Monday, December 20, 2010

Working from home - securing your environment

More and more people are working from home, and since an article I wrote for the Financial Times a few years back I have had more and more people ask about what can be done to make their home environment a little more secure without breaking the bank.

After some of the discussion on IT Security Stack Exchange, and especially this question, I thought it would be worthwhile popping the link up here, as it is likely to generate a fair amount of traffic, whether it be opinion, fact or discussion.

Go have a look.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Being Prepared

With this winter in Scotland already a repeat of the freezing conditions of last year we are still astonished at how many people leave themselves at risk by being entirely unprepared. Not only does this cause them problems, but it also causes some impact to those who are prepared. So here are a few notes on how to minimise the impact from adverse weather and foolhardy unprepared individuals on the roads.

Obviously the simplest solution is don't go outdoors - get stocks of food and drink in and batten down the hatches. Cosy, but not always a workable solution, so lets have a look at what you can do if you do need to go somewhere.

Okay, so I'm is a petrolhead, and so I take any opportunity to go out on a racetrack, but knowing how to handle ice is within anyone's grasp. While the Andros Trophy could be a little excessive, having at least one skid pan session under your belt will get you through a lot of ice. You'll learn how to use the right amount of torque - unlike the many people we have seen over the last couple of weeks trying to drive under full power, wheels spinning and sliding - resulting in some interestingly stuck vehicles! The driving test in Finland requires a test on a slippery course - is it any wonder they do so well in the World Rally Championship?

Planning the route:
Look at an OS map to understand the hills. Last winter I had a very tense hour driving the last couple of miles to Drumoak in Aberdeenshire as I didn't prepare his route (but trusted a Tom Tom... mistake!) - I ended up descending a very steep slope using the ditch on the right hand side of the road as a runner to stop the car sliding off the left hand side of the road, which had no barrier other than some trees further down the slope. Learnt that lesson now, but wouldn't ever want to go through it again.

Avoid motorways - you would think they would be fine as the inclines are minimal, and they are wide, but unfortunately they are not sheltered, and when conditions deteriorate it is all too easy to be caught out, or get stuck behind someone else who does. When the inevitable crashes happen, you can't get off a motorway easily, and being stationary in heavy snow can lead to being stuck there for many hours.

Defrost/de-ice your car every day. Not only will this help you avoid having to call out the AA/RAC/equivalent for your country, but you will avoid the doors freezing solid, ice buildup inside (which can easily damage wiring.) In addition you'll find it much easier to keep all your windows and lights clear of snow and ice - this doesn't seem to be understood by many road users. Personally we like to be able to see everything around us, and ensure they can see us - don't want to be anywhere near another car with the windows all frosted up and just a small patch on the windscreen for them to peer out! Minimising risk here is a good thing (tm)

At the start of winter you really want to ensure the car is properly serviced. Fresh tyres, new wiper blades, engine oil, antifreeze levels correct. Then take every opportunity to fill up the petrol tank - just in case you need to run the engine for warmth while stuck for days! In the more remote areas you should consider snow tyres, snow socks or even chains - they can make all the difference.

Everyone should have a blanket, sleeping bag or slanket in their car anyway. They are so cheap or even free at garages that you might as well. Not just an essential to keep you warm if you do have to overnight in the car, but they are really useful to give you grip if you are really stuck - tucking a blanket or rug under the tyres can give a lot of traction.
Gloves and Hat - yep, simple, but if you are trying to dig yourself out and the temperature is down below minus 15 you want to conserve heat! Possibly a Cthulhu Balaclava is the best solution.
YakTrax Ice Grips - get yourself a set of these essential accessories.
Snow shovel - if you can find one! The telescopic ones can easily be stored in the boot.
Drinks - would be really nice to have a flask of hot coffee or soup, but realistically you can keep juice or cans in the car really easily. You can dehydrate very quickly when stationary and running the engine to keep the car warm. Keep some bottled water as well, and ideally some coffee powder (see below)
Food - cereal bars or chocolate are easy to store in a car for long periods of time.

The important bit - Geek essentials:
An inverter - ideally reasonably high wattage, so you can charge your laptop.
Torch - ultrabright LED torch, or for extra bling, one of these 10 Million Candlepower torches.
High gain antenna (at least 9dB) and 802.11 card if necessary. How are you going to update your blog, check out your Stack Exchange posts and twitter feed, follow the Met Office updates detailing the cold and ice coming your way, or keep yourself entertained with iPlayer if you can't connect?
Immersion heater - either a 12v car version, or a 240v one to run off the inverter - so you can make coffee.
USB Handwarmers - keep your typing speed up. Or your strafe speed in Brink!
eBook Reader - whichever flavour floats your boat.
In car mp3 player - you don't want to run out of tunes before help arrives! Ideally at least a half a terabyte of music will avoid any risk of boredom.

Best wishes for the festive season - see you in 2011

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Business Continuity - Personal

I don't know if you noticed, but Scotland is suffering a bit of a cold snap - to such an extent that many normal activities are halted. Normally we would expect a temperature of around 6 degrees Centigrade at this time of year. It has been below freezing for 9 days now, with a low of minus 12 today, and so far we have had around 3 1/2 feet of snow fall, so transport has been very difficult, shops have had no stock, power supplies have suffered and in general it has been tough on people.
Luckily I didn't take the M8 on Monday, otherwise I could have been one of those stuck there for nearly 48 hours.

I'm rambling - what I'm getting at is being prepared makes the difference between what was for me a time to catch up on playing with the kids, enjoying some snow activities, keeping cosy indoors and working from home on pieces of work which I could bring forwards (such as documentation, marketing planning etc) as I had sensible stocks of food in, warm clothing and a network set up to allow me to connect remotely to the servers I need.

Some people I know had no tinned food, and no transport so had to walk to the shops, which were already sold out of essentials, through thigh high snow!

I mean, I am definitely not a pessimist in this (I know individuals with enough stocks to cope with the Fimbulwinter if need be) but there are some planning concepts which shouldn't just be in the realm of business continuity, but should be accepted as essential in everyday life.

For example - looking at the slight outliers from business as usual we can plan for extreme weather putting a hold on transport, power supply failures, food supply failures etc., and it doesn't take much resource.

Similarly, for a business to plan for continuity, an initial analysis to identify those slight outliers which could occur with reasonable likelihood can be very quick and simple for a small business. Large scale organisations almost always do this, but there is no reason why small businesses shouldn't do something in a similar vein.

Oh, and of course owning Subarus is planning of a different nature - getting the basics right makes life much simpler!