Book Review – Switch (How to change things when change is hard)

Short Answer

An extremely interesting book for those looking to understand the mind and change.

Long Answer

Unlike the typical volumes on change and ways of coping with said change, this book is more about understanding and motivation. The basic premise of the Elephant (emotional side) vs Rider (rational side) is straightforward and makes a fair amount of sense. The book details the various facets of each side of our battle for change and is littered with helpful anecdotes and trial exercises. The text is well written and easy to follow, very little jargon or deep understanding is needed. It is a book that I would recommend to anyone looking to make any kind of change from personal to professional though the book is more tailored towards the professional.

If you were to boil down the book to its core message, it is a set of simple rules in which to motivate and encourage. Give simple clear instructions and look at success rather than failure are a couple of the main themes.

A key point, that I took from the book, related to the understanding that self control is a finite resource and that it can run out. This generated one of those flashes of understanding that let a bit of the puzzle fall into place and armed with the knowledge it makes change a whole lot easier.

Using what the book has given me, I have generated a number of simple rules which I have found have motivated and encourage personal change.

If you are looking for a star rating I would give it 4 out of 5. (The missing star is down to the book’s assumption that the person knows what they must do and hence there is no mention of selecting changes or finding aspects to change.)

18. February 2012 by Stuart Mains
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Did I live where? What age is Who? – New Security Questions

I was recently taking up a zero percent balance transfer offer from my credit card provider and they used a security system I had never come across.

The approach was to verify that I was who I said I am and it was based upon knowledge that the credit card company had on me and my credit card profile.

The questions were:

  • What address have you been associated with?
  • What is the age range of XXXXX?
  • What county have you been associated with?

The questions were multiple choice and were pretty easy to answer (being the person they wished to verify). Though for a simple security procedure it would cause some headaches for potential identity thieves. Knowing where you live (after racking through the internet or your bin) and knowing what credit card you use (bin again) is not enough. You need to have a complete knowledge of the credit profile.

True, you can credit check someone with the details from the bin or internet but you are unlikley to know the age of various family members. Assuming that no id thief is going to try to friend you on facebook or hack your account.

The process was quite painless and although I though I would be put on the spot with the questions, once they informed me that it was multiple choice it became a breeze. They even used the term “final answer” which just conjured up flashbacks of Chris Tarrant on “Who wants to be a Millionaire”.

It is refreshing to come across a security procedure that is both effective and painless and I congratulate the credit card company on their efforts.

I cannot reveal what credit card company, for obvious reasons.

10. February 2012 by Stuart Mains
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Backup Systems

When it comes to Servers, the belief that one backup system is enough is a dangerous risk.

Backup systems fail and when they do it tends to be when you really need them to have worked. It can be because of a faulty tape or conflict in the source files, problems with the timestamp and even mis-configuration of the actual backup process. Hence the need of multi-layer backup solution which covers the gamut of potential problems with you systems.

The multi-layer system is what I tend to recommend to cover the majority of data protection.

Layer 1: Is the server hardware itself and more precisely, a RAID* system.  The data centre of the server is its hard drive and RAID uses more than one hard drive to cover any individual drive failure. Hence, all servers should have a minimum of two hard drives in a RAID 0 (mirrored) configuration. This covers the most common component fault without any interruption in service.

Layer 2: Is the first external data source and is typically a tape drive. Tape drives are still quite popular though in a number of cases an external hard drive is more suitable in both ease of use and cost effectiveness. The tape drive is configured to do a full backup on a nightly basis and the tapes swapped in the morning. A minimum of two tapes are needed though some companies use five (one for each day of the week) and a monthly “complete” backup. The tapes are best stored in a fire-proof safe or taken offsite*8 by either a specialist courier company or trusted staff member.

Layer 3: Consists of a network backup and can take the form of a network storage device or software from a specialists data backup company. Typically, the data (after being backed up on the tape drive) is then streamed via the network to a storage device located in a safe location or to an internet company that specialises in data backup like Carbonite.

With at least three layers in place and with regular checks on the backup systems, it would take a bizarre accident to destroy all your data and its backup mediums.


* RAID = Redundant Array of In-line Drives – more details on RAID

** When taking any data off-site it is vital that the information is encrypted with a strong key.


30. October 2011 by Stuart Mains
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Data Recovery

URGENT: You should always have a backup system in place and ideally one that consists of at least three backup levels.

If, for whatever reason, you are forced to recover data from a malfunctioning hard drive instead of a backup then there are three typical levels of data recovery.

Level 1 – Failing to boot into an operating system
In this case, the fault is likely to be a corrupt file of the operating system and as such the method of data recovery is to remove the hard drive and access it with a recovery system*. Files can then be copied/recovered providing there is nothing wrong with the hard drive at a physical level.

This level can be performed by anyone with a general knowledge of computer hardware.

Level 2 – Drive not recognised
The drive has been removed but is not “visible” (the drive is connected to the recovery system but does not appear as a data device). This could be due to the lack of a partition table (which stores the details of the drive). Typically the recovery system will ask “Do you want to format this drive?” to which the response is always “NO”. To recovery files in a level 2 situation, the drive needs to be mounted** via a Linux flavour (Knoppix ideally). Data recovery tools are available in Linux which are able to read the files directly. Once access is achieved it is a simple matter of copying the files to another medium.

This level should be performed by an IT support company or person with expert computer knowledge.

Level 3 – No life
In both level 1 and level 2 the drive needs to have no physical faults. Ideally, no unusual noises and some low level vibrating (indicating that the hard drive platters are spinning). If the drive has “no life” or does power on, only to fail to be recognised in the recovery system then it needs to go to a specialist data recovery company.

From experience, in the case of ten hard drives needing data recovery:

  • 7 will require Level 1 recovery
  • 2 will require Level 2 recovery
  • 1 will require Level 3 recovery (and 1 in every 20 drives at this level will be unrecoverable)

Even though the chances are that your data can be retrieved, it is always far easier and cheaper to backup your data than recover it.

* The recovery system is usually a compatible computer (Windows PC) with hard drive caddy.

** Mounted refers to the process in which Linux connects devices (hard drives, optical drives, pen drives, etc) to the operating system. With Microsoft systems devices tend to automatically connect as standard.

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25. October 2011 by Stuart Mains
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What is RAID?

RAID stands for Redundant Array of In-line Drives/Disks and is a method of managing hard drives in servers.

Hard drives are the only moving component (except fans) inside computers and as such they are prone to mechanical failures. The failure of a hard drive would be the most common server fault and also the most costly as the hard drive is the only data store. RAID is a method of configuring hard drives in a way that prevents single point failure of the servers data store. It comes in seven flavours, though the main ones are RAID O, 1 and 5.

RAID 0 – Stripped: Where the data is split evenly over the number of hard drives. This is mainly used for performance boosting and should not be used for data protection. As the failure of one drive will destroy the array and the remaining data would be garbage without a complete array. Minimum of two drives needed.

RAID 1 – Mirrored: Where the data on the system is copied on all the drives so that in the event of a drive failing there is a complete copy on the remaining. Typically, this also allows for continued use of the system with no interruption in service. Minimum of two drives needed.

RAID 5 – Stripped with Parity: Similar to RAID 0 but with a checksum in place that allows the RAID to recover from a single drive failure by “rebuilding” the missing data using the other drives and a checksum. Minimum of three drives needed.

It is recommended that all servers have at least RAID 1 and ideally RAID 5 in place as their first backup level.

25. October 2011 by Stuart Mains
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Should I be using Twitter?

Short answer: no

Twitter is a wonderful tool and a broadcast tool at that. If you have 10,000+ followers you can notify or guide them into various purchases, tell them of offers, etc.

So, what is not to like? well the biggest problem is getting 10,000+ followers. As you may have already figured out, the most popular people on twitter can be classed as “celebs” and typically have lots of “fans”. “Fans” being short for “Fanatics” want to be close to their celeb and Twitter gives them a potentially straight-forward access. As fans want stardust, and stardust is one of those things that celebs can “gift” to them with a reply tweet. No lengthy email, letter writing or court restraining orders, you can contact any celeb on twitter simply with a interesting tweet and hope for a reply.  That is the foundation of Twitter, pretty much just celebs, though it is trying to make money via premium tweets but the concept (in my opinion) is generally flawed. Why, you ask? well the general business can create a Twitter account but it would be quite difficult to maintain any decent number of followers.

Take the example of a plumber’s business who wants to use Twitter as they want to hop onto the Social Media bandwagon. Account creation is all well and good and takes a whole 5 minutes, the first tweet is carefully crafted as a introduction and may even contain an offer. Then…. oh a tweet about…. no, that’s not interesting… another offer?…. why is no one following me?

To be blunt, most companies are not interesting from the perspective of a typical consumer or customer. A plumber has little to say that would encourage a following, who really cares about new developments in plumbing tech? other plumbers? who are more likely to read the trade websites. So in general, Twitter is best avoided.

Who does it work for? well any company or person that would be of general interest or whose tweets were thoughtful and insightful. Knowing what Steven Fry thinks of various BBC programs may appeal to his followers as it is something they can talk about “I saw the same program Steven Fry was watching, etc” which is just them trying to get some stardust. For companies that are on the cutting edge then Twitter is useful, firms like “Lush” can talk about new products which would be something of interest.

Just remember, Twitter is built on Stardust and a lot of hope that it could make some money, someday, somehow.

09. October 2011 by Stuart Mains
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Where does a Tablet system fit in your life?

When it comes to tablet systems, the first and I mean first question you need to answer is:

“Where would a tablet ‘fit’ in my life”

Chances are you already have a desktop system, a laptop and a smartphone so where does a tablet actually fit into your life?

If you do not have an actual place for a tablet then it is simply a gimmick or trendy gadget.


23. September 2011 by Stuart Mains
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The “Curse” of a news page

The “News” webpage is a common enough occurrence but no so common as to be ‘expected’ by the web visitor.

However, if it does exist then it prompts the web visitor with the question “How active is this company?” and as such they may check through your news items.

In the majority of cases, the organisation is probably not churning out a couple of news stories, of its own, a week. Rather once a month or every couple of months. As such the web visitor will check your recent news and see if the company has posted anything that month. This will indicated that the company is up-and-coming or at the very least active.

Old news stories do not inspire confidence and although I am not aware of any companies reporting a mass departure of web visitors from their website via their news page. I would say it generates a “hmm…” moment in the customer’s mind in relation to that companies current state. As such, I would advise against having a news page unless it can be regularly updated.

If you do still want a news page some tips would be:

  • Put month / year as the date of the articles or just month, no need to add a day
  • Link your news pages to another organisations RSS feed, to keep the news page fresh during quiet news periods.
  • Do try to post news items about the company and its customers. i.e. launching a new website, new customer testimonial, etc.

I would only recommend having a news page if your main website is over eight pages. A five page website with a news page just does not make sense.

20. September 2011 by Stuart Mains
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Staff illness

This is a pretty simple one.

If you have a staff member who is ill, they should not come into the office.

Now, that is all well and good to say, but what if that staff member is in the middle of some important quote or project? Well, that is a situation that you should have planned for by following the tips below:

  • Allow tele-working or at least email access remotely
  • Keep login details on file (in a safe place) in case you need to access files on that persons system
  • Ideally (and preferably) keep all working files on the server and ensure that the server is properly backed-up.
  • Build in a certain amount of “buffer time” for situations like illness
  • Have CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software and ensure that it is kept up-to-date with tasks/events/notes

Those are some suggestions that will help if a staff member becomes unavailable for any reason. Ideally, your hiring policy should screen for staff members who are committed to their company and as such will in cases of mild illness be able to work from home while recovering.

Be under no illusion that a staff member with any contagious illness will generate more ill staff members and lead to a potential, constant cycle of illness that could “dog” the office for months.

If you are the sort of manager / owner that feels a staff member is only productive while they are under your watchful gaze then you may need to re-think the hiring policy as any person who is not committed to the company with always find ways to avoid work. Not to mention the fact that you cannot be everywhere at once.


16. September 2011 by Stuart Mains
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Apathy, the business killer

Beware apathy for it is the killer of businesses everywhere.

Perhaps not the quick death that tends to come from cashflow problems combined with a large VAT or tax bill. But rather the steady decline in customers or lack of growth that power the business.

Ask yourself (as a business owner) and your staff members (though they might not tell the truth) if apathy is an issue. If you personally answer “yes” then there are some tough decisions to make on the future of the business (that is if it still has a future). If your staff members drift towards “yes” then you need to look at ways to re-ignite their passion for the company.

10. September 2011 by Stuart Mains
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