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Technica@15 – Celebrating 15 years of Technica Solutions

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Inside Technica

“It has been a pleasure working alongside each and every one of you.”  

Read co-founder David Izen’s heartfelt message to our team, a look back at events from a company started in a garage 15 years ago to where we are today.  With a warm message and a virtual glass clink, David considers Technica’s first fifteen years and ponders the next. Read below for the full story:

Jason and I started Technica in 1999 and things have changed quite a bit since then. I wanted to take a moment to mark those first fifteen years and share some thoughts on where we were, where we are and what I hope the next fifteen years will bring.

Back in 1999 we spent a weekend laying laminate flooring in the garage, assembling some B&Q drawer units and bolting some 60cm-wide kitchen worktops to those drawers to provide efficient working space. We could have bought 90cm wide worktops but they needed to be specially ordered so we used a circular saw to chop some extra 60cm units in half lengthways and in-fill the space behind. We moved out nearly five years ago, but the worktops are still standing.

We had some peculiar suppliers back then, particularly Mandy from CCM who was borderline bonkers and made every purchase an experience. I remember getting a great deal on 4x inch-high 1Gb SCSI Hard Drives (just £100 per gigabyte!), one of which is still propping up one of the large wooden side doors. Most of our PC’s came from Big Red Computers, in Southgate, and we were just about still in the days when Big Red, Dan, Mesh, Time and Tiny were valid alternatives to Dell, Fujitsu and HP today. Our turnover at the end of that first year was a little over £200k, less than our monthly credit limit today with Dell, Northamber and Micro-P.

We became a team of three in the summer of 1999 when Jason Kersh joined and he was followed by David Peters a few months later. In January 2003 we wrote to our clients and explained that, because we were now an enormous team of four, they could call on us for instant support and we invited them to take out a support contract where we would charge them a monthly fee rather than just invoice them if and when they needed our help. If I’m remembering correctly, only one client declined the offer. Ian Reuben joined in 2004 followed the same year by Paul Rosen. Julian Freeman started in 2005 followed by Mark Simmons in 2006 and Rob Silva, Michal Zalucki and Stephen Stern in 2008. The next year we welcomed Craig Fisher (the last addition to the team while we were still in the garage) then David Adams and in 2010 Olga Usmanova and David Neilson. In 2011 we had six new starters, Lee Hunter, James Ramsden, Chris Jackson, Vincent Licata, Vanessa Chart and Jerry Forsyth. Liam Shanahan and Mottie Monheit joined in 2012, and in 2013 we welcomed Gwain Weiman, Siobhan Newton, Louise Noonan and  Chris Buglass and in 2014 David Pike, Dan Boyce, Daniel Coone, Dan Rios and Ruth Rabin. Somehow we squeezed eight of us into the garage and are eighteen now in Stirling Way.

We had an ISDN line at inception, capable of channel bonding to 128Kb/s. We kept the subnet 192.168.123.x for ourselves and tried to allocate each new client a new subnet, beginning at 192.168.1.x so that we could connect to client networks and avoid conflicting IP addresses. In 2000 we visited Big Red’s offices after they had wangled themselves onto the new ADSL trial, where we watched them download a 1Mb file – a whole Megabyte! – in less than a minute. It was astonishing. We ordered ADSL as soon as it became available. We ran a single server with VPOP3 mail server and used Lotus Organizer and Time & Chaos so that we could support these packages on clients’ systems. At some point in late 2002 or early 2003 we decided Exchange was now a valid mail server alternative and added an SBS 2003 server. Jason wrote us the database that we used to store client information and that recorded server checks, a landmark for us as we began spending time on every clients’ server to prevent issues from occurring, for our clients and our own benefit, rather than wait for clients to bring issues to our attention. All of which is now replaced with N-able and Autotask which we continue to utilise more fully and refine with the developers’ and communities’ help. The benefits remain identical, the level of sophistication could be from a different planet.

The offices in Stirling Way were bought in the Autumn of 2008 and we eventually moved in, once they’d been fitted out, in October 2009. We closed up at the end of Friday and moved some of the PCs and stock over the weekend and started work on the Monday morning. Once we were sure the new offices actually worked, in terms of internet connectivity, telephones and connection to client sites, we moved the rest of the PCs so service to clients was never even momentarily interrupted. I think it was the weekend prior to moving in when I was dropping some gear off and found the warehouse ankle deep in water; the mains water inlet pipe in unit 5 had split and the water had run under the raised floor in the kitchen, build area and board room to the warehouse. Beyond any doubt the offices slope from right to left (unit 4 to 5) and back to front. We had around 30 new PC’s stacked up and thankfully even those at the bottom were clear of the water by masses of polystyrene protection.

Just as the team has continued to grow so has the client base. I guess it’s a natural path for any IT company that doesn’t plateau, but the team grow in size, sophistication and skillset and the client list increases in terms of overall numbers but size and sophistication too. Each year we’re supporting larger and more complex set-ups and (it seems and I very much hope….) all enjoying the challenge. One of the parts of the business I most enjoy is seeing us continually strive to remain proactive and avoid falling into the reactive trap of convincing ourselves that we’ve somehow ‘cracked’ support and can now focus on just keeping existing systems running. Instead, we’re spending more time on R&D, finding time to investigate and experiment with new technologies and software so that we can recommend them to existing clients and support them at new clients. IT never stands still and it’s satisfying to see the team as a whole continually yearning to learn more and provide an ever-improving service and level of expertise across so many areas.

In fifteen years I like to feel we’ve always, as a team and as a business, conducted ourselves the right way. I don’t recall ever falling out with a supplier and can only think of two or three occasions where it’s been clear we would never see eye-to-eye with a client and ensured we handed responsibilities over as efficiently as possible. I think these foundations of the business are extremely solid, which leads me into predicting exactly what we hope to use those foundations for in the coming fifteen years.

There have been various moments since we began that stand out incredibly clearly, almost like waypoints. Buying the offices was one, Craig joining and adding an entire sales, marketing and business focus, completely lacking before, was another. One was sending out the letters requesting that clients who had only paid for our time when they needed our services but were now being asked to pay to have us on call – and the amazingly positive response we received. The day we began server checks from the database and truly became proactive was a fourth – something we could only afford to do because of those monthly retainers. At each of those occasions it was surprisingly clear that the decision we were about to take was undoubtedly the right one. It’s equally clear what our direction from here should be, although there are different ways of getting there.

We currently have a team of eighteen, thirteen technical, supporting one hundred and fifty clients, one hundred of whom are on managed service contracts, the remainder being block clients. At the moment, although we have various skillsets and various levels of experience and expertise across so many areas of IT, we behave more as a unified team contributing equally to the cause of looking after our clients.

How much more efficient and how much better a service could we offer, however, if that team of eighteen was a team of thirty, or fifty, and we had the capacity to focus on our specialities? Imagine if there was a dedicated team running the back office, focussing solely on N-able, Autotask and ticket distribution? A team with capacity that always had time to develop time-saving scripts and to ensure systems were running at absolute efficiency? If the projects team didn’t also spend their time on general support and were able to spend time focussing on delivering client services, configuring new servers and designing new networks, using hardware that was ordered and built by the specialist procurement division? How about support teams that specialised in small, medium or large clients, or focussed on Windows, OSX or Linux, or corresponding AV solutions? Imagine a team whose priority was IT strategy and planning, and one dedicated to new business integration, another for DR and backup strategies.

The potential efficiency gains are enormous and if we can be more efficient then we can offer an even better service to clients. I don’t know if we get there through merger or through acquisition or if we continue to add quality team members the way we have in the first fifteen years. Greater specialisation will undoubtedly be our next critical waypoint and the start of a new, exciting chapter.

Something I can say for sure is that it has been a pleasure working alongside each and every one of you. Plenty of businesses rely on their personnel to succeed but nowhere can this be more apparent than in IT support where technical skill and ability to provide customer service will differentiate a successful from a struggling business. Without you we wouldn’t be where we are today and we wouldn’t be in the position of wondering how best we realise a fantastic opportunity based on potential.

Here’s to the next fifteen years. I hope they bring you every happiness and success.

Technology4Good 2014

This month marks a year since Technica has been involved in the charity AbilityNet.  Shortly after the Tech4Good Awards 2013 we were introduced to this amazing charity.  An organisation that changes the lives of people with disabilities through technology by working with people with all disabilities and of all ages, helping them to use computers and the internet to improve their lives at home, at work and in education.  Needless to say, we wanted to get involved.

On Thursday 10th July the Tech4Good Awards 2014 created by AbilityNet and supported by BT and other sponsors took place.

Believing in the power of communications through the ‘Better Future’ programme Liz Williams, BT’s Programme Director opened the 4th annual ceremony, followed by AbilityNet’s CEO Nigel Lewis, who gave specific thanks to the judges and their expertise.

The awards were hosted by Mark Walker, AbilityNet and Special Guest paralympian Hannah Cockroft MBE, the double act on the stage created a warm atmosphere with their good humour.   It was a privilege to witness the touching videos that accompanied the winners whilst the #tech4goodawards twitter feed was filling up with good luck wishes, photos and retweets from the event.

It was a truly wonderful atmosphere, with an opportunity to speak to some inspirational leaders within accessible technology.

Congratulations to all the winners and finalists. The official winners are listed on the tech4good website http://www.tech4goodawards.com/winners-2014/

Enjoy the pictures!

Liz abilityNet

Liz Williams opens the Awards Ceremony with a welcome speech

Nigel

Nigel Lewis, CEO of AbilityNet awards Jimmy Wales with the judges special award.

Hannah Cockroft MBE

It was lovely to chat to Hannah Cockroft MBE, Special Guest at the awards.

chocolate

Networking at the chocolate fountain!

AbilityNet are always looking for volunteers and if you would like to know more about what supporting this organisation involves I would be delighted to provide contact information. Contact me vanessa.chart@www.technicasolutions.co.uk or tel 020 8236 9160.

Strike!

At the bowling alley!

We were in celebratory mode recently and decided a social event was called for that allowed for food, drink, teamwork, a little bit of competition for those that fancied and some minor wanton destruction; definitely an event for away from the office!

invite

Craig swapped his partner hat for that of Technica Towers’ social secretary and organised a night out for the team with spouses and significant others welcome.

“We recognise we have a really strong workforce and want to reward  our staff for their hard work. It’s so important the team enjoy working here and buy into the Technica ethos and the bowling night was to say thank you for their contribution and continued efforts”.

The evening was fantastic fun. New faces mixed with the company’s veterans in the informal space of the waxed lanes and top marks to Hollywood Bowl for ensuring more food and drink than you’d choose to wave a bowling pin at. The relaxed atmosphere was great, where everyone could chat away from the serious business of strikes and spares. The competition may have been fierce, with three teams of six bowling two frames apiece, but game faces were left behind when congregating behind the lanes for sustenance!

Daniel Rios’ first Technica experience was not at the support desk but at the bowling lanes and he even made up part of the winning team! Hot favourite Chris Buglass wilted under the extreme pressure, or perhaps let the rest of us have a chance by not bowling one of his regular 200-point games. Jerry Forsyth took individual honors before letting slip he was a regular in a bowling league back in South Africa….

The bowling was great, the camaraderie was better and the opportunity to mix outside of the office with spouses and partners was best of all. A thoroughly enjoyable evening which had everyone thinking it should be a regular fixture, perhaps with clients invited to put forward teams for the next time!

Enjoy the pictures:

The Team

Trophies and smiles after the event. Those are Gill’s own shoes.

Jerry - the overall top scorer!

Jerry – the overall top scorer! Vincent simply in awe of a stunning performance.

My score. It’s important to leave room for improvement and nobody likes a show-off.

My score. It’s important to leave room for improvement and nobody likes a show-off.

 Gill smiling after another excellent bowl!

 Gill smiling after another excellent bowl! We assume, because we can’t see….

Captain Paul Rosen's winning team.

Captain Paul Rosen’s winning team. A little too pleased with themselves.

 David Izen about to pick up another spare.

 David Izen about to pick up another spare. Or miss entirely and blame the wonky lane.

 Gill's official awards ceremony.

Gill’s official awards ceremony. Craig has no time for pleasantries when there’s trophies around.

Eppy celebrates another strike

Eppy celebrates another strike, partner Chris was very gallant to let her outscore him.

Precedents have been set, gauntlets thrown down and wrongs need righting. This could

become a regular activity. Watch this space!

Faster Internet

Next Generation Broadband with FTTC

Demand for speed is on the increase as we rely heavily on our broadband for quick, efficient and reliable upload and download. FTTC (Fibre to the cabinet) is commonly referred to as “next generation broadband” and is being rolled out to many locations.

We project manage FTTC installation with both the set up and reconfiguration of systems.

What are the benefits of FTTC to you?

Improved file download and upload speeds.

Quicker Internet browsing.

Maximum live download speed of 80Mb/s.

Working from home becomes an even more viable option.

Your connectivity will be better equipped to cope with the forecasted exponential growth in high definition streaming.

Potential lower voice call costs by taking advantage of VoIP delivered over Fibre with no quality or service issues.

FTTC is recommended for remote back up and disaster recovery.

If you would like to know more please speak to one of our team to find out if your business is in an area that is eligible for superfast broadband.  Call on: 020 8236 9160 or email me vanessa.chart@www.technicasolutions.co.uk

Heartbleed SSL bug

What is the new Heartbleed SSL bug and how does it relate to you?

The problem, disclosed this week,  is in open-source software called OpenSSL that’s widely used to encrypt Web communications.

Heartbleed can reveal the contents of a server’s memory. This includes private data such as usernames, passwords, and credit card numbers.

The majority of our clients run Windows on their servers and any webserver in use (e.g. for webmail) is usually based on the Microsoft IIS engine. IIS does not use OpenSSL.

However, If your company has a website and that website uses SSL, i.e. is secured with a SSL certificate and is accessible with an address starting with https:// , then you should check that your service provider has patched the site to protect it from Heartbleed.

The new Heartbleed SSL bug is explained in some detail here:

http://www.cnet.com/uk/news/heartbleed-bug-undoes-web-encryption-reveals-user-passwords/

and here:

http://heartbleed.com/

There is an on-line checking tool here:

http://filippo.io/Heartbleed/

In addition any external sites that your users have been logging into may be vulnerable and once the website provider has confirmed that they have patched their system your users should certainly change their login details.

Our clients:

If you would like to get in touch for peace of mind please contact one of our technicians who will be able to provide analysis on potentially vulnerable sites.

Tech 4 good launch

It is eight months since we were introduced to the great work that AbilityNet, a pan-disability charity, is doing to improve the lives of those with a limiting condition at work, in education, or at home.  An organization whose pioneering approach to using digital technology for the good of others places them amongst the Top Ten digital leaders.

AbilityNet, alongside BT and a range of commercial and not-for-profit partners and sponsors have now launched their efforts into finding the best of the best through their annual Technology4Good Awards, to celebrate the hard work of people of all ages who use the power of computers and the Internet to make the world a better place.

On Tuesday I was invited to attend the Tech4Good 2014 Awards launch at the BT Tower.  The views of London from the top of the tower were spectacular matching the full programme of passionate presentations that soon began.

BT View

A small number of examples…

A heartfelt and inspirational story from a previous winner of the prestigious award, Simone Enefer-Doy, Lifelites Charity, expressed that “Taking the tech4good badge shows legitimacy and lends increased confidence, it gave our organisation the kudos, impetus and the platform to think ambitiously after winning the award”.  An infectious smile appeared upon Simone’s face as she hinted at the potential of the large four-year rollout deal of Eye Gaze equipment into children’s hospices, made possible by a sponsor.

Simone lifelites

Robin Christopherson, Head of Digital Inclusion at AbilityNet, spoke about the future of inclusive technology.  Computers are now on the go, mobiles are prompting inclusive behaviour and “less smart devices are being made more smart through the connectivity of Apps.” This smart technology is starting in the pocket, moving to the wrist and the face as the technology develops. Google + helps people with hearing impairment through subtitles; People with Asperger’s are benefitting from motion recognition software. The potential is startling.

Robin talks passionately about Tech4Good: “Technology 4 Good highlights the best of the best”. Shortly after, the categories for the awards were revealed:

Categories

AbilityNet are making a huge difference in the accessible technology market and we at Technica have been truly inspired by the passion from both the employees and volunteers. Who has inspired you? Perhaps you have been touched by an organisation or a person who has made a difference through technology.  The search is on to find the “best of the best” for 2014. Nominations are now open. Entry is open to any charity, business, individual, social enterprise, school, college, university or any public body with a base in the UK. You can nominate yourself or anyone else for as many awards as you like.

Click here for the categories and spread the word. http://www.tech4goodawards.com/nominate-now/  For twitter users follow #tech4goodawards for up to date information about these awards.

 

Macs vulnerable to SSL bug – take care until patch released, expected shortly

The bug: Known as the ‘goto fail’ vulnerability, a faulty line of code prevents the Mac from recognising that the remote computer it is exchanging information with does not have a genuine, secure certificate. It recognises a certificate is present and continues exchanging information even though it can’t authenticate which organisation signed the certificate.

The problem: The bug has existed in the code for many months, but the flaw is now well-publicised and the chances of it being exploited are much higher. An update from Apple is expected very shortly which will correct the code and remove the flaw.

Although the flaw is most easily demonstrated in Safari, any Mac software that uses SSL (secure socket layer) or TLS (transport layer security) is compromised, including Mail, Messages, Calendar, Facetime and even connections to the AppStore. This leaves communications between Macs and servers open to ‘man-in-the-middle’ attacks, where communications between, say, your Mac and your bank, which should be secured by SSL/TLS, are hijacked by a third-party and information including account details and passwords could be intercepted.

GoTo Fail Bug

What to do: There are no reports, yet, of the vulnerability being exploited, but it’s likely it won’t be long. Until Apple releases their patch, it is prudent to avoid using Safari (and other apps, though they’re unlikely to carry such sensitive information) for sending valuable information. If you need to use your Mac for online banking it would be wise to use Firefox or Chrome which use different implementations of SSL and TLS.

Apple released a patch for iOS, for iPhones and iPads, over the weekend – taking iOS to version 7.0.6. It is strongly recommended that you patch all iOS devices as soon as possible as they are affected by the same vulnerability before the patch is applied. Connect the device to the mains, with internet access, click Settings, General and Software Update then follow the instructions.

Update: Apple has released OS X update 10.9.2 which includes a fix for the major SSL security flaw mentioned yesterday. Although it’s believed (Apple haven’t been too forthcoming with details) the SSL bug affects Mavericks (10.9) only, the recently released updates cover Mavericks, Mountain Lion and Lion.

Mac users are recommended to update their software (click Apple logo, Software Update, or click the App Store and right-hand button, ‘Updates’) – although the software may be set to update automatically, manually selecting Software Update or visiting the App Store will force the update through immediately. The update will take a few minutes to download and longer to install, around a ten-minute process in total, requiring a reboot.

Techno Love

This week I boarded the love boat on a special Valentine’s mission. I set sail, journeying through a sea of hearts and corny cards to find you the best examples of how businesses are creating new outreach opportunities by capitalising on the day of love, through technology.

Businesses are now battling to be your Valentine by betting on our infatuation of all things virtual. They have married their skills to our desire for expressions of love, realising that instead of hot-footing it to the shops to purchase an actual card, made of card, or even real life flowers, instead of wadding through the rows of novelty nonsense, that they can create this digitally. They cut out the stress, add the fun and all whilst plugging their business. That all manifests into a pretty heart pounding, pulse racing, recipe for technological love.

Here’s my top four.

1.       Lidl asks couples to kiss in front of their phones for prizes.

Lidl

The app encourages the users to share the love with the reward of entering every user who has a kiss recognised into a prize draw for Lidl vouchers. Read more here:

http://www.campaignlive.co.uk/news/1230424/

2.  Be Mine Lite – Valentine’s Day E-Card Creator

An App that allows you to use your own pictures to create and share your valentine’s card and post to Facebook, email and save to your camera roll.   This app comes loaded with backgrounds, hearts, cupids, kisses and more.  There  is a “full” version available for £0.69 with more backgrounds, hearts, romance, kisses and pictures.

BE Mine Lite
Enter Be Mine Lite into the App Store. An ideal App for those of you that have forgotten to purchase a card!

3. Career Builder pushes office etiquette on Office Romance 

Techno blog office

Office romance. When better to discuss the dos and don’ts than on the week leading up to Valentine’s day? Career Builder have chosen this week to publish their advice on the potential catastrophic outcomes that an office romance could lead to.  Perhaps the fall out of an office romance at work has brought them to search for a new career and Career Builder will be there to pick up the pieces.  This is a good example of pushing the right content at the right time.Click here for the full article before it’s too late!

4. Love hearts tag to win

lovehearts

I couldn’t resist visiting the Love Hearts’ Facebook page. Love is an all year round affair for the brand so I wondered how they would win our hearts this Valentine’s day. The competition  to win a necklace from their Love Hearts’ Jewellery range encourages the spread of love by tagging your partner’s name into the sentence:

Let your partner know about it by tagging their name below and completing this line: ‘I love you because ________________’

Take a look for yourself at https://www.facebook.com/SwizzelsLoveHearts. 

Have you fallen in love with any Valentine’s day campaigns or seen any that are just too cheesy to be true? Go on, share the techno love.

 

Google+ Circle

Join our circle on google+:

google-plus-logo[1]

We have launched our Google+ page and would love to follow you too.

Please list your Google+ page in the comments section so we can follow you back. We will be sharing trending topics on technology and providing our own materials ranging from how tos to technology news.

Click here to enter our Google+ page.

We look forward to adding you to our circle.

BEST BUY: The Technology that saves lives

New technology makes home appliances fun and saves lives

Easily my best buy of 2013, two Nest smoke alarms for the house – they are strangely wonderful.

Google think likewise and just bought Nest, the manufacturers, for $3.2bn, making Nest Google’s largest acquisition of a private company. The thinking behind their purchase is Google hoping to steal a march in the so-called “smart home” segment over rivals such as Apple and Microsoft.

What is there to like about a smoke alarm, you may well ask. Well, how about one that gently pulses green when you switch the lights off at home at night to confirm that it is healthy and later glows white as you pass it in the dark to help you see where you are going? Better still, how about a smoke alarm that talks to you softly (in unison with its partners around the house) when it detects smoke rather than panicking you immediately with a screech? This gives you the chance to gently wave at it with your hand (no flapping tea-towels) to point out that you have only burnt the toast again and it can relax.

They connect to each other, along with your smartphone and tablet, via WiFi and are really simple to install.

They are not cheap but you are comfortable you have made a wise purchase once installed and you feel comfortable and cocooned. Oh, and they are carbon monoxide alarms too.

Nest Smoke Alarm

https://nest.com/uk/smoke-co-alarm/life-with-nest-protect/#meet-the-nest-protect

Technica set to tweet from Space!

CROWDFUNDED SATELLITE MISSION HAS LIFTOFF!

SkyCube is now in orbit!  On January 9th, 2014, at 1:07 PM Eastern Standard Time, an Antares rocket built by Orbital Sciences Corporation launched successfully from Wallops Island, Virginia, USA, carrying SkyCube and many other satellites to the International Space Station.

SkyCube Launch

Antares/Cygnus Orb-1 Launch from Wallops Island, 9 Jan 2014

Here’s an HD video capture of NASA TV’s launch coverage:

[pl_video type=”youtube” id=”T9lGYQUQpXM?rel=0″]

And now the exciting part: SkyCube is tentatively scheduled to deploy from ISS by early March, 2014.  Expecting about 2 – 3 weeks of “shakeout” after deployment, to determine just how well SkyCube is really going to work up there, and just how many pictures and tweets it can get out of it.

After that point – late March 2014 – assuming everything goes as well as it did on the liftoff Technica will be able to tweet from space via SkyCube.

Watch this blog space for more details.

 

Technica Solutions Funds Satellite Mission

Technica helps fund satellite crowdsourced project SkyCube.

SkyCube

Space travel and satellite technology is no longer the realm of government and large corporations. Just for the geek value, and to be pioneers in leading technology, Technica Solutions have helped fund a satellite mission.

Jason Ozin partner at Technica enthuses:

“We are excited to be part of this mission and to be able to tweet to our clients and download photographs from orbit”

Founder/owner of SkyCube Tim DeBenedictis who has been writing astronomy software since his teenage years explains the philosophy behind the satellite:

“SkyCube is about changing space exploration from something reserved for governments, corporations, and billionaires into an arena that is affordable and accessible by everyone. It’s about inspiring a new generation to take risks and accept challenges. It’s about acting collectively, sharing risks and expenses, to achieve something together that none of us could have accomplished alone. It’s not (just) a science project – it’s a social project.

The launch was meant to take place in 2013 but has been postponed to 2014. We will post an update once we have an exact date for the launch.

Once in orbit, SkyCube we will be able to send tweets from space – that amateur radio operators around the world can hear, and anyone with a smart phone can follow. We will be able to request images of Earth from the cameras aboard the satellite, using Satellite Safari app on an iOS or Android device.

The 90 day mission will come to an end with an inflated onboard balloon that will make SkyCube visible and de-orbit the satellite cleanly through atmospheric drag, ending the mission in a fiery grand finale that avoids and buildup of space debris.

Follow Technica on twitter @technica_uk and look out for our tweets and photos direct from space. For more information about this project and news on futher developments go towww.skycube.org

Next Generation Gaming with Oculus

Oculus Rift demo impresses the technical experts

The Oculus Rift is a next-generation virtual reality headset designed for immersive gaming and other virtual reality uses. The Oculus Rift puts the participant literally in the middle of the action with a full 360 degree 3D experience.  David Lipowicz, upcoming intern at Google gave our team a new experience with gaming when visiting our offices last week.

David is a talented programmer with his own Oculus Rift development kit. Technica Solutions wish David well in his future studies and with his upcoming internship at Google. We all expect David Lipowicz’s name to be well known in technical circles in the future.

The Team found the hands-on demonstration an amazing experience and all are looking forward to seeing what the future of virtual reality brings to gaming and business applications.

Our technicians have shared their individual experiences of the Oculus rift as well as their visions for the future.

Oculus

Jason Ozin

“Gaming aside, this is what we can expect from commercial software in the very near future. Imagine attending a video conference but actually being in the room, able to look around as if you were at a chair at the table.”

Liam Shanahan

“I thought that the technology was brilliant, I have been waiting to experience virtual gaming for years and was impressed with how realistic and immersive the game play was. Once the HD graphical element is implemented I believe it will be the next big thing.”

Oculus Liam

Chirs Buglass

“I absolutely loved the system and I’m glad that it lives up to all the hype. The future looks like a bright one for Oculus, with the imminent release of the HD version which can not only display better visuals but also better frame rates and with true 1:1 movement input, it can achieve full immersion which is what no other VR system before this has managed. All it needs now is a good few big name development teams behind it and with all the support from some industry heavyweights it really could be an interesting twist in the ever-continuing ‘console war’.”

Chris

 Louise Noonan

The visualisations are really impressive, the feeling of being encapsulated within the game was as surprisingly realistic and gave me a real sense of depth and  feeling of being in ‘another world’. A HD experience would further the realism and also increase the feeling of reality.

The only criticism of the product is the feeling of nausea that it can sometimes bring on the user. I understand this is a common issue and I, in particular, felt uncomfortable wearing the headset after a very short time simply because of this vertigo type feeling.

As for the future, I think it is very appealing. Especially in multi-player games / environments where interaction between players could take pace in the virtual world / game and actually feel like you are meeting someone – even if they are not in the same country!

David Izen

The Rift was really interesting. Two things stood out, firstly that the VR concept hadn’t really moved forward quality-wise since I saw what were then state-of-the-art units in Florida about 4 years ago. The second thing was the price – the headset and controllers were a few hundred pounds when I thought they would still be thousands.

So while the experience hasn’t necessarily moved forward, the price has tumbled, which is great. David (who gave us the demo) is developing games for the unit and it’s great to see that this isn’t specialist or elite hardware any longer, it could be mainstream; what it needs from here is a few really good titles and people will start buying them as they are affordable.

David was saying that to create the 3d image in the visor and take input from the hand-held sensors, a reasonable but by no means excessive amount of computing power was necessary, depending on the complexity and size of the world you’re set in. It’s so easy to see how the experience will develop with sensors on different parts of the body so that rather than just seeing the world with a representation of your hands, you can see a complete avatar, that moves entirely the way you do.

The technology is already good enough that you could do VR sight-seeing tours, or view properties for sale without leaving home, but I think it’s so evident that there’ll be massive improvements that the majority will put off buying just yet.

My over-riding memory? I spent I think about 10 minutes running around my virtual house and playing in my virtual garden. I threw my virtual basketball out of windows and into the sea below, and I set fire to a virtual log and put it out in my virtual water-feature. Then I took the visor off and felt nauseous for the rest of the day.

For more information about Oculus, take a look at the website http://www.oculusvr.com/

 

 

Cryptolocker: Ransom software heightens call for security.

We found the best solution

The entire support team at Technica were seeing a lot of malware-related spam e-mails at client sites, claiming to come from a fairly narrow set of senders (HMRC was the common one) and all containing a .zip attachment that the recipient was encouraged to open.

The file could be run even without admin privileges and was capable of encrypting local and networked data, causing severe disruption necessitating a restore of all encrypted data – not such a problem for those clients backing up every few minutes but a potential headache for those still running nightly backup jobs.

We sent out an amended ‘best practices’ mailshot to make sure all clients were aware of the mass of CryptoLocker mails out there and also temporarily blocked receipt of .zip files and revised group policy at some clients so that executables couldn’t be run from the standard CryptoLocker file location. Both solutions blocked CryptoLocker, but also stopped receipt of even genuine .zip files or other software that launched from the same location, such as Skype or the Chrome browser.

GFI’s Mail Essentials with built in AV was easily configured to remove the executable files from .zip files, and could also be configured to remove the attachment or entire email.

Collaborating with GFI and providing them with feedback on how the AV add-on was handling the malicious mail was great. We ended up contributing to the article and raising knowledge and awareness of the solution worldwide.

Read the full article below by Christina Goggi of GFI.

CryptoLocker: Ransomware Back with Vengeance?

 CryptoLocker_RansomwareThere’s a new beast in town and if you’re one of the unlucky folks to cross its path, then you’re either a few hundred dollars poorer or you’re stuck with a hard drive (or more) with encrypted data that you can’t retrieve (unless you have backups).

The CryptoLocker Virus is a nasty piece of malware doing the rounds that encrypts files on a victim’s computer and issues an ultimatum: Pay up or lose your data. CryptoLocker’s raison d’être is to literally extract a ransom from its victims, which is why malware of its type is also known as “ransomware”.

Among others, the malware is spread through emails purporting to be from some well-known brands, and there are reports that the malware could also come as an attachment in emails which look like voicemail messages, but which are obviously fake. When you click on the attachment, CrypoLocker installs itself on your computer, takes a look at what you have on your hard drive (as well as mapped network drives), encrypts a variety of important file types such as photos and documents, and then begins its ‘negotiations’.

A pop-up window with a 100-hour countdown begins and you’re given details how to pay the ransom, which typically ranges between $100 and $700.

Now this is where it becomes nasty. If the money is paid before the timer is up, a key is supplied to decrypt the files. If payment is not made, the key is destroyed and those files are lost forever. Encryption technology such as that used by CryptoLocker is specifically designed such that encrypted data cannot be recovered unless the required key is available, so if the creators behind CryptoLocker are really destroying the keys when the ransom is not paid, then the distinct possibility exists that the data is really lost forever – even if the authors of CryptoLocker are eventually caught.

The good news (thus far) is that if the victim pays the ransom, the files are actually decrypted, even though glitches with the decryption have been reported too. Meanwhile, the cyber crooks take the cash and run.

CryptoLocker is billed as one of the most dangerous pieces of ransomware to appear, so what can you do to prevent it from infecting machines and, more importantly, not lose your precious data?

It is highly recommended that you have antivirus software installed and make sure that the product also scans your emails for malicious files and malware. If you’re a sys admin, it’s worth investing in an email security product that trumps desktop AV in one very important area: the number of AV engines that protect your systems.

A number of reports from the field, including our technology partners Technica Solutions, indicate that there are third-party products that are not catching all the variants of CryptoLocker. Using multiple AV engines is one way of mitigating this risk – this way you leverage the efforts of multiple independent AV labs, you get protection from the lab which delivers it first (which can vary), and you stand a better chance of at least one of the AV engines nailing CryptoLocker before it causes any damage.

Alex Cachia, director of engineering at GFI®, has some very good and timely advice:

“Gone are the days when we were dealing with script kiddies who were out for some ‘fun’, with all the trouble they caused simply being collateral damage. We are now dealing with cybercriminals who have the technical knowledge, the resources and, above all, a financial incentive, to bypass security and infect victim’s machines. The CryptoLocker Virus is a perfect example of a piece of malware that can cause so many problems.”

He adds: “We recommend the use of multiple AV engines, and not to depend on the single AV engine on the desktop. If the latter fails to catch the problem, you’re in trouble. One of our customers using GFI MailEssentials®with its EmailSecurity module enabled nabbed CryptoLocker thanks to two AV engines blocking it. Others who did not have GFI MailEssentials were not so lucky – and if you’re running GFI MailEssentials with the Anti-Spam module only enabled, it is high time to enable the EmailSecurity module.”

Alex also recommends that companies make sure they have backups that are up-to-date (and tested) and to tell their employees to be vigilant when opening files and clicking on links.

“If a link or a file looks suspicious, flag it to your sys admin. It may be a healthy file, but it could be CryptoLocker. And you don’t want to be the poor guy who triggered CryptoLocker at your workplace” Alex suggests.

– See more at: http://www.gfi.com/blog/cryptolocker-ransomware-back-with-vengeance/#sthash.EAG47Eov.dpuf

The Awards Night!

Awards night

The stars of local industry and commerce were out for the most prestigious business event in the county – the Hertfordshire Business Awards 2013 – on Thursday November 28 and Technica Solutions were among them.

Jay Raynor, from BBC’s Master Chef and The One Show, hosted the ceremony itself when announcing the winners of the 14 categories.

We were delighted to have been selected as finalists for the Award of Business in the Community for our work with numerous charities and our recently launched Technica in the Community Project.

The work we are doing in the community is just in its infancy, so to be nominated as finalists for this award category was a real boost for our team.  We are looking forward to extending our community programme for 2014 and taking on lots more charity challenges.

It was a first class event and I recommend other local businesses that are considering entering an award, to take a look at the the Hertfordshire Business Awards for 2014.

herts technica finalists creen

 

Venessa Chart

 

Accessible Technology For People With Disabilities

Technology, it is everywhere, taken for granted and integrated into our everyday lives. As a student, in the workplace or for entertainment at home: technology has never been more accessible.   Have you ever looked at a website or the Internet from the perspective of how someone with a disability would see it?  I didn’t, until I met with AbilityNet.

In July this year I had a meeting with my fellow team at Technica Solutions about finding a charity partner that uses technology to help people, a “Technica in the Community” project we set up to give something back for the good of the technology industry.

One month later I found myself in one of AbilityNet’s assessment rooms, experiencing first hand problems that face the disabled and elderly, coupled with solutions that give people, regardless of their disability the ability to express themselves in a way no previous generation has.

We discussed the huge spending power of disabled people which is overlooked when designing apps, ticketing or payment systems for everyday transactions.  Accessibility features built into desktop systems that are not always being translated into mobile platforms. I learnt about the work of The AbilityNet team and volunteers who work with companies to improve their websites, databases and other IT systems. I was especially fascinated to hear the round the clock accessibility testing services that AbilityNet provided to the London 2012 games as the approved supplier. The projects and programmes provided to businesses and the end user were without limits.

Robin Christopherson, Head of Digital Inclusion at AbilityNet helps us to understand the benefits of the end user first hand, being blind himself.

“I personally used my iPhone with a self-voicing GPS app on my way home from the station today with a new guide dog who wouldn’t have known where to turn otherwise. I’d previously set a geo-breadcrumb so that the app (Ariadne GPS) was able to count me down to the turn in 30m intervals as well as telling me where it was on a clockface according to the direction I was walking. It also told me house numbers as I walked past so I could know when I’d arrived. I’ve also used another app (Talking Goggles) that speaks any object you point the phone’s camera at to tell me which card was my Visa. That’s the fancy stuff. I also used it to get the train times, listen to podcasts and do lots of email. I don’t even take my laptop anywhere any more. Technology really is extremely useful!”

Giving students a chance

First hand experience cannot be beaten by factual information and I had the privilege of meeting Robin Hodges, one of the assessors who makes a huge impact on the lives of students by identifying the right specialist equipment to meet their needs.  He explained that some people do not have the same processes when writing essays and often have difficulty with organising their thoughts and the writing process itself.  I saw a specialist software called mind-mapping which can help to quickly get a number of ideas down quickly without worrying about structure or order overcoming the ’blank page‘ block.  This could easily be a list of words with key areas or phrases. Equally, for some users, a sequence of pictures or symbols alongside text can be helpful. Clicker, Writing with Symbols, Wordbar, Textease and Granada Smart- Bank all offer wordbank support which may support the user as a planning and organisational aid. It was fantastic to see the opportunities that such software can provide for the individual’s needs.  I was amazed by the effectiveness of Dragon Naturally Speaking voice recognition, the words appearing on the screen as they are communicated by voice, ideal for those less able to use their hands.

Technology has a crucial role in bypassing the difficulties associated with disability. Whether it’s a piece of complex software or a simple recording device, a piece of technology provides the user with a greater sense of empowerment and autonomy than relying on other people to help them out. Not too long ago, a disabled student might frequently require a note-taker during lectures, a scribe and reader during examinations, and extensive one-to-one support to help develop coursework. While this human support is sometimes still relevant and useful today, in many cases a technological solution can be much more effective. For example, a student could use a digital voice recorder, a tablet or a laptop computer to record information during lectures, often in audio, text and visual formats, all at the same time. The same student might use text-to-speech software to convert research material into customisable audio, or speech-to-text software to dictate written work with an extremely high degree of accuracy.

Another key point is that technology is constantly reinventing itself, whereas the human approach is a more or less static solution with little scope for improvement. Visual aids have come on in leaps and bounds over the last decade, providing much more nuanced functionality in a more adaptable and portable format. Not long ago, a desktop CCTV magnifier would have been a common sight in the home of a visually impaired user; today, the same core functionality can be achieved using a laptop, a piece of software and an external webcam, with a much greater degree of customisation, portability and synergy with other devices.

Working with Assistive Technology is extremely exciting: there’s always something new to try and learn, and absolutely no room for complacency.

Last month the team at Technica Solutions met with Nigel Lewis CEO of AbilityNet to take on their ‘Look No Hands’ text donate challenge.  How can sending a text message to donate be a challenge? We weren’t allowed to use our hands.  A small insight into the restrictions that affect those less able to do tasks that the majority of us do without a thought.  Here is the video from Look No Hands.

[pl_video type=”youtube” id=”j3GWYTufNxM?rel=0″]

Hertfordshire

In Technica’s local County of Hertfordshire, the IT Can Help service has 14 volunteers and a regional coordinator.  So far this year 15 home visits have been made to help the disabled in Hertfordshire.  Awareness is key. Technica have offered their 13 technician strong team to be part of IT Can Help voluntary service so that there will be more volunteers to help those disabled and elderly most in need.

Reliable access to computers and the internet can change the lives of disabled people. AbilityNet’s ITCanHelp Home Visit Service has a network of disclosure checked volunteers who offer free computer assistance to disabled people in their own homes. They may have a problem with viruses, need some help installing broadband or be confused about updates or error messages. IT Can Help volunteers can help in all sorts of ways, including:

Diagnosing and fixing computer related problems

Help with internet, email and accessibility settings.

AbilityNet offers a free helpline so please call them on 0800 269 545 to find an IT Can Help Volunteer. They offer an amazing free service to those in need, so spread the word.

Extended Hours. Additional Benefits

As an IT business we are always looking at ways to improve our service offering to cater for our clients’ needs. Whilst the majority of our clients raise tickets between our normal operating hours of 9am – 5.30pm we have introduced two additional services for those that wish to have extended access to support.

24/7 IT Support.

We have a dedicated line for extended hours, this covers any period outside of the normal 9am – 5.30pm week day contracted hours.  The majority of our clients that benefit from this service use the number on an adhoc basis although a contracted arrangement is available.

Extended Hours

We have also introduced an extended hours service for those that may require support between the hours of 8am-9.30am and 5.30pm – 6pm.  This additional service will benefit those first into the office that may not wish to wait until the contracted opening hours to speak to our support team.

What’s next?…

We are upgrading our monitoring system to enable our clients to see a detailed breakdown of all support tickets.  This will enable our clients to see the  trends on all activity related to IT support visible by hours, weeks and months.

For more information about the IT services we offer please visit our homepage on www.technicasolutions.co.uk

We would love to hear from you about what you would like to see from your IT company and how this will directly benefit your business.

The End Of XP

XP has been a cornerstone of the IT establishment for more than a decade, but it’s time to move on.

Microsoft’s Windows XP operating system has undoubtedly been the most successful, widely-installed operating system of all time. It’s easy to forget that before XP’s introduction in 2002 it was considered unusual for an operating system to remain widely in use for more than three or four years.

Operating system changes didn’t just cause upheaval through users needing to become familiar with a revised interface, but frequently required changes to the applications that ran on the OS platform, a bigger problem for user’s productivity.

Although Windows Vista was released in 2006 and was subsequently replaced by Windows 7 in 2009, it is estimated (there are no definitive figures) that around 25% of computers connecting to the internet are still using XP. For business users that figure is likely to be higher still; without the incentive to move to a newer OS, many businesses would choose to not change.

Microsoft have always been fairly aggressive in trying to force individuals and businesses to use the latest OS. New desktops and laptops shipped with Vista in 2006 and it was only intense pressure (caused mainly by the fact that Vista was both radical and poor) that led to new computers shipping with additional discs to allow a ‘downgrade’ to XP. For a while after Windows 7 was released the same option existed, though Windows 7 adoption by business has been way more relaxed than Vista due to few compatibility issues and the fact that Win7 is a way more agreeable OS.

These eleven years of XP have pushed OS compatibility issues to the back of the minds of IT decision makers, but more than the impending end of official support from Microsoft (April 2014), it is compatibility issues between XP, Office and Exchange that will bring about the end of XP.

Office 2013 will not install on XP. Although the differences between the various versions of Office were not huge (other than the visual difference of the ribbon interface introduced in 2007), each modern version (2003, 2007, 2010 and now 2013) has improvements. We’d previously recommend using the current version when purchasing from new, but likely recommend skipping at least one generation if considering upgrading. Now, that choice is restricted – with a modern operating system (Windows 7 or 8.1) you will need Office 2013.

Outlook 2013, the e-mail client bundled of course with Office 2013, will not connect to an Exchange 2003 mailserver. While Outlook 2010 will connect to exchange 2003, Outlook 2010 is not officially available to purchase any longer.

Plenty of organisations still running XP will also be running Office 2003, and more importantly Outlook 2003. Office 2013 will not install to XP and Office 2007 and 2010 are no longer officially available, meaning there is no upgrade path. Additionally, Outlook 2003 is unable to connect to Exchange 2013 servers. With Microsoft committing to ending the Small Business Server line (which ships with Exchange 2010), new mail servers will likely be Exchange 2013, ruling out the potential for XP workstations to be used unless running Outlook 2007.

It has been a while since we’ve been in this position of needing to consider the entire server, workstation and Office package, with XP previously being the constant that would work with all versions of Office, and all versions of Outlook being compatible with all Exchange servers. Now though there is a double incentive to change; the end of support from Microsoft which means no further patching, and the inability to run the latest versions of Office and hence connect to the latest Exchange servers.

With Win7 now being reasonably well established and the adoption of Win8 being eased by the 8.1 release, many organisations will at least be aware of compatibility issues preventing software such as proprietary databases and custom applications from running on post-XP machines. XP’s time has been impressive, but it is time to accelerate those fixes for any compatibility problems and plan for retiring XP.

Our advice is for clients to be aware that the IT landscape has changed. For the first time in a decade they need to consider aligning the operating system they run, their Office version and their version of Exchange. We strongly recommend an IT policy that allows for a move away from XP, Office 2003 and Exchange 2003 when upgrades are considered.

Look No Hands!

look_no_hands_narrow

Last month the team at Technica Solutions met with Nigel Lewis CEO of AbilityNet to take on their ‘Look No Hands’ text donate challenge.  How can sending a text message to donate be a challenge? We weren’t allowed to use our hands.  A small insight into the restrictions that affect those less able to do tasks that the majority of us do without a thought.

Take a look at our short video!

[pl_video type=”youtube” id=”j3GWYTufNxM?rel=0″]

 

Nigel and craig

“Without doubt the best bunch of techy geeks I have worked with!”

Joanne Hawitt-Phillips, Alexandra Palace & Park Charitable Trust

“Innovative, cost effective and delivered as promised.”

Paul Simnock, MGR Weston Kay LLP

“Technica Solutions have created more time during the day for fee earning work rather than administrative work. Bravo!”

Robert Beecham, Latitude Investments

“Trusted technicians who don’t bamboozle us with technical jargon.”

Suzanne Fuzzey, Royal College of Physicians

“Technica Solutions are very special. Their back up service is second to none. We could not run our business efficiently without them.”

Gill Garside, DSA PR

“I would trust them with all my worldly possessions.”

Gavin Ucko, The Happy Puzzle Company

“The loveliest and most helpful IT company I’ve ever come across.”

Llewellyn Mauricio, Family and Childcare Trust

Contact Us

Looking for a better IT company? Come and have a chat

+44 (0)20 8236 9160

Technica Solutions
4 Hamilton Business Park
Stirling Way
Borehamwood
Hertfordshire
WD6 2FR

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