor.

This brings me to an issue with all phone cameras, they are rubbish when taking photos or movies at a music gig. Considering that Apple have always had a link to music (from the early fights with Apple Corp when Apple added sound and the sosumi sound). So why can’t we take really good gig pics and videos? Maybe the sensor I mentioned above may help or maybe it’s because the sensors can’t handle the variation in light produced at gigs (ie dark hall, bright spots in the acts and strobe / light effects flashed at the audience to
enhance the atmosphere.) There have been some recent TV adverts comparing the Nokia Lumia to the iPhone and other smart phones, these adverts compare the pictures taken in dark conditions so this gives me the impression there is a desire for a phone with a sensor that can handle varied light conditions when taking videos and photos.

I’m sure I’ll add more to this
list as I consider the issue(s) further.. keep checking back people..

Watch is going on?

There have been a lot of rumours going around about Apple’s iWatch.

One rumour I have read is that Apple were talking to the Swiss pop watch maker Swatch.

As a fan of Swatch, back in the mid 90’s, I decided to dig out some of the catalogue a as I remembered them song some groundbreaking, amazing things with watches back then.

The first innovation I remember was in their 1996 fall/winter Collection. The Swatch Access range was a watch that included a chip that allowed skiers on the slopes to use the watch as a ski pass. After googling the product I came across the link above and an link to a PDF document where the product is called ‘SnowPass’.
Here’s an image of the 96 catalogue pages
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Below are pictures of the Swatch Access watched from the Swatch 1997 Spring Summer Collection. In addition to the ski pass Access watches, Swatch also did a Salzburg Access Swatch watch that could be used as a digital wallet to use on transport, cafes, bars, and more.

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In the 1996 catalogue a Swatch ‘Solar’ appeared (left page in image below) with a description of “A fifteen minute charge gives you hundred hours of running reserve” and it didn’t look like the traditional solar PV crystalline cells that we are all used to seeing.

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So what else have Swatch done since? Unfortunately I stopped being a member of the fan club so stopped received the catalogues (and the Glasgow Swatch store closed around the same time – new ones have recently opened in the last few years ) so I don’t know what other advances they have brought forward over the past 20 years.

But if the rumours are true what are Apple talking to Swatch about? Is it the technology behind the watches I have mentioned? There have been talk about Apple using solar charging in future products and Near Field Communications (NFC) is getting big with NFC payment systems appearing in most UK stores (and on all Barclaycard credit card) and London’s Oyster card being used on busses, Tube and other forms of travel. Even Glasgow is implementing a NFC card type system after years of planning.

Or do Swatch have something else that Apple want? Is it their design ethos, their links with designers, skills in integrated design in small products? Only time will tell.

Disabling access to Apple

I can’t be the only one who has noticed the lack of facilities for disabled users at Appe Stores?

I may have missed something, or maybe Apple Stores have the facilities such as adjustable height tables or devices such as brail displays stored in Genius Bar or in the warehouse in the back. But if they are there, why are they hidden away?

I’ve had an interest in disabled access since I helped blind Windows PC users who used Jaws screen reader to navigate the screen, with a flat bed scanner and OCR (Optical Character Recodnition) software to read mail that had been sent to them, which was not in their preferred brail format.

There are such a wide range of devices that help people with accessibility issues and I’m aware that Apple include technologies such as Siri, vibration ringtones, Large print and that’s just on iOS devices. OSX has loads of options that help, but I don’t feel that these are promoted in the stores or even enabled on the devices in store to promote these options.

I even went into one of the Apple Stores to ask about the accessibility options for the iPad when a family member had issues communicating, unfortunately the staff had not received the relevant training and I never did learn what I needed to know.

I know that Apple have free “workshop” training on Accessibility for OS X and also iOS available at Apple stores, however when I’ve looked it’s always been scheduled for during the day, so it’s not convenient for me and as such I can’t advise if the training is any good.

So how accessible are Apple stores? The stores appear to have enough space for wheel chairs, but what about everything else? If anyone knows anything further, please feel free to contact me and I’ll update this article accordingly.

Demise of IT Support (part 2)

In my original posting on the Demise of IT Support, I mentioned how IT had become dull, grey and boring.

So what’s the future for IT support?

Well, I presently work for a Scottish council, based within a Scottish high school, and during my time within the school I have only had one approach about what it’s like to do IT support. The council department I work for have had one or two ‘works experience’ people appointed to shadow groups of colleagues each year. But my feeling is that there is little interest in the role, people aren’t interested in IT. Social networks, websites and games are what interest the kids, but none of them want to know how they work or how do they create & support the infrastructure.

As IT is becoming more user friendly, easier to use and companies like Apple make it easier to get support ( ie Genius Bar at your local Apple Store, telephone support via AppleCare and Apple’s one 2 one training) and assuming that trend continues ( looking at the current US development of Microsoft stores and Android popup support locations) then how much demand will there be for IT support in the future?

Add to that the increasing use of remote tools, that allow companies to resolve issues from their head office IT via their company network and reducing or eliminating the need for on-site IT support, or consider the low cost of the Windows PC, Android / Apple tablet etc, making such devices almost disposable. The future of IT support does not look bright.

Now, before I continue, I realise that IT constantly changes and past risks to IT support have not materialised. I’m thinking about VNC, presently used for remote support (both Apple and Intel presently use the protocol). VNC stands for Virtual Network Computing, and it was originally envisioned as a way to have a low cost, low specification PC make use of a server, with the server performing the processing, data storage etc, with the PC acting like a Graphical window, as if it was a display monitor plugged into the server, but with each PC capable of running its software independent of what other VNC connections were doing. This concept was the brainchild of the Olivetti & Oracle Research Lab in Cambridge, UK.

For those of you in the corporate world then you will recognise the concepts from VNC as Citrix, which acts in a similar method. With WISE graphical terminals, PCs and even iPads and iPhones, all able to connect to a powerful Citrix server farm then the same principal is presently possible. The older and more tech savvy will probably be visualising Unix or Linux and the tools that come with those systems. Windows users will recognise the concept as Remote Desktop or some other remote control tool such as TeamViewer, CarbonCopy, PC Anywhere and a whole host of other tools presently available on a multitude of platforms.

So the risks to IT support are present and although past risks, in the form of Centralised processing and dumb terminals (using the old Novell / unix concept / terminology ), has not come to fruition, what could the future hold ?

Personally I see the future risks being from the Internet. To be more specific Cloud Computing.

Cloud computing offers similar advantages to the centralised processing concept that VNC and Citrix offer and more.

When I think about Cloud computing I’m not thinking of Microsoft Office 365 or even the current offerings from Google Docs and Apple’s iCloud ( which I’ll probably post about another time). What I’m thinking about is Amazon’s massive server farms in central locations thought the world, each packed with instantly available virtual Linux and Microsoft Windows servers, with full resilience, fall-over, shared data, instant backup and recovery, instant scalability (automatically scalable and configurable on demand).

How can IT support survive when existing servers can be moved to this virtual Goliath. Removed is the need for companies internal Server support team as the servers are managed by Amazon, configurable automatically, instantly scalable and test systems can be up and running in seconds at a fraction of the traditional costs of even purchasing a server, never mind running, securing, supporting and maintaining it. Removed is the need for Desktop IT support as users only need internet access, cheap PCs, tablets & smart phones can be used with standard build images (possibly just the manufacturers default install), lowering the total costs of ownership.

Even network support roles could be reduced or the emphasis moved from companies to Telephone companies, Internet Service Providers ( ISP ) and organisations providing similar services ( WiMax / Satellite / fibre optics etc).

So if this is the future, where are the existing IT Support staff going to find work? Amazon appear to have automated most of their processes to minimise their costs and after years of running their on-line shopping platform, they should know what they are doing and will probably be able to hire the best staff at the lowest wages ( where else will they get the work or experience ?). Added to the scenario is the likelihood that the support is done using remote tools, reducing the need to have a large number of support staff at each site and with that many servers and server farms they probably have the servers built in bulk at low cost so hardware failure is a minor inconvenience and such hardware may just be sent for recycling instead of repaired or contracts with the manufacturer could allow for on-site, preconfigured and imaged swap out.

So Amazon is unlikely to be a likely route for future employment, so what about other avenues for support?

Hardware manufacturers are a good option, the likes of HP, Dell and Apple are all possible as they will need staff to repair desktop PCs, tablets and smart phones. The risk here is that in a highly competitive market the wages are likely to be low and highly skilled staff will probably not be the main focus, with work likely to be more assembly line, monotonous and highly repetitive, with likelihood of automation and the probable lack of growth, development or getting a chance on making a change or performing something challenging is probably slim.

My personal view is out of these options Apple is the best option. Apple appear to be the only one that stands out due to the creative nature of their customer base, their advances in technology, the varying support roles available (specialist, Genius, Creative, Family room, etc) and the overall feel of the organisation. In comparison to the other options, with all of this going for it, it’s defiantly my favourite. However the roles are primarily retail and although highly sought after at present ( at least 4 times over subscribed according to
rumour), the wages may not be comparable to existing IT support roles and they may not be suitable for some existing support staff (who are used to more back office, less experienced in customer facing roles, they may struggle with the high pressure and Retail nature of the roles).

The last option is to jump ship and either get out of IT for good or move to a programming role.

With the potential for a large number or organisations moving to the cloud there should be a demand for people to adapt existing systems to work with the new infrastructure or, for companies that are taking a leap of faith, there will be opportunities to create new software systems to replace existing back office systems with cloud ready equivalents, replacements and improved/rationalised systems developed for the future needs of the organisation.

So will IT support, as we presently know it, become obsolete in the future ? or will other changes to IT change the nature of IT support, only time will tell.

Demise of IT Support

When I began playing with computers, back in the late 80s and early 90s computing was exciting, (Basic by today’s standards I agree, but exciting non the less). In order to do anything with a computer you had to learn how it worked, but the TV was awash with adverts for weekly computer programming magazines for all the different home computers and you could even see your home computer (well I could as I had a BBC Master) on BBC TV programs such as Tomorrow’s World, with other home computers being promoted on their ability to do fancy TV graphics ( Amiga A4000 and Acorn Archimedes). [ I even found out (by accident) that the Amiga A400 did the Virtual Reality action adventure games in all the Scottish 90’s arcades]

Then I went to college and I learnt about programming Windows and Unix. Turbo Pascal was my favourite language at the time and I was desperate to learn more about Assembly language in order to take advantage of the enhanced memory and graphics capabilities of the newer XT PCs. Unfortunately instead I got maths, 4GL (4th generation languages – ie database languages such as SQL and the like) and COBOL. These boring business languages meant that I lost interest and ever completed my HND in computing (in those days there was only one HND, now there are several specialising in networking, hardware multimedia and loads more). My interest in graphics, hardware and 3D wasn’t an option unless I went to university and I wasn’t the type of kid that went that route after school.

I left college and after a while working in retail, I got my first IT role in Scotland where I got to build, repair and upgrade PCs install software, diagnose faults, run data cabling, install networking ( hubs, routers, bridges) even down to repairing printers, fax machines and purchasing consumables (floppy disks, ink, toner, [re]Writable CDs and anything else that was needed). Life was good, exciting, challenging but the boss had plans for me which conflicted with my own views, so I had to leave.

Then I worked in the grey environment of a National banking chain, my fellow staff were the only thing that got me through the high pressure but mundanity existence, until the day I left to start my life and again enjoy computing by running my own company.

Anyone who has run their own company will know it’s fun, hard work, rewarding but sometimes it doesn’t work out. Unfortunately that’s what happened to me, too many big dreams but not enough experience or money, all at a time when an internet connection cost £1k per month and the internet had not quite taken the imagination of Scotland, with businesses who could not see past the phone and the fax machine into the oncoming internet connected world.

Now, after several different roles for many different organisations, I presently find myself stuck in the horrid grey world of Windows PC hell, in an organisation that has a distrust, dislike and colleagues that have a hate of, anything and everything Apple.

My attempts to escape to somewhere more forward thinking, dynamic and creative, with an Apple slant or at least less of a corporate straight jacket, have so far failed and I wonder if it’s just me?

Or is it?

One of my close colleagues has a repeating cycle of having issues with his personal life, after which he throws himself into his work with a drive, only to return to the realisation that he is bored with IT support. Then I look at the rest of the staff, we have budding musicians & singers throughout, not many of the staff started wanting to be IT support staff, some have even had some fame before falling from grace, only to land here.

Even one of the guys that I went to high school with, has left his IT role with a bank to take up photography in order to pay his bills as he self publishes his novels on Amazon.

Even looking at my dream job, working for Apple in one of their Apple Stores. Apple openly promote that their Apple Store staff are musicians, DJs,
Artists, Photographers and much more besides, no mention of the highly
skilled IT staff that create amazing solutions for business, entertainment venues, bars, clubs etc. Apple, whilst being an amazingly creative organisation producing some astoundingly amazing and beautiful products (and I include the software not just the hardware) do not promote their support staff as being creative with IT in their work role, or maybe I’ve missed something.

So is everyone in IT support really there because they like the job or is it just a stock gap and where are the exciting IT positions, do they exist or are they just the gold at the end of the rainbow that you are always chasing but can never possibly lay your hands on?