Saturday, 26 February 2011

Wrestling with Email

I get lots of them, so do you.  I get far more at home than I do at work, because I own or moderate about 20 Yahoogroups, and am a member of 20 more.  Plus all my LinkedIn stuff goes to my home email.  So how do I deal with them?

To start off, I use a thing called Tonsho to virtually eliminate spam. New senders are challenged which means that if there isn't a human sending it, it doesn't come near me. And the other good thing is that it's free (they make their money out of charging to send ginormous emails). 

Then I have rules set up to sort email into appropriate folders. If the subject is Project X, it automatically goes into the Project X folder - where I can get to it right after I finish Projects A to W <g>. Outlook automatically shows me how many unread messages I have in the Project X folder. At home my [Live-In-France] folder contains all the emails for that particular Yahoogroup - this lets me prioritise.  

Read and decide what to do with the Inbox - skim through it with your finger on the delete button.  If it needs a quick reply, then reply.  If it needs further thought, tag it and add a date for further action.  If it's something I am likely to want to keep, I move it to an appropriate folder (Useful Technical Stuff, maybe) 

I found this post Email Etiquette for the Super Busy by Jocelyn K Glei with some good advice:

Never send an angry or contentious email.  Put a five minute delay on your outgoing mail by setting up a rule in Outlook.  That gives you a chance for second thoughts - five minutes delay won't hurt - although it can seem like a long time when you are waiting for the messages to be sent!  

Be concise.  I don't use my Blackberry for email (I have work email at my office and home email at home, I don't need it in between as well).  But if I did I would be a bit peeved to get three page messages to read on a 5cm screen.  

Include deadlines - if there's a deadline, it's good to know that.  Burying the deadline at the bottom of the message is not as good as putting it at the top.  

Don’t send “Thanks!” emails.  Interesting advice. I usually try to say thank you, for example to people who accept my invites to link in. But Jocelyn argues cogently that I should NOT. That may be a step too far away from the human-human interface for me, but you can always say Thanks in Advance.  

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Back Up Over Network

Microsoft in its wisdom assumes that backups will be held on the local server e.g.
  • Data on Drive D:
  • Logs on Drive E:
  • Backups on Drive F:
What happens if the local server fails?  Ooops. 
We back up to disk and then to tape (belt and braces) - we've had a few less drastic problems than server failure, mainly because we have run out of space on the local machine because some databases have grown a bit bigger than was initially intended.  It's a bit fiddly to back up to tape from 30 different servers too.  So to resolve these problems we decided to back up over the network (BUON) to a central media server.    This makes the process of backing up to tape faster and more reliable.  Our server bods reckon they saved about 900Gb of space on local servers.  And just in case there is a problem with the central media server, we can fall back to an alternative.

This blog is about SQL Server 2005 and 2008.  The technique is a bit different for SQL Server 2000 - let me know if you want this and I'll send you my notes.  But you're moving off 2000 now, aren't you?

Here's how I did it:
Set up a maintenance plan called BUON ServerName System Maintenance Plan (or whatever you like, it's just a name).  I like to set up one plan for System databases and another for User databases. 
a)      Schedule plan for 19:00 daily (for us, most people are finished by 18:00 and the tape backup occurs at 02:00 so this should give it plenty of time, even if the first attempt fails and it has to take another backup).  Don't forget to set up a schedule, otherwise your colleagues will mock you. 
b)      Check Integrity.  There's a nice new thing in SQL Server 2008 that lets the maintenance plan ignore a database if you have taken it offline - tick it.  If you take a database offline, then the maintenance plan carries on happily without whingeing at you that the database is offline.  More for user databases than system, admittedly. 

c)      Reorganise Index; ignore if offline

d)   Backup with destination \\acbriap024\SQL_Backups\<servername>

Here's the meat in the sandwich.  ACBRIAP024 is the primary media server, and SQL_Backups is a shared drive on that machine.  I set up a directory on that share named after the SQL Server instance I want to back up. 

System databases get a .sys.bak extension, User databases get usr.bak. 
And I always tick the Verify Backup Integrity box - it takes a bit longer because it runs a "Restore Database with Verify Only" command after taking the backup, but it's a useful precaution. 

e)      Maintenance Cleanup - clear out backups older than 2-3 days
f)      If step (d) fails, here's the fall back position - backup with destination
This is the secondary media server - the belt and braces machine. 
g)      Maintenance Cleanup

Here's what it looks like:

Notice the red line? Red for failure - if you right click on the line, you can specify whether you want something to happen if the previous step succeeds (green) or fails (red) or just completes regardless (blue). In this case, if the backup to the primary server works, it just tidies up the primary server by deleting old backups and all is complete. If the primary backup fails, then it goes to the secondary backup.

If you want more detail on the individual tasks in a maintenance plan, check out this estimable free download from Brad McGehee.  Brad lives the dream and administers databases in Hawaii, so he must be right!

Monday, 7 February 2011

Telesales Ju-Jitsu

Telemarketers - don’t you just hate them?

Well, up to a point.  When I’m at work, I’m fairly cool about someone who rings up and tries to sell me something.  This may be because it doesn’t happen all that much in my present job and it provides a welcome relief from the slog of administering databases, and maybe because business to business sales are better targeted and have at least some chance of interesting me.

At home though, I’m registered with the Telephone Preference Service which pretty much eliminates calls from reputable companies.  That means that anyone who still tries is not a reputable company.  If they ring up, they want to sell you something dodgy.  So they are fair game for a bout of telesales ju-jitsu.  String them along, and revel in the pleasure of stringing them along.  See how outlandish you can be.

Gavin rang me up all the way from India to tell me about the terrible virus problems I was having on my computer.  Obviously hoping that I didn’t know a computer from a pile of rocks.  I think he wanted me to type in a website URL which of course would pretend to scan my system and Shock Horror!  find a virus.  Not sure if he wanted to sell me an anti virus system, or if he would just run the "scanner" again and miraculously have it clear the problem. Or it may be worse than that and they empty your bank account - never got that far - scam update here.  

Anyway, I was all ears, asked Gavin to help me.  He asked me to type in the URL and I asked him what that was.  So we discussed the Start button and of course I don’t have one on the screen.  After about ten minutes of him getting increasingly frantic as none of the things he tried to get me to do worked, he asked me how I logged on to the internet.  I told him I didn’t have internet access on my PC.  Ha ha!

I told an energy salesman who wanted me to switch to his supplier that I had an experimental cold fusion reactor in my basement which generated all the power I needed, and asked him if his company would be interested in buying my surplus energy.  Still waiting to hear back.

And I told a shares scammer that I was part of an anarcho-syndicalist commune that believed in holding all property in common, and that capitalism was a jackboot on the neck of the people, and share ownership is a weapon used against the working class, etc, etc, until he gave up.

I look forward to telesales calls now...