Living with robots

I have been involved in a number of home automation projects over the past few years, and seen this interesting space move from that of dedicated enthusiast to more of a main stream topic. Hive and Nest have invaded a large number of homes in the UK, providing efficient heating controls. Lightwave RF can be used to remotely control power, and hue can change lighting colours. All from the comfort of your sofa, or even whilst you are down the pub!

One area which still has to gain more of a foothold in the mass market is robot vacuum cleaners. I have used an iRobot Roomba in the office for a few years and it worked perfectly, keeping the floors dirt free. Now having moved to working from home, I felt it was time to free myself from the burden of monotonous vacuuming. We moved Roger, our trusty Roomba 620; upstairs. and purchased a new(ish) Roomba 760 for the downstairs. These two devices now provide a complete daily vacuum of all the floors in the house. Significantly reducing the amount of time either myself or Julie need to spend on this necessary but ultimately boring task.

Roomba620

There are some pitfalls to the robot vacuum cleaner, mainly they love to get tangled up in loose cables. So you need to be extra careful, I have pulled all of the loose cables off the floor and even tied the ones under my desk to the frame of the desk. This not only stops the Roomba from getting tangled, it also keeps thing looking nice. However, it is a pain when things need moving around. So where possible I have used Velcro straps.

These are the areas home automation should focus on, tasks which need to be performed regularly, and if done with the little and often approach can reduce or eliminate to monotonous tasks we all hate. Now my home is cleaned, well heated and energy efficient; without any further intervention by me. OK I still need to empty the waste bins on the Roomba’s and perform occasional maintenance, but the daily grind is reduced. Add to this the wonderful bread maker providing fresh bread, my life is much better off for the robots in my life.

Spring is here

Finally, winter is over and spring is here, the fruit trees in the garden are now showing signs of life; and hopefully signs of some bounty to enjoy later in the year.

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The past month has been spent looking at a couple of security issues for some clients and trying to decipher some rather poorly written code, in order to quote for further development. I’ll talk about the poor code in another blog post as it poses several interesting issues. The security issues fit rather nicely into the theme of spring, especially the idea of spring cleaning.

Over the past 3 months 5 of my clients have been hit with some form of security attack, including 1 ransomware incident. This is a significant increase in malware and security attacks. It always amazes me how so many companies don’t apply some data security practices. Almost every time I review security at a client I find users have turned off the windows firewall. Normally to resolve a problem, but instead of creating a rule to resolve the issue once the firewall has been identified and then turn the firewall back on, they just leave it turned off.  Anti-malware applications are great; however, the definitions need to be updated. As does all of the applications on the computer, patches more often than not contain security fixes. The number of clients who complain about patches being deployed, and even turn these off so it does not affect their daily work.

I have an automated patch management tool which automatically approves and deploys all patches to my PCs, because this is a little and often approach, I hardly notice the deployment. My computer only needs to be rebooted occasionally for the patches. Now I am using the latest operating system (Windows 10), with the latest version of the Office suite (Office 2016) alongside the latest tools by other vendors. This does help reduce the impact of some patches, Windows 7 for example with Office 2013 can require multiple reboots following patch Tuesday (the second Tuesday in the month) when Microsoft release the majority of their patches.

 

Can I plead with all companies out there to refresh their security policies, ensure patches and updates are applied in a timely fashion, and clean up their user permissions? This will not only help protect your company, but help stop the spread of malware. thereby helping every other company out there.

Should the UK remain within the European Union

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After thinking long and hard over the past few months about Britain’s future within the EU, I feel that in general we would be much better served playing a leading role in Europe and this is best achieved by taking our rightful place amongst our close neighbours and working together. However, the current deal secured should the UK remain within the EU does not achieve this but rather the opposite. ensuring our role is marginalised. Given The UK population makes up for 12.7% of the population of the 28 member states, yet the UK only holds a representation of 9.7% in the European parliament. It is perhaps the under representation and lack of engagement with the unengaged, Eurosceptic MEP’s which has led to the disenfranchisement of the UK population.

In the coming referendum the choice is clear do we want to be the poor cousins within Europe with little say or should we exit the union. It is with a heavy heart given this poor choice the only choice is to exit. We should be given a third option of increased participation which would enable Britain to contribute to the great experiment and allow our great country to realise its full potential within the global community.