Steve's blog

A blog about what's going on in Analysis UK...

Electricity issues all around!

Apparently I’m not alone with UPS problems, looks like even the big boys over at have been having more than their fair share of UPS issues. It’s only when you need the UPS you really find out if it’s up to the job!

I have to take my hat off to them and complement them with the amount of feedback they are providing letting every body know what’s going on. Great work!

Todays issue of Computing ran an article on the Power Shortages in IT, whilst it’s great to see the IT arena (and especially eCommerce) taking off so well after all we have been through since 2000 it is alarming to think about the amount of juice we are using. Something tells me with all the electric being consumed in London my self and won’t be the only ones blogging about UPS problems.

So if you are relying on a UPS go give it a test now and if it’s not been exercised in a while (6+ months), go give it a deep discharge (when your computers not to busy), charge it up again then test it again. Do it whilst you don’t need it – next time you may just have spent an hour writing your blog for the electric to fail and the UPS to shut down with it!.

I should probably mention that whilst my UPS let me down just recently, it’s been good for about 3 years now and saved me a numerous times, the power in my part of Cambridge has been somewhat unreliable, I bought the best of the consumer market devices, it runs 3 machines and 2 monitors with about 60% load – and if the power stays off for more than a blip I know its going to be off for hours so everything gets shut down cleanly and I plug the TV into the UPS! – that’s assuming it’s to dark to read otherwise Id be reading one of my many books, ok, maybe Id also be heading off to the pub - for erm, food you know!

Note to - Great name!, just somewhat of a nightmare for us dyslexics that can’t spell! You can only imagine the attempts I have at entering the URL! Odd how I can spell dyslexia though.

My thought for today - it's when things go wrong that you really find out who you are dealing with.

Does the issue get covered up? Does it get swept under the carpet? Do you get a run around? Or are you dealing with a great company that knows how important it's customers are to take the time and write blog entries to let you know what's going on and communicate their pain with you.

The company I previously used for hosting are know offering a great deal on bandwidth (odd, they had a totally terrible deal before, now it's gone to unlimited - from one extream to the other!), still I know their business practices are anti-customer and the customer support is truly poor so no chance of me returning to them, on the other hand EV1 Server have just been fantastic!

When Backup systems bite back.

I’m a firm believer in backups. Data backups, spare part backups, uninterruptible power supplies, raid disks and stuff that should sit around in the background and help you when things go wrong. However the last thing I expect of these systems is to introduce major failures.

I got struct three times with this just recently with backup systems that decided they needed more attention.

All the web sites I run are basically data driven, all the exchange rates for Dollars2Pounds are in a database, all the page impressions are logged into a database, all the used books for sale on are all in a database so the backups for these sites is a backup of the databases (which is stored on a separate machine or two), the actual application code doesn’t need regular backups.

The other week after the server had a bit of a hiccup I figured I’d give the automated backups for the web sites a try, after all, if I needed to move to a new server this may save me some time. I only set up 3 sites as it’s a slow process, I’m so glad I only did 3 as two backup attempts latter I had to stop these. I set the backups to occur weekly – as I said, nothing really changes on the actual front end so very little need for backups anyway.

One of the things the web site control panel’s automated backup does is to take the site off line – now I can kind of understand this if data is being changed but really, most websites are static files (html, php, dll’s) so you’d think these could be just copied.

Have you spotted the snag so far, backup are really important, keeping your web site on line is also important – I don’t think being offline for 30mins every day to do backups is all that acceptable for global eCommerce sites.

So what happened, well the backup for started, the site was taken off line, then, well, the backup appears to have failed and the site never got put back on line. No details of this in the control panel for the site and I even had to go as far as editing the setup to kick the site back online. It was a very evil situation that I was VERY unhappy with. When I realised what had happened I canned the automated backups immediately.

Then 2 weeks latter I found out the secure server part of was off line, this meant transactions, "my account" and member login were all unavailable – not a funny situation. Guess who had setup automated backups and forgotten to disable them on this account!

Having finally got rid of the web site automated backups (remember the database is backed up separately!) the websites have been up and running without any problems since.

The next thing I know I’ve wandered into my home office and it’s all very quite – not normal as I usually have 3 PCs running, this particular day no PC’s were running, a quick look at the UPS – looked OK but the only reason all 3 should be off is a power fail. About a month before we had a major outage that drained the UPS.
Well, I kept an eye on the UPS and it all looked OK, no battery fail light or anything (it’s supposed to be Smart). Then two weeks latter all the PC’s go off again. This time the UPS goes off and complains big time about being switched back on. This time indicating a battery failure.

I got my self a new battery for my UPS from UPSBattery, a great deal and delivered the next day - fantastic. Installed it without any problems and the UPS is now up and running.

I decided to have a go at installing the software to manage the UPS again, last time I tried it was a nightmare (about 3 years ago) and I gave up. Well the software doesn’t appear to have changed much, but fortunately it has the option to remember User/Password details as I always forget that stuff (one feature of FireFox and IE I love).

Naturally I installed the business edition of the UPS software – not because I’m running in a business environment and need the software on my server and to be able to connect remotely to it. Not because I plan to get more UPS, but because the personal edition wouldn’t install without a UPS on the system and it didn’t detect the one that was connected on the USB port. Windows had it, the business edition (which you have to install 3 apps for!) had it, but the personal edition, nope useless.

Once up and running I ran the self test a number of times, all appeared OK, It wouldn’t let me calibrate the battery without it being 100% full. When I did finally get there the UPS died and took down all the PC’s connected to it – when I got them rebooted the UPS control software didn’t have the intelligence to realise it killed the UPS and reported no events – nice!. Mental note – when running UPS cal/self test don’t rely on power from the UPS to drive the machine you are using to monitor the test.

With it being a new battery I think the previous settings in the UPS memory were reporting an incorrect charge level, hence the battery wasn’t all that well charged when I tried the calibration – hence it didn’t survive the calibration!.

I also run a daily backup on my development PC to backup the source code every day, the application for this is nice and simple, but when it kicks in that’s it, the PC’s unusable for an hour – the backing up takes about 5 mins, but 55mins is spent pre-processing – talk about a pain, I’ve got a decent PC with a few spindles and lots of memory but still the backup app needs to hog 100% of the CPU.

So I’ve the backup set for 2am so I’m forced to go to bed then, but also forced to leave the PC on over night – hopefully the new version of the app has the ability to run in the background as I work – maybe I will write to them and ask, after all they keep emailing me to get me to upgrade but don’t bother to tell me any special reason that the new versions is better than the old!.

I’ve not posted any links or named the products that bit me, I don’t want to give them any free advertising or inbound links for products I’m not happy with!

Well, it’s 1:55 am here in the UK and I need to get some bits done before the backup takes over and the PC becomes unusable.

Any backup tips would be much appreciated…


Just how is it that computers know

It seams like every time I set up some new advertising something on the server knows and decides to throw a wobbly. I recently set up two new adverts for and as I submitted them, the server decided to fall over. Before you even think it, they hadn’t even gone live, so it wasn’t due to a sudden rush of traffic!

Fortunately the host providers did a great job of detecting an issue and sorting it out without me having to do anything, apparently there was a network issue that caused the server to fall over and resist attempts at rebooting. This appears now to be fixed.

As I write this and logged into my EV1 Servers account I see an announcement of some outages apparently caused by a linux worm exploiting a php issue. I guess this is probably what happened to my server.

Then the day after that, one of the configuration files for’ web server appears to have been corrupted which caused the default server page to be loaded as if the site was off line.

I do wonder if this was caused by an issue with automated backups because it only happened to one site on that server, the one I had a few hours before configured automated backups for!, or, perhaps it was just because it was Friday 13th.

I don’t usually run the automated backups provided by the web server application as this takes the site off line and is a real pain to configure - everything about the site is data driven so the database gets backed up regularly to a different server and the rest is code that doesn’t need backing up anyway.

Apologies to anybody effected by the recent server problems, hopefully these are now sorted out, I will be keeping a close eye on the situation.

As you’ve probably noticed I’m not all that good at posting, you have to wonder why when this short entry has taken me about three hours, and with some of it’s original content missing, mind you, it nearly didn’t get posted at all.

All I wanted to do was paste some simple text into the word processor I’m using (no prizes for guessing which famous one I’m using!). Because the text was from a certain web browser the word processor decided to connect to the internet – why I don’t know, so I naturally blocked it when Zone Alarm told me it was accessing the internet. So that locked it up for ages, I was hoping it would time out, but an hour latter I had to end task it, fortunately the auto save had saved much of my work, but I had still lost more than I wanted.

I have to say I really hate the way paste works in most of the Office product now days, all I wanted was a simple bit of text, no formatting etc, I wanted the data with MY format, not the format from the web page, Ahhh – and don’t get me started about the way a certain spreadsheet handles cut/copy and paste, when I copy something I want it to stay on the clipboard - it’s almost as bad as it’s graphs, come back Q-Pro all is forgiven – well, I actually liked that app so not to much to forgive!.

Being the webmaster of a book site I decided I should share what I’m currently reading with you in my posts.

At present I am reading Vincent Maraia’s The Build Master, I’m only about 2-3 chapters in, although I have cheated a little and read a few bits at random. Basically it’s about the Windows NT build team at Microsoft, it’s very interesting and I would certainly recommend it, especially if you are remotely involved in the build process for software products, managing source code or managing a software department. Being dyslexic I really have to like a book to keep reading it and this is certainly one of those, who knows, when I finally finish it I may well write some more about it – don’t hold your breath though as I’m a very slow reader.


Free Books

Those good people at Computer Manuals are giving away a selection of programming e-Books.

So if you are into VB.NET, C#, PHP or perl be sure to take a look at the free titles on offer.

This offer is for a short time only so go now and download them whilst you can!

Be sure and keep an eye out at Computer Manuals as they are great source for, believe it or not, Computer Manuals! and regularly run special offers. is now Open

Well finally I managed to put my bad habits of being a software engineer behind me and open the doors on

As you probably know from my other blog entries, I already have and up and running. Naturally I have been seeing how they are used and trying to improve the sites based on that.

Unfortunately I had been holding back until I got a number of new features in place and some bugs fixed, well I’m pleased to say that I have a number of them sorted out now.

However I still have more stuff to put on the site to improve it further (as with the book and dvd sites!). The decision to have multiple sites each aimed at a specific function has worked well, but really causes problems for configuration management!, the headache or rolling out a new piece of functionality and ensuring it doesn’t break anything in the process makes it all very slow to add new bits.

Well anyway, if you have a large CD collection and want to catalogue it so you can check what CD’s you have before going and buying the same one again…

Or if you want your friends to be able to browse what CDs you have (or vicky verka),…

Maybe you have friends that borrow CDs and forget to return them – you can let manage your loans so you and your friends know who’s borrowed what and how long ago…

Or just want to buy and sell CD’s then please go and take a look around – Membership if FREE!. and some snow.

Well I really managed to do it again didn’t I, forgetting to add bits to the old blog. I can’t believe it’s been 2 months since I last wrote.

I started this blog to give customers an incite into what I was up to with the various web sites and I had also read that it was a good marketing tool to help promote the web sites, so I guess I’m failing miserable with these so far!

Last time I wrote I mentioned a lack of snow here in Cambridge, well as it turns out blogs are more powerful than I ever imagined, the very next day the best covering of snow I’ve seen here in the UK for quite some time, it must have been at least an inch thick!!!.

Now I’m thinking that if blogs are really this powerfully perhaps it’s about time I started complaining about my lack of wining lottery tickets! although I guess really not buying a lottery ticket in the first place doesn’t help the matter.

Big apologies to all of you how make use of (and the other exchange rates sites), the federal reserve who I get the currency feed from kindly changed the data format in the xml file at the beginning of April, how nice!, they didn’t even bother to update the URI or anything to keep backwards compatibility, just a new format.

Well after some major stupidity on my behalf (requesting the rates for the next day) I finally managed to update the xml parsing routines to work with the new file format. It’s times like that I wish I was using or PHP5, but for now my servers running PHP4, one day soon I’ll be getting a Windows Server 2003 server and getting ASP.NET running for my sites, C#/.NET is a very nice language to write in and really improves developer performance however with the way things are I’ll be needing 40hour days and a time machine to even get started with that.

In good news I managed to get some updates to the way each site gets the exchange rates, the way they worked was left over from the days on shared hosting accounts when I couldn’t get all the sites to access a single database to store the rates in, that’s now fixed and sites like should be somewhat faster now.

Also, if you use the Bango numbers to access either or please not that these are no longer supported.

The thing about a blog is

So I guess one of the main things about having a blog is actually writing to it, so I thought Id try and squeeze in a moment to give you all an update on what’s happening, in particular with

I have recently been working on some store style additions to the site, it’s all looking nice, these are going to be added free of charge for every member automatically. I had been aiming to get the RSS feeds working better to integrate these at the same time, unfortunately after accidentally sending my self 117,000 emails one night due to a little bug in the RSS generator I’m revisiting and working on these again (Interesting how Outlook 2003 couldn’t cope with more than 65535 emails, lets hope the spam never reaches that level!).

I’m also currently working on the helper application, this is looking really good and its top priority to get this completed and released into the wild for all you to play with.

You’ve probably spotted the obvious problem with thing at present, I have 3 mini projects running at the same time, not something that is really a good idea, I do like being able to divert my thoughts from one to another when I get stuck on something, this helps me remove my self and come back to it with a fresh mind, unfortunately it also means that have split loyalties between these projects.

The highlight of the week has to be getting the ADSL upgrade here at home, I now have a 1M line, although I do think a prize should go to the ISP, they warned me that my User ID may change during the regrade, it indeed did, and they kindly sent me an email telling me this and what the new one is, unfortunately they sent it at the same time the line got regarded, hence I was unable to login and pick it up, pure quality!.

Well, you’ve heard enough from me for a bit, I’m off to look out side and see if we’ve had any snow, it’s been fairly poor on the Snow front here in Cambridge.


Hello and welcome to my blog, I decided that it was about time for me to tell the world what I'm up to in a central location as well as my occasional ramblings on the community areas of the various web sites that I run.

So let me introduce myself, I'm Steve (OK, really Stephen, but Every one calls me Steve), I'm the director of Analysis UK Ltd, a UK based company. At this time it is very much a MicroISV, with myself as the only employee (and even then I'm part time).

Under the Analysis UK umbrella you will find a number of software based products, these include…,, and not to mention a few other related sites.

Analysis UK was initially formed by myself to provide Analytical software and hardware, however as happens I got a little side tracked with the other projects and decided it was better to focus on them.

In-between developing and the other site, I am also selling books (on market place and as well as on so that I can understand how a book seller operates and improve my sites based on this, also trying to hold down a 9-5 job as a software engineer developing applications for the life science industry.