• Category Archives The blog
  • More really huge changes for DigitalDarragh.

    Change is finally here!

    People who have read this blog for a long time will remember that over the past few years I’ve mentioned the idea of breaking up the website into two or even maybe three parts. Although it could be potentially difficult to keep all three parts up to date, people could focus on the parts that most interested them. Well, about six months ago I really started to give this some serious thought.

    I approached a few design companies and I spoke to some leaders in the online media and social media areas. All agreed that breaking up the sites would strengthen my online brands and optimise the targeting of blog posts to interested audiences.
    What this boils down to is money unfortunately. DigitalDarragh.com is a great hobby but it doesn’t make money. It possibly could if I added advertisements to the site but that’s not a route I’d like to go down. Basically, my online activity can be broken into three different parts:

    • Firstly, there’s the technology part that aims to promote me as an experienced technician and system administrator. I have had a company for the last while called Computer Support Services. I do business under this company name so it makes sense to push it’s brand more openly online.
    • The second part is music. I am a busy musician with a huge interest in Irish traditional music. It is time that I push the Darragh Ó Héiligh name on the web as being a musician ready to entertain and teach.
    • Finally, the DigitalDarragh part is where I get to relax and play around with new stuff. Therefore, it’s unlikely that this website will change much at all. It will continue to be my main blogging platform and my main online presents on social media sites such as Twitter will continue to be recognised by this name. The name and hey, lets face it, the brand of DigitalDarragh is valuable so it will remain the core of other websites that I run. For this reason, on other sites such as Computer Support Services and Darragh Ó Héiligh the DigitalDarragh.com site will always feature somewhere.

    So, for technology or music, you know where to go now.

  • Coming up after the break.

    I have a bit of a surprise for those of you who read the blog that are music lovers.

    For the next two weeks, I will write about my ten favorite Irish musicians. Each blog post will explain why I like them, the kind of music they play, their styles and I’ll hopefully find one or more Youtube recordings of each one so as you can hear for your self what makes them so good in my opinion.

    Thanks to Abby for the inspiration behind this idea.

    The posts will start on Monday morning so I’ll see you then. Until Monday, Have a great weekend! I most certainly plan to. I’ve had a busy few weeks so I’m looking forward to taking it easy.

  • The times they are a changing

    As I promised a few months ago, DigitalDarragh.com is undergoing a few changes. Some of these are minor and some are huge. For example, you may now listen to Irish traditional music 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year from the Trad stream section below or in your media player or smart phone of choice by using the following link: http://digitaldarragh.com:8000/live.mp3

    I fancied a change on Friday evening so I spruced up the design of DigitalDarragh.com for you. I hope you like it?

    It should be a lot easier for people to read now. I had a few complaints about the background image so I’ve removed it.

    I’ve also tidied up the layout quite a bit. I’m not sure if people are going to like it but it’s worth a shot.

    Instead of navigation being at the right of every page, I’ve organized it all at the bottom. You’ll find the Trad stream on the left followed by categories. In the middle you’ll find my latest Twitter updates and below that you can browse to different social networks that I have accounts on. Finally, on the right, you’ll see the archive. This shows all the months back over the past two and a half years with the number of posts in each. Just go to one of these links to read everything I posted during that month.

    The reason I am trying this layout is to make it easier to read longer than normal posts. Without links and images distracting you it might be easier to follow the text.

    Please give me your feedback.

    From an accessibility perspective, nothing has hugely changed. You will still access the site in the same way you did prior to the changes.

  • Planning and updating.

    I’m still mulling over a few ideas that will completely change the way this blog is used and many of these ideas will likely result in the end of the blog as you know it. I’ve been held up though due to accessibility related challenges. I just can’t seem to find the right kind of software.

    There are quite a few things happening behind the scenes as well. Around this time last year, I changed from a VPS to actually hosting my own server. This year, I’ve purchased an even more powerful machine and the plan is to extensively update all of the software that is used for these sites, Microsoft Exchange, the VOIP server, the backup server and the file server. With any luck and probably a lot of money, I’ll be able to expand the technology I use to really take advantage of the high availability, clustering and fault tolerance that is available in many of these systems. This will mean that I should be able to sleep at night without worrying about a single patch bringing down the entire system!

    I’m thinking of changing from internal SAS based storage to Network attached storage to reduce costs but increase the overall capacity of the file server. At the moment I’m running very low on space because for every file, Email, website or voice mail that is written to a disk, it’s also written to a backup server. This means when I buy one 300GB SAS disk, I need to buy a second just for backups. Even with compression backups take up a considerable amount of space on my network.

    I’ve been connecting my VOIP PBX to Blueface, a VOIP phone provider in Ireland. They are incredibly reliable and their prices are very reasonable. I couldn’t be happier with their service but one of the reasons that I do all of this stuff is to be able to learn in an environment that isn’t pressured. It might be time to look at alternatives just to have the experience of connecting to different services. To that end, I’m looking into connecting a Skype account to the VOIP server. This may or may not have any benefits. I think it will be cheaper to buy other international numbers and it might allow for connectivity with Skype computer to computer calls but at the moment the idea is in its very early stages.

    The other thing I need to think of is ongoing costs, cooling and noise. I’d love to run two servers in parallel but this is a costly hobby. The price of electricity is not something I need to be too concerned with at the moment but if I add another server into the mix it will increase by about forty or fifty Euro a month. That’s not something that I can really justify. I’m thinking of a few alternatives to get around this while still having reasonably high availability. The first possible solution is to get one server fully set up. Buy a NAS box with about 10TB of storage and set a backup job to copy a snapshot of each virtual machine to this. The file server will also be based on this NAS so if the main server goes down it should be possible to bring another server into the mix very quickly. The other server will be set up with the same virtual host software. It’s most likely going to be HyperV. I’ve based the virtualization on ESX over the past year or two but I’d like to get more exposure to HyperV so it’s worth a shot for a while. I’ll segregate this server off onto a private network with only one connection for restores from the Network attached Storage (NAS). Every week or two, I’ll power on this server and restore the virtual snapshots onto this second server. With a bit of testing I’ll be able to ensure that the restores have worked. Because they’ll be on a private network they won’t have any impact on the live network. The result is that if the main server goes down, I’ll be able to bring up a second server instantly or if it’s crucial that it has the most up to date data then it will be up after a few minutes when the snapshot has been restored. Assuming wake up on LAN works on these network interfaces I should even be able to start this second server remotely and restore the snapshots easily.

    It would of course be much nicer if I could cluster both HyperV boxes with Microsoft’s version of VMotion so that if the first server went down the system would automatically fail over to the secondary server. That’s probably not going to be possible though.

    The second consideration is heat. Servers generate heat and in turn use more energy trying to cool down. Of course, in a perfect server environment an array of air conditioning, dehumidifiers and fresh air vents would be used to keep the environment at a perfect level for servers to run effectively but that’s just not an option in my kind of environment. For god sake, I’m running them in my house! At the moment, I have a specific location where all the CAT5 cable is patched back to. This works quite well with a single server but there are still occasional problems with heat and air flow. I have a plan that will greatly improve the situation but it has taken a long time for it to happen. Again, it’s all money. Basically, I’ll be moving the servers out to a shed that’s attached to the house. This is easy to reach via cable and with some work, should be reasonably easy to ensure a consistent temperature and reasonably good air flow and humidity. The worry is that it will get too cold during the winter so some insulation is required before I proceed.

    By moving the servers out here it will also help with the noise issue. After years of listening to computers all day I have almost filtered out the noise however I’m aware that it’s not a comfortable situation for some people to be in when a server is quietly humming away in a house.

    So, there you have it. For all of you who think I’m insane, you’re absolutely right however, even insane people often have perfectly logical reasons for their actions. For me, working on this kind of thing at home allows me to take full control of the set up, configuration and support of all of these systems. This gives me a great understanding of how it all works. With any luck, when I go for promotions in my current job or in years to come, when I look for a completely new job then I’m hoping it will stand to me. I’m also incredibly lucky but also very unfortunate with the environment I work with every day. It’s very diverse and complicated. Because so many people depend on it there are tools for managing and monitoring everything. This means that if functionality is needed, a hugely complex enterprise tool can be found and implemented. This slightly spoils me. It means that I don’t really have to think of ways of stitching things together or making work-arounds to make systems communicate with each other. If I knew I was always going to work in this kind of environment where anything is possible then I’d be perfectly happy with this. However, things might change. I might eventually work in a much smaller company where tools like SCCM, SCOM, Netbotz, What’s up gold and even backup exec or data protector simply cannot be afforded so scripts and free applications need to do the same job. I think it’s important to show that I’m just as comfortable with the small environments as I am with the enterprise level systems.

    The other side of it is that by working independently on different systems I get to find accessibility problems in my own time. More importantly, I get to solve these accessibility problems in an environment that isn’t pressured. I can then bring these solutions with me into work and apply them when their needed. It’s very important to me that I do not let an accessibility related problem get in the way of me doing my job independently and efficiently.

  • Next round of changes for DigitalDarragh.com

    We’re getting close to the time of the yearly update for Digitaldarragh.com. Every year for the past five years I’ve done something different with the site. Last year I changed to wordpress. The year before that I upgraded the Drupal installation and change to a Virtual private server. the year before that I switched from BlogEngine.net to Drupal. With the change from BlogEngine.net to drupal I increased the scope of the site so that it included more information about me instead of just having a blog.

    This year I want to do something a little more daring. Five years ago DigitalDarragh.com wasn’t built on any CMS. In fact, I coded it using ASP from the ground up. It had been a working progress for about two years. In that two years though the site was busier than it ever had been. this is because I hosted blogs for other people. I really enjoyed doing this but it became a lot of work to keep it going. I saw a need for this kind of service as the site continued to grow so I changed to Drupal and moved all of the blogs over to 14u.ie. That site has since closed. There were a number of problems with this. firstly, I didn’t port any of the content across and secondly because the site was built using the Drupal content management system there were a number of usability issues that I couldn’t get around because I was very new to the Drupal way of doing things. The 1 4 u website could have gone well if I hadn’t tried to do too much too quickly. still, as they say, you live and learn.

    I don’t know if I’d re-develop DigitalDarragh.com with that same kind of functionality again. There are so many websites out there offering blogging platforms and they will do a hell of a lot bettter than I could possibly consider doing. I remember a lot of people saying at the time that the reason that people blogged on DigitalDarragh.com back then is the sense of community on the site. There were private messages, open comments and customizeable profiles. Who knows, Maybe it was the smaller size of the site that attracted people.

    I will probably start the upgrade in the middle of July. What would you like to see happen with DigitalDarragh.com this time? Leave it as it is? Change back to Drupal? Add more pages? Get rid of it? Any suggestion will be considered. I might even think of making it possible for others to blog from here as well. I’m also mulling over the idea of coding it from the ground up without using a content management system such as Drupal, WordPress or Joomla.

  • DigitalDarragh.com supports jump lists in IE9.

    Jump lists in Windows 7 are lists of commonly used features for a particular application. For example, if you pin Microsoft Outlook to your task bar in Windows 7 you will see new message, new appointment, new task and new meeting in the jump list. For Microsoft word you’ll see a list of recently opened documents for example. To access a jump list simply right click the name of the application in the task bar.

    With Internet explorer 9 jump lists are also supported in websites. Website developers can create jump lists that allow you to go directly to a specific page on the site from your task bar. For example, to jump directly to the blog you would right click on DigitalDarragh in your task bar and then click blog. Your browser would open on that page.

    Pinning a website to your task bar is very simple.
    when on www.digitaldarragh.com within Internet explorer 9 simply drag the tab titled DigitalDarragh down to your task bar.

    Now, when you right click the DigitalDarragh task bar item you will see the jump list associated with it. This allows you to jump straight to the computer room, music room, contact me page, blog or about me page.

    If using the keyboard:

    1. Go to www.digitaldarragh.com
    2. Press the windows key on your keyboard.
    3. Press escape to close the start menu then press the tab key.
    4. Use the right arrow button to go across to Internet explorer.
    5. Press the applications key to bring up it’s jump list.
    6. Use the down arrow to find digitalDarragh.
    7. Press the right arrow to open the context menu for this item.
    8. Arrow to pin to task bar and press enter.
    9. Close Internet explorer.
    10. Go back to the task bar by pressing windows key, then escape and tab to move across to it.
    11. Arrow around until you find DigitalDarragh.
    12. Use the applications key on your keyboard to open the jump list.

    I know that’s a lot of steps for keyboard users but it’s not so bad because it gives you a nice shortcut to jump to the DigitalDarragh website. You can now press the windows key and the number associated with that pinned task bar option to jump directly to the website. Finding out the number associated with that pinned option is quite straight forward.

    1. Go to the task bar. Press the windows key then escape to exit the start menu. Press tab once to move to the task bar.
    2. Each task bar option is associated with a number. Internet explorer is usually number 1 as it’s first in the list. When you jump to the task bar the option that is currently selected is the first option in the list. When you press the right arrow you will be on the second item in the list therefore this will be associated with the number 2. Continue to press the right arrow while counting the number of task bar options you are moving across until you reach DigitalDarragh. On my PC it is the third in the list of task baritems therefore if I press Windows and 3 I will launch the DigitalDarragh.com website.

    It gets better. Say for example Internet explorer is set to the first task bar item therefore is accessible by pressing Windows key and 1. You can Minimize and restore this by pressing this key combination. No matter what application you are in you can press windows key and 1 and Internet explorer will come back into focus. If it isn’t running it will start for you. If however you want a second Internet explorer window open you can press windows key, shift and the number 1.

    These quick access keys for task bar items are particularly useful and their one of the main reasons that I love Windows 7.

  • Your choice.

    It’s now up to you.

    I’m running low on ideas.

    What do you want me to blog about?

    Topics could include:

    • Technology
    • Personal stuff
    • The dog
    • system administration
    • Music

    Would you like more video or audio to be posted?

    If you have any other more off the wall suggestions I’m more than willing to listen.

    I just noticed recently that my posts before July 2009 are also missing. When did that happen? I’ve some work to do to figure out where their gone. There are a few posts from around that time that I’d like to keep around somewhere.

  • A quick review of the Irish Blog Awards 2011

    I was at the Irish Blog Awards in the Europa hotel in Belfast on Saturday. I was there with hopes of snatching the prise for best blog post for my piece titled Thanks Freddie written just after retiring my previous guide dog.

    There were bloggers there from all over the country. Damien Mulley, the man behind the blog awards tweeted on Friday that only 130 tickets had been sold but I actually think more than that attended on the night. Numbers certainly seemed down on the last two years but I think that was because the awards were held so soon after St. Patrick’s day and they were up in the north so money had to be first exchanged into Sterling so it would put some people off going

    As usual Rick O’Shay was the MC for the night. Rick has a fantastic voice for that kind of thing and a very quick wit that keeps people very entertained. He seems perfect for that kind of job.

    I met up with some people that I was looking forward to seeing but unfortunately there were a lot who didn’t attend the awards. Thanks to people like Emma, Darren and Ellie I was reintroduced to bloggers that I had met last year and introduced to new bloggers who were only starting. It was also nice that I was able to actually find people that I wanted to speak to this year. Because the music was so loud after last year’s awards I couldn’t find a single person so actually left less than an hour afterword. This year we didn’t finish up until 2AM and the only reason we left that early is the bar stopped serving.

    Would you believe it, my post didn’t win? Let me say that I’m not at all big headed. Well, I hope I’m not anyway but genuinely, I thought that I had a really good chance of winning in the best post category on Saturday night. Not because of any strange confidence in my writing skills but because of the sheer number of people who had contacted me on twitter, comments on this website, Email and even by text message before and during the awards to say that they hoped I’d win. I was even approached by one of the judges in my category who expressed disbelief that I didn’t win it. This is not a disparaging comment against the post that won it. It was great! The author June obviously has a fantastic writing style. It just wasn’t particularly my thing. I actually thought if someone else was going to win it it would have been White Rabbit NI for her post but I was completely wrong. Don’t tell anyone but I’m actually also secretly relieved that I didn’t win it. My reasons for this are utterly silly. Hay, I’m just remembering, this time five years ago at this train station my laptop died never to boot again. Something dodgy and unexplainable happened and it had to be sent back to Acer. Interestingly enough, that was the last Acer I ever owned. I’ve had a combination of Dell’s and HP’s since. Ok. Back to the awards. Yes, I was secretly hoping I wouldn’t win. I had been trying to listen to other award winners go up to the stage but while they were walking the crowd were applauding so I couldn’t hear the stage or how they got up on to it. I had hoped that I’d be able to hear approximately where they walked up onto the stage and prompt the dog to find the steps in that direction if it was our turn to walk up. Yes, I told you it was silly didn’t I? My other reason for not wanting to win was equally as silly. I didn’t want to have to talk. Yes. For someone who’s in front of a mike almost every week, I didn’t want to be in front of one this weekend. Yes. You may now laugh. Go ahead. I don’t mind!

    Just a quick final note about the Europa. That hotel is really nice! It’s probably the second nicest hotel I’ve stayed in while in Belfast. I have been up and down to Belfast quite a bit so I’ve had the opportunity to try out a lot of their hotels. There are a few pictures of it at the end of this post. The one thing I have to say though is its prices do not reflect the situation the entire country finds it’s self in. €120 for a night excluding breakfast seems very harsh in my experience. Yes, it’s a four star hotel and yes it’s a very nice place but they have to give value for money as well. I genuinely don’t think we got that on Saturday. Breakfast was a further €20 per person. Again, that’s an outrageous amount of money to charge for a breakfast. Although it was very comfortable I would never consider staying there again and in fact I would also suggest that family and / or friends do not stay there either for that reason. Of course, that’s my opinion but I think its Important now more than ever to give value for money no matter what business you’re in. Even drink in the hotel was overly expensive. Vodka and Coke and a pint of Bulmer’s were just under £10. That’s about 12 or €13! Across the road we bought a round for four people and it didn’t even come to £10. Don’t get me wrong, it was a fantastic night and I really enjoyed it and I’m probably one of the more fortunate in this country that the recession hasn’t it me as much as it has most people however regardless, I still need to be as careful as the next person when it comes to the amount of money I spend on luxuries.

    The room in The Europa hotel. Ike is peeking round the corner

    View from the window into the room The door into the bathroom is made from frausted glass.
    Looking at the room from a different angle.
    View from 9th floor window of the europa
    Looking onto the street far below.
    People are absaling off the front of the Europa hotel.
    Imagine waking up, opening your curtains and seeing one of these people outside your window when your on the nineth floor? Ha!