The Orient Express

The highlight of the Networkshop event was the conference dinner on Wednesday evening. This year they had arranged for delegates to dine on the Orient Express. ๐Ÿ˜Ž

A champagne reception, complete with a 1930s style jazz band, awaited us at Victoria station when we arrived. Both of the famous trains had been chartered for the event, the Northern Belle and the British Pullman.

The gleaming carriages of the British Pullman adorned in umber and cream livery wait as stewards, in their immaculate uniforms, welcome you on board the train.

Your steward will show you to your reserved seat in one of eleven carriages, each an original masterpiece from the 1920’s or 1930’s with their own name and unique personality.

The British Pullman can carry up to 252 passengers and consists of 11 parlour cars, of which 5 are kitchen cars, and a service car. The carriages seat between 20 and 26 passengers in each.

On board passengers are seated in either รขโ‚ฌหœcoupรƒยฉรขโ‚ฌโ„ขs (small compartments seating up to four people) or in the open car mostly at tables for two. There is a limited number of single tables and of tables for three persons in the open car.

The cuisine on board the British Pullman is a delight. Meals are freshly prepared by our master chefs and accompanied by a selection of wines carefully chosen to complement the fine food served at your table, which is set with starched white cloths, shining silver and glittering glass. Your steward on the British Pullman train will serve your meals and any other drinks or refreshments you may require.

We were booked on the British Pullman departing for Llandudno at 8:34pm. Our seats were in the beautifully restored Zena carriage, as used by visiting royalty in the 1950s. ๐Ÿ™‚

We were seated by Charles, our steward for the evening, who offered a welcoming glass of champagne and smoked salmon canapes. As the train pulled slowly out of Victoria on its way to Wales, I couldn’t help thinking it was like being in an Agatha Christie film. ๐Ÿ˜ฏ

The four course dinner was fabulous and the service was truly exceptional, with every attention to detail you could possibly desire. I have never experienced anything like it before, it was a once in a lifetime experience. ๐Ÿ˜€

Edit: I’ve just found out that even with a substantial discount for block booking, it worked out at over ร‚ยฃ150 per person. ๐Ÿ˜ฏ

Networkshop Conference

I’ve been at the Networkshop conference at the University of Manchester this week. It was quite an interesting event but, with techie-types from all UK colleges and universities attending, it’s a bit like Nerdsville. ๐Ÿ˜ฏ

Wednesday morning’s first speaker was a lawyer who gave a very interesting session on “Keeping the Right Side of the Law”. That was to be followed by someone from Microsoft talking about “Security Essentials” but they never turned up so the lawyer did a question and answer session instead.

Next on the agenda was “Ethernet – Wired, Wireless, Gigabit and VOIP – A Single Analysis Solution”. This turned out to be nothing more than a boring sales pitch for a packet analyser product. ๐Ÿ˜ก

Then it was “High Performance Networks for Grid and Cluster” presented by someone from Force 10 Networks who talked about Supercomputer Clusters and multi-Petabyte transfers. Way out of my league. ๐Ÿ˜•

After a spot of lunch and a potter around the exhibition area, I went to a very interesting session about “Local Loop Unbundling” where someone from Lancaster University talked about how they had done this to provide inexpensive 8Mbps ADSL services for their staff and students. ๐Ÿ˜Ž

The next speaker was from the University of Highlands and Islands. He talked about how they had blown several million pounds trying to network dozens of learning centres all over Scotland, using techniques such as wireless and satellite. ๐Ÿ™

Then a talk about “Community Wireless Networking” by a third year PhD student from Southampton who, basically, spent two years setting up a small mesh-style 802.11b network to provide internet access in student flats etc. A free PhD eh? ๐Ÿ‘ฟ

I then went to see a talk on “An Overview of WiMax” but the speaker didn’t turn up so I ended up watching “3G and Beyond – Looking to the Future” hosted by a chap from Orange. Very dull. ๐Ÿ˜•

The next two sessions were “Implementing an IP Telephone System” and “Linking Telephone Networks Using IP”, case studies of two separate VOIP projects carried out by universities. Since we haven’t yet looked into voice over IP much we thought we might gain something from these two sessions. We did: avoid VOIP until we have to do it. ๐Ÿ™„

The final workshop was a “Wireless Security” discussion group which reinforced what we already know about wireless – it’s not a viable alternative to wired networks yet and poses numerous security risks.

The best thing about these sort of events is that you get all kinds of freebies from the exhibitors. Pens, mugs, torches, pads. One of the HP resellers was giving away USB memory sticks. ๐Ÿ˜€

Work stuff

It’s the Easter holidays at work so there are no students around. Not only can I now drive to work in a quarter of the time it usually takes, I can also muck around with the network without inconveniencing thousands of people. ๐Ÿ˜‰

In an effort to track down the network problems we’ve been having for a couple of months, I installed a traffic analyser to see whether it would reveal anything unusual. I couldn’t believe how much crap I found! ๐Ÿ˜ฏ

There were thousands of broadcasts taking place every second. ๐Ÿ˜•

Spanning Tree Protocol (which we don’t use and thought was turned off everywhere) was the main culprit. Ethereal revealed that it was still enabled on a few switches. As soon as I had tackled those, the occasional packet loss we had been experiencing stopped. ๐Ÿ˜Ž

I also discovered that there were dozens of IPX-enabled devices on the network – JetDirects and network enabled printers. We haven’t use IPX since ditching Novell 8 years ago, so these could safely be reconfigured. ๐Ÿ˜

We stopped using WINS a couple of years ago too, but for some reason we didn’t disable NetBIOS on all our workstations. This meant that all name lookups were being done by broadcast rather than DNS, resulting in a great deal of unnecessary traffic. That was fixed easily via DHCP settings and Group Policy, but losing “NET VIEW” broke a few scripts. ๐Ÿ™

I then fired up a few hundred workstations to simulate typical network load – it’s no good fixing problems when there are no students around and the network isn’t stretched. The packet loss came back almost immediately. ๐Ÿ˜ณ

A bit more sniffing with Ethereal discovered that our classroom viewer program, ABControl, was the culprit. Every 10-15 seconds, all classroom machines were sending out a UDP broadcast so that they could be picked up by the administrator program. With about 700 machines on this subnet, all doing this at precisely the same time, it was creating a broadcast storm and causing packet loss. ๐Ÿ˜ก

It’s a shame to get rid of this program because the tutors love it, but there’s no way we can entertain that sort of traffic on the network. I’m pleased that we’ve finally got to the bottom of this problem though.

Manchester United 1 – 0 Fulham

Cristiano Ronaldo’s strike from the edge of the penalty box turned out to be the only goal of the game. United had plenty of chances to finish the game off but couldn’t find a second goal. With minutes to go, Alan Smith attempted a cheeky lob from the half way line but Van der Sar, who had an excellent game, managed to scramble back at the last minute.

Chelsea won again and remain 11 points ahead. Barring a monumental collapse, it’s all over now. I just hope it’s all done and dusted before they come to Old Trafford in May – having cockney’s parading the Premiership trophy around our ground just isn’t right.

Currently listening to…

I’ve only just realised that my “recently played” list is no longer working since the WordPress upgrade. I’ll get around to fixing it when I get a chance. ๐Ÿ˜•

In the meantime, if you’re wondering what I’m currently listening to, I can report that WinAmp has been playing The Best of AC/DC almost continuously since I got back from Australia. And in the car.

It’s funny, you rarely hear them in the UK these days but they’re played about once an hour on Oz radio and feature in numerous adverts.

I remember going through an AC/DC phase when I was about 10 or 11 years old. Highway To Hell was one of the first albums I ever bought, I think it cost ร‚ยฃ1.99 at the time. The funny thing is, they sound even better 15 years on. ๐Ÿ˜Ž

I really can’t pick out a favourite track, there are so many to choose from… Back in Black, It’s A Long Way To The Top and Thunderstruck are getting a lot of playing at the moment though. Sara isn’t impressed by “this rubbish” however. ๐Ÿ˜‰